Tag Archives: Reggae producers

Pioneering reggae producer Harry J has died

0000569323_350Veteran Jamaican producer Harry Johnson, better known as just Harry J, died on April 3 due to complications battling diabetes, according to Jamaica Observer. He was 68 years old.

Some of my earliest memories listening to reggae are his recordings and one of the first various artists compilations I bought was The Return of the Liquidator. It collects some of his finest and most groundbreaking productions, including Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths’ Nina Simone cover Young, Gifted and Black and the organ lead instrumental masterpiece The Liquidator released in 1969.

The latter tune was three years later used for The Staple Singers’ soul hit I’ll Take You There. The reggae vocal and sax version by Tony Scott and Val Bennett respectively are just as great as the organ cut.

Two tunes not included though were The Beltones’ No More Heartaches, by some referred to as one of the earliest reggae songs, and Lloyd Robinson’s haunting Cuss Cuss. Both were produced by Harry J.

Later this former insurance salesman established his own studio Harry J where loads of reggae nuggets were recorded, including tracks by Bob Marley, Burning Spear and Dennis Brown.

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Frenchie gives his view on the music business

Frenchie is one of the most respected European reggae producers of today and has made first class reggae since the 90’s. He has recently dropped a wicked album from veteran singer Luciano and a follow-up to the widely acclaimed Bobo Revolution compilation. He shares his story with Reggaemani, and gives his view on the current music business.

Frenchie was born in France, but used to live in the U.S. when he was young. He has been an avid record collector for a long time, and apart from buying records in his hometown Paris he used to come over to London in the mid 80’s with his brother to buy reggae records.

− I was a DJ on the radio in Paris and we were collecting records from an early age. We would go to a record shop called Blue Moon at lunch time and spend most of our lunch money on tunes, Frenchie writes in an e-mail to Reggaemani.

Living his dream
His production career started because he was a big fan of the legendary UK label Fashion.

− Fashion was linked with the famous record shop Dub Vendor. The owner John MacGillivray saw that I was really motivated and keen, and offered me a job at the studio as a recording engineer. I was 19 then, writes Frenchie and continues:

− From then on I worked with loads of artists. It was fantastic. I was recording all the people I was a fan of – Cutty Ranks, Alton Ellis, Horace Andy, Nereus Joseph, General Levy, Maxi Priest, Tippa Irie, Top Cat, Junior Delgado, Augustus Pablo, Sly Dunbar etc. Chris Lane and Gussie P were teaching me how to mix and record a song; it was like a dream come true.

One other important person was deejay Captain Sinbad who turned producer in the 80’s. He had produced singer John McLean’s big hit If I Give My Heart To You in 1987. Later he became one of Frenchie’s closest friends and business partner.

After spending a few years as an engineer Frenchie realized that he wanted to set up his own label. Maximum Sound was born.

− John MacGillivray, Chris Lane and Gussie P as well as Mafia and Fluxy always encouraged me. I started with £300, laid a couple of riddims with Mafia and Fluxy and the first set of songs I voiced was with an artist called Poison Chang.

Hard making money from music
Frenchie is known for his versatility and produces both dancehall and one drop rhythms. He has also done a lot of relicks of classic rhythms.

−I try to balance doing classic cover riddims and originals. I must have done 50/50 of each since I started.

He writes that he loves every genre of reggae right across the spectrum and has produced artists ranging from Vybz Kartel and Elephant Man to Lukie D and Jah Mason. However, it’s obviously hard making money from producing these days.

− I love dancehall, but nowadays commercially it’s very hard to generate any money from it so I do a lot of roots music that I try to sell on seven inch, even though the market is shrinking rapidly, he writes and continues:

− I also try to make music that can be played everywhere around the world. But it’s quite hard to find that balance as the scene is really separated. European reggae hardly crosses to the Jamaican market today, so when I do a riddim I have to think if it will be liked by the majority and played everywhere in the world.

Love of the music
He seems ambivalent about what type of reggae to produce. Roots reggae is expensive to make, but can be sold on seven inches on the European market. Dancehall on the other hand is cheaper to make, but harder to make money on.

− With dancehall you program one beat, so the production costs are minimal in that sense. It’s the artist that costs the most money. I’ve had the chance to work with some yard artists for a long time and when you build relationships they may not hit your wallet so hard, he explains and continues:

− Roots music, on the other hand, is very expensive to make and it only really sells on vinyl or if you do an artist album. You have to pay four or five different musicians if you do a live session. You need back up singers, a proper mixer etc. It costs a fortune. You really only turn money over. You do those sorts of records really for the love of it more than anything else.

“Jamaica has moved on to something else”
Frenchie has lots to say about the music business and seems dejected at the moment. His reasoning is reminiscent of what David Rodigan said in an interview with Reggaemani last week.

− I don’t think anyone is really making any money from voicing Jamaican roots artists. I’m talking about just making back the advances you pay an artist, not even your plane fare, he writes and contemplates European versus Jamaican producers:

− Jamaica has moved on to something else, dancehall hip hop, one drop lovers, hip hop one drop. The other thing is that the older generation of producers who used to love this music are not really active at the moment as the business has changed. Many of them never used to pay advances to artists, just royalties really. Whereas producers from outside Jamaica always pay those same artists cash and produce some good stuff. Therefore a lot of artists are not voicing as much for local producers.

Piracy is killing the music business
In Europe vinyl is still selling and Frenchie is one of the producers that continuously put out seven inches. He explains:

− It’s the only way to reimburse the advance you pay the artists. You can’t solely depend on iTunes to make anything, the money it generates for small producers when they put up a riddim for download is ridiculously small and then everyone downloads it for free on rapid-share the next day.

− I try not to send any of the tunes I release on vinyl on mp3 anymore. I’ve almost stopped doing promotion mail outs. It just kills your sells as some DJs are more careless than others and tend to give your stuff away as soon as they receive the music on mp3.

Frenchie is obviously not too happy about the current piracy in music. A subject that has been debated heavily around the world since Napster. Frenchie has a clear view.

− It has really killed the reggae business. People just give away their riddims for free. It’s mad.

− The result is that all the interesting people that used to produce reggae, the real characters of the music, the ones that made Jamaica what it is and who often came from downtown or a modest background, are out of it. They have been eradicated from the business.

New generation of producers
According to Frenchie the only people left producing today are mostly from uptown, educated in the U.S. and with strong hip hop influences in their music.

− These are the people who have money or own a studio and don’t pay the artists advances. I’m not saying it’s all bad. A lot of those guys have produced great stuff in the last ten years, like Jeremy Harding and Don Corleon. But it’s a fact unfortunately. Everyone else is out of the business because it’s no longer viable to make music.

− There are no more riddim albums to sell. Those used to generate good money for producers. The Jamaican singles market is virtually dead. And it is getting worse, he writes and continues with a more positive approach:

− The one good thing is that artists will always survive. At least as they can tour extensively and the live shows will always be there. That’s maybe the one positive thing about the internet – it has given a lot of people access to music which is a great promotional tool for artists. They have never been so exposed to the world.

Impressed by Damian Marley
Even though Frenchie seems disillusioned, he still has dreams of artists to work with and record. One is a Distant Relative.

Damian Marley, the most talented artist to come out of Jamaica for a while. He has a different vision for the music which I love.

But collaboration with Bob Marley’s son isn’t in the pipe. Not yet at least. Frenchie’s plan is to go back to his roots and record a reunited French group.

− I’m working on tracks for the two most talented French reggae artists – Big Red and Daddy Mory a.k.a. Raggasonic. I also have a couple of new juggling riddims I’m working on. Then we’ll see as the business is becoming more and more difficult. Just to pay back your artist advances and pressing costs is a struggle at the moment.

A FEW FAST ONES TO FRENCHIE

Favourite artist?
Impossible to answer, too many to name.

Favourite label?
Jammy’s and Studio one.

Favourite album?
Impossible to answer, too many to name.

Favourite tune?
At least 1.000 of them.

Favourite producer?
Coxsone Dodd and King Jammy’s.

Favourite riddim?
Stalag.

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