Before There Was Reggae…


Before there was Reggae there was Rock Steady, before Rock Steady there was Ska. Ska was also known as Blue Beat and Blue Beat has to be attributed to Prince Buster. Musicologists may quibble over the evolution of Jamaica’s idiosyncratic music yet the facts are: Cecil Bustamente Campbell, born on Orange Street in Kingston, Jamaica, on 24 May 1938 was a musical pioneer. His middle name was given to him by his family in honour of the Labour activist and first post-Independence Prime Minister William Alexander Clarke Bustamante. The nickname of “Buster” stuck as Campbell became actively involved in the operational side of running a sound system after he was introduced to Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, a musically inclined businessman who operated one of Kingston’s most popular sound systems. The knowledge he gained about the financial and logistical aspects of staging a sound system dance was put to good use when Campbell made the decision to start his own sound system called ‘Voice of the People’. Campbell released his first single “Little Honey” featuring Jah Jerry, Drumbago and Rico Rodriquez recording under the name of Buster’s Group. Soon he went by Prince Buster, and recorded prolifically throughout the 1960s; notable early ska releases include: “Madness” (1963), Wash Wash” (1963, with Ernest Ranglin on bass), One Step Beyond (1964) and Al Capone (1964) In 1961. In the UK, Buster’s releases were on the Blue Beat label and in the early days of Mods, Blue Beat became the de facto name for the music. In 1964 Campbell met World Heavyweight Champion boxer Muhammad Ali who invited him to attend a Nation of Islam talk at Mosque 29 in Miami. That year Campbell joined the Nation of Islam. Campbell had a top twenty hit in the UK with the single “Al Capone” in 1967. The UK Ska revival at the end of the 1970s that started with the 2-Tone label from Coventry introduced Campbell’s music to a new generation of listeners. Madness released their first single on 2-Tone, a tribute to Campbell called The Prince“. The B-side was a cover of the Campbell song “Madness” from which they took their name. The Specials also included a cover of “Enjoy Yourself” on their second album More SpecialsThe Beat covered “Rough Rider”. Cover versions of Prince Buster’s records have continued throughout the years, no doubt there will be yet another revival since the man died at the of 78 on September 8, this year.

On the next edition of Life Elsewhere Music we will present a special tribute to Prince Buster. Plus, Nancy Kells of Spartan Jet-Plex has very kindly sent us her new song, you’ll hear that and releases from Snail Mail, Fresh Snow and Past You.

Life Elsewhere Music airs Wednesdays at 3.00pm Pacific Time on NWCZ Radio. You can hear all the editions of Life Elsewhere Music over at Mixcloud.

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