In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Ras Midas he discusses his series of albums for Harry J, why this partnership came to an end and his friendship with members of the Wailers… (Read part 1 here).
When did you get the name Ras Midas?
Well, when I did the first set of songs, we were collaborating on different names. So I said to him my father had a name that he gave to me. And he said, “say it!” And I said “Ras Midas”. Because we were thinking of “Andy Neville” and he said, “no, that wouldn’t work”. So when I came up with the name Ras Midas he stopped for a second and he said: “yes that will work. It’s easy to remember and people can groove with that. And it’s marketable”. So we settled at that.
And where did that childhood name come from?
Well in Ethiopia the word Ras means “head” and Midas meant “power of the rain” and in Ghana, it meant “a pot of gold”.
How involved would you say Harry J was in the day-to-day recording sessions? Compared to Sylvan Morris? Obviously, Morris was there most of the time but how hands-on a producer was Harry J?
Well Harry J gave Morris a lot of rope. Through Harry knowing that Morris has a lot of experience coming from Coxsone, he gave him a lot of free reigns to do what he did as an engineer. Because Morris is not only an engineer, he is an electronics engineer also. And he is an arranger. A really good arranger. And he knows sound. He can listen to an artist and come up with the right sound that will work with the melody and what the artist is singing. So I was very comfortable and really happy to be around him because, for most of the recordings, Harry would be there for just one or two hours and then Morris will do the rest.
Because on some of the credits to some of your later albums, like Rain and Fire, say some of the writing and arrangement was by Harry J. But then, later still, after you stopped working with Harry J as producer, but still recording at his studio, on Stand Up Wise Up, it says Sylvan Morris was the arranger. So my question is, was Morris always doing this arranging throughout all the albums?
Yes yes, Morris would always be my assistant producer and arranger. Morris was always doing arranging and things like that. Because I and Morris became very close and we had some heavy reasoning together on philosophy or history or whatever. So Morris really has a good understanding of who I am. And I have a good understanding of who he is. Probably in the world today, Morris is probably the only person from Jamaica who really knows who I am intellectually or philosophically, or musically. More than anyone else.
And so in the early days, anything you do with Harry, he said it’s 50% so he always attached his name and would get it into the publishing and the copyright thing. But after I grew up, knowing more about the business and things like that, then I got an attorney at law that deals with music and we went into a little struggle to get back the full copyright of my music and things like that.
And then what Harry did was he didn’t give me back some of my music. He rubbed them off the tape and said “I met you at a young age and no producer would ever do that. So when you are ready you can go and record them over when you are ready. But you’re not going to get these music”. So that’s what he did. So we came to an arrangement that I will get my publishing rights and my copyright and I can do whatever I want with my lyrics and composition.
Which is why several of your songs were re-recorded again in the future. So that answers another question I was going to ask down the line!
So those initial sessions, they became your first album?
No, they became my first, my second and my third.
So we’re talking about the Cover Me album, (1974) the Reflections album (1975) and Kude A Bamba (1978). So you must have been generating a lot of material to put three albums out like that so fast.
Well the first three sessions that I did with Harry, I did 32 tracks. And out of that 32 tracks they became three albums.
Because in those days you weren’t likely to get more than about 10 or 11 tracks on an LP.
Yeah. And then I did one more session with him in which I think I did 10 that time.
So the first album Cover Me. Very very hard to find. It’s not on Discogs for example which is very unusual even for Jamaican music. These days you can find most albums from the 1970s, however rare, by reggae artists on Discogs.
What really happened is that after the lawsuits he had to take down all of that music. There was no pressing. Everything had to come off the market.
But for that Cover Me album, Trojan was the distributor abroad.
Yes and everything from Trojan involving me and Harry J, Trojan had to take off everything and give up everything.
Because around the time between your first and second album Trojan was having real financial problems. There were real problems with the business. It got sold and went down. There’s a lot of confusion for a lot of artists in terms of getting money. They were records being destroyed for tax purposes. How aware were you of all this? Did you receive payment for these initial albums?
I never got any payment for those. You know when I started to get any payment? When Kude A Bamba came out. Kude A Bamba just flashed and became a big hit. And that is the time I brought my attorney-at-law that dealt with music, my entertainment lawyer, so it reached that peak now where he had to show the books. He had to show what was going on. And that’s how I got some money. That’s how I got some royalties.
So how did you meet this lawyer?
I met him in London but he is a Jamaican. His name is Barry Rothman.
So would I be right in saying that when you made these first three albums, you were based in England and you were just traveling to Jamaica to record them?
Yes. Because every time I’d get holidays, I’d always go down to Jamaica to record. But you know in those times, you were so anxious to record and get caught up in the recording and feel good, you’re not thinking about money or royalties. You’re just into the music. And then people and musicians would come up to me and say “Midey, we went to that country and we heard your song play play and blah blah blah”. Then I would go to Harry J and I said “what’s going on?” He said to me “the amount of money that I spent on you with musicians and studio time, you don’t sell enough yet to ever pay me back. This is an investment. And when producers invest into an artist they have to make back their investment before the artist starts to get royalties”.
And after a while, I started asking around because I got more knowledge about the thing and some artists and other people said “this is how the recording business works all over the world, it happens in the UK, it happens in America. You have to get a lawyer to represent you because if you don’t get a lawyer to represent you he will continue this same thing”. Because the person was saying “that is the same thing Coxsone does, that is the same thing Duke Reid does. All the producers in Jamaica and in the UK, that’s what they do. If you don’t have good representation you will never get anything from it”.
You mentioned Coxsone. And there is a parallel there, in that while you might have needed to push hard to see some financial gain from what you were doing, at Harry J studio making your first three albums, it must have been an extraordinarily creative place. There must have been some other great artists coming into that studio. Did you interact for example with the Wailers?
Yes, I interacted with the Wailers because I have a cousin that plays with the Wailers. Wire Lindo is my cousin. I interacted with Bob Marley about one time. But I knew Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer really well. Peter Tosh was one of my best friends and Bunny Wailer. But I think it’s one time I think that I interacted with Bob. But I had a lot of conversations and talks with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh.
And where was this happening?
Well, some of it happened at Harry J studio. Some of it happened away from Harry J studio. I went to Bunny Wailer’s home when he was living in Portland. He used to have a farm in Portland. I went there a few times. And I went to Peter Tosh’s home in Redhills a few times also. And we met in different places and had conversations.
Would it be fair to say that you and Bunny Wailer have quite a similar vocal range?
Well, I don’t know. I cannot say that. It’s not the first time I heard that. But I would say I don’t know because I’m the type of artist who, if you ask me to sing a next artist’s song… The few cover songs that I did, I didn’t do any Jamaican cover songs. I always do R&B from the United States and I will do it my style and my way. How I project it to be. But I heard that and I don’t know. (laughs) I’ll leave it to you! As a listener, you know? But as an artist, I wasn’t paying attention to that.
But it sounds like you and Bunny Wailer were close?
Yeah, we were very close, and Peter. We had some really intellectual reasonings. Historical intellectual reasonings. And my experience with those two gentlemen was positive. I don’t have anything negative to say about them. They were really nice people. To I. They treated me with respect and I treated them with respect.
What about Chris Blackwell? Did you have much interaction with him?
I spoke with Chris Blackwell about two times. Because when we were having problems with Harry and royalties and things, it happened that we had to come and meet Chris Blackwell and Chris told us what was going on. So that’s why we have to go back to Harry Johnson to let him know say “you was not telling us the facts because we met Chris Blackwell and he told us the facts. So it’s you we have to deal with”.
So the last thing that Harry told me is that “two bull cannot stay in one pen”. (laughs) You know? He never realised that I would “create this animosity” and I said, “this is not animosity, this is work that I do from so much time and I have confidence in you that you will treat me in a nice and respectful way”. And he started to tell me that I couldn’t pay him for the amount of investment that he made in me and all those things like that. So that’s how it goes.
Tell me a bit about the creation of the Kude A Bamba single? How did that song get written?
From when I was growing up, Kude A Bamba was a word that my grandmother always used. And she told me that it is a tribal word from the Ashanti and the Akan people in Ghana. And it means “love of the common people”. So I used the one word and wrote a song. From when I was 13 years old I wrote that song! (laughs) And when I was recording that song the musicians them laughed. Because it was funny to them you know? And they were saying “Harry you’re really going to record a song named Kude A Bamba?” And he said, “yes man. You don’t hear it sounds different from all the rest? And that’s why I’m going to do it”. So I just used the word and wrote the song about the community that I grew up in and the activities of the people within the community. And little did I know that that song related to a lot of communities all over the world. (laughs)
Again unlike many artists who I’ve interviewed in Jamaica who had no idea how well their music was doing in England, you were there in England so you would have known how your songs were doing outside of Jamaica?
Yes, I would know. But as I said to you, when I always asked Harry what was going on he would always say “well I put out such and such money to press and distribute and promote and things like that. And I don’t recover my money yet.” And at the same time, I would go to a few people. And they said “yes this is how investment goes and this is part of the recording thing in Jamaica”. Other musicians and artists used to say to me “you have to wait until you get a big hit Midas. Anytime you get a big hit they cannot hide anything more. They cannot hide anything more from you so wait until that time comes”. So I said “my music plays over the sound systems and sometimes I hear it over the radio” and they say “just be patient man”. Sylvan used to say “just be patient everything is going to work out in its time. Don’t pay any attention and disturb your mind. Concentrate on your message and your music” and that’s what I did.
So when did Island Records get involved in your distribution?
In 1976 Harry decided to put out Kude A Bamba. He said that he thought this was the right time to put it out because people are getting to know me now. So Harry was mixing the song that day and it so happened that Chris Blackwell was at the studio the same day. Because he came to pick up some material that Harry was working on for the Wailers and I don’t remember who… I believe there was some from the Heptones also. So Harry said, “Chris I want you to listen to a song we’re mixing in here. This is Ras Midas and it sounds different from the rest of the reggae songs”.
So Chris listened to it and then Chris said “play it over again”. And he listened and then he said “this song sounds different from the rest of the reggae songs. It has an African touch to it. There are a lot of African people living in the UK who would love this song. And probably people in Africa will love this song too. And Caribbean people will love this song. So I will take a chance with it but let us talk about it when you come over to London.”. And then about three months after that, the song came out on one of Chris Blackwell’s labels named Black Swan. And then it came out in the United States on Mango.
And was he right to take a chance on it? Did it do all the things he thought would happen?
Yes he took the chance on it and it did all the things that was supposed to happen. (laughs)
So you started to get fans in Africa?
Yes because what happened after that was Chris came back to Jamaica and told Harry that it would be good if I could voice a version of it in Swahili. So I came back and did that version. And he only released that version in Africa. He didn’t release it in the Western world, I would say.
And did you start touring? What was your first tour and who were the musicians?
Yes I started touring. The first tour I did was with Horsemouth Wallace on drums, Ranchie McClean on bass, Wire Lindo and Dirty Harry, and Winston Wright was with us too. And this keyboard player, Anderson what is his name?
Gladdy Anderson. We went to Nigeria, we went to Ghana, we went to Morocco, and we went to Algeria and Namibia.
So you went to Africa before a lot of artists from Jamaica managed to do that?
Yes. There were a few Jamaican artists who went down there before like Jimmy Cliff. We did a show with Jimmy Cliff in Nigeria.
That’s right because he became friends with Fela Kuti.
Yeah. He was popular in Nigeria. (laughs)
Did you get to meet Fela Kuti?
No, I didn’t get to meet Fela Kuti because he’s kind of a mystery man you know? Laughs)
You did get to spend some time with Jimmy Cliff? Another very progressive reggae artist?
I’d been spending a lot of time with Jimmy Cliff. Jimmy Cliff is a nice man. I knew Jimmy from when he was living in the UK. He’s a nice man. There was a next artist I used to talk to. He did the song Poor Me Israelites, what is his name?
Desmond Dekker yeah. I really liked Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff. I really love their music.
When you were touring Africa for the first time did you have any experiences there that really stayed with you?
Well, the first experience in Africa was not a good one because after the show finished we cannot find the promoter! So the next time we understood how to deal with Africa after that. It’s that if you are going on tour in Africa make sure that you get all your money from the tour first and your flight in your accommodation and everything before you go. (laughs)
Which country did that happen in?
So you’ve explained why these early albums are very hard to find. But am I right in saying that the Kude A Bamba album and the Rain and Fire album both came out on Island in 1978 but the Rain and Fire album is much easier to find online? I have here the credits for the musicians. So why is it that the album is possible to find yet Kude A Bamba album and the previous two albums are not so easy to find?
Because I did have more control over it. He couldn’t do anything with Rain and Fire. Because it was out he couldn’t stop it and I was in control. (laughs)
So was that your last album working together?
Yes, with Harry.
Was it a good experience? Because it’s a very good album. If there was any tension it only had a positive effect on the music…
Well as I was saying I really had Morris as a guidance. Morris knew the situation and Morris talked to me and said “listen Midey, concentrate on the message. Concentrate on your music. Don’t pay him much mind. What do you have here is more important and things are going to work out in years to come. Don’t look at it now. Look at it in years to come”. And that’s what I did.
Kude A Bamba was included on this album again. Why did you decide to do that?
Yes, I put it on that album again. Because that was the song that really established me around the world. And I felt now that I had the authority of my music. I was encouraged by plenty of people, even Sylvan encouraged me and said “put Kude A Bamba on the album again man. Because it’s a positive song and it’s catchy and it’s nice man, it’s nice”.
And the musicians on this Rain and Fire album are all similar musicians to the ones you already mentioned. It seems like you really found this core of musicians that you were comfortable with on this series of albums.
Yes, because through I started with them from the beginning, they were really happy to work with me too. We cooperated and organised ourselves together well and they accompanied me well. And I really appreciated the way we’d go along and do our work.
I was looking at some of the credits on the labels of your singles. There was a single release of Let’s Go Dancing In The Rain on the Portland label and it is credited as produced by Leo Lee.
No it wasn’t produced by Leo Lee. After I left Harry J, somebody introduced me to Leo Lee and said he was a straight person. But I told him that he mustn’t release the music until I came back to Jamaica. I just brought it to him for him to listen. Meanwhile, I believe I was in France when Wire called me because Wire played on the song. He called me and said “I hear Let’s Go Dancing In The Rain playing in England man. You put it out already?” I said “no man. I just tell Leo to listen to it. I didn’t tell him anything”. So when I went back to Jamaica I saw him and I asked him “why did you put out the record without my consent or anything?” He said “well man I played the music all the while and I loved the music and I played it to some people and I couldn’t get in touch with you man so I just decided to put it out”. (laughs)
So Harry J did a distribution deal with Virgin to release some 12 inches with I Roy. So was this during the time you were still working with him or was this after?
It was during the time. But what he had done was to go behind my back. In other words, put it this way, I gave him the authority because my manager thought that it was a good idea if we were going to get a chance with Virgin. But the arrangement with Harry was “do not let Virgin put out the record until Midas comes back to Jamaica to make an agreement and thing”. But he went ahead and did it. Behind my back.
Did Harry record I Roy on those songs separately or did you have any interaction with I Roy in the studio?
Yes, I had an interaction with I Roy. I gave I Roy the go-ahead to do it. Because Harry told me about that and we decided that was what we were going to do. I was there the day when I Roy was voicing too. I don’t know plenty about him. We spoke about four or five times but my interaction with him was very nice and polite and respectful and I paid him the same courtesy. I don’t have anything negative to say about him. And at the time I really did love the way he was singjaying and his lyrics with rhythms. And he wasn’t so political you know? And I think that he matched up well with what I was doing.
Those 12s are really amazing work between the two of you.
Yeah, I would say between the three of us because it was between I, I Roy, and Morris. Because 75% of the time Harry was not at the studio. He was somewhere else dealing with other music business. But I think that I and Morris really did some great work. And Morris had a lot of input into my rhythms and my work because he wanted it to be very special and different from the rest. So he put a lot of interest there.
Look out for Part 3 of this interview coming soon where Ras Midas talks about his legendary album Rastaman in Exile and his move to the USA.
Contact for Ras Midas:
Nan Lewis / Entertainment Works
Telephone: +1 904 249 2523