21 Jul GAME CHANGER: A Conversation With Reggae Pioneer SHINEHEAD
GAME CHANGER: A Conversation With Reggae Pioneer SHINEHEAD
“I reached back for some real soul, focus me up and straighten me, to go forth and make more soul, make my original soul, and contribute to the world.” Shinehead
On July 1, 2020, legendary reggae pioneer Shinehead was honored as a “Game Changer” by International Reggae Day, showing love and appreciation for his lifelong contributions to the culture, from “Jamrock 2 Hip Hop”. Sometimes overlooked, Shinehead’s influence and songbook deserve the accolades and resulting celebrations. At Herb an’ Music: The Healing of the Nations, we intend to continue honoring Shinehead with this exclusive interview from Summer 2021.
Shinehead’s iconic career has yielded an incredible, diverse resume of classic cuts, including staples like “Jamaican in New York,” “Collie Weed,” “Chain Gang” “Strive,” “Golden Touch”, plus a plethora of others. His 1986 LP Rough and Rugged crossed the dancehall with hip-hop, a groundbreaking document that holds up 35 years down the road. Shinehead’s catalog is forever juicing soundsystems and ghetto blasters across the globe, still livelying up the dancehall, and streaming out of radios worldwide. With an uncompromising legacy in various genres of Black music: hip-hop, reggae, dancehall, R&B, and beyond – the unique musical styles of Shinehead have etched his name in the annals of music history.
Music is one thing Shinehead will talk about at length. He is a lifer, picking up a microphone to toast a crowd for the first time on July 5, 1982, at a reggae dance block party in the Bronx. Ever since then, he’s been a trendsetter, a leader not a follower. Though he is deeply steeped in the classics. Most recently, he’s interpolated works from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson on “Never Had a Dream Come True”, among other heroes of popular music, like Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You”. Rumor has it, Shinehead has a little Marvin Gaye on deck.
So when the opportunity came about for Herb an’ Music to speak directly with such a revered and important cat who’s thrived around the world across three-plus decades, it was a no-brainer. Shinehead was traveling from NYC to Los Angeles, and we caught up with him while he was driving through Nebraska. Lucky for us, he was in a very uplifting mood and was eager to revisit his expansive musical journey.
The following interview has been edited for length & clarity.
Herb an’ Music: Shinehead! What an honor and a privilege! My dear friend, Michael, connected me with you. He speaks very fondly of you and your wife, Diana. So I want to give thanks for connectivity and just bringing us together to talk about your music, your legacy, and your message. I am honored to speak with you today, Shinehead.
Shinehead: Give thanks! Right now I’m at a truck stop because I just drove across America, I got to go see my mom.
Herb an’ Music: Oh, that’s amazing you got to spend time with mom.
Shinehead: Yeah. So this is my second interview I’ve ever done on a road trip. What had happened was… my mom got sick in April and went to the hospital. So I drove from LA to New York to see her, and I’m on my way back for my Sunday Father’s Day dance. And I’m in a Nebraska truck stop right now!
Herb an’ Music: Yes, give thanks! Prayers to your mom for a speedy recovery.
Your legend and legacy is well known, and frankly, Shinehead needs no introduction. I thought we’d start with what you got going on now. I’ve been listening to some of your latest songs, ‘Never Had a Dream Come True’, which borrows from icons like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Also, ‘The Makings of You’, voicing the Curtis Mayfield joint! So let’s talk about the new music. What about those artists, those classic songs and the riddims that called to you, inspired you to voice those records?
Shinehead: It was a recalibration of sorts, to call on substance, to make new original substance. Those musics, and many like them, those are our old culture, culture that’s being forgotten. Those are musics, some of the many musics of substance. Now, they’re amongst many musics, some of which have no substance. I call on substance to also help me make my original substance, and to stay substantial like those old songs. Any good song from any era. Substance. Good substance.
Herb an’ Music: Yes, sir. I love that. Soul music is forever. And those artists are of great substance, as are you.
Shinehead: Thank you. When we say soul, a lot of us are losing it, a lot of us don’t got it any more. Not just soul in music, but soul in your life, in how you deal with people. Some people aren’t connected. Some people ain’t even connected with themselves. You got to reach for something of substance and something of soul. Figuratively and literally, but more literally than figuratively, because as you see, technology, selfie, me, me, me, everybody done lost their mind and their souls.
So I reached back for some real soul, focus me up and straighten me, to go forth and make more soul, make my original soul, and contribute to the world. Because the music nowadays, for the most part, is either about hot girl, or flossin’. Raasclaat you doing flossin’ in these times? Especially as a black person, when you’re an endangered species, me no know. Priorities is upside left, so I’m going back to soul and substance B.Getz. I begets soul and substance for an upful life!
Herb an’ Music: Yes sir! Seen and overstood. It’s important to teach the youth about soul.
Shinehead: All the riddles are aligned. I may be a joker, but it ain’t no joke.
Herb an’ Music: You mentioned soul and substance. I was listening to you talk on the Wizology program a few months back – Shoutout DJ Wiz! and you were talking about being a youth, showing up in Jamaica in 1967 from the UK. What was some of the music you were introduced to at that formative age when you first left the UK and got to Jamaica?
Shinehead: A whole lot of rocksteady. A whole lot of ska. A whole lot of calypso. And that calypso was sweet. It ain’t like… All right, so calypso turned soca and got wack. Reggae too. So back then I was getting all that at one time. Plus, American music. White American music and Black American music and Native American music. Meaning those that were born here from millenniums of old, meaning the Native Americans, meaning the gold brown people with the long dark hair. Mexicano, Salvadorian, like that. All those musics was coming to Jamaica, even back then. And if you’re a child, you’re going to soak it up. I love song. I love the sound of sound. I just love the notion of sound, I love waves. And I especially love bass. Back then, I got everything at the right time. We talkin before Jimmy Cliff, before the wireless, we talkin the original rocksteady ska, done.
Right Honorable Sir. Roy Panton who lives in Toronto. All sound people, voice Sir Roy Panton before it’s too late. He was before anybody, he put on every scout person you know of. Yeah. He’s number one. This me get the whole of that all of that, and me get Roy Panton and me get Lord Nelson, Lord Kitchener. All these people, Roy Shirley, I got them firsthand. It was all zen.
Because you know, relatives, cousins, kids across the street. You’re going to hear the radio, the white cricket radio. Do you listen to the cricket? Listen to cricket, somebody in the park, back in the days yeah, we going to tune into all that. It was beautiful. Got all of it.
Herb an’ Music: Thank you. That’s some real history right there. Musicology.
Shinehead: Then fast forward, I go New York ’72, then I go back ’76, and that’s when music was still being made everywhere there. So I soak up all of that, too. But back in Jamaica though, music – it was always fought against, but that was what I wanted. Reggae music. Reggae music!
Herb an’ Music: You talk about sound, being fascinated with sound. I know soundsystem culture was huge in Jamaica in the 1970s in the time period we are speaking, at the dawn of reggae and just before rap music became a thing.. I am really intrigued by and interested in your findings & experiences with soundsystems and that side of yardie culture, in the early days. I was reading a bit of your history and saw that it was an Uncle who opened you up to all of that when you were a youth?
Shinehead: Uncle Winston from Kingston, Old King Disco. That’s the first time I’m seeing a sound system ever. To the point- Uncle Winston’s sound system, when his bass kicked in, red, green and gold lights came on. I’m going to do that on my sound one day! For homage, you know what I mean?
I saw some Temptations albums, Jackson Five albums. And that got me, because the Jackson Five album, it was little Black boys that look like me, with big old Afros and they’re smiling, they’re looking like they’re having fun. A few of them. And they look like they’re saying, “Hey, come here, come join us.” It looked like they moved to me. I’m a kid. I’m going to run with that.
Then I went back to the countryside and in the banana orchard, two older cousins, they talkin their teenage business. I’m just a kid, but I want to feel like part of the social group of three. So I just chime in with any old shit “sings in falsetto” and they said “Get out of here!”. I’m like “Okay…”. Slide some feet back, then boss the big old Jackson Five upon them. [sings falsetto chorus from “I Want You Back” ]. Yo, they rolled in the banana trash, you hear me? (laughs)
Herb an’ Music: That’s a deep memory right there.
Shinehead: I said they rolled in the banana! That was my first forward. My first forward was in a banana walk… who’d have thought of that?! So all who think that Shinehead is city-fied, yankie-fied, ain’t none of y’all get a forward in banana walk.
Herb an’ Music: Great stories, man. Thank you. Because we can learn a lot from people like you, because you lived it. You’re one of the rare artists that’s got roots in three countries! You’re part of UK culture as a youngster, part of Jamaican culture as a youth, then a part of the birth of hip hop in New York City. Respect!
You mentioned you landed in the big city, the Bronx, a Jamaican in New York, if you will (laughs). What was happening when young Shinehead touched down in the Bronx, right in the middle of the Seventies? Was it still live music bands, or was it soundsystems and parties in the park?
Shinehead: Oh yeah, but it wasn’t no young Shinehead… it was just a little Carl, trying to figure this out. The live bands was on! This was before Djing was on and prevalent, DJing kind of came up after, because everybody was about that live (music), man. When I touched down in ’72, my cousins dubbed me Carlito and they had a band in my aunt’s basement. I went away and then I came back in ’76, they still got the band going, and there were bands everywhere, man!
There was street bands out there that we looked up to. I joined the band with my cousin, in my auntie’s basement. I’m like third string bass man. So if first man and second man don’t come that Friday, I get to play. See you gotta wait your turn and you gotta earn, you gotta earn, burn, learn and pay dues, seen?
Herb an’ Music: Seen. So you were in bands first, paying dues. Then the hip hop & DJing, toasting, and later rapping came after that?
Shinehead: Then DJing started. We used to go down to Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx, go work out. And when you pass on your way, there may be a jam in Cedar Park.
Or there may be a jam across town east. It wasn’t called hip hop yet. You know, we just jamming. We just B-boying, we just B-girling. So it didn’t have a name yet. I was one of those who were witnesses of the birth. And I was amongst the beginning with the greats back then, the pioneers then, some who are still alive today. I was privileged enough to rock with some of the pioneers back then, until we changed lanes and went over to the rub-a-dub world.
Herb an’Music: Right on! Old school. Who were you rockin’ with in those days?
Shinehead: People like Cold Crush, Treacherous Three, Busy Bee, (Lovebug) Starski, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five…. Everybody backed up in the real Harlem World. DJ Red Alert, at the real Harlem World, (that was) the place at that time. Yes. I had the privilege in the valley. I had the privilege at lots of block parties in Brooklyn. Had the privilege on tours. And then in later years, I’m back in Jamaica with Run DMC and Fat Boys.
Herb an’ Music: Oh yeah. That’s history right there. And it’s important that you brought that up because you were a pioneer of bridging those gaps. So when you talk about Busy Bee, Treacherous Three, Cold Crush, those are the pioneers of what we all get down to today with hip hop. They laid the foundation and you were there for it.
Shinehead: Bridges were being made- gaps were being crossed over, like this. So you got Fat Boys, Yellow Man, Run DMC! And then with collaborations come collaboratory tours. It was a bit of a thing, still is.
Herb an’ Music: I heard your music even before I heard Bob Marley. As a young cat back in New Jersey, I saw the video for “Jamaican in New York”, I saw it on MTV and I saw it on Video Music Box. And then I heard the “Chain Gang” because one of my friend’s brothers used to play it.
Going as deep as Rough and Rugged LP in ’86, you were straight up rapping back then, fully emceeing in the hip-hop sense, and yet still making authentic reggae music. Do you see your own incredible musical legacy, through this historical lineage and early associations?
If it’s there, it’s there. I’m not really going for brownie points like that, “Hey, look what I did! Look what I did! Remember? Remember back?” No. And it can’t be erased, and sooner or later, those who seek, they will happen upon it.
Herb an’ Music: The way we got connected was through (Herb an’ Music founder) Michael Allegretto, and you guys connected via the Welcome to Jamrock Cruise, so I know you’ve had a big role in the cruise over the years. Take us through how you got hooked up with the Jamrock cruise?
Shinehead: Originally it was DJ JFX that was supposed to go on the first one, the first time we heard about it. And then I got linked, there was some linkage with Byze One from Soundation.
After I speak with JFX and Byze One, I get this call out of nowhere from Dan Dalton who is Damian Marley’s manager.
And it was on from then. Then forth, it was very on. As simple and as quickly as that. I’ve talked to two of my bredrens and then I get a call from the man of all the manses, and it was like wrap up to that, brother.
Herb an’ Music: I bet. The whole thing just sounds like a reggae dream. Party in paradise. What are some of your favorite parts about performing and experiencing that annual event?
Shinehead: There’s like, 5, 7 days of rub a dub, Disneyland. I couldn’t believe it. Rub a dub dub, Disneyland on the high seven seas, that’s how it went down.
It’s for serious people. Jamrock is for serious people. You work hard like that, you go to something serious. But a Jamrock, it’s sexy. It’s gangster. It’s fabulous, it’s glamorous, on the high seas, on the high emerald seas.
Herb an’ Music: I wanted to just get the scoop on how you got connected there because Jamrock is bringing your music to a new generation. They get it on the boat and take that music home with them.
Shinehead: That was the scoop. It wasn’t really elaborate, that was the scoop. It was a lucky fluke, really a lucky fluke. It went so swimmingly, there were no hitches. So it felt destined. And they take memories home too. Lots of good memories year after year.
Herb an’ Music: You mentioned on the Wizology show that you’re going to voice some Marvin Gaye, I hear?
Shinehead: Yeah, man. For sure. Two joints I’m clapping. ‘Brother Brother’ and ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’.
Herb an’ Music: Yes! We look forward to that. Such powerful messages. Deep cuts. Love that formula over classic riddims.
Shinehead: Yeah they’re going on real Treasure Isle riddims because there’s going to be a real Treasure Isle Shinehead album. And if the riddim aint Treasure Isle, then you know we had some fun with some Stray Shots, hence a Stray Shots album.
Herb an’ Music: I love your song Collie Weed. The Seals and Crofts melody, it’s a beautiful ‘Summer Breeze’ interpolation. I love that lineage. And I appreciate that you have always advocated for ganja. Because you live in the States now, and we both enjoy the ganja. You see that legalization is slowly happening. You see people making money off of it, corporations and shit. So as somebody who’s been a proponent of ganja, an advocate for this plant since before it was cool or legal, what are your thoughts on the legalization of ganja in the U.S.?
Shinehead: (raises voice to a defiant tone) Everybody that got arrested for it before and put in time, every last incarcerated ganja related person should be released! Because they paid the price and the sacrifice for something that was deemed so bad and so wrong… but really corporations, then governments – the powers that be – just didn’t find a way to tax it yet. So until they found a way to make money from it, it was bad.
Herb an’ Music: PREACH!!
Shinehead: Now, all who were persecuted for such should be released and given reparations. And that’s not just what I feel, is that not logic? Reparations. Is that not logic? This is not emotion here. Logic override. Reparations for all who get locked up. Whether you was hustlin’ or whether you just a smoker. And them sheets got to be balanced. So if those people aren’t taken care of, this new found ganja business is going to go down. Now it may sound like I’m the new Dick Gregory… Well, let me tell you something. There’s a thing called energies, and they’ve got to be balanced. And if you don’t balance it, it will balance itself for you, and you don’t want it to balance itself.
Herb an’ Music: Balance and energy. Respect! Please continue…
Shinehead: I seen me do some foolishness, one fine day. And I seen me pay for it later on that same fine day. So yeah I did some dumbness and by the end of the day I was at Tony Screw’s house, then it got dark… And then I’m riding in the dark… all of a sudden I’m airborne and I’m tumbling down steps on the bicycle. I did some dumb shit that I had to pay for.
Herb an’ Music: Karma is a real thing.
Shinehead: Yeah. Put all energies in its right place and you will be infinitely prosperous and profiteering. But if you don’t care about the guy and the girl that went through all of that…. If I’m in Simi valley, I’m in Silicon valley, and I’m making millions, I don’t care. Yeah, one day you’re going to care when some shit happens to your kids because of the curse. As far fetched as it sounds, it goes down, and movies have been made of such things already, you see. So like Anthony Red Rose would say ‘Don’t say me didn’t warn ya. Oh Lord me tell ya !
Herb an’ Music: Those are some fiery words that people need to hear. And from your lips to Jah ears, balance and energy, that’s logic and that’s karma. Every action has a reaction. Seen and overstood.
Shinehead: All right my boy. See that? I ain’t got to tell you, you already know!
Herb an’ Music: You’ve lived an inspiring life as an artist and as a human. It’s an honor to reason with you today, and we’re just grateful to be able to hear your story and journey in 2021. I know you’ve got a radio show, and DJ. Where can people connect with Shinehead these days?
Shinehead: You can find a Shinehead, Butterfly and Kingston 12 HiFi at Kingston12hifi.com. The stations we play on are Unique out of London. Silk Radio out of London, Buzz, Passion Radio. Skyline, a Reggae Global Radio owned by legendary Ed Robinson. And of course, Nice Up Radio on the Northwest coast. Big up to Mark, Nice Up and the crew.
May 8th Mother’s Day. It was like a last minute “Hurry, come up’ dance”, which turned out better than we expected. So we did Memorial Day. We’re doing Father’s Day on (this) Sunday. After that we’re doing Kingston 12 HiFi Presents: two big sounds in one big lawn.
Herb an’ Music: We hear you and the enthusiasm has not dulled over the years. You’re still fired up, we love to see it. Wonderful to know that people are coming to the dance again. That’s a good sign!
Shinehead: Also we were invited for International Reggae Day. So we will be live on July 1. Big up to Andrea Davis.
Herb an’ Music: That’s huge. Big Up Shinehead! Give thanks to Michael A. and Butterfly for bringing us together.
Shinehead: Big up the boss lady! Butterfly. I have to big up big bro Michael Allegretto because I’m about to go to San Diego in a bit.
Herb an’ Music: This has been a true honor.
Shinehead: It’s a pleasure, man.
As told to B.Getz – Upful LIFE
Always providing fans with the ultimate listening experience on their syndicated radio shows, Shinehead and Kingston 12 have been staying busy amidst these confounding times. Shinehead’s blazing freestyles over intoxicating riddims during radio shows keep DJs, selectors, fans and soundsystems thirsty for his inimitable styles. An extension of Damian Jr. Gong Marley’s celebrated ‘Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise’, Jamrock Radio blesses up the international massive with expertly-curated programming from the cruise’s famous all-star DJs and selectahs.
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