Ska/Reggae Legends Speak

Desmond Dekker_0

An article by Michael Williams for Cashbox.

Back in 1955, Chris Blackwell heard blind pianist Lance Hayward and his band at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He decided to sell Jamaican music to the world. His first production, Millie Small “My Boy Lollipop” sold 7 million records in 1962. It was the biggest ska to achieve world-wide success until he released Desmond Dekker’s, “ Israelites “, with Island Records in 1968. The early days of the Jamaican music industry gave birth to Ska/Reggae and are brought to life in Perry Henzell’s 1972 classic film “The Harder They Come”. The hero of the film, played by Jimmy Cliff, is an uneducated country boy who sang like Sam Cooke.  In his hunger to become famous he is talked into signing away his song’s publishing and performance rights.( His music was included in the sound track of the film.)

This sounds like the story of most artists in the beginnings of their music careers. Recently, I got to talk to Dennis Alcapone, Leon Delroy Williams, Dawn Penn and Willi Williams about those early days.

Michael Williams with SkaReggae Legends

Michael Williams: How did you survive the music industry?

Leon Delroy Williams: I did a cover version of Billy Joe Royal’s “Down in The Boondocks “, as a laugh, and it put me on the map. I learned quickly and I was always asking questions about what was going on in the studio, front office and especially the back room where the real business happened. I spent 25 years with the Trojan Label while, at the same time, managing Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and my own career. I learned from everyone.  Now I have started my own label, Sunspot Records, to make this classic Reggae and Ska music available worldwide again.

Dennis Alcapone:  The real musicians and producers never get mentioned in Reggae Music History.  A lot of producers like Coxsone were not producers, they were executive producers. The musicians and engineers did the real work and told the singer what and when to sing. We entered music for the love of it and we did not realize that the music was being sold sometimes worldwide. After my first tour of England, I realized that my music was selling internationally but we, the musicians, were not making the money. We got the Praise but not the Raise.

Michael Williams: In 1967, Dawn Penn wrote and recorded her signature hit, “You don’t Love Me No, No, No”, with Coxsone and Jackie Mittoo.   After the same song was an even bigger hit in 1994, Dawn Penn found herself in a legal battle for copyright infringement on Willie Cobb’s “You don’t Love Me” and Bo Diddley ‘s, “She’s so Fine”.

Dawn Penn: “You don’t Love Me No, No, No” has taken me to 53 countries! I recorded and wrote my hit and left the business for 20 years only to come back on the success of that same song. Now I am my own manager and record company.

Millie Small.preview-small

Willi Williams: We all went through the same stories in the business. I was covered by other artists who gave me a chance to learn the business on an international level. I formed my label Drum Street early in my career. Ska was the precursor for styles like punk rock…most of the people into punk were ardent Ska enthusiasts. Before that you had influential people from around Caribbean and the world that were Ska fans. When the Ska era unfolded in England to the younger generation, mostly to the white people and the white youth, the punk age was just dawning and these people caress it with a passion, we had groups like the Specials and other artist that did Ska and they became a mega success. Because of the whole punk thing and the Clash’s version of “Armagideon Time “, I have been fortunate being able to tour and record with rock acts like Big Sugar .

Michael Williams: Regardless of the musical form, the story was the same – great music, a pocket full of dreams behind a great song, and bad business.  The 1971 lyrics from the Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood (Traffic) song, “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”, says it all:

The percentage you’re paying is too high priced

while you’re living beyond all your means

And the man in the suit has just bought a new car

from the profit he’s made on your dreams

Back in the day some 20 years ago, I hosted the most amazing Reggae/Ska show, The Bob Marley Festival in Winnipeg attended by more than 150,000 people over two days.  Today there are a number of Ska festivals in Canada. They are run and attended by the next generation of great young white college kids and punks who will keep the music alive!  The biggest of these festivals is Victoria Ska Fest.

Reggae Ska music lives on.

For the original report go to

2 thoughts on “Ska/Reggae Legends Speak

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