In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Roland Burrell, he talks about his relationship with his cousin Barrington Levy, how he did manage to record two more albums, his friendship with the singer Freddie McKay, and how he is still a show stopping live performer today… (WATCH PART 1 FIRST)
It wasn’t until 1986 that you put out another album, Sir Tommy’s Presents Showdown Volume Two with Admiral Tibet.
Yeah, that was Sir Tommy. Sir Tommy album. We used to go to studio through Sir Tommy, him and Tanka were brethren. So after Tanka dropped out, he decided he would go voice me. So he started voicing me. And he voiced Admiral Tibet. He made an album with me and Admiral Tibet with five upon one side and five upon the other side, and put out the album. We went to New York to go and see him. Every time he comes to Jamaica he’s always asking me to hear my voice. That was Sir Tommy. Sir Tommy is a good youth still. And I rate him. Because of him and Tanka, that is why I go to voice for him. But a long time I didn’t see him. And last time I go up to New York I see him, and go to his place and he voiced me. I never saw Sir Tommy from that again. But the man says that he asks for me still.
The album was recorded using live musicians, but by this time much of the music was turning digital. So how did you feel about the thing changing?
The digital? Well, I feel like right now they should bring back the old-time thing. Because it served for longer. You know what I don’t like now? Too much people pirate the thing. Easy to just pirate your thing. And make all of the money that you make now. Because if a man sees you put out a new tune right now, he can just go out there and sell it. They say it’s making your name popular but my name is popular already. So they need to allow the thing and set it back and have the original records. The man can’t pirate the thing so.
So you prefer when they build the rhythms with musicians?
Yeah. More better. And more tighter. More stamina.
Then in 1988 you did a double A-side with your cousin Barrington Levy – he did Name Of The Game and you did Marcus.
Marcus, yeah. We went to studio and he just said “Boy, I want you to do something” And we just went to studio. I never wanted to sing and he said “Sing a little piece man. Sing something man”. (laughs) And then now I started to sing and I found the lyrics them and then put it on and then he put in his part.
Are you close with your cousin?
Yeah. He rates me but sometimes he has some little style that I don’t like too! Or other way round? (laughs) But he rates me still. One time me and him went up on a show in Tortola. They have it for the big man and I opened the show. And I mashed up the place! In front of whole heap of thousands of people. And he didn’t feel good about it! I don’t know what happened but he came like he was afraid of me when he came to certain things. Because they request me and him back and the man didn’t want to go. (laughs) And then he told everyone how we went upon a show and mashed up the place up there!
And then you did a very great tune called Dangerous Woman? For Matic Promotion.
(Sings) “Dangerous woman. You’re too dangerous”. Because enough times I see two men fight war war war war, you know? So I said “Dangerous woman, woman, you’re too dangerous”. (Sings) “I met her on a bus just the other day, I never know that because there is two she loves. So she can mash hearts. So I met her on the bus just the other day. I never know that a so she stay. Bus she cuss all along the way” (laughs)
Johnny Dollar was released on the Wild Apache label, was that a different cut? A 12-inch with Nardo Ranks, Apache Scratchy and yourself?
I don’t know. Maybe we did it for ourselves? Oh! You know what happened now? Maybe it was released over Caveman. Through we used to go and do dubplate up there. Because in those times the whole of we used to be up at Caveman.
And did you know Luciano and Sizzla at Caveman as well?
Yes! The whole of them used to be there, man. That’s where they bust out from. Luciano and everybody. Luciano came to me and I tell you the brethren said “My God the boy can sing and his voice sweet man! Step in and come hold a harmony with me”. And I start fling the voice! Fling the voice! Fling the melody! And he said “Boy, Jah know the artist great!” (laughs) The style that he sings in right now is my style that I used to have, you know?
Yeah, I change it. Luciano did rate my style. Enough times, someone takes my style and I have to change upon them because I have too much style. (laughs) One time I used to sing and I have a brethren who went to foreign. When the man sit down and hear me sing he wonders saying “Jah know singer, me love your melody!” The man catch the melody and gone to foreign and sing it you know? I think it’s my melody, you know? And I still change again! (laughs) Step in a different style upon them.
You did a cover version of Freddie McKay’s Picture On the Wall.
Tell me about that.
Well, I want to show you say Freddie and I were brethren. Because me and him used to go to stage shows. And I want to show you say, how that song come upon him now because not many people know how that song he did get it. Get to bust. One time me and Freddie went upon a show. In those times Freddie had a tune called “Sour Sweet You. It will soon Sour you”. And we go up on a show and we come outside and we look for the posters upon the wall and I said “Boy, the picture there”. I start to sing and I say “Hey, here is a picture there upon the wall”. And he came out and said “I’d like to write that tune there”. And I said “No man, it’s just an idea”. And I start to touch it and he says “Sing it again for me”. And I make him hear and he wrote it there so. He just got the lyrics there. And just start doing his thing. And go voice it.
When was that? Must have been in the early 70s?
Yeah. And he went to sing it and I don’t feel no way about it because he’s my brethren, same way. I just gave him it. Enough people don’t know because I don’t tell a man so they can’t know. But I never claimed it. You understand? I just give it as a brethren. Because me and him did live so good. I give other man tunes too. That go to number one. Young youths too. And he sings the tune and it goes to number one. Beenie Man I gave him enough tunes because I was amongst Beenie Man, you know? And we all come up with ideas, you know? And we find a better idea and give it to him and those tunes there make him lift up.
Was this when he was a child?
Yeah. When he used to sing for Germain.
What kind of person was Freddie McKay? A lot of people know his music. But because he died in 1986 and his music wasn’t reissued a lot of people love the music but nobody really knows the man.
Well, he was a little brethren man. He was nice. He was cool, he was not fussy. And he was a man who loves to laugh. One thing with him he drink hard! Just that with him. But otherwise he was a man who was just loving. Just cool. He no fussy. He’s a man who would not quarrel. I never see him quarrel. Never see him trouble anyone there. Every time I see Freddie he would talk and laugh.
Did you say he liked to drink?
Yeah man, he used to drink hard man. Yeah man!! I think that things are kind of killed him, you know?
That’s why he had a heart attack so early?
He was a good brethren and me and him used to move up and down. So after he did the song and the song made a big kick I said “Yes Freddie!” Just like how you saw Bob Marley did write a song with Johnny Nash and Johnny Nash make a big hit with it. Freddie was my good brethren, man. Even Delroy Wilson. We called the man Saddlehead! (laughs)
Why did you call him that?
Because we just give him a name. Because of his movements! (laughs) Saddlehead. Enough people know him by that name!
You didn’t record another album until Break Free in 2001.
Next I go and do an album named Break Free album with a next brethren from Clarendon. But he was a little ginal too. Because he got a deal in England and didn’t tell me and he was hiding things from me. This little Rasta brethren came and showed me and said “Your album Break Free. I love that album brethren”. And he gave the album and got money and gave me none. So I just said “Alright I won’t say nothing. I’ll just go on and watch the runnings and see what goes on”. So he just took my album and gave me nothing.
And then he tried to rob the next man and see it there? They killed him. And he carried the album and he went to New York to his big brother. And his brother did not even die. And they go up there and they have my things to sell. He’s dead, his brother is blind and crippled up. So I went up there and saw him and he said “Who that?” And I said “It’s Roland Burrell man, me deyah now”. (laughs) He was shocked!
Who was that producer of the album?
His name was Lascelles Beckford. And his brother was named Beckford too and he had the album and he crippled up after? After his brother died he crippled up and I had to walk with him and carry him to cross the road. He couldn’t sit or walk. He had something where whenever he made one step he needed me to carry him to catch the bus one street away. And now I don’t get one cent from them. So I did get two copies of the album when it was just made. One of them is sealed and I have the other one. Because the album is between me and that man. That was the plan we did make saying “half and half” but he took over everything. But he died and his brother went blind and crippled up. So I just took over my thing now. One day I registered the thing.
With the recording and publishing rights…?
Yes with the next company that’s come in called SoundExchange. I signed up with them and registered my thing. Because they collect all over the world. So I started collecting my money from then it will start next month. So I hope there is a whole heap of millions of dollars out there for me, you know? I saw Toots yesterday. I used to be around Toots, you know no?
He is from Clarendon as well…
Yes. When me and Conroy Brown used to sing we were the only man that Toots ever looked upon and gave his real guitar. He always had two guitars and every time me and Conroy went there he would give us the right guitar! And when others came he would not give them the right guitar to play, no! (laughs) Because the man rated me man, me and Conroy man.
So after the Break Free album… you said you started registering your songs…
Yeah, me just register. Register my songs them. Because they have my songs all over the place and they sell and I don’t get no money from them. So me just alright you know?
And have you been getting some royalties now?
Well, a long time I don’t get no royalties. From the copyright from the PRS because through the address. Because sometimes they deliver to the address and you move so they don’t know where to find you. So now that I’m kind of settled now I’m going to get back everything together boss. So I joined this company that’s similar to PRS. I forget their name but we joined them too. And now I’m going to try to register with this now, what do you call it? BMI. But you see there the man a ginal. Them a thief! Because I don’t really trust them because you see what they do, they try to register your thing and thief you. Or try to scam you.
So I did a thing that they didn’t know about. The SoundExchange thing was coming in now, so I signed up with them. And the thing I like about SoundExchange is that they make sure that it’s you personally. You have to take your picture, same time I’m live. So when you have to fill out the form you have to take the picture, same time and they get it same time. Then they see it that it is you. The real man. So I have to really start to deal with it that way. So I’m registered now and everything is ok. And they said that in March I’m getting royalties.
Have you been doing shows and dubplates? How do you survive?
Yeah, I do specials. I do dubplates and voice songs and shows and all those things there. And that’s how I make my money.
Do you have a manager?
Well, some little guy talks about being my manager, but he is not a manager he is a damager. So I don’t deal with him again.
When did you leave Kingston?
So, now I live in Mobay. It’s been around 10 years now. I used to come down there. I used to go and come. Come sing in Mobay, mash up the place. You used to have one man who had a club called Studio 54 who used to send for me. Come nice up his place. And then I buck a little brethren now, where he did have a brother and who lived in a place named Lucea. I don’t know the place but it’s not far away from Mobay. So I heard the man heard my name upon one show and come find me at the show the night. He said “Man, do you know how long I look for you? Come with me man. After the show”.
And he carried me to his yard. His brother has one place, so me and him go up there. And we got there to the man and he says “Boy Roland” and he is rich, you know? So I used to go over there and check him. But then I go up there until I find my woman. Woman loves me off and I say “I’m not going to go back to Kingston!” (laughs)
After Break Free have you done any more albums?
Just singles after that. I have an album right now that I have done for my cousin in New York and we are just going about that now. I have an album with 14 songs and none of them come to road yet. He hasn’t given it a name yet. He has a label named Wildfire label.
Is it digital rhythms or has it got musicians playing on?
Well, it looks like a pickup rhythm because what he does he licks the rhythms up there and sends it down to me. Book the time at Tuff Gong and go voice them. But the rhythms are bad! Some good songs them.
When is it coming out?
Well, I talked to him this week and he says one brethren in Portmore will mix them. So the brother did mix about three and what he is trying to do is mix some of the tunes with a girl. And the girl is putting on harmonies and all those things they do. But he said he’s going to send one of the songs to me. They’re going to mix it off and it looks like they’re going to release that one there.
What other things are you working on?
Well, I got some rhythms right now but I’m working on. I think I have around four or six rhythms. That I’m trying to work on right now to voice.
Will you produce it yourself?
Well, maybe I will produce four of them. But the rest of them are another man’s rhythms so I’m voicing it for them. But you have a youth who sent me some rhythms and he goes on like he is a ginal. Because he sends me the rhythms and then he tells me he’s going to send studio time money. But from when I call him for that he doesn’t answer his phone. But I have the rhythms them, so what am I going to do? I’m going to voice the rhythms and put them out myself. (laughs) I don’t care about him. Enough time I call him and he never answers his phone. He goes on like he is a ginal. Because I have a man in Canada who is waiting on the songs. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to voice them and put them out.
How did Rasta come into your life?
Well, you know as a man I think about culture. I would think all the while, because through Bob and all those man have culture tunes that they sing about, it kind of got into me. So I said “You know I’m going to turn Rasta?” Because I see some man out there who say they’re a baldhead sing pure foolishness. So I feel, when you are a Rasta you think more cultural. You think more positive. Because I look at enough of the things that they do and they sing about tunes that say “Go suck yuh Mama”, “How I pick up my gun and bust it into you” and so and so. I don’t want to hear them.
That’s why anytime I build tunes, I try to build off a certain thing. Like I see that a fowl there drink [points at chicken on the farm] I sing about him. (laughs) You see that fowl there? Water he wants and he tries to get something to drink. That’s why my tunes have to sell. Because I think positive things. So before I build a song I sit there thinking in myself before I start. And I’m a Rasta and that is why I locks. Because it gives me some culture, cultural things in my life.
When did that happen?
Well, I want to say I locks from about 1982.
Round about the time that you really started to make some moves.
Yeah, because right now my locks along, you know? That is the time when I started to make some moves and my locks start come. So I go on dealing with it, dealing with it until they get long.
Did you have any kind of elders or anyone that you learned from? Apart from listening to Bob and stuff like that.
Yeah man, because the same youth I was telling you about he is a singer too and he comes from Clarendon too. The same Lascelles Beckford. He had his long Rasta locks. So I look up on him and say “I have to go locks”. But I would look there and say the man there is not righteous in themselves. And I used to look up on Bob and how they would sing some culture tune and I would say “Jah know. Anything I sing about must be something conscious”.
Because I realised that conscious tunes, if you sing a culture tune, it sells in foreign. If I go to foreign and I sing my tunes, the people there sing my tunes for me. Jamaican people don’t rate culture artists. But when you go to foreign you see we are up there as standard. You know say foreign people love real reggae music. They don’t rate we down here so. In foreign they rate we. Because we sing culture tunes.
Where have you performed around the world? Where have you been?
I’ve gone and performed in Canada. When I perform there people lift me up in the air. Not even Gregory Isaacs can come there and do that. Have me in the air and walk with me so. Saying “He is great, he is great!” They love me in Canada, you know? We do shows all over the place. In Montreal I have to run through the back door or the people will grab me up, you know? By the time I reach outside one brother who has a sound finds me, you know? And say “I want you to come back up here. I need you to work with my sound. I will send a ticket for you”. And I say “Yeah man, give me the number and I come down” because I never really stay there long. With the time that I get I never want to mash up my thing, you know? Although in those times Canada never really used visa. Like you get a permit.
And then the next place I went was Tortola with Barrington Levy. And tear up there again! And we went to this place named California. I did one show in LA and one in San Diego. Tear it up again! And then the last show I did, I went to Brazil. If you see the people, not even Rebel Salute out here has that amount of people! The biggest show that ever went on up there with me and Big Youth, Horsemouth, the brother from the group Kushart and then the next brother in whose name I don’t remember, a brown youth. Singer. So I went up there and I tell you the show was mad! Two shows we do up there. But you see the last show I was the talk of the place, man! (laughs) I was the talk of the place. People have a flag all over their head run me down so. The place mad.
But I never go to Europe yet. I’ve never been to England yet. I did try to get up there one time. But the man come like he is a ginal. An African. Man make me go the embassy and the only thing the man should do is just say “Yes” in response and we gone. Because when I go before them I don’t talk no foolishness. Because I make sure all of my things are together before going in front of them. Because when I used to get work permits I never got turned down from them. I get 1 year work permit. And I go to America. I got a next one again. 1 year again. The second to last time when I went up there was for a black brother, only 5 months the man give me. I don’t move no way up on it. I just forget about that.
See this white man who does the shows in California he made me get the last visa. Every time I go before white people, I get my thing. 10 years. I never expect that. Then ask me “Mr Burrell, why are you going away? I say “I’m just going on a vacation”. When are you coming back? I say “Two weeks time”. Bop! 10 years. And I just fly and go away. Two weeks I spend for true and come back. That means when they look in my book they see this is a man who doesn’t run away. Same thing in Brazil. Two weeks, come back. Because I don’t want to spoil the thing. I’ve seen enough man do that and get knocked. They can’t even move because they got no papers.
Which festivals have you played in Jamaica? Did you play Rebel Salute?
Yeah, 2011 I worked on Rebel Salute. Knock down the place, same way! They told the brethren who got the show for me “Your artist bad, you know?” Three of us came from Mobay and I was the only artist from Mobay tore down the place. Because I don’t ramp no way when I go up on stage. I go natural. Some people have to take things because they can’t face the amount of crowd that they see. But when I’m natural that’s when I’m bad. (laughs) Because I don’t have to take any drugs and mash up myself. I don’t. Natural and when I see more people, that’s when I get bad.
What other big shows and festivals have you played?
I’ve never got a show up on Sumfest. Enough times I tried to get up on the Sumfest because this brother who said he was managing me told me about how he tried to get me on Sumfest. And now Sumfest come up and he can’t get me there. So I just say “Right now, forget about it”.
I go Negril to work a couple little shows. I go nice up the place and have the place mad. They have a big show over Dump Up [beach] right over Mobay, right over the sea there. I go over there and go mash up over there and people get mad. People start cuss! People get mad over there! Because you see the thing now, they don’t see me regular. So when they see me I’m fresh upon them. And that is the thing, you know? You see you don’t stale out to the people, you know?
If I keep a big show now, me alone could sell off the place. You see how they did keep a show with me in New York or Florida? But I never got the show because I never expected that. Because when they checked me and I never got the visa at the time, the place was sold out. The lady on the radio had to beg an apology back to the people them. And tell them she is sorry because all the people came asking “Where is the singer who we’ve come to see?” So she had to call back the people “Something happened where the singer couldn’t get to reach”. And people just quiet. (laughs)
What are your memories of Tanka?
Tanka was a kind-hearted youth. If you told Tanka “Bring something for me” even if it took him 10 years to come back to Jamaica, he would not forget it. So when he used to come to Jamaica, if Tanka bought some pants he’d make sure that there were two of them – one for him and one for me. If he bought shoes like this, he would make sure he must have two pairs – one for him and one for me. That’s how the man stays, you know? (laughs)
Enough people say “Man, if Tanka never died you would be a millionaire man. You would be a rich man. Tanka talked about you every day. Talked about what he’s going to do for you man”. White man would tell me that too, you know? People loved that brother man. People would bawl for that man there. People crying for that man there. And now the man has just gone away so.
Is there anything else you want to say?
This is Roland Burrell and I am still singing. I don’t stop. I am coming up now with a new album and some singles. I’m still working on songs. And I’m coming back again. Going to hit the road like a storm. So people, love you now and hear this. I’m going to blow up the place again. Because we always have to sing good tunes. Because I still sing culture. And bless up to everyone and then bless up the brethren them. Up the top.
By Angus Taylor