Remembering Ska’s Godfather

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Sunday, September 18, 2016

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When he took the stage at the Mas Camp in Kingston for Heineken Startime in July 2000, it was Prince Buster’s first performance in Jamaica in 20 years. It was a triumphant return for the man known as the ‘Godfather of Ska’.

Buster — who died September 8 in Hollywood, Florida, at age 78 — was still active as an artiste. His impressive catalogue, which included songs like Wash Wash, Ten Commandments and Judge Dread, made him a popular draw in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom where he first toured in the early 1960s.

Michael Barnett and Keith Brown of MKB Productions, were promoters of Heineken Startime, which was largely responsible for the rocksteady revival in Jamaica during the 1990s.

Barnett recalled driving by Buster’s record store at Orange Street, downtown Kingston in the summer of 2000 and seeing the door open.

"I said to myself, ‘Buster mus’ be here’, stopped the car and went in," Barnett told the
Jamaica Observer.

Buster was at the store. He told Barnett of his plans to refurbish the establishment which was part of the hallowed Beat Street of the 1960s.

Barnett approached him about appearing on the latest Startime which, coincidentally, was a ska extravaganza dubbed ‘Skamania’. On it were Buster’s contemporaries: Derrick Morgan, Owen Gray, The Skatalites and Alton Ellis.

"He was a bit reluctant at first. He felt promoters booked he and Derrick so they could do a clash thing and he wasn’t into that," said Barnett.

The Buster/Morgan ‘feud’ of the early 1960s was the first of many artiste clashes in dancehall/reggae. It was triggered by Morgan leaving Buster’s fledgling Voice Of The People label for Leslie Kong’s more established Beverley’s Records.

After a second meeting with Barnett and Brown, Buster agreed to do the show. The event attracted a full house, with former Jamaica Prime Minister Edward Seaga, a long-time friend of Buster’s, among the attendees.

Barnett remembers Buster putting in a strong showing that earned him an encore. That was spoiled when he did the risqué
Wreck A P.. P.., which did not go down well with the conservative audience.

Later in the show, Buster was presented with a Living Legend Award by Morgan on behalf of the promoters.

Barnett, who kept in touch with Buster over the years, rates him as one of Jamaican music’s most creative minds.

"He’s definitely in the class of Coxson (Clement Dodd) and Duke Reid as a producer. As an artiste, he also made a significant contribution to the music."

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