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Last Saturday, we had the opportunity to interview Reggae artist Clinton Fearon, who was performing at the Trabendo in Paris, France tonight.
In order to promote his latest album “History Say,” the former member of The Gladiators is touring Europe until November 3rd, 2019.
During this interview, he expressed his thoughts about the use of technology in music production. He also told us more about his early career as a bass player.
We invite you to watch our interview below. Do not hesitate to leave a comment below to let us know what you think of our interview. Also find more info about his European tour here.Interview with - France, 10/05/2019
Interview with Clinton Fearon on October 5th, 2019
After driving through a dead-end, and turning to the wrong street a couple times in the suburbs of Paris, we finally reached our destination (20 minutes late) to meet Clinton Fearon. He introduces himself:
My name is Clinton Fearon, born and raised in Jamaica. I’ve been following my passion from ever since I can remember. Loving music from a very longtime, from a kid, basically. From I’m 7, I’m following my dream, and here I am today. Still doing what I love, and still loving what I do. [Laughs]
The latest from Clinton Fearon
On September 13th, 2019, Clinton Fearon released the album “History Say,” produced by the French label Baco Records. We questioned him about this connection.
How did you get to work with Baco Records?
I have a friend, actually, I have my sound engineer in France, Orléans. We were talking about how, you know, boy, I think we need to change the partner we were working with, ‘cause I think, you know, things weren’t going accordingly.
And he say “Hey, you know, I have some friends, you know. On Baco Records, I have my friend, and I’m quite sure they would love to work with you, because they’re also a fan of your work.”
So, I say “hmm,” you know. And then, my wife, Catherine, knew some of them from the tour as well. So, one and one make two, and here we are. [Laughs]
In order to promote his latest album, Clinton has planned to tour Europe. So we asked him about the “History Say” tour.
How do you feel about touring Europe in order to promote your latest album?
I’m excited. I’m feeling good about the project. I’m feeling good with my partners too. There’s mutual respect, everybody’s working hard to make it happen.
On his latest album, “History Say,” Clinton Fearon sings that he doesn’t know a lot about technology in the track titled “Technology.” So we asked him what he thought about technology.
What do you think about the use of technology?
The thing is, it’s like okay. When I look at the evolution of it coming up, there are some things I might not be like a 100% with like how we use technology, and think we have to be very careful. We can use it and do bad things. We can also use it and do good things, you know.
It’s good in one way, may be bad on the other way, but it’s to pick the good from it. Basically, the reason why I wrote a song like that is mainly because I’m totally worthless when it comes to technology, you know.
I don’t know anything about technology. You know, I’m minimal, but I know that it’s a phenomenon that it’s not going anywhere. It’s getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger. So, I have to accept it, and work with it as much as possible.
So basically, I start to make fun of myself, you know, in a humorous way, [Laughs] and try to work with it.
Evolution of Jamaican music
During the 80’s, Digital Reggae started to emerge. Drum machines and synthesisers replaced live drummers and horn section, radically changing the sound of Roots Reggae. At that time, Clinton Fearon had been recording music for more than a decade. As he witnessed that transition, we asked him what he thought about it.
What were your first thoughts about Digital Reggae when it emerged, back then?
When Digital Reggae started, I think that… Oh man! You know, hmm, the production is usually poorly done. Like for example, the kick, and the drums, you know, and the battery. The kick always mostly sound good.
For some reason I love the kick. The hi hat, I do not like at all. It’s like, it’s too rigid. You know what I mean. Snare, sometimes you can find something if you’re careful enough. You can find something that works. But that also is a little too flimsy. And also, it’s like the human, you lose the humanness. You know that warmth, and the flexibility. Because when it’s human, it’s not all perfect you know. It’s human, that’s how we are.
You know subconsciously you can’t relate, when it’s like this, it’s too rigid. It lose the blood. But as time goes, perfect it some more, you know, when you can get analog pattern to variate some and kind of put back a kind of a human feel to it. You know if you’re careful that’s what you’re looking for. You know you can go close to it.
What I do I still record on analog. My past records and even this one three-quarter of it third of it is recorded on analog my past records and even this one three-quarter of it or 2/3 of it is recorded on analog. I recorded On a 2 inch 16 track and then dump it off in ProTools and add the rest of things to it.
My sound engineer in our studio, he has analog patterns we talked about earlier, that you have to insert in the things that are digital you know. You warmed it up, so it feels like it’s analog. Say it’s very close to what we’ve been coming but it’s also keep things current too. You know you still current. You know what I mean. It’s not just oh boy! Dinosaur! [Laughs]
Even though the quality of music seems to constantly drop as we use technology more and more in production, we think it is undeniable that it has also made it easier for recording music. So, we asked Clinton if he agreed with us.
You can’t deny that today it is easier to record music with the evolution of technology.
Right, right, right. That was also made for good musicianship though. You know what I mean. Remember those days you know. When it was two tracks and everything goes down together. Sometime the bass player is messing up you know he or she would hear about it from the rest of the musician, or if it’s the drummer messing up, especially for horn players, because you know their lips get tired. After six times: “Hey, drummer! What are you doing man?” You know what I mean. So it keeps you on your toes. Today, you can do with different. You can compartmentalize. For a musician messing up, you can still go through, kick his part out, let it come back, and do it later. So, today it’s easier.
Also if you have your computer at home, a couple of boxes, and things like that you know, same Pro Tools thing, you can do your little recording at home. But again, the production won’t be as good unless you’re already a good sound engineer. Because of that, you have a lot of bad productions out there.
But at least all artists are more able to get their work out there. So to find a good production then you have to search a little bit harder. You know what I mean. So it is like Yin Yang. [Laughs]
Early career & experiences
The first time Clinton Fearon played bass in a recording studio, he had trouble to get on the beat. Thanks to the help of the sound engineer Sylvan Morris, he got the hang of it. He recalls:
Yes. This was my first time playing bass. Ha ha! You got that one. My first time playing bass, you know, in a studio. We were recording and each time I got to a quarter of it, in my head, yeah, ha. I am recording, I mess up each time. I get three-quarter way, I got to be “Oh, I mess up!”
Finally, I got through. Before that, I am recording and the sound engineer: “Bassie Bassie, you’re behind the beat man.” I said: “Uh! OK, all right.” So, I tried to hear, and he says: “You’re still behind the beat, man.” (Clinton) “No man!” He says: “Come here!” and he played it back for me, and of course, I was behind, and I couldn’t figure it out.
How I got through it, you know, I put myself just a hear in front of the beat, and play that way right through, and when I came back out, and listen to it, it was all right. You know, like “hmm.”
Then I realized, later on after, I’m doing several different recordings, and things like that. I realized that sometimes, you know, there are some rhythm bass, and how the rhythm swing or not, you know, some musicians swing, some don’t, how to manipulate all that, and find your way within it.
Because it’s a feeling rather than a grid. It’s a feeling, you know, and I have to find my way within there. Some of it you can swing and hand back a little bit, some of it, you have to be on the beat, because everything is depending on you or to be the front runner on it. [Imitates drum and bass] Kind of lazy on it you know what I mean. Create a feel. I didn’t know anything about that at those times, until later.
As a bass player, Clinton worked for many producers, including Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (Studio 1), and Lee “Scratch” Perry (Black Ark), just to name a few.
Who did you learn the most from?
Oh! You know, it’s kind of hard to say, I learned from everybody. I learned a lot from Coxsone, I learned a lot from Scratch. From Coxsone,… I learned more from Scratch. Scratch has a way of getting involved, and he would point out ideas. Even if you don’t use it. At that time, he would come, and say “Hey! You could do this too, you know: dumdigidum dum dum tudum dum (Pause) dumdigidum dum dum tudum dum” [Imitates bass]. And I might be playing like: digi digi dang digi dang dang [Imitates bass]. And, he’s like come here “You could also do: dung tugudung tugudung” [Imitates bass] [Laughs]
You know the words, Coxsone’s behavior was like OK, he comes to do a song. He’ll let you do the song, and after he’ll listen to it and even days on, say “OK all right, I’ll take another listen” and when you’re not there, days after or even months after, he goes back and listen to it. And, if he likes it he’d put it out, if he don’t, then, you know… but he’s not gonna interfere with your creativity.
Scratch, on the other hand, the moment he likes it, he’s getting involved. You know what I mean. “Hey! Let’s try this you know!” or “Step it up a tone of man. Exhale man.” Or maybe you know “Hey! You’re singing too high. More relaxed with it.” He’s getting involved you know. He wants it to be the best, because he likes it. So it’s two different approaches.
For percussions, I learned a lot from him. Because when I used to play over there, you know when other musicians were gone, he and I would be there, and we go back and put percussions on some of the rhythms. And sometime, another person would be there and other musicians, and we do like three parts, you know, sometimes four parts: tam ping chiki chik ting tiki bam ping chiki chik ting tiki [Imitates percussions]
You know, it’s each one doing a different part, and it seems like it’s one person doing all four, but it’s four people doing all that. So it’s like question and answer. I learned a lot from him about question and answer. So, I would say I learned more from him than other producers.
Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace is a drummer best known for his appearance in the movie “Rockers” in 1978. In 2000, he released the album “Original Armageddon Dub” on which Clinton Fearon, and Larry Silvera a.k.a Professor Bassie of the Ishan People, are credited for the bass. So we asked Clinton if he remembered recording with Horse Mouth.
I know, I played, I did an album with Horse Mouth. I don’t even remember the rhythms. I don’t even know that he put it out to be honest.
Actually, Horse Mouthand myself, we were thinking of being a drum and bass duo, you know like Sly& Robbie. But at the time, I was with the Gladiators, and I didn’t want to confuse that. So, I declined. But who knows where it would have gone, because, we were good you know. [Laughs]
After The Gladiators…
After Clinton Fearon quit the Gladiators in 1987, he moved to the US to pursue his own musical career. He has been living in Seattle ever since.
Who was Charlie Morgan?
Charlie Morgan, he used to be like a promoter in Seattle area that other promoters would link with when other groups were coming through, and things like that, you know, say from California. So, he was the link there.
In 87, my last tour with the Gladiators, you know, I met him. We had a lot of time on our visa when we were finished, when the tour finished in Florida. So we called him up, and say “Hey! We have a lot of time on our visa. We have to do something before going back, if it’s possible.” Charlie: “Well, if you can buy your ticket, you know, come and hope we can do some something.”
So we bought our tickets, and went back. Quickly, we called the group Defenders, and we stayed there for about six to seven months. Quick o’clock, we developed a really good following. But you know,… And then, he also did some recording during that period of time. We did an EP together.
He did some other recordings. I think he did a recording for Jennifer Lara. I don’t know what he did with it. I think he did put some of it out. He used to also do buy and sell old records. He was also into that too as well. But, he was mainly a promoter, you know that buy acts that comes through.
Living in the US
A couple Jamaican producers, such as Lloyd Barnes (Wackies) were well established in the US. So we asked Clinton if he ever collaborated with Jamaican fellows when he settled in the US.
Have you worked with any Jamaican producers in the US at that time?
In the US, I was more trying to develop my art. With Defenders, you know, we started out, because Gladiators wasn’t going good in terms of spirits and vibe, you know. Things have changed. So, we decided to do Defenders. Defendersis like a strong lion going down the road with no head, it didn’t get anywhere. We were good musicians. But because in Gladiatorsthere was a head but the head wasn’t good for the group, and so we decided to go the other way. They other way didn’t work either. [Laughs]
Like, just: “Hey we just do things. We don’t have a leader.” We just do things. It didn’t work, because I end up doing a lot of the work. But still, I wasn’t the leader. There was no leader. So, it was kind of a little bit in vain. We didn’t even get to do a good recording. We started it, and it couldn’t finish. Too much opinions.
So after five years, I quit Defenders and put together Boogie Brown Band. Then, start from scratch. And, I use musicians, some of them are jazz musician, never played reggae before. But, they are interested and enthusiastic.
So, I give them time, and be patient, and teach what I know. Give time for it to develop. It’s still that group going today, you know. Yes, it’s evolved, members changed. None of those members are in there now. It’s new members. But, as time goes you know, more reggae is developing in the area because I’m there too. Musicians come, musicians go, but get better and better.
Yes, there are some songs there that was recorded not as Gladiators, not a whole lot. But I also did some songs, where I wouldn’t say, there is a few like untrue girl that I did for scratch. Also did, it’s really about Four or five songs that I did not do with gladiators. But I have some cassettes at home that I did and with just my guitar, and I am playing like I’m in the studio.
So you know, I would have two cassette machines going. Went going, and I recorded it, and then I spin it. And by the time I reach you know like run it three times, I lost a lot of quality. But I had the components there you know what I mean. So I have those records, there are maybe about 30 songs or so that I have not recorded for real yet. So who knows, you know, what I might do with that all those. I probably will do something with those because they are interesting. They are interesting. [Laughs]
Clinton Fearon has been living in the US for about 30 years now. Yet, he still has family in Jamaica. So we asked him if he still followed with what’s going on in Jamaica.
Do you still follow the news in Jamaica?
Oh man, not a lot, not on an every day basis, you know. But, I do follow it some. For the music, you know, I am always so wrapped up in what I’m doing, writing an other album, I hardly have time to take time to listen to all the music a lot, unfortunately. Sometimes, it’s my wife who informs me of something, because she’s on the public media way more than I do. You know what I mean. You know, I have my family there. So, we talk on the phone. Say: “Hey! What’s new? What’s happening? Lala Lala La. What’s the new slang?” [Laughs] and things like that, but I don’t follow the news on an every day basis.
Violence in Jamaica
Violence in Jamaica is what inspired Clinton Fearon to write his first songs during the 70’s. Unfortunately, even today, there is still a lot of violence in Jamaica. Earlier this year, the Government declared states of emergency in several parishes of the island. Clinton tells us more about violence in Jamaica during the 70’s.
Unfortunately, you know like, from “Chatty Chatty Mouth” in the 70’s. In the mid 70’s, there it was really rough. I could easily became a bad cat because of my surrounding. I have cat carrying gun like: “Hey, hey, hey Bassie! This is yours, you know. We are going to go look food.” That means they are going out to the rob, you know what I mean. Because that’s how it is.
I couldn’t do it. (Clinton) “Man, I can’t do it.” (The bad cat) “OK, when we come back with food you ain’t going to get any.” You know what I mean. It’s like, you know, I have associates, friends, that lost their lives because of politics. Cats who goes to school, even have degrees, come out can’t get a job, then go to badness, because they can’t get work. You know. So, it’s hard to see.
My way of dealing with it back then was to write about it. You know, trying to get it out of my system. So, “Chatty Chatty Mouth” is one of that, “Rich Man Poor Man,”“Streets of Freedom,” is one of that. You know, “Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel,” “On the Other Side,” it’s all dealing with that kind of vibe.
I was hoping that by today all that would be irrelevant. Unfortunately, it is still relevant. That’s why “History Say” is like it is, too. We are still with hope, because I love the fact that the younger generation want to look in into this situation, looking at nature, and looking at the political situation too.
Because, the news is this way, it’s easier now to communicate. So you can’t fool the youths want any more. Earlier on, they could. Today, they can’t fool the youth anymore, because everything is kind of at their fingertips. You know what I mean? So, I think youth and youth is going to change what’s going on. So I am not giving up. I am enthusiastic. I came up with a new word. [Laughs]
It is like optipessimist. [Laughs] You know, it’s like you’re optimistic, but boy there’s so many bad things that keep on happening, you can’t help but being a little bit pessimistic. You know what I mean. So I say I’m kind of optipessimist.
You know, I know it’s not a word, but you get the idea. [Laughs] Right, right, right. But, I really do have hope that, you know, things are going to change, because it cannot go like this forever. We notice, I remember, a few years ago, I went to Kenya, there was showing, I didn’t go up there myself, there was, upon the Kilimanjaro, the mountain there that always have ice on it.
You know, it’s melting. People walking up there, on the front they’re like “Wow!” So, if all the ice caps melting off, and things like that, it would totally change the ecology. But, here I am taking planes, going where I’m going too. So, I am a part of that too, technically speaking. You know what I mean.
We have to do something about it. You know, the gas, coal… We can use the solar to do many things, we are not doing that. But, the people that have the money, and really tied up in the system in terms that who can really make this happen they don’t want to spend the money to, they don’t want to “OK all right this year we won’t make 5 billions, we will just make 3 billions.”
They don’t want that at all, they want to make more billions. So, it is easier to continue what them doing, because they can make more money. You know what I mean. But what they need to consider is that after a while the money won’t worth anything, because we won’t have an earth to live on and to build with, and we don’t figure out how to live in space as yet.
Most of the Jamaican artists who started making music in the 60’s, and the 70’s, have experienced troubles getting paid. Many never signed contracts, and couldn’t earn royalties from their hit songs. So we asked Clinton Fearon if it was his case, and if he had to work a 9 to 5 at the same time he started recording music.
Did you have to work when you started your musical career?
No I didn’t. I did a little bit at one time, in the earlier part. I remember asking my boss to lend me 300 pounds, so I could go in the studio to record something. I kind of lied to them.
I wrote a letter as if I got it from someone from foreign, saying requesting that I record the songs and send to them.
And he look at it, “Oh, Mr. Fearon, what do you know about music? What you’re doing here is what you’re supposed to do.” So, I finished that fortnight with him, and I never go back.
At the same time, you know, he gave me a ride from his house back down to Constant Spring, where I could catch a transport go back home. And he stopped at a racehorse shop, and he buy 500 pounds worth of racehorse bet.
I am looking for 300 pounds from him to borrow because I was working with him. And he wouldn’t do it. But he could able to get gamble 500 pounds in one setting. You know what I mean. And I’m saying, this is not for me you know. He don’t see my vision. I think it was presumptuous of him to tell me say that what I’m doing with him is what I’m supposed to do. So, I quit, and that was my last job, outside of music. [Laughs]
This year, Clinton Fearon celebrates the 50th anniversary of his music career, as he joined the Gladiators in 1969. He clearly made the right choice back then, since it really worked out well for him.
Well, you know what, that’s why I am always saying that you know it’s good to do what we love and love what we do. That’s always my message for everyone because it’s the beginning of self liberation, and when you’re feeling liberated then freedom starts.