Continuing with our series of ‘Earl Love’ reissues, TRS Records presents another scorcher by Roots singer Earl Zero. “Only Jah” is backed by reggae militant giants and childhood friends Soul Syndicate from the same Greenwich Farm area of Kingston, recorded at Channel One studio 1979 and mixed at King Tubby’s. Earl Zero played a crucial role in the roots era, releasing powerful string of hits with well known dramatic lyrics.
Singer and producer Ted Greaves aka Asha-T (son of legendary and popular Teddy Greaves, a West Indies cabaret entertainer). Ted Jr was born in Jamaica to a very diverse musical family and first cut his teeth singing with his father at hotel resorts in Montego Bay and on luxury cruise ships for tourists with his siblings. During the mid 60s, the Greaves family moved to the Bahamas to further Teddy Senior’s career, and not long after Asha-T accompanied by his brothers decided to migrate to Miami. After years rehearsing in the studio and with the help of his brothers (Donald and Errol Greaves who played on many important Soul Syndicate records) the Roots Uprising outfit was ultimately formed.
30 years ago a young, Trench Town–born Donovan Mcleod aka Danny Coxson aka Ever Red stepped into a London studio. In one tuff take he created some of the most revered, most whispered about tracks of the 80s digital revolution. The records created that day were produced & written by Danny = with a great assist by the phenomenal engineer Patrick Donegan. In London, two of these tracks were released in 1988 on the Super Tone label with Danny being credited as Ever Red. The other tracks were released on Danny's own label Gem Star when he had returned to NY in 1989. Only a few hundred copies of these tunes ever existed and soon Danny was back in JA unable to help promote the records. The tunes themselves were exquisite. Working together, Coxson and Donegan managed to unearth some of the darkest, digital riddims of the era – thunderous, rolling bass music inundated with analog synth stabs and drum patterns that seemed to pre-figure some early 90s drum & bass. The sound was the perfect amalgamation of the organic depth of classic, Jamaican dub and the futuristic edge of the UK digital programming revolution. On top of these amazing riddims came Danny's vocals and his skills at crafting melody with a serious, rough and rugged sing-jay style that alternated between yearning and menace, between tone and staccato speed while remaining utterly catchy. And then…well, then there were the lyrics themselves. Danny had serious lyrics. He weaved together dense metaphor, story-telling and vivid commentary to paint portraits of real ghetto sufferation and survival while taking on even larger, world-wide issues. Together, these three elements acted as a Holy Trinity lifting these tunes into the strata of the incredible.
No matter the greatness of the tunes, without anyone around to promote them they soon faded into total obscurity. As the decades passed and the internet revolution ushered into the information storm of Google searches, eBay, blogs & message boards, podcasts, YouTube and the like, those handful of tracks morphed into legend. While collectors and critics had long dismissed 80s reggae, a new generation had fallen in love with the sound and soon those original Danny Coxson and Ever Red 12″ singles were fetching astronomical prices and being spoken about in hushed tones by the most serious record fiends out there. All of which was news to Danny himself. After he returned to JA in the early 90s, he cut a few more tunes (most notably for George Lemon’ s Photographer label) but primarily felt disappointed in music and soon gave it up altogether. He gradually drifted into his other love, painting, with which he has supported himself and his family with over the last 30 years; all the while his boxes of wrapped and sealed master tapes were gathering dust under his bed. Until… Danny Googled himself. Suddenly, and to his own amazement, he began reading about himself and how much his music had touched people around the world. He saw mixes from sound systems ranging from Iceland to Japan that included his tunes, he saw label scans, he read obsessive posts about his songs on various forums and he saw expired auctions that were hitting $500 plus. in 2011 after doing some research he called Deadly Dragon Sound, a vintage reggae shop based in NYC. Deadly Dragon was so excited to hear from the man that they hopped on a plane to Kingston to meet him face to face. There they found Danny, full of energy, with his voice intact and his master tapes in perfect condition. They soon developed a partnership to reissue the original tracks that came out in the 80s and to press up, for the first time, a number of unreleased songs, once again on the Gem Star imprint.
Onwards to 2018, and currently residing in France after being part of the recent successful “Jamaica Jamaica” exposition curated by Seb Carayol (La Philharmonie de Paris, 2017). Danny carried some 6 of his original tapes (he couldn't bring them all) from Kingston and linked up with TRS Records who helped polish, clean and extract any last songs that may have been overlooked or forgotten about earlier. The result was a success, and led to a first of many more discoveries, such as 'One Girl Gone'. With this series of reissues, the music of Danny Coxson is finally available to be heard by all lovers of reggae music. And hopefully, where once his tunes were whispered about by only the most hardcore of reggae collectors, his talents will now be recognized as an essential part of Jamaica’ s storied musical history. Danny continues to record music to this day and is currently working on a brand new album. He is available for commission work, and any of the pictures you see can be reproduced on board or canvas. Please send any questions and inquiries about pricing, dubplate and production requests to TRS Records.
Date of birth:19th December 1955
Place of birth: St Andrew, Jamaica
Date of arrival in Bristol: 1967
Simba came to England in 1967 with his sister, at the age of twelve. Simba remembers that he experienced racism at school but was inspired by the Art teacher, Mr. Jenkins, who related well to children of all backgrounds. He particularly enjoyed these lessons because Mr. Jenkins allowed his pupils to listen to music as they worked, and he wanted to become a musician when he grew up.
When he moved to London for a few years in the late 1970s, Simba's love of music led him to join one of England's finest reggae bands, Misty in Roots. He also played percussion and was their tour manager.
In the early 1970s, Simba used to bring bands over from Jamaica to play at the famous Bamboo Club in Bristol, which was owned by Tony and Lalel Bullimore. Bands such as Bob Marley and the Wailers played at the club. Today Simba is an independent music producer, working with a famous reggae star, Ken Boothe.
Simba's full name is Simbarashe Tongogara. Simbarashe means 'Power of the Lord' in Shona, one the languages of Zimbabwe in Africa. He was baptised as Desmond Aloysius Pierre but officially changed his name after a trip to Zimbabwe. Local people there gave him the new name and he decided to use it because he felt it better represented his African roots.
Simba takes an interest in making positive changes for people living in St. Paul's and for African-Caribbean people. He has been a member of the Bristol Partnership, (which is the organisation making the key decisions about the city). He was also deputy chair of St. Paul's Unlimited, which has worked to involve local people in the decisions about the area, such as whether Broadmead should have been renamed the "Merchants' Quarter" because of the links with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Simba was also a spokesperson on television and in the newspapers all over the world at the time of the St. Paul's Riots in 1980. He brought in lawyers (like Paul Boateng, who later became the first Black man in a prime minister's cabinet), to represent the people who were charged with rioting. He also organised musicians to raise funds to pay their legal fees.
For the past seven years, Simba has run St. Paul's Youth Promotion which provides activities for young people in the Ashley area, particularly those who may be at risk of getting into trouble. The young people take part in a lot of activities and even broadcast on radio. In 2006 the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the Culture Minister, David Lammy, met young people in St. Paul's to talk about what they thought about Abolition 200. This is the marking of 200 years since the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The young people were then invited back to London for a visit to find out how government works.
Musically, who influenced you growing up?
That’s very simple, he’s called Satchmo Louis Armstrong.
Was there anyone else?
Well I’d say later on I became very fanatical about guitarists. You name the big lead guitarists and they have been obsessions of mine. Jimmy [Hendrix] was one, him being left handed like myself.
What were your early musical experiences, how did you realise you wanted to be a musician?
Well, when I was in Jamaica as a young child surrounded by a very large family we grew up with my grandma. Her partner was a very hard working man. We didn’t have a television in those days so when he came home on a Friday evening we were his entertainment, we all had to perform something different. Well I tried to do as little as possible to get my share of the pie so I would always dance. I knew I wanted to do something in entertainment you know, and in dancing I felt I was writing different scripts every week because I couldn’t keep doing the same thing. I’d have to change little pieces and make it different.
When was the first time you went on stage?
I guess it's probably with Misty in Roots. We were all young budding musicians in England struggling because of not getting rights from the musician union and other things like that. We had to take the bull by the horns and set up People Unite musicians co-operative which was about not only just trained musicians but looking at things like the publishing of songs. It was doing everything for ourselves. I found myself at one stage being the road manager, the cook, the percussionist, all in the same band at the same time.
Misty in Roots, that happened in London, when you got together with them?
What made you move up from Bristol to London. You were living in Bristol?
It's funny, up to this day I find that musical dilemmas are with Bristol, it's always left me very frustrated. I was never able to excel as I wanted to in Bristol. So, it made me have to go to the big city even though I’ve never liked the big city as a place to live in because I’ve always kept my roots in Bristol regardless.
Did you know people up in London or were you already in contact with Misty in Roots at this point?
No musicians just go where the music tells them to go.
You just got your bag on your back and went up to London?
It's like me and Junior Delgado wrote the lyrics to a song when I helped him to sign to Virgin Records in 1996, the lyrics said: ‘Not a dollar in my pocket but I still have to do this work, all in the midnight rain, but I’ve still got to do this work.’
Were Misty in Roots playing at this point?
Misty in Roots were I guess like a lot of what the British reggae scene was like. People came from the Caribbean islands and they went to school here in England and had a passion for music. We went our own way. Where Misty in Roots were concerned, what really broke them was working along the university circuits and most people who have been to university within the 80s know of the band because they played at the university that they were at. It's kind of an amazing thing really because to this day I meet people in varied professions, that whenever I say Misty in Roots they’re automatically energized.
You were their tour manager, you went on tour with them. Where did you go, what did you do? You did some European tours too didn’t you?
Misty in roots were pioneers. We were the first reggae band to go to Poland just after the walls came crumbling down which was a really wonderful thing really. My name is Simbarashe Tongogara, it comes from Zimbabwe. Before it was independent we did a lot of charity work for Zimbabwe and when Zimbabwe was independent the government invited us to come there and we played at the Independence at a Stadium. When I landed in Zimbabwe to my surprise a lot of people knew about me and when they met me they said I am Tongogara, which means 'to stay' and that was what the people felt about me at the time, that I should stay in Zimbabwe. Later on, one of the tracks we talked about for Dan Ratchet was released in Zimbabwe for the drummer of Misty in Roots. He went to live in Zimbabwe and it's called The Time Has Come. That’s how young people were feeling in Zimbabwe just after the independence day. There were a lot of struggles and then there was this independence. They wanted to see a life, it was very difficult to see a life and the time had come. Changes must come. We’re still looking for these changes today in Zimbabwe.
Obviously you did national tours in the UK on the university circuit. You also did European tours and when you say Zimbabwe, you did gigs in Africa, did you do any gigs in America or anywhere else?
To be fair when it comes to Zimbabwe, Misty in Roots were the first reggae band to really tour Zimbabwe. Yes, Bob Marley did play for the first independence, but to actually tour the country extensively Misty in Roots were the first band to do that and today they have recognition in the country because of that. When you talk about America, because of some of the things that we went through and saw in the early days Misty in Roots always had a concept that we didn’t want to go to America. Yes after I left the band many many years later Misty in Roots did go and play in America but over all we did have a concept. It wasn’t really the money thing with us but a way of life so we did what he had to do and not necessarily whether we would actually get large volumes of money. Today some of the elements that make up how black music is in focus in England is through the pioneering groundwork that we did. Owning our own publishing company, doing our own P.A.s, we did a whole complete package. We had many bands on the label that were young musicians growing up. Misty in Roots changed many times over the years because we had to forever bring in new musicians to replace musicians that left and came in from the other bands that were on the label. For example the lead guitarist of Aswad ended up playing the lead guitar for Misty in Roots. So that just about tells you the whole geometry.
You came into contact with Mark Stuart of The Pop Group in the 70s, tell me about meeting him.
As I said my roots have always been in Bristol and me and Mark met each other on the national coach going to London. We were always on the first coach in the morning going to London and always found ourselves on the last coach coming back to Bristol. We knew each other for years and then later on when I had signed Junior Delgado to Virgin records and met up back again with Adrian Sherwood, who I’d known from 1976, and because of On-U Sound me and Mark Stuart met up again. So the friendship became alive again
What did you do with On-U Sound? Did you do any work for them?
First, as I said, I’ve known Adrian since 1976 so again it’s that thing where there's a link. The good vibes keep on flowing. In 1996 when Junior Delgado signed to Virgin and they sent him to us to record the first album, I met up with Adrian again which is how I met Skip MacDonald. Adrian had brought him over from America to work with On-U Sound. Me and Skip liked each so much that we formed a partnership that we know today as Small Storm.
Tell me about your involvement in what happened after the 1980 St Paul’s riots and your recollection of the political climate at that time.
I was born in Kingston Jamaica, I see myself as an African not even a Jamaican because actually I’m more British subject that I am Jamaican. Seeing that you have to tread the road in life and within that journey I said to myself to also be a Bristolian because I’ve lived more of my life in Bristol than anywhere else. The riots in 1980 in Bristol, it was like yes I am a Bristolian, it was happening right on my doorstep, not the next street or the next neighbourhood but right where I lived. It was something that was for me, and I hope for a lot of other west Indians at the time, a deep distress. To find that the mother land who we thought so much about didn’t care about us but also wasn’t prepared to give us a lifeline. It was sad yes, but as with most things it only happens for a time, sooner or later it must come to an end. So, I was made the ringleader, within that I did a lot of what could be called activist activity. I would look up the things I thought deeply distressing, legally in terms of defending yourself and in terms of when you have to deal with the law.
The people in 1980 were charged with riot, which not many people knew could have meant a life sentence. If the death penalty was available you could also be hanged, it was a very serious charge and it was something we had to look at. Myself personally, with young children I didn’t want them growing up in a society where they felt they had rights but were scared to defend them in case they went to jail for a long time. You can see how dear it was to my heart, so I didn’t see myself as a ringleader or anything like that, I saw myself as somebody who had to stand up and be counted. A lot of people they wanted to stand up but couldn't, afraid of reprisals. I’ve never been in fear of that. I saw myself as a musician and after the riots I went back to being a musician with Misty in Roots so on it didn’t affect me as it would have affected a lot of people in the community who did ordinary jobs like being a bus driver or a mechanic. My first profession in Bristol was being a British airspace corporation employee working on the concord. Those were the values that you had to adhere to.
Tell me about the lawyer you got involved, or tell me a bit about the case.
It wasn’t that I got a lawyer involved. The team of people involved who were passionate about making sure it wasn’t only a Bristol issue, it was a UK issue. Black people were looking to the mother country but it rejected us and here we were finding a way to be heard and to be seen. We didn't mean it to be confrontational. If you asked people at the time they wanted to be heard and to be part of the society. The lawyers that did get on board were people like Rudy Narayan, Paul Boateng, Gareth Peirce who became a renowned lawyer throughout Europe.
Paul Boateng, what did he do?
Paul Boateng was my lawyer long before the riots because he was the lawyer of Misty in Roots and he helped us form our music company. So we’ve had long associations with Paul, up to this day I have associations with Paul. He changed my name by deed poll by the way.
So tell me about the work you’ve done as an independent music producer. In particular the stuff you’ve done taking bands over to Jamaica from Bristol. You did Talisman's Jam Rock album or was involved with it, didn't you?
I mentioned earlier I that I have found my musical experiences with Bristol as kind of sad and sore but I’ve always tried to work within the local community that I live in. Work among people I’ve grown up with, trying to make something of themselves within the business. Yes, I’ve worked with Buggs Durrant, Joshua Moses, Talisman, with my cousin Dan ratchet, Hutchy [Horace Hutchinson] or Predator as he’s known and quite a few of the other local people. As for being successful with them I’ve always found that the challenge has eluded me.
You must have people that you're still regularly in contact with in Jamaica, where is the tie, did you still have relatives out there? What was the major thing that kept you going back out there?
I said also that I see myself more as a British subject more than a Jamaican. I guess for me the thing that keeps me tied to Jamaica, the place, is the music. I find that if you really want to concentrate on what you’re doing in reggae music, or some elements of the music, Jamaica is a really nice placer to vibe in. It might not have the outlets or the some of the real aspiration that Europe has in terms of the finances and so on, but yes it has that explosion. I’ve always liked recording in Jamaica and I’ve recorded in some of the best studios and the worst studios but I’ve recorded across the island. Listened to different sounds, that’s important in the music. Sound travels and that's what you want to use. Different studios have different sounds and different tracks require different sounds.
Who are some of the other people you have worked with? You’ve mentioned Dan Ratchet and Joshua Moses, Predator and Talisman. Are there are any other people you've worked with?
As I said I like the instrument element of the music being a writer. I've always over the years fused different sets and calibres of musicians together. We talked about On-U and Adrian, he does a lot of similar things to what I do. For instance one of the tracks released on Bristol Archive Records was done by the drummer Style Scott from Roots Radics, Gregory Issacs' band and the bassist he was Aswad's bassist. So you can see the type of fusions there, the keyboard player was from Black Uhuru, the lead guitarist was Earl Chinna Smith from High Times. So a lot of across the board collaboration.
You’ve subsequently worked in the community on a number of projects including St Pauls Youth Promotion, Bristol Multicultural Development Cooperative, and St Paul unlimited. Am I missing out any, have you done more than that?
I think a lot more, but really during 2000 I knew that a major development was going to happen in Bristol in Broadmead. That St Pauls, Easton, Lawrence Hill, St Judes, all the areas that were affiliated by black people were backed onto this project but yet there was no way for them to procure for contracts. I don't mean for an individual getting work, but to procure for the contracts that maybe 500 people or whatever could get work. I found myself again campaigning and so I helped set up the Bristol Multicultural Cooperative. In terms of looking and getting work on the project.
Yes, but within that St Pauls Youth Promotion was really what helped the Bristol Multi-cultural Cooperation to come along because I had set up St Pauls Youth Promotion before. I did so because a lot of youths were suffering the impact in St Pauls from the drug scene or the drug trade that was happening in St Pauls. Lets be clear St Pauls never had a drug problem. It has a drug sale problem but not a drugs use problem and the young people from St Paul’s were suffering from the effects: needles, all types of different things that you could name that could happen from the trade. I felt that I wanted to highlight their plight and show that they were prisoners in their own community. So I helped formed St Pauls Youth Promotion. In doing so some of the young people have taken it to a new level because they have set up something that's called Culture Club and Culture Clash which has really taken it forward.
Perhaps you have just answered my question but how do you get involved in these projects?
For a number of years I’ve been seen as the black activist, even my name Simbarashe means the power of the lord. Maybe that has something to do with it.
More recently you’ve worked with Ken Boothe...
Let's get that right, it's not more recently I’ve worked with Ken Boothe, Ive been working with Ken for a number of years. I’ve been working with Ken since 1987. In 1987 I did a tour of the UK with Ken. We’ve been working alongside each other for a number of years but for many years now I have been writing some of what I call my premium material. I wanted it not to be showcased as poppy material, it is mostly rhythm and blues. I chose Ken Boothe to do the vocal on that particular album, so for the last 5 years we’ve been working on this rhythm and blues album.
Wow. Is it finished?
It's almost finished, its almost finished! Some of the tracks have been released, or a single has been released on Peter Gabriel’s label. I cant remember what his label is called. One of the tracks was released on his label 18 months ago by Skip McDonald because Skip was signed to Peter Gabriel’s label.
Who is your partner in Small Storm recordings?
As I said in 1996 when we signed Junior Delgado to Virgin records, Virgin sent us to On-U to record our first album. I met Adrian Sherwood who I had known since 1976, so good vibes, good vibes. Skip was Adrian's partner who he’d brought over from America to work with him on a number of projects. Me and Skip we really liked each other and over the years we developed ourselves into a partnership that we now call Small Storm. The Ken Boothe album, me and Skip are the producers on that and all the stuff is written and produced by us.
Are there any other things in the pipeline you’ve been working on for Small Storm or is it mainly the Ken Boothe stuff?
The Ken Boothe stuff is an album containing a lot of premier writing that I didn't want to go into a poppy collection but I've got a lot of stuff from different artists both Jamaican and UK. For instance I am also the producer of Kens’ younger son, Ken Junior, and we have tracks for him as well. We’re hoping to get together a combination album of some of the other artists. There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline.
Over the years you’ve met a lot of notable people, I’ve even seen you in a photo with Ronny Wood on the Small Storm recordings page...
The music business is a family, when you join the family you find that your family becomes extended and extended, over and over across the globe. In 1996 me and Skip became partners but skip also came from an extended family from America and a few of his extended family played for the Rolling Stones. In one of these sessions in the UK a visit was made to where me and Skip do all our recordings and Ronny came and he liked the vibes and we liked the vibes of him. On a few occasions we’ve done various little jam sessions. It's an extended family of musicians.
Do you have any humorous anecdotes involving any of these notable people? Do you remember any funny incidents?
Well for me the only thing I'll always remember and say is a funny incident is going to Zimbabwe to play a concert only to find out that we were trapped in the stadium. Other things were going on in the country and that affected the music. It’s so sad that you just can't change these things. It seems to be happening today in every walk of life whether it's sport or whatever. You find that you really can't do what you like without first looking at situations on the ground. It doesn’t matter where you are but you need to look and see what's happening locally on the ground before you can decide what you really want to do.
What was going on outside, was it some violence?
A local election was coming up, just like we have local elections here in Bristol. It coincided with the concert. The police had fired some tear gas at hundreds of people that were outside the stadium who were protesting but the wind blew the tear gas in the stadium and 18,000 people panicked and rushed out of the stadium, half drunk and crazed, not knowing what was happening. They blockaded the stadium and we were trapped in the stadium. They just started stoning the stadium to pieces, it was a horrendous sight but I’ve lived and I'm here telling the tale.
Cool. OK thank you very much Simbarashe for taking part in this interview.