Sylvan Morris ADD

Interview - Scientist Answers Back (Part II)

11/17/2019 by Angus Taylor

Interview - Scientist Answers Back (Part II)

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Scientist, he talks more about his time at Channel One and Tuff Gong, and gives a moving tribute to Pat Kelly.

What do you think of what Al Campbell said in my 2013 interview - that he was the one that really produced the tunes for Linval Thompson at Channel One?

I can't really speak on hearsay as I was not there. But again when these people are talking about producing they're talking about “Ok, I organised the session and I was sitting at the back of the room while Flabba and the Roots Radics came with all the parts and I barely paid for anything. I am the producer. I own.” And that's what they call producing.

Would his contribution have been harmonies, encouraging people to sing in a certain way?

Harmonies. But not coaching people. No. He would sing with a couple of people like with Pat Kelly but he definitely wasn't no coach like probably a Dean Fraser or a Willie Lindo saying “No that's wrong”. No it wasn't that.

So who was driving those sessions? Was it the musicians?

The musicians yes. Because as I said, these guys [producers] would come, they would hum a line and the musicians would say “Ok” and the musicians would come up with all the parts. Yes it was the musicians. Unless some of them [producers] could play a guitar then, ok, one or two times out of 10 they might make a valid suggestion but 99% of the time it's the musicians coming up with the parts.

Were producers like Linval and Junjo in the session the whole time?


So did they come in at the end and say “I like this tune” or “I don't like this tune”?

They weren't even there half the time. They just received the tape and then the mixes ended up with Greensleeves. Hey hey, look here, it's documented with Josey Wales and Linval and Junjo giving high fives while they see me and everybody else doing the work. They're not any big musical geniuses. Here is what makes sense. My bakery. Your bakery, your recipe. He works there, she works there, I work there. But it's your recipe, your timing, your everything that everybody is following, right? Then that young lady comes and gets a job as a cook doing the same thing. She is going to follow your guidance, your recipe, your everything right? So the cake is going to come out the same way, right? So why when I stopped working with them and everybody else stopped working with them that he never got that back again? If it was him? If it was Linval telling people about “big sound” why is he not telling anybody else to do it? Do you see what makes sense?

One person who worked on Linval and Junjo productions who has been very respectful of you in interviews and you seem to be respectful of him, is Flabba. Why is that?

Because we know the lies and misconceptions that people put out there. These producers believe that when they pay - back in those times they would pay Flabba $100 to play a bass line and then sometimes don't pay the studio time or pay anybody - then “I own I own it's mine”. First of all, the music business doesn't work like that. There are several different copyrights. You have the person who creates the lyrics, you have the people who composed the music, and there's somebody like me who uses sound recording - which is copyrightable. Then the producer can't own everything unless you're dumb enough, stupid enough to sign a document “Ok you give me 50 bucks, I'm going to give you you something that's worth millions and millions of bucks. I'm stupid or I'm a billionaire, I don't need any more money go ahead and make some money off me”.

That's what Coxsone [Dodd] and them believed in, they’d tell Roland Alphonso and these people to go to the studio and they don't pay them any money, barely pay them and then you hear the song licensed, then played everywhere and then they're collecting all this money forever. When you didn't pay the people not even a dime, you sent them into the front of the store and told them to take a t-shirt and buy them a drink. Those things were immoral.

Flabba told me that Junjo promised he was going to own part of the copyright on his songs licensed abroad but then Junjo died and it never happened...

Well look here, here's what the law is. If there is no paper document then the default owner of the musical composition of the bassline, the writer of the bassline is whoever came up with it. The law says that you need to have a written document of instrument in writing showing that Flabba was dumb enough to take $50 and sign over his publishing to you.

So did anyone try to get you to sign away your copyright at the time?

Of course but you see by that time I educated myself to what the law is.

So when did you start thinking about these things?

Well after my cousin, he started contacting me and telling me about all these albums and hearing the old “You're just the engineer”. Ok why is Sylvan Morris not on tour? Why Pat Kelly and the Prince and everybody is not on tour? Why do people all over the world want to pay money to see me work? If I'm just an engineer engineer engineer - that's their excuse. But in music law if I get a bunch of different peoples’ recordings that they have already put out and if I compile it into something different then somebody can't just say “He used my songs and he cut it up in these pieces, the unique work is mine” and start using it. It's a mutual thing they need your permission and you need their permission. So this is where these guys get it wrong. And first of all to be frank, you're not dealing with educated people. You're not. This whole misconception of oh you're a producer? No, this guy is a buffoon. He's just using the music business to make himself look good.

But those albums that came out that had your name on them, when they were originally released, like Dub Landing and the ones that came out on Greensleeves, what was your situation in terms of payment at the time? What did you get?

Well, we contacted Greensleeves, well first of all to be fair, Junjo said before he died “If you want money, talk to Chris about it”. And then we started to talk to Chris about it...

Chris Sedgwick or Chris Cracknell?

Both of them. They think you're a buffoon and you don't know what you're talking about. All of this “engineer”. Engineer is what Sylvan Morris did. He did a balance and let it go. It's a new work, it's something added to it.

I guess what I'm asking is: when those albums were made were you told “We're going to put out an album with your name on it?

No. They weren't even released in Jamaica. It's the same nonsense that goes on that you see going on now in the music business. These producers believe they have the right because they might have organised the session that is theirs and they can do anything they want. But look here, I've been approached by major record companies in America. Like I've been working with Sublime and they don't come to me with that nonsense because they know what the law is. First they will try to get you by saying “Can you do this for flat money?” No. But eventually because they know that you know what the law is “Ok then you will get this much”, “Ok fine, let's do it”.

So when you created these mixes in studio that ended up on these dub albums, what were you told they were for? Were they just to go on the end of a disco mix?

Well here's what. Nobody knew that 30 years later it was going to have an impact on the world. Because they were mostly mixed as 45. Because they always had a version at the end of it. But then when they saw the impact of it, they started compiling all these 45s and started putting them out. But while they were doing that it was never told or agreed on. There was no contract. Just like when Coxsone Dodd came and told some of these musicians to play, they didn't sign anything because I was there to witness it. They weren't told they were going to get this much. So it's after my cousins in London started telling me about these albums have I started to approach Tubbys and I said “Here, I don't want to work with this guy Junjo anymore. Because here's what they've been doing”.

When we did our last interview I asked about a specific album Dub Landing Volume 1 and at the time you just said “It's a pirate album.” But I want to ask you again about it because it's an album that really made me know the name Scientist and also because I've interviewed everybody else involved in it and I've had different answers about it. What was the story behind Dub Landing?

Look here, Linval Thompson was not around when we were making the album. If anything you could give credit to Saddle who used to come but Linval wasn't there. Look at what makes sense. Why is he not telling anybody else to do it? What? He forgot how to talk?

Because in my 2013 interview with Al Campbell he said that Jammy did some of the mixes.

No, a lie again. This is just like the Greensleeves Scientist vs Prince Jammy. Jammy never mixed one track on that record. Hear what makes sense? I can do the same thing tomorrow and get ready to do the same thing in Berlin. Why are the songs that he's putting out now sounding like a mosquito flying in a room? Ning a ning a ning! “I can't do another.” Why? So when you look at what makes sense these people have an interest and if you notice ten different people telling you it is them. Do you see what makes sense? Linval says “I did it”. Al Campbell says “I did it”. If Junjo was here he would say “Yes I did it”. So three people contradicting each other.

Do you even have any memory of making the album?

Some vague memory when I listen back to the songs and when I hear some of my mistakes or imperfections.

For me, that album was perfect. That's my favourite dub album.

To your ears but when I listen I say “Ok, the drums I could have made it bleed more on each other”. And then I started to develop certain techniques like controlled bleed. I needed to make the kick drum or the snare drum bleed some more on this instrument. So I developed all these things that these guys don't know anything about.

Why did you leave Channel One and go to Tuff Gong?

(laughs) As I said, everybody and their grandmother was trying to take credit for something that I developed. It was the API console, it was the musicians, it was the producers. And then it was a bad neighbourhood so certain musicians don't work down there. When one hand touches five they leave. And when I catch myself I say “But am I really stupid? What am I staying around here for? In this dangerous neighbourhood with all this money?” (laughs) “So you know what then? I’m leaving this place” and then it closed after that.

Yeah it was already on the down-slide.

Yeah it was already. Hey, don't make no mistake, I can say this without prejudice, it's one of the best sounding studios in the world. And part of Jamaica's problem is because of the bad man Don business, you find historic buildings like these that should be preserved are not being preserved because people don't want to go to those neighbourhoods. The lawlessness caused it to be abandoned. From what I'm hearing JoJo... have you been there before?

I have been to Channel One.

You know that little gateway where you have to bend down? JoJo was coming through the gate exiting and somebody put a gun to his head. I don't know if you heard about that? Then after that they were deciding “No more of this”.

Yeah they were moving to New York more and more anyway.

Part of the reason why they left.

And their brother Paul died.

Yeah that's part of that reason. So I wish to see Jamaica become a place one day where people will be more lawful than this unruliness. Because it's really mashing up the place. Because even ‘round Tubbys that's the next historic place that the world knows. But when I see it in a picture sometimes I say “Oh God, I can't believe is that place I used to go to”.

Is it true that Tristan Palmer carried you down to Tuff Gong?

(Laughs) No. You see everybody wants to take [credit]? Let me tell you, after I finished early at Channel One because I heard the weakness that was coming from Tuff Gong myself. I don't know if you heard that Bob Marley remix I did? Waiting In Vain. I just did it for fun. I could hear some of the drawbacks. And so I went up there one day. Willie Lindo was doing a session so I'm there looking at the console and I'm seeing everybody mixing in monitor mode so I had a smile on my face and Willie Lindo said “Why are you smiling?” I said “Well the console is a good console, it can be much better than that”. He said “OK show us, tell us”. And I said “Ok when you book a session one day I will show you”. Tristan, no. They used to come up there afterwards. Everybody and their grandmother who never worked at Tuff Gong. Right after I left, Channel One closed and then Tuff Gong becomes the new place, based on discography, everybody started to work. No, he did not carry me there.

What kind of changes did you make at Tuff Gong?

Showed them how to use the console a different way because it had several different modes. Showed them how to set up the drums differently, how to mic the drums. As a matter of fact, it was one of the most comfortable places I worked in Jamaica. Because you see you've been to Jamaica right? And when you see where Tuff Gong is versus where Channel One and Tubbys is, it's a different calibre of people. He didn't have the direct exposure of riff raff and to be honest not one person ever dared to go into these neighbourhoods. This was a poor neighbourhood where I learnt “Ok, these poor people they were not as fortunate like you.” So I had to deal with them and I had to respect them like I respect everybody else.

So if you brought success to all the studios in succession, why did you leave Jamaica?

The same reason why Bob Marley left Jamaica. I found I had all these baby mothers that I've never seen in my life! (laughs) You know these women with kids and I never met these kids. I didn't know this is my kid! Really? “My kid wants shoes” - gimme gimme gimme gimme. One girl tried to convince me that she was in a relationship with me and I'm scratching my head thinking “She doesn't even look like my type?” (laughs) Oh yeah she's naming people and she's naming the studio and everything I'm shaking my head and saying “No way, you look like a gorilla!” (laughs) So I had that problem down there yeah I was fathering much people and the same problem Bob had - “gimme gimme gimme gimme” and it never stopped. My paycheck started out like this and by the time I go home it was like this. And then the same people who you're giving to are the same people who are planning all kinds of things against you. I couldn't deal with it after a while - the good, the bad and the ugly. I just couldn't get rid of them.

Why did you choose the USA and not England?

My American side of the family live there. Plenty for my British side of the family are here. Me and my cousin used to sleep in the same bed when we were kids. (laughs) Because my mother lived in Maryland and my sister, they found it was much easier to get to America. If I had chosen London, who knows what the outcome would have been?

Would you say that the way royalties are allocated has become more fair to engineers since you started?

Look here, when you hear some of these artists on the road, people don't understand what the engineer has to do to make them sound good. Like when you see some of these actresses and actors without their makeup you wonder if it's the same people? So the same credit should go to some of these makeup artists, they make some of these artists look so glamorous on TV.

And the lighting people as well.

And the lighting people. And when they wake up in the morning they look like Frankenstein or Dracula coming out of the grave! Please! The engineer has to like what they are mixing. A lot of these artists were singing off-key and Bunny Lee will repeat it, you have to mix it in a way to distract from the off-key. And you have to tidy up their mistakes so it's not that obvious to a trained ear that can always pick up the mistakes. Engineers play a major role and I had something to do with that recognition of it. But because they're saying “He's just the engineer” - a good engineer can make or break a song. A good engineer can make a bullshit song start to sound good. But today when you work are you recognised as the contributor that you are? Well, when I work with different producers, apart from some of these producers that grow up like Coxsone thieving, they have everything and they pay ten dollars and they own everything, then yes. Because people come to you the correct way with a contract and if you agree then you agree and whatever you want, you try to strike some middle ground. So yes people from other parts of the world recognise that. The problem is in Jamaica. This is what most of them have been educated to.

In the 1960s and 70s producers often recorded foreign songs for the local market without telling the musicians or singers who wrote them. By the 1980s these songs were international hits and local artists started to register their songs and getting wise about publishing. Is it a coincidence that producers stopped using musicians as much at that point?

No. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging but two things happened. The bar that I had set the Prince couldn't even reach it, then the drum machine came out and it killed the creativity. Don't get me wrong, you know? You could still use drum machines by a drummer programing the drum and the bass player playing the bass but for a lot of people what happened is it became a one-man band. And sometimes it can get very boring. And as a result you find “Ok, there's no more percussion, there are no more real horns” because one man wants to be the producer and take all the money for himself. And as a result leaving a bunch of talented starving musicians in Jamaica. And as a result the musical composition is not as good. Look here, if I set up the best restaurant you're going to have three or four different cooks. If I start eating my own food everyday after a while I'll it doesn't taste as good to me. That's why I want to go to a different restaurant. To have something else to pick up a different flavour. So all of us don't want to have one flavour. Just imagine if I was mixing every song in the world.

You say that, but where some engineers from the electronics era don't like the computer as studio, you have spoken in the past about how you embrace technology. You're not somebody who only wants to work on vintage equipment.

Look here. Do you remember when they used to have propeller planes and they used to have carburettor cars and they used to have these big huge cell phones? We have to learn to move with the times. There are certain things that cannot be replaced, like good musicians, but you have to strike some middle ground. So I don't want to see an analogue console again. Waste of time. And then if you're going by the numbers, because electronics is a number-based system, if something is telling you that this one produces .001 distortion and this one is telling you that this thing produces 0.5 percent distortion, we're going to go with the numbers. So it's people who don't know what they're doing I'm guessing who want to hang on to the past because they don't know how to evolve.

What is dub?

Dub is a creation from the engineers. That takes existing tracks and compile them and rearrange the existing track to a new, what they call, sound recording. What was created out of it went through several different processes. Before it was just because they didn't want to put two singing records on each side and it becomes version first, as you remember it. Then here come the sound effects and then here comes the mistakes, but ok that mistake sounds cool. I learned from Bunny Lee “If it's a mistake, do it twice so it's no longer a mistake”. So dub itself went through several different processes to what it has become now.

Who would you say invented dub?

Well give Tubbys what's due to him. That's what inspired me to become an engineer because he was doing things that were inspiring to me. When I still hear [King Tubby Presents The] Roots Of Dub it carried me right back to when I was 6 years old, but again it went through several different hands, a bunch of people before me. During Tubbys time and before Tubbys time even, with the same Sylvan Morris had some slight thing to do but you could fairly say between I and Tubbys, is the one who elevated to what it is.

You talked about Bob Marley. I heard that Bob Marley didn't like smoking in the studio because the smoke damages the equipment.

Bob Marley said what?

He liked smoking, just not in the studio.

I find that hard to believe and here's why. There are pictures of Bob Marley with his spliff in the studio. That sounds very strange. And to be quite frank if anybody would be perturbed or don't want smoking in the studio it would be Tubbys. And sometimes when I was working I would have to find a way to smoke and we didn't have any damage to equipment (laughs). Just like how they say marijuana messes up your brains, that's not true either.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

I just want some of these misconceptions stopped. Now that we have Pat Kelly gone, for all these producers it's mealtime. They're not taking any of the money and sending to the families and again yes this is what I want to say. All of a sudden King Tubby is dead and all these fake albums keep popping up. Let's look at what makes sense. An artist is fresh and the record is fresh, so you're going to wait until the artist dies to put out a record? Or are you going to put out the record when he's alive?

And all of a sudden stuff that I worked on that they say is on the Blood And Fire label they start putting King Tubbys’ name. And all these records - a greedy producer like Jah Thomas - King Tubbys Hidden Treasure. You know Channel One has a distinctive sound? But here it is King Tubbys Hidden Treasure and King Tubbys mix. But King Tubbys was only four-track so he would have all the rhythm section - that organ and the guitar are the piano - on one-track. So when you take out that one track, everything goes with it - the guitar or organ anything to do with the rhythm section are gone. But yet still you hear just the organs shuffling in the background and you can hear from the reverb sound that it was not mixed at King Tubbys. What? An unscrupulous producer trying to make money off a dead man's name. And then “Hey hey, give them the benefit of the doubt” - where is his estates’ part of the money? So this corruption needs to stop. Junjo Presents… what? Ok so he was the producer - he presents what? Trying to discredit other people. Sometimes I think reggae has a curse on it.

You just mentioned Greensleeves reissuing albums and replacing your name with the producers’ name. When we did our first interview over 10 years ago you were in dispute with Greensleeves. Have you moved on from this now? Are you looking more to the future?

I don't want to make any comments on that.

So what are you working on right now?

I'm working on some bigger things. I just finished a remix with Sublime. One more big international artist coming to me the correct way with huge record companies. They're not coming to you with an “engineer - here’s $500, be glad for it take it and go away.'' I hope to see Jamaica's recording industry become really an industry instead of people just using the music to make their other activities look good. And to make themselves look good.

In the last ten years, even outside of Jamaica, it's been hard to make money from recording. Is that part of why you are doing so much touring? And are you enjoying it?

The music business has got diluted when digital technology came along. The problem with is when stuff is put on YouTube it's not registered the correct way that when it's streamed you get no revenue from it. There is not really anything wrong with YouTube or the new technology. I like making people happy. It's an encouragement to see people like you in England that appreciate what I did. If you notice it, it doesn't come from Jamaica anymore. Why is it that is coming from just about every other country but Jamaica? Why is is that? It's a disgrace really. So it's a compliment when I come over and people like you embrace what was done 30 years ago. Although you make me feel like I'm a very old man! (laughs)

Final question. What are you memories of Pat Kelly? He seemed to be a very private person.

Very private person. I never heard him complain or talk bad about anybody. Not an egotistical person. A very decent person. A very soft spoken person. A lot of people didn't know before he died that he was a black belt. I can't think of one bad thing to say about Pat Kelly. If somebody was to say “I'll give you a million dollars each for each person you can tell me is good in reggae” I would say “Pat Kelly” and then I’d say “Who is the next one?” (laughs) I'd have to probably start scratching my head but I can't honestly say one bad thing about Pat Kelly that would be truthful. Very decent, good person.