“Jamaica is a great little place”


Bunny Lee reflects on Jamaica and its music

Interviewing a man like Bunny Lee is challenging: where do you start? Where do you stop? With 60 years in the music business as a producer, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee has worked with people like Johnny Clarke, Cornell Campbell, U-Roy and  Beenie Man, and has many stories to tell. In light of Jamaica 50, let’s travel in back time and talk with the man himself. 
What was the overall sentiment at independence?
We believed that better must come and we haven’t done badly. Look how we have taken over in the athletic field for instance with Bolt and Blake, but we are no strangers to gold or silver medals as we had people like George Rhoden in the past. Jamaica is a great little place.
What major changes have taken place in the music scene over the time?
We started with mento and Jamaican calypso. Then we went to ska and rocksteady and in 68 we started the reggae over in Duke Reid’s studio. Reggae took on very well and it looked like it was here to stay. The younger generation calls their music dancehall, but all music is dancehall music as it used to play in the dancehalls the same way. Ska is still the backbone of Jamaican music as the guitarists play the ska itself. 
Another major development was dub, although it was a result of a mistake rather than a deliberate creation. Roger Redwood in Spanish Town forgot to put the singing voice into the mix.  Smithy, the engineer at the time, recognised the potential of this version and ordered to cut both versions with and without the singing voice.
As one of the first producers of dub music you have been closely associated with King Tubby. Many people think of him as a musician, what do you think was his contribution to the music?
King Tubby was a sound man, he had good ears and was a good engineer. We tried a lot of experiments in the studio to get different sounds. Sometimes when singers made a mistake we would rub out the riddim and leave only the drum. People loved the style and followed it.
If Linval Thompson for instance sang off-key or behind the riddim we mixed him on the riddim until he learned to sing on-key. Same with Bob Kelly.
Others like Delroy Wilson or Cornell Campbell never sang off-key. As a matter of fact any riddim you gave Cornell Campbell he just found his own melody. He was also a good musician who could play the bass and the guitar. You have some gifted people in Jamaica. Horace Andy played piano and guitar. At the time each of the singers could play an instrument.
What to you make of the current developments of digital music?
Many people all over the world prefer the original type of music. The digital music is out there, it’s all good, you have to move with the time, that is progress. Still today’s music has no longevity. Vybz Kartel is a great artist but his songs don’t last more than a week or two. The music of people from the old school like U-Roy or Dennis Alcapone stand the test of time. Artists tend to refer back and use live drums as it gives the music a different feel. Good luck to who like the digital thing!
Who would you say are the top five artists Jamaica has produced?
We are still producing artists and I couldn’t just pick out 5, everybody has contributed to the progress of the music.
Three of the greatest singers Jamaica ever saw have died: Delroy Wilson, Denis Brown and Slim Smith – they are one of a kind. Alton Ellis, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, those are all time greats. If you gave them a song to sing they made it their own, they were Jamaica’s first super stars. Bob Marley was good too. Singers of the present like Beres Hammond…
A man like me cannot name five singers and say these are the ones, a next singer would be vex with me. John Holt, Ken Boothe, they all were my friends and they are all good in their own right.
You have also published a book…
Yes, it’s to get people more to the truth. People like to tell stories that don’t go like that. Toots claims he started to sing reggae first, but when it started he was in prison where he got his number 54 46. When Toots came out of prison he claimed he started it. Toots is a great artist but you must give credit to where credit is due.


Of Bunny Lee’s Reggae Going International 1967-1976

by answering the following question:

In which year did reggae start?

email your response to: or text 07956121336


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