Tougher than Tough
This interview with Derrick Morgan conducted by David Rodigan, was broadcast on Kiss 100fm in London on 20th May 2001.
Derrick Morgan Interview
When did you start being involved with music?
I was born on the 27th of March 1940 and seventeen years later, that’s 1957, was the first time I went out as a singer. They used to have this programme in Jamaica called Vere John’s Opportunity Hour talent contest, and it was on every Tuesday. So I went on that imitating Little Richard and did ‘Long Tall Sally’. And I came in first that night. And after that I joined this comedian group called Bim & Bam, and I started doing stage shows for them around the island imitating Little Richard. He was the one who most inspired my music in the early years. Then, after going around with Bim & Bam for about two years, I started recording in 1959. It was for this man called Duke Reid, ‘The Duke’, and the first song I did was called ‘Lover Boy’ — it was later released as a single called ‘Escona Rock’.
Was that your first single?
No, my first single to the public was ‘Hey You Fat Man’ which came out in 1959 (the same year as ‘Lover Boy’) for LITTLE WONDER, the Jamaican label. This was the first single I did that anyone could buy. ‘Lover Boy’ was made, and the sound man Duke Reid just kept it playing on his sound system and that’s why I left him at that time.
Duke Reid only did an acetate of ‘Lover Boy’?
Yeah, he just did an acetate and kept playing it, and didn’t release it at the time until he heard my ‘Fat Man’ and then he released it. Over the years I did a lot more for Duke Reid — songs like ‘Love Not To Brag’ (which was Patsy and myself), ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘Feel So Good’ and ‘Feeling Fine’. After leaving Duke Reid, I went to Prince Buster. I met Prince Buster coming up Orange Street once and he stopped me and asked me if I could help him out in doing some recording.
He knew who you were?
Yeah, he knew who I was because my songs start selling well, you know. The tune ‘Hey You Fat Man’ was number one at the time and Duke Reid had put out ‘Lover Boy’, and it was way up in the Top Ten also. And Buster was asking me to help him out in doing some recording. And I told him, ‘Well, that’s okay with me’. And I went to the studio — the same studio we often used, Federal — and it was only one track in those days. Everyone had to sing at the same time, band and everything go down at the same time. Get it right or do it again.
So I helped Prince Buster out on this song called ‘They Got To Go’ — it was his first song (he recorded an instrumental earlier, but this was his first record as a singer). And then I did a song for him called ‘Shake A Leg’ at the time. I did about thirteen songs for Prince Buster, and they were all hit songs for him, with help from the backing money which I think was from Duke Reid helping Buster. I only went there to help him produce that day, and from then I did a lot of songs for Prince Buster until 1962 and then I step away from Prince Buster.
What I want to tell you now is about BEVERLY’S RECORDS. There was a Chinese man named Lesley Kong who ran BEVERLY’S and their business was like a restaurant. One day while I was home I saw a little boy come to me and he said to me that BEVERLY’S sent him to me. And I said, ‘Who’s Beverly’s’. And he told me he had a little song, and they were asking me could I put it together for this little boy who we named afterwards Jimmy Cliff. The song was called ‘Dearest Beverly’, a soft song and when I say it was a soft song I mean it was a soul song. I listened to the song, and I said that it was too slow for what was going on at the time — because it was Ska days, you know. We set him up in a rehearsal spot and I produced this tune called ‘Hurricane Hattie’ and ‘The Lion Say ‘I’m King and I Reign” — those two songs. I went back to Lesley Kong with him now, and that’s how I got to know Lesley Kong. And ‘Be Still’ and ‘Sunday Monday’ were the first recordings I did for BEVERLY’s.
I made ‘Forward March’ for BEVERLY’S — it was the first Jamaican independence song and it was a big seller. And Prince Buster took a solo off it and claimed that I took his belongings to the Chinaman. And he started singing a song off me called ‘Blackhead Chinaman’. I answered him and said that he must walk the blazing fire. And then he answered that. So this fellow’s calling me a ‘blackhead Chinaman’ and I answered telling him that ‘I’m still your superior’. And from that I made ‘Be Still’. Every song I made, he tried to make one like it. I made ‘Tougher Than Tough’ — he made ‘Judge Dread‘. And when I made ‘I Am The Ruler’ — he made ‘Walking Up Orange Street I Am The Ruler Too’. For every song I made he started making one towards it. It never really troubled me anyhow cos it helped the songs to sell more. A little friendly rivalry. And everything keep going for me like that.
Then I stuck with BEVERLY’S for a good while now, and I used to do auditions for him. Any artists who wanted to sing would come and play the piano and I’d listen to them. Artists like Toots – I turned him down. But Desmond Dekker hung around BEVERLY’S for over two years before he’d sing a song. He came there as a singer but he couldn’t … there was no song that suited me. And he became my good friend, and we went together everywhere – we drank together, everything. But still I didn’t allow him to sing until he came with the right song – and the right song was ‘Honour Your Mother and Father’. That was his first song, and it was recorded for BEVERLY’S. Well Desmond never recorded for another promoter away from BEVERLY’S in Jamaica.
At one time I found myself having seven tunes in the top ten – from seven to number one. And no other artist has done that anyhow. This was 1962 going 1963. The reason I could have seven tunes in the top ten at the same time is that I was never under contract with none of the producers. So I used to sing for anyone who wanted me to sing. I’d do songs like ‘In My Heart I Feel Like A King’ and ‘Meekly Wait’ for COUNT BELLS. And at BEVERLY’S it was ‘Be Still’. So it just worked out that I had seven in at the same time. I can’t remember the order but I know that ‘Be Still’ was No. 1 (this was a two-sided hit with ‘Sunday Monday [Be Still]’ at No. 3) and also in the chart were ‘Meekly Wait’, ‘Housewives’ Choice’, ‘In My Heart I Feel Like A King’ and ‘Forward March’.
Then I came over to London in 1963 – Prince Buster and myself to see this man called Eugene Shalet from MELODISC RECORDS. Although I didn’t stay very long with them, I signed a contract with MELODISC. And I did this song called ‘Telephone’ here with Georgia Fame backing it and ‘Wash Wash’ with Prince Buster on the same day And about six months after I went back home because I couldn’t take the cold – it was too cold in England. I kept off the record scene for approximately three years because they said the Government said that I had put out too many records. They were limiting me. Between Prince Buster and I we both have to make peace in public. We had to put a show together and both of us go on stage together so that the people can see that we are the best of friends. Because it was causing a lot of fighting in Jamaica the warring between those who thought Prince Buster was best and those who thought I was better So we had to do this show to stop the violence. This was my farewell show in 1963 with Prince Buster before I came to England.
I used to have a friend of mine around Charles Street era and they know this guy and I met him there and that was Robert Lester Marley. And the first song he get to … he come by me at BEVERLY’S and we did this song for him called ‘Judge Not Before You Judge Yourself ‘ – his first song. The first stage show he did was at my farewell when I was coming to England in 1963. And that’s when Bob came on stage – he used to dance more than sing. I used to tell him that he’s supposed to sing the song, take the solo as a dance, then go back and sing – I was training him, and that’s how Bob started until he went to Coxsone.
When I went back to Jamaica I didn’t have a ‘welcome home’ gig because no one knew I was coming. The Prince and I met up back in Jamaica and some new artists now rose up like Stranger Cola and a few others. So I made this song to show that Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan were back on the scene and its called ‘Back On The Track’, and it became another hit for me.
Then I rest off for about three years then I come with ‘Tougher Than Tough’ (which is also known as ‘Rudies Don’t Fear’). And ‘Greedy Girl’ and that style of tune I changed from the ska and started going into rocksteady about 1965-66 until about 1969. ‘Greedy Girl’ was a number one for me in Jamaica. They called me ‘The Hitmaker’ and ‘The Hitbreaker’ because my sound would really go over. Well, I’ve been in it 32 years and every youth grow up still remember, still heard of Derrick Morgan. Any time I go to Jamaica, the littlest youth know me still. My songs are always played -they still play them.
In 1969 I brought my wife’s brother into music – this is Bunny Lee – and started him out in producing. And I used to do a lot of songs with him. Until he come to England and met this man called Carl Palmer,’ who ran PAMA RECORDS. And he set up this company in Jamaica called PAMA – that’s Bunny Lee who did that. We used to sing for PAMA and I come back to England in 1969 with Bunny and meet this Palmer up here. And after doing some songs for him he said he liked my idea of producing for him. So I produced some songs for him like my ‘Moon Hop’ and Owen Grey’s ‘Girl What You Doing To Me’.
So you recorded ‘Moon Hop’ just over the road from where you did this new version? And with ‘Whitey’ the original bass player.
‘Whitey’ was the bass player and Freddy Notes played conga drums on that. You had some of The Mohawks. I think ‘Whitey’ was the only one that wasn’t in The Mohawks who played on that recording. And I played the piano on it anyhow.
What did you think about it getting into the charts?
Well, I never expected it to. But it really hurt because as it entered the charts Graham Goodall came out with the ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’. And he came into the charts at number 56, and it stopped a lot of sales for me. But he and Carl Palmer had a difference, you know, but I don’t know what it was. Mine came out on the CRAB label and the other came out on TROJAN.
How did they think they could get away with stealing your song, putting a different name on it and releasing it at the same time?
I don’t know. But I think what happened is that when I made this song called ‘Seven Letters’ for Bunny Lee, Bunny leased it to two persons – PAMA as well as TROJAN. And the tune was going well, bubbling into the charts, and the two men started quarrelling because they both had it out at the same time. And that was all the trouble, so what Goodall did was wait until Palmer had a good seller then he just covered it to spoil Palmer’s sales. But it wasn’t really Palmer’s fault – it was Bunny Lee’s fault for giving it to two men at the same time.
In Jamaica where the roots are reggae and ska and rocksteady, right. In the beginning was ska – put away calypso. Laurel Aitken was one of our first recording artists in Jamaica, and Hickson Wilson, King Edwards and Owen Grey. Then Derrick Morgan – that’s where I come. Prince Buster came after me. I’m one of the helpers for Prince who started him in the music business and I hope he knows that. Well, Laurel sang first in Jamaica but I’m the first man then in the ska part because Laurel used to do calypso songs. And Laurel come and had some very good hits, very good songs.
What do you think of the ska scene now?
Well, the ska I feel up to today that the ska is better than the reggae and rocksteady. Its a very much stronger thing because its more rhythm and blues. And that is why it is so strong and can go plenty plenty further. If they hadn’t changed it to rocksteady and reggae it would have gone far, far. Right now I think reggae’s spoiled. The ska is better, really. I do a lot of producing now between rocksteady, ska and reggae.