I Kong ADD

Interview with I Kong (Part I)

04/16/2015 by Angus Taylor

Interview with I Kong (Part I)

The under-recorded, under-rewarded cultural singer is an over-represented category of 1970s Jamaican reggae music. In the past Reggaeville has interviewed Kiddus I, most famous for his 1976 song Graduation in Zion, featured in the film Rockers; and Fred Locks, predominantly known for his 1975 track Black Star Liner.

Their contemporary, I Kong's reputation rests on a solitary album - The Way It Is - one considered a high point in reggae when it was released in 1978. And like Kiddus and Fred he has a fascinating story to tell. Born Errol Kong, the nephew of the great producer Leslie Kong, he faced prejudice from his father’s side of the family for not being full Chinese and struggled to gain acceptance as a singer.

Undeterred, he co-founded an early incarnation of the harmony group the Jamaicans, singing under the name Ricky Storm, then embarked on a solo career that culminated in the lavishly no-expense-spared The Way It Is. Sadly, the LP was pirated and none of its musically commendable, if highly impractical, cost was recouped by himself. I Kong has continued to record sporadically since, relocating from Kingston to St Elizabeth, where he raised a son, Shaquille “Skunga” Kong, who is a budding producer in the family tradition.

But at 68 years of age things are looking up for I Kong. This week sees the release of a long-awaited new album of original material, A Little Walk, produced by Switzerland's Najavibes and mixed by Roberto Sanchez. Reggaeville spoke to Kong senior in Kingston for this in depth two part interview and history lesson.

Kong is one of the industry's real characters, a dreadlocked Rastaman dressed in traditional Chinese garb, who was smoking buddies with some of the 1970s’ greatest musicians and most notorious badmen. A warm, emotional person with a tendency to put creation above commerce, it is hard not to feel charmed and moved by his tale, which is as affecting as his recorded output.

I Kong has discussed his career on a strictly chronological tune-by-tune basis elsewhere so we took a more free-form approach, focusing on the people behind the music he met along the way. This was partially necessitated by I Kong's colourful and at times tangential memory – he seems to know everyone in the business - and partly through the veteran appearing at our hotel before our questions were fully prepared!

When were you born?
I was born on the 18th of April 1947.

Do you remember when your uncle Leslie became a producer?
Not really because I was very young then. I used to live near the record shop which was 135 A B and C Orange Street. They had an ice cream parlour, a little pharmacy and then the record shop. They used to use Federal and WIRL, West Indies Records Limited, studio before it became Dynamic’s. That was owned by Franchot Seaga and Eddie Seaga – they were cousins. We would come from school – me and my brother, one year junior – and go by the shop and spend time there and listen to the artists rehearsing. But Leslie, just like my mother and my father, never wanted me to be a singer because back in those times who knew of any Chinaman who was a singer? In Jamaica it was strange for a Chinaman to sing. They never equated it that way.

It was somehow ok to be on the business side but not behind the glass, recording.
That’s right. But that was my passion – singing.

When did you start singing? Did you sing in church or school?
I think from the day I could talk! (laughs) I sang on various choirs but I wasn’t officially a choir member. Through me having a voice and my friends being on various different church choirs I would go and sing. So I had a little experience of that.

And did you stand on a corner with your friends singing?
Oh yes! A lot of that. Down in the gully them because you want privacy so you could make noise and no man would say “Eh bwoy! Put that damn noise out!

What kind of songs were you hearing on the radio that you wanted to sing?
Back in the day as a child I remember we had one main foreign station that we used to get out of Florida which was WINZ. I think the whole of Jamaica was tuned in to WINZ. We used to have Radio Fusion – that little box – which my father, at his shop out in Jones Town, would put up on the light post because not everybody had access to the Radio Fusion box. My mom said “OK, Newton, the people are coming out in front of the shop, where the street light is the community gathering place because of the light to play dominos and discuss politics – so put the box on the street pole where people can hear”. I remember they had this soap opera on the radio, a programme named Doctor Paul. People would come out in their hundreds to listen to this flipping thing on the radio for maybe sixteen years!

What kind of shop did your father have?
It was a grocery shop, right on the corner of Benbow Street, in Jonestown, in front of this dancehall they used to call Pioneer Lawn.

Which sounds used to play there?
Oh Lord! All of the big sounds back in the days. Count Machuki was the first deejay I heard and one of the best in the craft – U Roy will attest to that one. You had sounds like Bells The President, Lord Koos the Universe, V Rocket, Sky Rocket, the Trojan Duke Reid, Tom the Great Sebastian, Mellow Canary, Dickies HiFi, Sir Percy, Sir George the Atomic. I used to love the sounds because hearing the music fascinated me. We were getting what we used to call the boogie woogie sound from WINZ. That’s where ska came from. We adapted it to our styling. You know we were always good at that.

So the sounds were playing American music at the time?
Yes. People like Duke Reid and CoxsoneJackson as we called him – would bring in these foreign records and after many years they decided to go try a thing for themselves. People started to play around. People like Theophilus BeckfordSnappin’ who was a very good friend of mine. I used to love Snappin’ – we’d go by his little one room in Trench. A little one room shack where the piano and the bed filled it up. So the whole five of we Jamaicans – because I was the founder and lead singer of the group the Jamaicans – we’d have to squeeze up by the piano. Sometimes Norris and myself and the other guys would kotch up on the piano and rehearse in that little passage.

When local music started being played on the sounds – was that because boogie woogie music was drying up in America and Rock ‘n’ Roll was coming in?
Well we have always been very close to the American sound because it’s the closest to us here in the Caribbean and we’ve always had this fascination. Plus the black Americans – I don’t like using that term but everybody uses it – the Americans of colour were instrumental in bringing the roots to the music. The boogie woogie, the jitterbug… They came with the blues which came into soul. It’s a transfusion of musical styles and vibes and we’ve always been fascinated by that.

But the two top sound men, Coxsone and Duke, they decided to try a thing. Because travelling, they saw the possibilities, they were very astute business men. So they brought in these records and then the Jamaicans would try to sing it as best as they could. We used to imitate and that’s basically how we started. That was in the 50s. A lot of people are not aware that Theophilus Beckford’s Easy Snappin’ was actually recorded in the 50s – ’57 or ’58 – somewhere around there. Hence we gradually evolved into what became ska. Before ska we had Mento which like reggae was, to me, our only indigenous music. It wasn’t taken from anywhere else. But ska I would say was an imitation or take off of what we were hearing coming from the sounds.

I did an interview that has never been published with the producer Jimmy Radway and he said the reason Duke and Coxsone started recording their own music was that the trend changed in the 50s from jump blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll and the people didn’t like it.
Could have been. A few of us did like the Rock ‘n’ Roll but I would say he is right in that aspect - it didn’t catch on to the Jamaican public. So there was a need to do something for us.

You went to school with two of the Abyssinians.
Yes, in my early childhood days. Bernard – the lead singer. Also Satta Mani – that’s Carlton Manning’s brother. Carlton was really my inspiration in terms of a Jamaican artist that I really tried to listen to. Carlton had that melody. If you listen to his diction, his pronunciation and his melodic movement of his voice – at the time he was really someone that I did love a lot. That was when I was living around Arnett Gardens, which is where Rita Marley used to live at 18A. Then, Rita was a young girl going into nursing, a lot of people don’t know that Rita is an official nurse. Her real surname is Anderson. I used to think that Rita and Bob Andy were brother and sister! Bob Andy and myself go a long way back. Excellent songwriter. Excellent singer. A nice person also.

You mentioned that it was difficult to get acceptance as a Chinese singer. But was it also difficult to get acceptance not being full Chinese in the Chinese community?
Yes. The Chinese back in the day, as I remember them, were very prejudiced. Coming from a society that was a closed society. They weren’t exposed like us here in the tropics to the various different nations so naturally there was some prejudice. As a young child I couldn’t understand it but as an old boy I can relate to those things and knowledge expands.

How much interaction did you have with your uncle Leslie Kong?
Not that deep because Les was mainly into the music. He would say “Errol – how this sound? This is what we recorded while you were at school today – tell me which one like?” and I would say “I like that one. This could a work” and things like that. But because I would come from school, after school was when people would come to buy records and they are busy. So it wasn’t like say if I had lived with them. But he was nice to me and I appreciated that.

How much interaction did you have with the artists coming through?
Oh a lot because I spent most of my time with them as you can imagine! I was like a sponge so I just gobbled up all of those guys them. Derrick Morgan was there – he was what you would call the A&R man. We became very good friends. All the acts that came through, I had the privilege of meeting them, and they loved me because I loved the music. Back in the day they never wanted me to be a singer because it was unheard for a Chinaman. I had written this song that I wanted to record named Street GirlYou have so much mouth girl, when you are all dressed up, just look at you now, you are all dressed in rags”. Derrick took it and recorded it and it was after many, many years after I did The Way It Is album that I found out Derrick recorded it – I never knew. He said he wrote it which I don’t feel no way about but actually I was the one who wrote that song Street Girl.

Who else did you get to know in those early days?
Pokey, who is Brent Dowe from the Melodians, Slim Smith, who we used to call Keithie back in the day, Jimmy Cliff, Laurel Aitken – I knew him when he started with Beverley’s before he migrated and did very well for himself in England. I was very proud of him. A lot of the great singers and the musicians. Tommy McCook, Deadly Headley Bennett, Gladstone Anderson the great Stone, the saxman Roland Alphonso. The trumpeter who did African Blood who used to blow a lot for Prince Buster. Raymond Harper! The great Raymond. He was very good to me and so was Ernest Ranglin. Dizzy Moore was also my friend and his brother is still my friend. All of those people I grew up around and loved them and they loved me and I learned a lot from them.

What was your first encounter with Jimmy Cliff?
When Jimmy Cliff first came he had heard the name Beverley’s and he didn’t know who was, Beverley’s. So he met my brother who was a youth and back in the day we were very manners-full – no matter how big or small you be. So he said to my brother thinking he was LeslieMr Beverley’s, I have this music I want to sing” and he started singing so Vincent came inside and said “Errol, we have this youth outside and he can sing man. Me like his voice and his vibes and his music. What should I do?” I said “You should go tell uncle Leslie man!” and went to uncle Les. Leslie said “Alright, tell him to go rehearse the tune with Derrick” who was playing the piano and that’s how it came about. And Jimmy was a very smart guy too because the first song he did was Miss Beverley.

Yes, Dearest Beverley.
And every time me and Jimmy meet and we greet each other I always look upon him and say “Bwoy, I know that was going through your mind. That thing where you did that record was a master stroke!

Who else did you grow up around?
Bob, Toots, people like Jackie Opel.

He came over from Barbados.
Yes, he was Barbadian. Uncle Les was actually the one who brought him here – and Coxsone took him! (laughs) Because Les was a very laid back man. He wasn’t very pushy. But Coxsone was a very astute man who was on top of his game so Les lost out that way.

Jackie Opel also recorded for another Chinese producer – Justin Yap. Did your family know him?
Yeah man. The Chinese community were always clinging together so it was interchangeable.

You mentioned it was hard for Chinese singers. Have you ever heard of a Byron Lee production from the rocksteady time by Stephen Cheng Always Together where he sang a traditional Chinese song?
I wasn’t actually there when they did it but I knew that Stephen had done that song. Back in the day he never got the exposure for that song that he should have because of the same thing that was keeping me from recording. But now you say that, I don’t think the people of Jamaica have really given enough recognition and credence to the work that the Chinese have done. Because the Chinese, my father’s people, have done a lot for Jamaican music. The Presidents, Kes Chin and the Souvenirs, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Ti and the Titans, all those bands.

Chin’s Calypso Quintet, and Randy’s.
Right! Who is VP now! Because a lot of people don’t understand that Phillip Chen who just got an award in Jamaica was actually the bass man that played for Rod Stewart on Do You Think I’m Sexy. Phillip played those bass lines and he was Rod Stewart’s bass man for years. So I think it is good that people like yourself are exposing these things and I give thanks for it.

How was your first group the Jamaicans formed?
Back in the day I think most Jamaican youths at one time or another always wanted to sing a Drifters song. The Drifters were the most influential American group on the Jamaican youths. My childhood friend and also co-founder along with Martin Williams was Norris Weir. Norris used to go to KC and I used to go to Wolmers and we would always get together and jam and say how we’d really love to form a group like Drifters because we loved the sound. We used to sing a lot of Drifters songs and people used to say “You sound good yunno?” So one day Norris and myself said we were going to get a group together. We found Martin Williams who taught us harmony. He was a very good harmoniser who taught us all the rudiments of harmony – hats off to you Martin! Then Jerry Brown who is the founder of Summer Records in Canada. Jerry was actually the first Jamaican to go to Canada and have a record studio. He was the pathfinder in that. He had Jackie Mittoo, Leroy Sibbles when they went out there…

King Jammys and Johnny Osbourne went out there too…
Yeah, Bumpy Osbourne! Bumpy was one of my early childhood friends. All of the musicians them. I loved all of them. Junie – who most people would know as Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Nambo, Mabrak, all of those youths from the east. Because although I lived in the west I ended up in the east. We lived all about and I would follow my school mates. Every evening I made it a duty to follow one schoolmate to where he lived so that’s how come I know Kingston.

Did you ever go up in the hills to Count Ossie’s place?
Yes man. As a matter of fact I was maybe one of two or three brown faces in a sea of black. Because that’s where my musical thing came from and the soul came from. I don’t like to say black but I say “people of colour”. That’s where I was accepted the most as a young child because as I said before the Chinese were prejudiced. I also didn’t like to be around the Chinese because of the language barrier – I couldn’t speak Chinese and I still can’t. But then I could see the facial expressions – the eyes are the window to your soul – so I could see they weren’t really 100% with me. When I was among the people of colour I was accepted. To them I was a person of colour so it didn’t matter.

How did Rastafari come to you?
As a youth my mom used to buy coal from this Rastafarian gentleman who used to push his coal cart. Back in the day they never used to call them Rastaman. They used to call them Bongo Man and those types of names. People used to castigate them and say things about them like that they burned children and sacrificed them. Incidentally when I used to trod to Back-O-Wall with Slim Smith and Pokey, Brent Dowe, we never encountered none of that. The drumming was what drew us there and the chanting and also the Rastaman talking about the black man’s plight, Ethiopia, the Emperor Selassie I. There was always this thing that I loved about them, including the Rastaman that my mom used to buy coal from, Aubrey, “Peace and love my likkle one, Jah bless guide and protect, Rastafari”. So I would say “How this man, when he talk those thing, was so humble?" So quiet in his speech and so kingly in his character when he walk and he talk and deal with people although him pushing a little cart and selling. I said “How people say this man a wicked and ting yet me no feel no vibe like no fearing coming? Because if a man evil you feel that – instinctive to I and I mankind”.

How did you sight up Rasta yourself?
Going amongst them with my musician brethren we started smoking the herb and I just felt a natural feeling that it was right. I always respected the elders back in those days. There was something about them that you could gravitate towards. There was no violence – it was always peace and love. I remember one thing that has always stuck with me. An old lady said it and I’ve read it since then many times over “God is love. If you know not God you know not love. God is Jah. If you know not Jah you know not love”. So that was my thing and I’ve always been that way since. I was about 15-16 when it started but it didn’t take root until I was about 18-19 and then I really started.

Were you in Kingston when Selassie came to visit in 1966?
Yes! I was just saying to someone the other day I went to the national stadium I was maybe 50 or 60 feet from his podium. He was speaking in Amharic and it was like I could understand what the man was saying before they translated it! It was amazing. This humble little man. I thought it would have been a big man but he was small and humble and always had his hands in front of him like a heart and when he spoke it just flew. Even though he was a man of small stature, trust me that man looked about 40 feet big to me. Something about him meant I could see he was special.

I was also at the airport when Mortimer had to escort him out of the plane. That’s when I knew something had to be in something because normally if you light a fire or matches under a plane the aeroplane is going to blow up. Rastaman were underneath the plane lighting chalice. Rastaman with big lungs pulling the thing to rahtid and big flames leaping up. So I said “Blouse and skirt! The thing going to blow up!” That’s when I knew something had to be in something. It was very special. Magical. I was privileged to be there that day.

And it must have been special to see how many people came out to see him.
I never realised there were so many Rastaman in Jamaica. Man, woman and child Rasta! Some of the longest and biggest locks I ever saw and that was on woman!

We got a bit distracted because I adlibbed some questions about Canada and Count Ossie but you were talking about forming the Jamaicans!
So we formed the Jamaicans as I was saying. Norris Weir was the bass, I was the lead singer, Martin was the harmoniser who used to sing alto a lot and tenor also, and Jerry was baritone and harmony. Then the spot Tommy Cowan came in and took was originally occupied by Midsie Curry who was the first with the group. Then that spot, actually we had about six or seven persons after Midsie before Tommy came in. A lot of changes went on for that one spot but the other four spots remained the same. Then when Tommy joined us we brought in Norris’ wife Kitty Clarke. She’s now Mrs Weir. They’ve been married years now. And also Jerry’s girlfriend Marie came in for a stint because sometimes we’d have six persons in the group. Five boys and a girl voice for harmonies because we used to do a lot of the Platters also and they had Zola Taylor.

It’s funny that you patterned on the Drifters because their lineup changed a lot as well!
(laughs) Yeah! You’re right!

It drifted! So what was the first tune you recorded?
We did some recordings for a man who was supposed to be our manager and ironically we went to Studio 1 Brentford Road to do that album for Aston McCochran who was a Jamaican living in Canada and doing well for himself. He and Dodd went behind the glass and they were talking for hours and we could never tell you to this blessed day what really went on between the two of them. They were big people and we were boys. In our time we were taught not to intervene in big people arguments so I don’t know what became of those tapes but I think we did between 12 and 14 songs on that session. I was the lead singer apart from one track which was done by Jerry.

Did you interact with Jackie Mittoo and any of the musicians there?
The Skatalites and all of them. Jackie and Norris were schoolmates at KC so we had known each other for years. There was a big tree where we all used to go outside – I don’t know if it was a mango tree but we used to gather round and eat it – with Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, the whole of them. All of Coxsone’s artists.

And did you interact with Coxsone at all?
Jackson? Of course. Actually, before I sang in the studio, I used to go by there with the musicians like Tommy, Roland, Lloyd Knibbs, Lloyd Brevett because Brevett’s nephew is one of my best friends who is now living in North Virginia. So he was very nice to me because when I’d come in the studio I wouldn’t make any trouble. I’d just sit down and he could see I loved the music and the people and musicians. In a studio that’s what you don’t want – no distractions. So just me being there sitting down wasn’t any problem. Sometimes he’d say “Ricky, you want come round here?” So I’d go round and watch him engineer the thing and telling them. He wasn’t a great engineer but he knew the sound. Just like Duke. They weren’t really hands on but they had the ear. Just like me. I don’t read or write or play any music but what you hear on my records is what I hear in my head. Father just gives me the whole thing in my head and I sing what I hear.

Why were the songs recorded at Studio 1 not released?
Those recordings were never published because Aston got side-tracked in getting involved with one of the daughters in the group the Gaylettes. He wanted to manage them and then he got involved with the lead singer I think and then somehow we got side-tracked! (laughs) So I didn’t sing again with the group until after I left and went to sea to work.

Why did you leave?
Because I wanted to travel and that was the easiest way to travel without paying any money! (laughs) Turn a sailor. So I did that and while I was away they went to Duke Reid and did Ba Ba Boom in ’67 which won the Festival. Actually we had won the festival two years in a row as juniors. We won in ’65 and ’66 as amateurs then in ’67 with the Jamaican festival song Ba Ba Boom which became a big hit. Then after that they did Things You Say You Love. All those recordings were led by Norris the bass singer because Norris was very flexible and he and I were the songwriters of the group. We were very tight. Norris would sleep at my house and I’d sleep at his. We were like brothers so we sort of understood each other and we learned from each other.

What period of time were you at sea for?
I spent nearly three years working on the ships. I think it was ’68 to ’71 because I did The Way It Is in ’72. That was maybe a couple of months after I came back.

Were you singing as well?
Oh yes. Also I was a junior bartender on the ship and I was a watchman too because the more jobs you did the more money! (laughs)

Was it dangerous out there?
Well it was dangerous for me because I can’t swim! When I was on the ship I would look around see only the ship light and the rest was black like tar. Enough nights I said to myself “What the hell you really a do? You mad man”. But it was the people. I love meeting people. I’m a people person. You learn a lot. Meeting people is like an aphrodisiac to me! (laughs)   

So when you got back from the sea – tell me about how you recorded the first cut of The Way It Is at Dynamic for Tommy Cowan as Ricky Storm.
In 1972 Tommy Cowan was then working for Byron Lee and called me one day and said “Ricky, me a go try the producing, I want put out a tune yunno. Your tune me want to do – that tune that we usually do” – which was The Way It Is on his Top Cat label. That was the first tune Tommy Cowan went in the studio and recorded and I did it for him. Dynamic was the studio Tommy used because he was working for Byron Lee at that time. I was singing and after I left the group I took the name Ricky Storm. Because when we were in the group all of us had names that were not our given names because like the Drifters we wanted to have stage names. I actually got the name because a girlfriend of mine said “Bwoy, when I listened to your sing last night you come on like a storm!” and somebody said “Ricky Storm, man!” So that’s the name I started using first.

After The Way It Is you recorded a series of tunes for Warwick Lyn who was second studio man to Leslie.

Yes. He was like what Derrick Morgan did, he was an A&R man and he also assisted on the production side. Warwick, like myself, grew up as Chinese but he was roots so he started to get the sounds and things and he had a feel for it. But he was more Chinese than me so he was accepted and was moving with Byron and all those people.

As Ricky Storm I did The Way It Is, followed by Dunny Dun in 1973, then I did Cuban Cutlass and then I did Zion’s Pathway. The Way It Is was Tommy’s but Dunny Dun, Cuban Cutlass were for Warwick as a producer. Zion’s Pathway I produced that myself. Then I did one called Follower which was not supposed to have been released because I was not satisfied with the way I had done it vocally. It was like a demo voice but I got to realise many years after that it was actually released. I’ve never had a copy. I’ve never heard it. I think it was released by Warwick Lyn who is now deceased. Also The Way It Is, Dunny Dun and Cuban Cutlass were all backed by the Inner Circle. When I knew Jacob he was a little small skinny boy! But when he met Fatman he got fat because they can eat you know? (laughs) Jacob get fill up because they loved the eating!

By this time your uncle Leslie had passed away and Warwick had gone to Dynamic.
Yes and also Tommy because Tommy had a good mouth and could talk. Sales and all those things – that was Tommy. Because Tommy also used to do distribution for Bob at one time. Bob even wanted Tommy to work exclusively for him. Not a lot of people know that.

How did you cope with your uncle’s passing?
Well I was very saddened by it in that he was a young man. 43 if my memory serves me right. He was such a likeable person and he had a good heart. I remember all the artists telling me that. Even his elder brother Lloyd, the fat one. Incidentally, Lloyd was the one Toots sang the song Monkey Man about. Les claimed he was a face man because he was the handsome one of the three brothers – Lloyd, Cecil and Leslie. So he had this girlfriend and apparently Lloyd took the girlfriend away! (laughs) So he went and told TootsToots you have to go sing a song about him and you have to go call him the Monkey Man” and Toots said “No way am I going to call this big man that. Me a young man and we still have that respect!” He said “A me pay you! You do what we tell you!” So that’s how the song came but Toots niced it up and said “You’re hugging up the big Monkey Man!

Before we go back to your own career, the other thing about Leslie was the music he was making at the time when he died – it was like the Jamaican Motown.
It was! A lot of people don’t know that Leslie has more international hits than the rest of them put together!

A lot of people call Studio 1 the Jamaican Motown because Coxsone patterned himself on Berry Gordy in terms of how he ran his organisation. But in sound Studio 1 is more like the Jamaican Stax.
I concur with that. When I tell people that they say “You have it wrong” and I say “You can say what you want. I know what I know”.

When you listen to Leslie’s productions – that driving beat but that sweet sound – that is the Jamaican Motown. If he had survived maybe he could have been as big as Motown.
It could have been because a lot of Leslie’s productions were sent to Chris [Blackwell]. A lot of people may not know that and Chris himself will deny it but my uncle Les actually came up with the idea of Island Records. You had Orange Street then Beverley’s on North Street and then across the road where Big Yard is that’s where Island started in this little cubicle. I don’t think it was six foot by six foot. I remember we used to go up there and it was him and Leslie. I remember that because although I was a child I was privy because when you were a child no one paid no mind and let you run up and down and I would listen and hear them talk and things. I know uncle Les sent him all these records like Lollipop and all these things there. The demo was done with Les and he sent it off.

And Island did it with Ernie Ranglin in London.
Right. It’s a long time – I’m 68 this year – and I may forget a lot of things but not music.

Another thing about Leslie is that the way he is remembered by popular music historians outside of reggae is coloured by his interactions with Bob Marley. Bob Marley fans can be quite dismissive of him because he gave a lot of studio time to Peter as the lead, and his 1969 album with the Wailers is seen as a stop gap before the more rock critic acclaimed works with Scratch and Blackwell. When actually the Wailers work with Leslie is up there with the best of their catalogue.
Exactly! Tunes like “When it slippery…

Caution is a great song! That work that Lynn Tait did.

That was Lynn Tait, that lead guitar line?
Yes (imitates it) He was a fantastic guitarist. He brought a whole dimension of vitality and creativity to our own Jamaican thing. Hats off to him. And he was a likeable person. Very humble but he was so into music.

As a matter of fact my friends and my cousins were the ones who took Bob’s music uptown. We used to crash the uptown parties and enough fights would go on between the people and we so we thiefed their birthday cake or Christmas cake or their rice and peas, curry goat pot and run down the gully because they can’t follow we down the gully! We’d nyam it down the gully as full payment as their punishment because they’d throw us out of the party for playing “the religious music”. That’s what they used to call Bob Marley’s music.

I don’t think even Bob realized how great he was until the end. Personally, as a man coming from this great country of Jamaica, because I’m a very patriotic Jamaican, with all the negativity I love my country. I don’t care what they want to say. God gave us the greatest little piece of the rock in the world. In the Caribbean – the Carry Beyon’ – Carry Beyon’ the shores of Africa, beyond the shores of India, before the shores of China. I was privileged to have known Bob from the earliest days when Kumi Mortimer Planno produced Selassie Is The Chapel. Bob was like the last prophet of the last century. You hear a lot of people say “Who’s going to be the next Bob Marley?” Ain’t going to be no more Bob Marley.

Read PART II of our interview with I Kong here!

Photos by Veronique Skelsey