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Mikey dread.

WE ARRIVED AT THE W HOTEL in Beverly Hills to chill once again with the legendary roots reggae pioneer and revolutionary Mikey Dread. He tells me "This ain't about no pussy or money, it's about the good chronic," and do I have any? I roll a phat L, while Shel gets flicks of Uncle Mikey. Then we jump into the Beemer with the Scientist and roll to UCLA to the Reggae Festival, blazing all the way. We park the whip and step out. When we open the car door's a huge mushroom cloud of ganja smoke explodes upward into the heavens. I grabbed my VIP wristband from Mikey and we bounced backstage to post up in the dressing tent. It's a beautiful, hot, sunny morning and hours pass as we cool in the shade, exchange chronic L's and cold Heinekens. Eventually, Mikey hits the stage and drops an hour set of roots classics. We parlez on stage, give thanks to Jab and blaze. After the chow, it's back to the dressing tent to burn more L's drink more cold Heinekens, and eat a late lunch of fried plantains, fish curry and cornbread. This is how we doin' it out here on the Weststde, G. It's all bless, 24-seven.

Mikey Dread in the house?

Yeah, man! Greetings. I'm just here trying to continue the tradition of spreading roots and culture to a global conscience.

You feeling it out here in killa Cali?

Yes. Long time I haven't played LA like this. Is a good opportunity for me to come out and play some roots amongst the dancehall, and keep on making the seeds grow and bear good fruit.

It's the right time; reggae is getting huge again in America.

Yeah, with the new alliance with dancehall, Jamaican music seems to be gathering much more strength in America. In Europe it's already been set; they know who is reggae and what is reggae. Here they don't know a lot about the foundation of reggae on a large scale. They know the artists of the late '80s up 'til now. Those artists are prominent in the minds of the American people. There are a lot of roots people out here in California and Hawaii, and they love Mikey Dread. They bring me here all the time.

Is that alliance between dancehall and hip-hop making roots stronger?

In a way. Some people appreciate the roots 'cause all they know is dancehall. The only thing that is strange to me is that we as the elders try to push reggae music to the world; where right now dancehall artists try to push hip-hop with their music just to crossover, just to sell. But that is not the objective of our original intent. Our intent was to take reggae music, Jamaican music, to the world on a global scale and transcend it through a spiritually conscious message, really move forward and nourish the people's minds. But now it's like the American hip-hop trying to do reggae, the Jamaican dancehall guy trying to do hip-hop--they run away from something they should maintain.

There's always been a strong alliance with hip-hop and dancehall. KRS-One did it in the late '80s. It's just hot in American media now.

Yeeeah.

I mean a Jamaican, Kool DJ Herc, invented hip-hop, right?

True Jamaica-owns all music whether it's hip-hop. dancehall or reggae. It's all Jamaican music in a different form. I don't knock the people who play dancehall because it's a new edition of reggae. I look at it like dancehall is a new edition of reggae music that transcends; it's an offshoot of reggae music. Real reggae music is what we play, and no matter where or when we play it we are always gonna sound like original roots. Some people call it old school, but old or new, we still cool like a water molecule.

You wrote "Bank Robber" with the Clash?

Yes, "Bank Robber" was a song for the Clash. Paul Simenon, the bass player for the Clash, impressed me as an Englishman playing bass. We became good friends because I realized Paul was listening to the same roots. as I was growing up listening to. He was reaching out with the same kind of reggae vibe. "Bank Robber" was a tune originally written punk-style, and when I met them we decided to change the vibe and make it into reggae. It was a good working relationship with the Clash. "Bank Robber" become a big song. The record company in England was scared to release it' cause they didn't know what it would do. It was originally released in Germany and sold so many copies on import that it jumped right into the British charts. So they had to release it. "Me a travel with the Clash on a UK tour, seen faces and a places, man, I never seen before. Everywhere we travel say they want encore, it's rock, it's a rock, rock to the reggae. It's rock, it's a rock, rock to the reggae. Make me move, make me move ... Yes man, it's a new style."

Talk about your roots and who inspired you back in Jamaica.

I started out playing a sound system called Safari. When I pass by school I see them playing. So when I get out of school I meet them and go sit down and hear them play everyday. I would do the chores, like go buy some cigarettes, or buy some juice or beer. Eventually after a while they let me practice with the sound. So eventually they start making me play at dances and parties with them. So I start out as a sound system DJ playing music all over town. I was doing that before I even make reggae music. I loved doing that, playing music for good people. After that I take O levels and A levels and I move on to the University of Technology in Kingston. I embarked upon a course in electrical engineering, but half-way through I stopped. I never liked it. Then I went to work as a technical operator at a radio station. The radio then in Jamaica was set up like the radio was in England. So I started loading the reel-to-reel, playing records, cartridges, answering the phone. At that time the radio in Jamaica was signing off at midnight and signing on again at 4:30am. They had a Bible show for half an hour then the Goad Morning show that would start at 5:00am. So I set my show up and broadcast from midnight to 4:30. This had never been done in Jamaica. They thought no one would listen to reggae after midnight because it was not a Jamaican tradition.

What year was that?

1977, 1978. I burned it--I burned it hard every night from midnight to 4:30. Then the system tried to get at me; they were like "It's too monotonous playing reggae back to back," so they cut back my show. And they cut it back until I only had Saturday night alone.

Did you ever record in Scratch's Ark?

Yeah man, I record some songs with Lee Perry. I recorded about 15 tracks with him He released "Dreadlocks in Moonlight" and "Schoolgirl". I don't know what became of the other tapes 'cause Scratch was alleged to have burned his studio down and all the rages with it.

Alleged? You think Scratch flipped the tapes?

Somewhere, it's possible. Ready to resurface. Anyway, after I been on the radio for a while I start recording. I got too much flack from my fellow operators and people in the media. The problem was they were too trained by the British; you must play one of this and one of that. But when you hear Mikey Dread you gonna here reggae--one sound reggae sound. So that is the one thing I changed in Jamaican music. It became phenomenal, even though at the time in the radio station I couldn't feel the feedback. When the show was on, the crime rate in Jamaica fell to almost nothing. All the rudeboys would be listening to the tunes and dancing. Then I won an award in 1978 for Top Radio Personality of the Year.

That's dope.

After that I started recording "Barber's Saloon," the first song I made was "Love The Dread," which was an evolution of the Rockers album. Then Trojan released the album Dread at the Controls. The song "Barber's saloon" was recorded by King Tubby, and it became instant number one in Jamaica. And it was really popular in London so that got Mikey Dread into England. Then I recorded a reggae documentary for Channel Four TV in London, which aired for an hour every Friday night. And then I met up with the Clash.

You opened the door for reggae to grow worldwide.

I am part of he fixtures. It was just something I believed in and it was something I gotta do. A lot of reggae DJs didn't believe in it like me and they didn't support me. Here was a man who heard the calling and what did they do? Trample it. I remain true to reggae music. I wasn't just there for Mikey Dread, I was there for the reggae culture to get back alive and for people to start believing in themselves. People could hear themselves on the radio, hear different sounds. I was exclusive before anyone else. I was the first to play "Uptown Top Ranking" as a dub plate. Before me no other radio DJ played dub plates on the radio. I sampled before samples became samples.

What are you doing now?

I am working on releasing a new album of all my old masters. You can check me and roots reggae culture out at www.mikeydread.com. That's Mikey with no C. I ain't no Mickey Dread, I'm Mikey Dread Don't be spelling my name wrong People always do that M-I-K-E-Y D-R-E-A-D. Got it?

Yep. Love, blessings, shouts?

I love all my fans. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be around--man, woman, boy and girl. I try not to be ego driven.

Mad love and respect to Mikey Dread and the Jamaican elders of reggae music. If it wasn't for them we wouldn't have dancehall or hip-hop music today. For real. And RIP Joe Strummer for turning me on to reggae with "Police and "Thievas," The Clash. One Love.
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Author:X, Aki
Publication:Thrasher
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:1740
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