A couple of weeks ago I posted the lost chapter of Ska: An Oral History and mentioned how I was unable to use an interview from Prince Buster in my book because negotiations with his manager proved unfruitful. I have decided that it is wrong to leave this important piece of history buried because of money. So I use this platform to post the interview since there is no money to be made here. There is no money to be made in publishing academic books either, which is why his manager did not want to grant me permission. So hey, it is almost two decades after I conducted this interview on a microcassette tape over the phone, and it is time it sees the light of day, for the good of Jamaican music history, because Prince Buster is a legend who deserves our respect and admiration for all he has contributed. I’ve included a few photos along the way for your visual pleasure.
Prince Buster Interview with Heather Augustyn, 7-14-1997
I was in a dance troupe and would sing solo. I used to have problems going to school in the day because I stayed up so late at night. I paid less attention to singing and was more into boxing and wanted to be in fights but really there was no money in boxing. You’d get punched up and then there was no money. So I leave that and go back to singing and started recording. From day one, I started for me. [See post on Prince Buster’s boxing days HERE]
Tom the Great Sebastian had a hardware store and he’d play music there all day long on Fridays and Saturdays. They used to play rhythm and blues at the time imported from America. I used to hear a lot of rhythm and blues. I used to play at Tom’s and Coxsone came around one day and asked if I would help him, because of my popularity and a lot of people followed me at the time and I helped Coxsone. Coxsone took off by himself but I was the one who used to help Coxsone to find who were the artists on the records that Duke Reid played at the dance. Duke Reid was his competitor. But in those days they would scratch the labels off the record so you could read nothing. But Tom didn’t do that, and when I was at Tom’s, I read the names on the label and I identified the players who played and tell to Coxsone the labels they were recording on in the United States and he’d buy these records and bring back and the agreement was that a certain portion would be for me. But every time he came back he had something to fix or something to do, I didn’t get my work. So knowing I was the one keeping up his sound system, I went off and did my own sound system and challenged Coxsone and Duke Reid and dethroned them and became king of sound system.
I had tried to get a visa to come to the United States to buy some rhythm and blues by going into the farm work program. I passed every test and the morning we were supposed to leave, one of the inspectors took me out of line. Very disappointed was I so I went back to my friends, everybody thought I was going to leave—I was telling everybody when I came back I was going to have these recordings because I knew the nae of the artists and what to look for. And that didn’t work, so I went to Drumbago who played a club and I asked him to come with me and play a march, similar to a procession. I would wander off in processions to the beat of the drum, and that is what I did. I get together with Drumbago. I put the march on the track and I asked him to put the accent on the one and the three and I had Jah Jerry come up with the strum of the guitar and I had Rico Rodriguez do the ‘pop pop pop’ on the tenor sax [sic. Rico was trombone–see photo below] and recorded the sound that took over Jamaica. And that was called ska.
Understand that rocksteady is a child of ska and reggae is a child of rocksteady. So that makes ska the grandfather of reggae. Because Bob Marley said it quite plain. He said ‘I feel it in the one drop.’ My thing from day one was the one drop. Everybody knows, that what Drumbago play, the one drop. And he and, ‘I feel it in the one drop,’ and to this day, his alto sax player who alone tells that Drumbago was where the ska jump come from.
I was called that [Prince Buster] from day one. I was born in a riot. There was a man who was fightin’ for the working class because in Jamaica, I was born in that day and they name me after him. He became the prime minister and they name me from him. Sir Alexander Bustamante, national hero of Jamaica. He is also cousins to the Manleys. I was born Cecil Campbell, but they call me Prince Buster. But to this day people call me Cecil “Prince Buster” Campbell.
There were all of these political divides in Jamaica and on a similar scale, you tend to forget what happened then because the divide is so huge now. We had some violence, but compared to now, it was nothing. The politicians will do nothing to stop it. That’s part of the thing, you know, we hire them and employ them to go and find a better solution for the country and they go there and cannot do nothing to stop the violence and then the violence affect the economy and the country now is in a drain because of the violence. It becomes a hostile environment and then people think twice before they put their money in. So I am still asking them to do something about it, to this day, to do something about it regardless of political affiliation and they don’t do it. I’m up and down there. I’m from the people. I was called The Voice of the People. I have championed the voice of the people. That put me with many clashes with governments in Jamaica.
The music was born from the people and Kingston is where the music came from, that is the area and ska was laughed at by Duke Reid, Coxsone, and the more well-to-do people up on the hill who at that time could profit from the American imports. Even the radio station gave us a hard time promoting ska because they had their thing going with the manufacturers of the American imports. People got licenses and started pressings in Jamaica, so most of the DJs had a good thing going with the manufacturers. We didn’t have much money to give them and we had a hard fight with the disc jockeys on the radio station to promote ska. Ska took over by the will of the people. People started writing to the station, they want to know why they’re not hearing this and that constant barrage converted them. And today I hear a lot of people praising that ska is good, but now they must remember we adapt ever since then. The people went through it and today even those hypocrites have done it.
A rude boy was like a disobedient child. There were criminals but a rude boy was a little disobedient, yah?
Derrick is my friend, you know? Derrick used to sing for a man named Hi Lite. Smithy was his name, but we call him Hi-Lite and at my shop he was about three or four miles away from me. I started making hit after hit after hit and Derrick came down to the shop because we had a lot of young singers we were bringing along. And he sang ‘Hey Fat Man’ and all that but we said we could do better with him than ‘Hey Fat Man,’ so he joined the group with us and we took him to the studio and we made records. Then at a later date he used one of my songs. He encouraged one of the members of my band to play with Beverley’s, a person who do recordings, so I called him a ‘Black Head Chinaman.’ He went back and said I’m a ‘Blazing Fire’ and then I said ‘Praise and No Raise’ and we keep on saying to each other. Our competitiveness is in support of the music. We will compete with each other. Derrick Morgan would come to the back of my shop. I counted him close to me. We had a war but we didn’t have a physical war. I don’t remember ever talk to Derrick that hard for a war, you know, more than for the music, to get things done, but still today we still compete with music. He said it too. We argue about some things but it was always a friendship because with me, he’s got a voice to speak and it’s a democratic kind of thing.
I came out in the society for the people, so I had government banning my songs from the radio. I had the other part of society fighting me as a rebel. And the rest of the singers didn’t have this—they just compete with sounds. But I guess that’s why the people of Jamaica respect me, because they knew, as young as I was, the spirituality was in me and the love of God could stand up against everybody–government, Duke Reid, Coxsone—I stood up to everybody. It’s the great love I have for God.
[About new ska bands] I love them. These are the younger people now and they’re putting new energy into the things. At their age, they’ve got the young appearances for the audience now. I greatly appreciate that.