An interview with Vincent Edwards by Mike Turner and Brad Klein
A half century has gone by and there is still a steady stream of books, films, articles and even academic studies devoted to Jamaican music of the 60s. Some of these accounts touch briefly on the preceding decade, a crucial period when Jamaican music incubated and the sound systems arose. But it’s hard to find much detail. The reason is simply the passage of time. The original cohort of musical pioneers was small and the best known have passed on; even the youngest participants, were they still alive would now be well into their 80s. In fact, with the exception of the remarkable Winston “Merritone” Blake, I had assumed them all dead. So it was jaw-dropping to learn, during a recent trip to Jamaica, that Vincent King Edwards was alive, And I was even more astonished when Brad Klein (producer of the upcoming film Legends Of Ska www.legendsofska.com) invited me to accompany him for an interview.
Vincent Edwards and his brother George operated King Edwards The Giant sound system, which in the late 50s ranked with Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat and Duke Reid The Trojan as the most popular sets in Jamaica. I had assumed that he had long since disappeared, but as sometimes fortuitously happens he is one of those lost Jamaican musical heroes who has been hiding in plain sight. As he explains, Vincent ( or Vin as he now calls himself) left the musical scene in the early 60s, to pursue a successful political career, which was the followed by a lengthy career in horse racing. He has for some years been the president of the Jamaica Racehorse Trainers Association and continues as an active leader even though he is over 80 years old. (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130501/sports/sports9.html)
We drove over to his home on a Sunday afternoon. It was a race day and he had changed his usual routine to meet with us. He lives in Edgewater, part of the municipality of Portmore. I remembered this area as a drab housing scheme built on landfill on the western edge of Kingston Harbour. But in the 25 years since I’d last seen it, the area has blossomed. Edwards’ neat house is located in a working class neighborhood with similarly well-tended homes and gardens. He was prepared for our interview, sitting in his dining room, with a box of old 78s next to his chair and a cd of his favorite tunes waiting to be played. A fit man who looks at least a decade younger than his eighty years, Mr. Edwards was an attentive and funny respondent. He was adamant that the given history of the early days was not at all accurate. The first few minutes of our conversation were not recorded, he told us that at its peak King Edwards comprised seven different sound systems playing all over the island. We then asked him how it all started:
Q: So the two big sounds at the time were Tom The Great Sebastian …..
KE: Yes Tom was the top man at that time and there was another sound named Nick The Champ. And after that Duke Reid came in, I came in, Coxsone – Down Beat Coxsone….
Q So, you carried that music in 1954?
Q: Did you make many trips?
KE: I’ll tell what now. When I came back it was the 45s were just coming in. And I brought down some 45s
Q Where in America did you go?
KE: I went to Philadelphia.
Q: That was good place for music back then.
KE: Yeah because Mr. Dodd went to Gold Town Records, they had the best records. He’s the one who really set up Coxsone. His name was Baldwin. He was down on Federal Street. And I used to buy records, and print records down there.
Q: And when you would buy records, would you buy them one off? Or buy a lot?
KE: No no. I will tell you. So when the sounds start to build up, and Coxsone and Duke Reid was much popular than I was and I discover that, um, well Coxsone and myself come together , they came to my area and what you call flop (vigorously gestures his palm downward), you know – I have a dance here, his one didn’t get nobody. So we call it a “flop” . So what I did, I went to America and I understood the system. I start to move from there to there. And I use Greyhound bus. And Trailways. Down South. And to find records.
Now when you go there, they are not current records that we love. So most of the people have them in their stack. So you would go and say “Do you have this?” and they would say “Oh no no. We can’ get that. We can’t get it any more.” So I say “You have any old records?” “Oh yes yes.” So you would go around there and look what you want. At that time you could get them for ten cents.
Q: And these were like the post-war blues records?
KE: Yes yes yes yes. Real blues. Fats Domino. Louie Jordan. All these. Most of them are black music. Because when you go a New York and further out you find a more classic type of music. So most of these music were in the black area in the South. I went to Louisiana. I went to California. I went to Houston. I went to Nashville. I went to most of Florida. I went to North Carolina. South Carolina. All over the place. When I go to Philadelphia, I will take the bus to certain area, stop at certain towns, search for records. You know, that kind of thing.
Q: But records were very heavy to carry back then.
KE: Yes but in those days the airline rate was not so expensive. And it was cheaper to fly there.
Q: So you would buy the records and ship them back to Jamaica?
KE: To my brother. He lives here now, he lives in the country. George. They call him “Big Man”. (Gestures with hands wide apart) And he was the one who deal with the sound and he receive the records and distribute what should be distribute.
King Perry – Goin’ To California Blues
Now you asked about “scrape off”. In those days when we get music from America we scrape it off because nobody suppose to know who’s singing etcetera etcetera, because it was a high competition in the dance then. If I have a one record that the other people does not have, everybody will come to me. At one time the competition was with Coxsone, Duke and King Edwards. We were the three top sounds. So if Coxsone have a tune and I don’t have it – he can hurt me. And if I have a tune and he doesn’t have it, I can hurt him. That how it used to go. So, every time you come and him have a tune, you have to go back (to the States). But we used to do it secretly. Cause if you go and don’t come with anything it kind of demonize you. Right? So they don’t know about the tune, and when somebody say “well I heard Edwards last night play a tune”, he will send a man come look for it to know who it is. Because most of the artists wasn’t popular in Jamaica in those days. Most of them wasn’t popular. Like King Perry (R & B bandleader not to be confused with Lee Perry) and all those guys, maybe you won’t even know about them. You know about Louis Jordan , Fats Domino, Shirley and Lee, and maybe Roscoe Gordon, some of the others, but there were hundreds of them. They (Jamaicans) didn’t know about them. So I used to go to the record companies, like, Imperial. Ace. King. Atlantic. Specialty. All dem. And then I used to buy the rights. Like a company named Modern? Modern Records, they give you the rights, you could reprint it.
Q: You would press them?
KE: Yeah, yeah.
Q: On shellac? Or on 45s?
KE: No, it was 78. And then we went to 45.
Q: You preferred the sound of the 78s? They were louder?
KE: Yeah. But no. What we did, we build a equipment that amplified the sound separate and apart from the amplifier.. Most of our amplifier used to build in Jamaica, cause the output and the power what was locally built.
Q: So you would press these – down here?
KE: Yeah. What happen now, when I get a record, say, Coxsone top record, he had a tune name “Sweepstake” , it was very good. And when I get it, I print it, and gave everybody. To neutralize him. (chuckling)
Q: You gave it to other sounds?
KE: Yes. So everybody have it. Now when we have a top record, everybody don’t get it. You may have a man in Montego Bay that you send and lend it. Or you have one in Port Antonio. Or you have one in Mandeville. But that tune is not around the place for everybody. Because in those days for you to survive you have to play tune that your opponent don’t have it.
Q: And Coxsone would do that too?
KE: Yeah yeah yeah. And then if we have a good tune and it break, we have to put another one underneath it and base it so it could still play y’know?
Q: Did your sound have a signature tune, the way Duke Reid did?
KE: No no. What happened, at that time you had two radio stations, RJR, that English, and Norman Manley built JBC. So in those days, the reason why he have this “My Mother’s Eyes” as his own tune, he had a program on RJR. For fifteen minutes, every Friday evening. Treasure Isle Time.
Q: It was only fifteen minutes long?
KE: Yes. Just fifteen minutes. Yeah. So every Friday evening, that is the evening before dance time, which is Saturday., he would have this program on the radio where everybody listen to. Right? 4:45 to 5:00. Play about four tunes. That was the only pop music that play on the radio station in those days.
Q: Was Duke Reid the host of the show?
KE: No no. What they did – they play the music. He gave them the records, and the man there say “It’s Treasure Isle time.” They just play it, didn’t say nothing. You wouldn’t hear his name, they wouldn’t give his name yunno. They play the theme song, then they play the music. And the people would say “boy, Duke have a new song”. A new record, and people would come out to the dance. And they would advertise Treasure Isle which was the liquor store and t’ing like that.
And that was his theme tune. I had a theme tune. Everybody had a theme tune.
Most of the music, you call it pop. We call it blues. I personally love jazz. I was a jazz man. And like Coxsone – he was a jazz fan too. If you listen to his tune it was not that heavy straight beat, It was kind of (tilts his hands side to side.) (He pulls out a cd compilation he has made of some of his favorites and shows it to us.)
Q: This is a Duke Ellington record.
KE: Yes yes. This thing here don’t want to play the tune. (He starts fooling around with a cd player) That we used to play. But this thing here don’t seems to be working…..(so he walks back and pulls out a stack of 78s.) This one is Aladdin – you know the company? You had King. This Down Beat was our local brand. You have Specialty. (Showing us a 78 with a blackened label.) That’s how we used to scrape them.
Q: So this was late 50s now we’re talking about. Now, did you have a guy on the microphone?
KE: Yeah yeah, we call them disc jockeys.
Q: Did you have V Rocket?
KE: Yeah, Well there was hundred of sound in Jamaica in those days. A lot of sounds. But is not all of the sounds were the top sounds. (hands us an Alladin 78)
Q: Joe Liggins.
KE: Joe Liggins yeah. I went to find him in Louisiana, no in Houston. (hands us another record)
Q: So this is on the Down Beat label. Lynn Hope. “Blow Lynn Blow” (originally released in 1951)
KE: This is one is Flare. I think you know this one. Atlantic.
Q: The Clovers “In The Middle Of The Night”
Q: Isn’t this Ernie Freeman?
KE: Yeah. We generally give them our name.
Q: How many people used to come to the sound systems? How big were the crowds?
KE: When I see what is happening now, and when I see those houses where we used to play, how small they look. Although they were so small some of them were what you call “flop” cause those don’t get much people. The crown now bigger, the money bigger, everything is bigger. If I was younger I would be a rich man. (laughing)
Q: You had crowd in the street too?
KE: You have crowd inside and crowd on the street because we have horn.
Q: Way up high.
KE: Yeah up high. And you have some of them elite boys in those days them would ride bicycle they would move from this sound, to that sound, to that sound, to hear who better. Etcetera etcetera.
Q: What time did you say your people would go and set up?
KE: Sound man never late! It is one punctual thing that happen in Jamaica. If you are going to play at Forester’s Hall you are there from five. They never late. Sound man never, ever, late. Unless the truck break down. Or equipment went wrong.
Q: Did your sound ever go in for entertainers? Like Matchuki and those kind of guys? Or were they more selectors?
KE: They were just selectors. A guy name U Roy is the one who start, we call it “toast”, with the music. In the earlier days the deejays didn’t go along while the music played. Like they have a guy, what they call him, Coxsone have a thing um…He was a very good man with the mic.
Q: King Stitt?
KE: (shaking hand dismissively) No Stitch was little boy man. I hear them big up Stitch y’know. Don’t bother say that. Stitt was with a guy name Roy who played for Koos.
Q: So you say U Roy was the first deejay. What about Matchuki?
KE: No, Matchuki was just selector. He may talk, he may say something, but not singing and entertaining. Duke brought in that.
Q: So your sound started in 1954.
KE: Yeah 1954. (Sam Cooke song in the background) I tell you this song make me remember, Sam Cooke, the first time he appear on stage he was booed off y’know, and after that he made pure hit. When I came from America I brought a sound system.. At that time in America they change to the more sophisticated equipment. So when I came I have a so-called 100 watt amplifier. And we paid a guy who came from country , I’m from St. Mary’s but came to town as a little boy, at a dance. To promote it. My first dance. And I was playing with another man. And when I sign on, the dance people say “pack up that – leave here”. (Laughing) At that time the sound named Rock And Roll, it didn’t name King Edwards. It was coming out of the Bill Haley in them days. So that was how I start. And then some of my people come and say ‘No man it’s Edwards Sounds”. And another say “you are King”. And then another one go and say “a Giant.”. So it was King Edwards The Giant. (laughing)
Q: So that was what year?
KE: Well I started ’56. As Rock and Roll. And the first dance have to change it to Edwards. And then when I start to play up and about ’56-57, the King came in. So you have Coxsone the Sir. So you have the Three: the Duke, the King, and the Sir.
Q: Now, did you favor the Duke?
KE: Yes. I tell you, Duke is very aggressive man, in business and in sound. Cause the guy who used to build my sound used to work for him he used to work for him. Him have worries every time because he (Duke Reid) used to drive out every time and say “Boy it not sounding good like Edwards” and y’know? But when he was told that I flop his dance instead of he try to fight me he said “come brother we could work together.” We arrange a trip from here, right to America. We arrive in New Orleans. We went to Louisiana. We went to Texas, San Antonio. Arizona. California. Then to Chicago.
Q: The two of you?
KE: Yeah. And the beauty about that is that we found all of Coxsone’s tunes. And we arrange a dance, at King Street. And when we came now everybody said we can’t find Coxsone’s tune. We didn’t play it because we had a dance Sunday night, we didn’t play it. Til the Monday night, when we went down to Jubilee, at King Street. And believe me, crowd, them a crowd. Now we always visit other people dance, so we know that Coxsone was coming. Now we didn’t play these two tunes. One of them, six years and we couldn’t find it, I found it in Chicago. And I found the same “Sweepstakes” at Pico Street in California (Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles). The first box I took up. Cause I used to travel with a thing like this. (Points to a canvas carry-all bag.) When they send for record, send me all the old record, most of them don’t have no use there. But when I go now, all my tunes are hit because I will go in their place and I will play what is good and leave what is not good.
Q: So you said the song was Sweepstakes. Who was that by?
KE: I think the guy was King Perry. You know about him? I Can’t remember the name now of the store now. Them have a whole lot of records. Thousands. And with all these records, the first box I took up was the record. I gave it to Duke I said ” play this” (mimics holding earphones on his head.) “Am I hearing right ?” (Note: in the 50′s it was common for record stores to have listening booths).
Q: What happened when you played these tunes?
KE: So the night now, well, all sound have their followers. Like Prince Buster he used to be around Coxsone. An ornery boy. He used to give argument: “Boy, come from country and you don’t know tune.” When Coxsone came down with his crowd I took the mic. I can good at mic. And I call out the name. Because if you don’t call the name then they carry a lie that “boy him thief it”. At the dance y’know. So I call out the name of the tune before I play it and people lift (raises his arms). It was fun. And Coxsone comment was that (kisses teeth) “it was Edwards he find it and not Duke.” (Laughing) “Here is the man who is smart and he find it yunno.”
That dance that night was to show off ourself. That we better than him because it was me and Duke who fight him now. Right? It wasn’t even the money. After the money came in, but it was to show that we bust up Coxsone’s box. So Coxsone have to take plane now and see if he can find something. That’s how it used to go. But he said that everywhere he went, somebody told him that two man from Jamaica went in there and so he can’t find anything.
Q: Because you were there first?
KE: (Nodding and laughing.)
Q: When you went with the Duke to New Orleans did you meet Fats Domino?
KE: No no. I don’t meet Fats Domino. But we went to Joe Liggins where he was living. Because at the time now we were trying to see, Duke was telling me that the tune (Sweepstakes) was sung by Joe Liggins. I said “No man.” He was not as smart as me with that. And out of 500 (records that he bought), I said “No.No, it is not Joe Liggins.” And when we went to California he realize that I was right.
(According to research done by Phil Etgart, the tune Sweepstakes was actually “Got Good News For You” by Johnny “Blues Boy” Perry. And, according to Winston Blake, as quoted in “Wake The Town And Tell The People” by Norman C. Stolzoff, the second record found in Chicago was Harold Land’s “San Diego Bounce” which Coxsone had called “Downbeat Shuffle”.) According to Dave Penny, Got Good News For You was released circa 1950 on the Rondo label, Rondo 1558, and San Diego Bounce was Regent issue v1020, recorded in Los Angeles in 1949.)
Harold Land – San Diego Bounce
Q: Were people surprised that there were Jamaican guys there trying to find records?
KE: We get that impression. We get that impression. Because remember now in America, you have current tune , it come and it go down, and some of the record shop don’t sell out, so they have place where they just pack them away. And they are just there. So that’s why you could get them ten cents apiece.
Q: You guys were buying oldies.
A: Yeah. The old time music, gospel, blues, old hit tunes, they pack them away in their storeroom and they said “back in there, take what you want”. I would spend a whole day, sometimes two days in a shop. Until I go through every box. Because you feel if you leave this box it may be the one that you want. So.
Q: Now you have foreigners coming down here doing the same thing.
A: Exactly. Exactly.
Q: So you had a working relationship with Duke Reid.
A: Very good, very good.
A: No.No. Coxsone is a….I don’t want to describe him. But he’s a selfish fellow. (thumping his chest ) Coxsone is “I”, “money”, “me”. “I must do everything.”
So the reality is that our music came out of the United States. Let nobody else tell you. Ask them “What type of music you were playing before. Billy Eckstine, this, that, the other.
Q: Did you play mento?
A: Yes some place you go. Because is not every part of Jamaica accept the (music) until after. I remember we went somewhere and them say well we want see live band. Because that what they used to. Like when I go out in the country. But in Kingston it was you know (sound system). But everything in Jamaica, when you bring in something new, there’s resistance. They don’t change – they accept it after. Because, even me, resist. Tell you the truth, the question of going local. (locally produced music.) Because my problem was because at that time it (sound system selections) is a secretive thing, if you go local everybody have what you play. And therefore I didn’t want to go that way. But I can tell you now, the musician in Jamaica, the caliber of people who teach originally, the musician we have are very very good.
Q: Why did you stop going to America. Did you feel that you got everything there was to get.
A: We run out. We run out. Merritone, he continued. But most of us didn’t bother with it any more. That’s why the local thing took over. We actually killed the orchestra, live music. And Byron (Lee) came in and two thing, he revolutionize the prejudice, where the uptown people have different music from our. That’s one. And two, he amplify his equipment, and it sound heavy. Byron Lee and Carlos Malcolm revive the live music. That was around ’59.
Q: What year was your sound system the biggest.?
A: Sound system was at its height ’56, ’57, ’58, ’59, ’60.
Q: Were you recording specials, making records on acetate?
A: Yes yes yes.
Q: When did you start making records for the public?
A: The 60s. In those days now, all of us, Khouri. At Federal. You hear about Federal Recording? Khouri – he was the man. He was the man, over all of us – Duke, Edwards, Coxsone. The guy who I rejected him you know, Jimmy Cliff.
Q: You auditioned him?
A: Yeah. When he came to me, I was under pressure. A whole heap of little boys because they start following me, they start come on radio and everybody want to make records and I remember I said to him “Your voice too fine man – I can’t deal with it.”(laughing) He’s a big star now.
Baba Brooks – Shank I Sheck
Q: That was not your first.
KE: No no. What happened is that before we start to make records for commercial business we used to make them for ourself. For the sound. We used to make the record for the sound, cause we would like to make something where somebody doesn’t have. So the first one I can’t tell you right now but we have one name “Jaw Bone”. I tell you, when we made “Jaw Bone” is the first chance Prince Buster got to sing in a studio. Because we used to pay the band four pounds per hour. Five pieces, four pounds per hour. Different guys. Baba Brooks was one of my main guys, but there was a guy named Beckford.
KE: Yeah. He was the guy who get them together. And there was a drummer name Drum Beat, we call him, Drumbago. And Rico used to play the trombone.
Q: What role did your brother play with the sound?
KE: What happen is that George…. my money, he manage. My money. He manage. We join together. So he was the man who manage the sound thing. So he was the man who get them together because I have to do, we have to do other business you know, the set alone couldn’t carry us. So George was the man who really was to play the sound, where he was just there to employ people. So he was the one who said to me “bring down the sound and we can make money out of it.” Because I didn’t (think) – when I was in America. So George was the man.
Q: Who did the auditioning of the artists?
KE: Well a young guy come to us and say he wanted to do a tune name ____________. Came to the record shop. All right. Went to mi house. All right. Went to the studio. Just not right. And up to now he don’t make a tune. So it was a question of a guy or a girl come to you and say “boy I want make a tune”. It going cost me, because when you hear artists talk about how much money people used to make in the old days and them nah get nuttin. And them want five pounds, I want six pounds, I want ten pounds. You have to get the band. You have to get the studio. You have to do the pressing. And most of the time don’t sell more than two hundred records. In those days when I go to America and I ask the man at Savoy and the man in Philadelphia, how much you have to make minimum you have to survive, him say “fifty thousand.” Now we were selling two hundred. And less than that. Because every day a new tune come. And as one come it kill the other. Because, believe me, I didn’t never ever realize that some of the tune that are playing now, knowing the technology of a studio and equipment and t’ing, that they will be still playing. Yeah. Because it was only Federal where we had to go. It was not studio that was sealed properly, with proper technicians and all them t’ing. It still play. Still even today.
Q: Did you have any favorite Jamaican artists?
A: Well yes The guy Holt. Although he didn’t make any records for me, but he was a little boy, when I go county, I used to drive truck and things like that, I used to carry this boy. He was a very shy little fellow. But Duke capture him.
Q: Who was that?
A: John Holt. He was a nice boy yunno. But there was a guy named John who used to have Opportunity Hour.
Q: Vere John
A: Those guys came up on that.
Eric Monty Morris – Ungodly People
Q: Shenley Duffus.
KE: I don’t remember him. Most of them. I don’t remember them names. But you see what happened them days, so-called artists, so many people come around you – you have to give them their money every day too. Even Bob Marley. I used to be on Spanish Town Road right here and he was up in Trench Town. He used to come down there. Most of the time he come to get a shilling or ten shilling or a pound. But him used to come, with him little guitar you know, listening music. And I think, what he has done, that is my opinion, that the background of his music more would accept internationally And then him brought in the rasta t’ing and t’ing. Make him become international popular.
Q: Why did you decide to close down your sound system?
KE: Always certain people ask that. If Pan American Air can stop run – anything else can stop. (smiles) Remember Pan Am? Pan Am Airline? We brought up on Pan Am everything – your bag is Pan Am, your belt is Pan Am I couldn’t believe that Pan Am could stop. As I said, come1974 I become a Councillor . I did two terms. And then a term as a member of Parliament. And my brother is not too much of a good business man. He is not very organized like a good businessman. So I just said to him forget it. Because I didn’t realize, believe me, that the local music could pick up the momentum that it have. I didn’t see it that way. Because you used to have these guys like Alton Ellis and these boys didn’t get nuttin’ in the early time yunno. Is now that I hear that lots of them are driving big Mercedes and driving all kinda big car. You hear that they’re heavy. In those days there was not so much.
To become a member of Parliament I could not at the same time deal with the sound system. I must tell you, my heart is in politics. I’m a politician. And a race horse trainer. I’m training horses now. For forty nine years. Even when I was a member of Parliament I was a trainer. But in the 70s, when I feel that the country should move forward, and when Norman Manley was my prime minister. I didn’t pay much mind to the music. And my brother left and went up to country, to a place far up in country, he’s there up to now. He’s 84, and me coming on 81. People say I look younger than that.
Q: You do. As far as your music, did you keep your master tapes?
KE: No no no. What happened was my brother sold out every damn thing that I had. Him sold out the whole box. Him sold the number one sound to a man who don’t even pay him. And he sell out most of them (master tapes) to England to a man who went to England and start up a sound thing there they want most of the old time tunes. I didn’t get nuttin’. I just give it up. In the late 60s. Because when we got independent (in 1962) I remember Seaga – he’s on the other side politically. And he didn’t want to give me any work. Because we had street dance and thing. The people insisted that King Edwards must play. Even when Tivoli Gardens was Back O Wall, we used to play down there. And Seaga call my brother and say him want the sound at Tivoli. It’s ten thousand. Him say he can’t pay that. Cause my party is the party that from ’38 led the fight for independence and when he got Independence and Norman Manley stupid to call the election, Labor Party won. I wasn’t giving up. Him say no him not paying and call about four time and eventually he decide to pay the money but don’t tell nobody that.
Q: Did you say that Seaga was behind when the police would crack down on the sound systems?
KE: Well Seaga, as you know, he’s really a born American yunno. He used to have a record company that press record. Is after Blackwell get this girl who plagiarise this American tune (Millie Small “My Boy Lollipop”, originally by Barbie Gayle.) He came in and have a tune name “Mannie Oh”. But people didn’t go to (his studio) everyone go to Federal. Until Byron Lee took it over and call it Dynamics and a lot of people went there. But when Seaga have it , he was an aloof guy, shy guy, didn’t mix with nobody and such. Most of the people in this area will tell you about him. He’s a ginal. Anyhow, the kind of guy who trick you and thing like that.
Higgs & Wilson – Manny O
From the age of six, 1938, when the (PNP) party was formed – I don’t miss. Away from when I went to Philadelphia for eight months, forced by me sister. I spent eight months and came back. I went everything in the Party. I am an O.D. now. I am a life member of the party. I have spent thirty-six years on the central executive, twelve year on the executive committee, I’m a two term councillor, and a one term MP. The only thing I didn’t get in the party is a Minister. Maybe because I didn’t win in 1980. And I’m active now.
Q: You and your brother made a lot of records.
KE: Right. I don’t even remember what.
Q: Do you remember what was your biggest seller?
KE: I think Shank I Sheck was our biggest hit. By Baba Brooks. He was born in Cuba yunno. Plenty Jamaicans born in Cuba. My father was in Cuban. They went there and worked. Cane and t’ing like that.
Q: What kind of man was Baba Brooks?
KE: A musician (laughs).
I came to America. I came there, Me and Duke, and (U.S. producer) Baldwin put some guys together to see whether they could play the kind of free music that we play around and singing here (in Jamaica). Because our music was not written yunno. The original ones, they don’t know what they are doing now, they are singer and they back it up. I carry a copy of our music to America. But they couldn’t play it, ’cause they are more orthodox. They couldn’t play it.
Q: Would you manage the recording sessions?
KE: Yes yes. Sometimes. Now why I left, one of the main reasons, I got to tell you this. Why I left. I couldn’t – I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. And you know what blues dance was – smoking ganja. But when I go in studio, I couldn’t see there (points to a wall 6 feet away). Every singer have to smoke! Every band man have to smoke! I say “no man – this passive smoking – I can’t take it!” I called Khouri, him say “but this is the thing.” I say no. So most of these tune here (he taps a King Edwards discography we gave to him), away from them come talk to me and t’ing, it was my brother deal with it. You know? Because I just couldn’t do it. Most of these artists, they went through Khouri. What I’m cut up about is that the history is alienating Federal Records. The man Khouri. This is one. And two (looking at the King Edwards discography comprising over 300 titles) anywhere you go people will you that I was one of the top sound men. But if you check the record nobody mention me. The only guy who mention me was Byron Lee, I hear him on television and he said you have to recognize King Edwards.
Q: I did a lecture at the University of West Indies yesterday about the soundmen.
Q: And he talked about the big three.
KE: You did? (laughing) Tell me something. I saw it in the paper yunno, I was going to go and ask them a question. Because I know Seaga was going to be there.
Q: He didn’t show up. He stayed in his library.
KE: He didn’t want someone to embarrass him. Because he want to give you the impression that he was responsible for the whole thing.
Q: Now we hear that you had a very big sound system.
KE: A whole heap of sound. We call them (speakers) House Of Joy. And is that same House of Joy with a German fifteen inch speaker was in it. Because they go up to eighteen inch yunno. Most of our box was eighteen. Twelve, fifteen, and eighteen. But there was a box that I had there, in the early part of the night is not sound so good because of the current. But when it reach one o’clock, it alone could play the place. Right? But my sound was really top class. And that’s why I said Duke, and Freddie who was the guy who, he live in America now. Everything was made here in terms of the sound. From the condensers and tubes and things. Them used to use 807 in the early days. And then they brought in another tube that was more powerful. But it was a powerful sound. And I had the music.
Q: When you set up your sound you had to have a big crew.
KE: No. We used to have about five guys. And them days it wasn’t the money, they just want to know that they are around now, cause whenever they go in the dance they get girls now. It’s like in the racehorse thing, in the 80s when I was on top. The grooms them go to dance and if they’re not working with me them don’t get no girl. (laughing.)
Q: What was the age of the people who went to the dances. Was it a wide range or was it mostly like teenagers?
KE: It was not like American Bandstand, Dick Clarke. Not the teenagers. Because it was really the inner city. The Jones Town. The Greenwich Farm. The Rose Town. Maxfield Avenue. Where you leave from Maxfield Avenue from Spanish Town Road up to ? Road – every street is a dance. So you find that people go to the dance that they like, that play the best sound. Is Byron Lee who brought down the up town people in the 60s.
Q: The Gleaner didn’t mention the word ska until 1964.
KE: No no. The Gleaner is old, colonial. Backward. I get impatient when I talk pon thing like that. That Gleaner Company – they don’t believe in the ordinary people. In the earlier day you know, can you imagine, nobody ever come take a picture of a dance or anything. More than the police them come shut down my dance, or lock up someone on the street who sell marijuana or something. But there was nuttin’ write ’bout no sound. Only thing that them raise hell pon the politician and say that the people make noise pon them ears and t’ing. But we were downtown. We were not recognized.
Q: Do you have any favorite stories about the sounds? Things that would happen?
KE: In dance, every Jamaican man who go to dance, go to get a girl. It was a romantic thing. Even downtown, what we call ghetto, because these places were not ghetto in those days, Jones Town, Ray Town. And these place. It was clean. Clean. Clean. A whole heap of decent people came out there. So these place wasn’t really as what it is now. Right? And as you know, in every city you go, the inner city generally used to be the up to date area. And then people move out and then as soon as the violence come in Jamaica. Most of the people run out and left them place and t’ing.
But what I can say is, you used to have fight at dance, but not the gun. Some man may not like to see a man dance to a same girl etcetera. But there were nuttin’ that you could say dramatic. More than at one period the government was actually harassing some of these sound systems. Because even up town you have sound like up at Grant’s Pen It’s a residential area but even a ghetto area is there. We used to have dance up there. People complain. You know, in the night, sound travel. By breeze yunno? You would play in a place and it reach a place you wouldn’t know. ‘Cause it get a tail wind.
What I know is that it was good competition. Decent competition. In those days it was good fun. As a leading man everywhere you go people would know you.
Q: Do people remember you from your sound?
KE: Anytime a man now call me about sound is a old-timer. They say “King Edwards!” My had my name change from Vincent to Vin, Vin Edwards, instead of Vincent Edwards. So when a man say Vincent Edwards I know it is one of the old-time guy. I’m in politics. I am in race horse t’ing. And I was in sound. But most of the young boys now don’t know. But you asked me a question, what type of people were in the sound in those days. When you go to country, all type of people come. But the regular thing in town was mostly between sixteen to thirty-five to forty-sumpin’. And it’s that special thing to come to dance now. A thing you can say is that most of the guys who are in them sixties and t’ing – found their wife at a dance. Yeah.
Q: When you played your sound, would you play straight through, would you have a break or have other entertainment?
KE: You see that’s why people did love the sound. When you have the band, one of the guy will see a girl and him gone with her. Cause them days man go a dance and find girl. They travel to country and country girl love Kingston man. And when a rest period come you have to feed everybody, feed five, six men who come with them and who drive them and thing like that. And it take them another two hour before them start again. And they’re always late. The sound is the only punctual thing that ever happen in Jamaica , I don’t know how we pick it up. We are not a punctual people, we are ever late. But the sound – it is there. From five o’clock it start to play and it don’t stop until it time to close.
I remember one night we played over Franklin Town. It was the number one set but I used to visit all of the sets. And that set would play every night. By 8 o’clock the place ram. Full. And by twelve the thing go drift. And I said what the hell happening? Why this? And then I realized it was a Catholic area and they were having a train outing to Montego Bay. The time when the train crash in Kendall. (September 1 1957, the worst train disaster in Jamaican history., over 230 people died, most of the school children.)
Q: The Kendall Crash.
KE: Right right. You live in Jamaica man, you know everything. Yeah, it was most of these girls were going on the excursion. And so everyone left the dance early. But most of the dance over 2 o’clock, 2:30. But Beat Street, which was North Street, King Street, where you have four dances. Progressive Hall. Foresters Hall. Jubilee. (stares off into space.)
Q: Well thank you again for all your contributions to the music sir.
KE: Yes sir.
Q: How Are your horses doing this year
KE: well, they are young, two and three year olds. And I don’t think I’ll be in the Classic. Only one ready for the Classic. The Classic start in April.
Q: You didn’t train Mark My Word did you? (2010 Triple Crown winner who came down and won a race at Caymanas Park.)
KE: No no no
Q: I was at that race.
KE: You came to Caymanas Park and you didn’t meet me?
Q: You didn’t look me up. (Laughter)
Q: Quick question. You mentioned Prince Buster doing his first tune, what did you call it?
KE: Jaw Bone. I know Prince Buster from the days when him – no disrespect, he used to fool around sailors. The older down town we used to have a hotel, back down on Harbour Street. In those days sailors used to come in and them look girls. So you used to have guys who would go around. Buster used to do that thing. And then Buster used to go around Coxsone. Selling records for Coxsone. He used to mouth, not cuss, we call it “mouth”. So we had a session, and the guys finish before the time. It was around four pounds an hour. And he came and my brother make him – the first time him ever go on any record was King Edwards. Can’t deny it.
Q: Was he just doing the sounds.
KE: No no. He wanted to sing something. Because when he sang those tunes I think it was a joke yunno. Wash Wash and those things, but people like it. I call it “talk the tune”. So my band, that I paid for, but the time came before it expired, so he took the rest of time. Free.
Q: And this came out on your label?
KE: No. It Was his. Him say “mek we mek a tune.”
Q: Oh I see.
KE: First break him get. You can tell him that if you see him. Ask if he remember.
Q: And he used the musicians you had hired.
KE: Yeah yeah. You pay the musicians per hour.
Q: Were the musicians easy to deal with?
KE: Yes. Well. Me and them didn’t so good. Because I can’t deal with the marijuana. I can’t deal with it. My brother don’t smoke neither but he could tolerate it. In the studio I couldn’t see none of those men there. Because every man. And those who come to listen it. The disc jockeys. Everybody smoke weed. I couldn’t manage it. And then Khouri wife look at it and she did smoke it too. So that is one of the reasons I wasn’t so close to the musicians. Everybody respect me because I was the boss but….
Q: Do you have any control of your recordings now?
KE: There is never good organization here yunno. The question of your royalties and things. But some guy came from England some years ago, I met him when I was running against Bruce Golding (who went on to become Jamaica’s eighth prime minister), I was doing some canvassing and I run into the man at Coxsone’ mother shop. She told him I was the man who own King Edwards. So this Englishman came to me: “I’m trying to get it for years and can’t find.” He asked me for rights to reprint the records because he want to bring to London. . I said alright. I don’t know if it was seven pounds or eight pounds or what. He came right here. I live here forty-two years. I don’t hear nuttin’ again from him. But we have been told that there are some money somewhere but I really don’t deal with it. I don’t check it out y’know? About royalty and t’ing like that. I hear they have one of my tune as a theme tune, some show or commercial in Germany.
So I don’t know about what is happening there. Because truly and in fact my brother is not a business man. If you come and give him ten dollar for something he just give it. Him worried now more than anything, I tell him now “you are eighty-four going on eighty-five, it’s time for you to die.” (laughter) Serious. He has sugar. What do you call sugar? Diabetes. And every minute him a call me: “boy the thing said out of range, then it come back in range, then it go out of range. And a feel a pain.” And I say “George, you’re not a young boy, man. I am feeling pain but I not complaining to nobody. Your bible say a man live to seventy years, and you have fourteen years over time from you born.” (laughter) Because you know, I am the only man who is not a religious man in the family.
KE: No no. No religion at all. I don’t deal with religious thing at all, the whole thing is a scam. I am not going to heaven. There is no such thing. There is no such thing as heaven. Because nobody ever came back – to tell you where they went. It’s a joke. (laughing) It’s a waste of time.
Q: Thank you for your time, thank you very much.
KE: OK, I didn’t go to races today because I wait on you.
Vincent Edwards and Duke Reid traveled across the United States and found the one record they were seeking in a Los Angeles record warehouse in 1954. At the time I was seven years old and living no more than a mile from that location. I was not to discover Jamaican music for another thirty years, and it would take me almost sixty years to complete the cycle and hear a first-hand account of its origins. From its inception even until now you might say that Jamaican music has been the music of crate-diggers. “You guys were buying oldies…… Now you have foreigners coming down here doing the same thing.”” Exactly. Exactly.”
Michael Turner is the author of Roots Knotty Roots: The Discography Of Jamaican Music