Prince Buster and Federal Records

prince buster

Nothing too pithy this week, just a little advertisement I found while looking through the Daily Gleaner archives. This little gem is from January 23, 1967 edition and is a paid advertisement from Federal Records. It is intriguing on many levels, and I guess it leaves me asking more questions than finding answers.

First, I know that Prince Buster and Ken Khouri had a good relationship. “Prince Buster was always with me in the ska years,” Khouri told David Katz in 2004. And he told Gleaner reporter Balford Henry in 2003, “I liked him [Prince Buster]. He was a Federal man. Nobody could say anything bad about him to me.”

Graeme Goodall, engineer extraordinaire once told me that even though Prince Buster may have had a few idiosyncrasies that may have been common to producers in those days, he was a favorite around Federal. “One of the interesting things was there was a guy, Cecil Campbell (laughs) and he kept on coming into Federal and he and Ken Khouri had this fantastic antagonism (laughs). Prince Buster of course, and he was always owing Ken Khouri money. He’d get soft wax and then he would go see Ken to pay the money. He used to ride on the back of Monty Morris’s Quigley motorcycle. It was a moped. And Monty Morris used to carry Buster around. Buster would go out, sell these records and come back and then he’d want to pay Ken Khouri and he’d want more soft wax and it got to the point where Ken Khouri said, ‘I don’t want him in my place anymore, he’s a samfie man, a con man, I don’t want him near the place.’ But there’s just something about Prince Buster that appealed to me. And I went up to Ken and I said to Ken, ‘He’s alright, he’ll be okay,’ and he said, ‘Samfie man. I don’t want him near the place.’ I said, ‘Ken, please, he’s alright. He’s different, but he’s okay,’ and he said, ‘Alright Goody, I’ll tell you what. He’s yours. He’s yours. If I lose any money I’ll take it out of your pay.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take care of him.’ And Prince Buster has never forgotten that. I was the one who stood up for him because I could see something in there,” says Goodall.

The next bit of intrigue for me is that this seems like a lotta lotta records sold in the U.S. Now I’m no collector, I’m the first to admit, but I just find it stunning that 90,000 copies were sold in three days, but that likely includes all markets–JA, UK, and US, although the US is implied. The claim that he captured the United States Record Market is, well, delightful! And that he put Jamaica back on the international record scene! I just chuckle when I read about Prince Buster. I can’t help it. He is such a character! So there is a healthy dose of self-promotion and bravado and boasting going on here for sure, but then there is also, I think, a little stroking and patting on the back from Federal, who no doubt wants his continued business. It is just an interesting piece, don’t you think? What are your thoughts? Please share–I love the dialogue!

12 comments

  1. sampy?…..probably ”samfie/sanfie” ……Prince Buster can not be labeled at all…..he is the Crowned King of Ska!

  2. I think one of the least understood elements of Jamaica’s early record industry is how music licensing played out initially. Khouri was the first, I think, and over time entered into agreements with (among others) Mercury, Capitol and RCA (who were originally handled by CRC, I believe) to press in Jamaica. Some Jamaican records were pressed officially in the US as well, among them, this Prince Buster. (Surely, there must be a list of officially licensed foreign pressings somewhere?) Cool that he sold so many copies of this one!

    • The only Prince Buster I can think of that fits into the US press early on is the Soul Pleasure/Cupid (Owen Gray) on Soul Kiss in 68. It shows a JA and US release in RKR

  3. Very good point, Daniel. Alec Durie, owner of Times Store, was an early investor at Federal and encouraged Ken Khouri to seek out these franchising arrangements. He also had contracts with Decca and Atlantic. It was when the Michael Manley government came in during the 70s that the family was scared off by the policies and nearby red scare in Cuba, so they sold of the equipment, although not all of it, and left for Miami. This was something many of the producers did as well since restrictions were put on the number of exports and imports.

  4. Buster is not exaggerating at all in his claims about “Ten Commandments”… it sold in the USA pretty well, I have a copy of it on Amy records, and the follow-up/answer record by “Princess Buster” was also released in the US, I have that on the King label. And they are not particularly rare — “Ten Commandments” charted in the USA well enough that RCA put out a Prince Buster LP by that title. I believe Buster’s single was the first Jamaican record to cross over into the American pop charts, followed by Desmond Dekker with “The Israelites” a bit later.

  5. I forgot to mention Millie Small, I’m not sure which record came out first internationally, My Boy Lollipop, or Buster’s record.

  6. OK I found this, apparently we still don’t know: “In 1964, The Five Dimensions were hired to provide backing for Jamaican singer Millie Small on her hit recording of My Boy Lollipop. …according to guitarist Kenny White, it was occasional band member Pete Hogman who played on the session. Pete apparently looked very much like Rod in appearance so it’s likely that Millie Small’s manager Chris Blackwell (who also managed Birmingham’s Spencer Davis Group) was mistaken in identifying him. Other sources have also claimed John “Junior” Wood of the Jeff Beck Group as being the likely contender. According to Jimmy Powell though, none of the above stories are correct. “I played harmonica on My Boy Lollipop and Mike Carroll did the clapping” says Jimmy. In addition, Jimmy Powell was also hired by Jack Goode to play the harmonica on P.J. Proby’s 1964 hit Hold Me and if you listen to this record you can hear the similarity in the playing which indeed supports Jimmy’s claim.” http://www.brumbeat.net/jimmypow.htm

  7. I’m pretty sure that’s a different Five Dimensions — an English band that got hired to play on the session, not the American vocal group.

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