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Prince Buster

+ {Prince Buster All Stars}

Widely regarded as the Godfather of Ska, PRINCE BUSTER not only lit the touch-paper for a whole new movement but, in his role as both a recording artist and a producer, influenced successive waves of Jamaican styles and trends right up until his self-imposed retirement in the early 70s.
A streetwise former boxer, Buster (born Cecil Bustamente Campbell, 28 May 1938, Kingston, Jamaica) was a mid-50s gang leader in the infamous Luke Lane area of central Kingston and initially a hardcore follower of Tom the Great Sebastian, the leading sound system of its day. Towards the end of the decade, he’d switched his allegiance to Coxsone Dodd, who himself was locked in fierce competition with Duke Reid. Campbell’s fist-fighting background came in handy when dealing with Reid’s infamous posse of supporters, although it wasn’t long before he was utilising his more creative talents via his own Voice of the People Sound System. This had grown out of his record shop of the same name (originally called Buster’s Record Shack), a flourishing mini business empire which subsequently grew to include a record label.
The instrumental `Little Honey’ served as “Buster’s Group” debut production in 1960, announcing the arrival of a major new talent. The track’s distinctive sound immediately set it apart from the most of the native recordings which, although still heavily influenced by imported Stateside R&B, were also developing their own Jamaican flavour by emphasising the offbeat. By incorporating the various strands of the island’s indigenous folk music, Buster began to develop a unique style of syncopation which instead laid the rhythmic stress on the afterbeat. His innovative ideas were musically realised with the help of his core house band (including guitarist Jah Jerry, drummer Arkland “Drumbago” Parks and harmonica player Charley Organaire) as well as sessions with the likes of Count Ossie & His Wareikas, rural Nyabingi drummers who added spice to his recordings.
The wild new sound was christened Ska and it coalesced around 1962’s `They Got To Go’, one of the singer’s first vocal recordings and a track co-written by the genre’s first bona fide figurehead, DERRICK MORGAN. The session which gave birth to the song also produced twelve others, every one a local hit. PRINCE BUSTER had hit upon a winning formula and the aforementioned track was a none too subtle warning to the competition. Still, the PRINCE himself subsequently lost MORGAN to rival producer Leslie Kong, initiating a feud that ended up with the intervention of the Jamaican government. In a scenario that set the blueprint for the countless feuds that would plague reggae and, in turn, hip hop (not least the vicious “Death Row” vs “Bad Boy” saga of the late 90s), the two producers fired witty, barbed broadsides at each other via singles such as `Black Head Chinaman’.
Around the same time, the PRINCE issued his seminal `Madness’, a track which – along with the bulk of the man’s output – inspired a certain North London combo to help kick-start the late 70s 2 Tone ska revival. Business was booming and Buster was operating a string of labels including Voice Of The People, Buster Wild Bells, Islam (a religion to which he’d converted) and Soulsville Centre, while his UK distributor, Blue Beat, handled an incredible five hundred+ PRINCE BUSTER productions over a 5-year period; albums to hit the streets were:- I FEEL THE SPIRIT (1963) {*7}, FLY FLYING SKA (1964) {*7} – featuring other artists The SKATALITES, ROLAND ALPHONSO, DON DRUMMOND, The MAYTALS, OWEN GREY, MILLIE & ROY, et al, the similarly-backed PAIN IN MY BELLY (1965) {*6} and IT’S BURKE’S LAW (1965) {*6}.
Among his British hits was the peerless skinhead favourite `Al Capone’ (a Top 20 entry early in 1967), the flip side of which featured the equally seminal `One Step Beyond’. Both singles were powered by the inimitable sax work of Val Bennett and Dennis “Ska” Campbell, whose singularly rhythmic style helped characterise Buster’s sound.
When ska became a victim of its own breathless pace in the late 60s and a younger generation of angry, disaffected youth filled the gap with their own rude boy gangster culture and its rock steady soundtrack, the PRINCE once again succeeded in distilling the sentiments of the masses. While the likes of `Hard Man Fe Dead’ (from SINGS FOR THE PEOPLE (1967) {*6}) nailed the rude boy ethos, the gritty `Shanty Town’ detailed the government bulldozing of an infamous ghetto which had been home to rude boys and Rastafarians alike.
Yet Buster turned lawmaker on his most famous track of the era, `Judge Dread’, a riposte to MORGAN’s `Tougher Then Tough’, in which his fictional Ethiopian judge sentences a quartet of rude boys to 400 years each for an array of sordid crimes they probably didn’t commit. The record in turn launched a slew of aural court-room dramas including Buster’s own `The Barrister’ and his last word on the matter, `Judge Dread Dance (The Pardon)’. Quite apart from the fascinating social subtext contained in these grooves, Buster’s vinyl character went on to inspire the iconic comic strip cop of the same name as well as the heavyweight reggae DJ, Alex Hughes, a white Englishman who’d subsequently adopt the JUDGE DREAD moniker and win fans in Jamaica itself; example on JAMAICA’S PRIDE (1967) {*7}. What America thought of the PRINCE was understated as the jury was out for his sole RCA Victor set, PRINCE BUSTER SINGS HIS HIT SONG “TEN COMMANDMENTS” (1967) {*7}; `Ten Commandments’ and its female-winning counterpart, `Ten Commandments From Woman To Man’, the funniest un-PC tracks from the Cecil the entertainer. Live in concert, PRINCE BUSTER ON TOUR (1967) {*6} was a good start for any collector.
In 1968/9, Buster was at the heart of yet another short-lived craze as he released a string of singles that were lighter in spirit but heavier on innuendo. Tracks such as `Wreck A Pum Pum’, `Whine And Grine’, `Pussy Cat Bite Me’ and `Rough Rider’ (co-written by a young EDDY GRANT, then a member of The EQUALS) left little to the imagination and crossed up another couple of notches on the illustrious bedpost of the PRINCE’s lengthy career; ROUGH RIDER (1969) {*6} and WRECK A PUM PUM (1969) {*6} were his final LPs for Blue Beat.
Yet the rise of roots reggae and its strict Rastafarian ideology proved a cultural phenomenon too far for the committed Muslim. Although the the early 70s found him turning out worthwhile productions for the likes of JOHN HOLT, DENNIS BROWN and BIG YOUTH amongst others, Buster, tired of swimming against the musical tide, hung up his headphones in 1973; he’d left behind a handful of recent sets, TUTTI FRUTTI (1970) {*5}, THE MESSAGE: DUB WISE (1972) {*5}, the Dutch-only DANCE CLEOPATRA DANCE (1972) {*6} and the belatedly issued SISTER BIG STUFF (1976) {*4}.
Silent for nigh on two decades, PRINCE BUSTER finally re-emerged in the 90s, working with both The SKATALITES and British ska band, The TROJANS. In 1997, he contributed to an Island “40th Anniversary” album and, the following year, made a severely belated but extremely welcome return to the UK charts with a souped-up version of his classic `Whine And Grine’. 2003 saw PRINCE BUSTER with his Determinations, issue a much-in-demand but hard-to-get, PRINCE OF PEACE: LIVE IN JAPAN {*6}.
Subsequently turning up on occasion at reggae festivals, the Jamaican legend lived in Miami, Florida, up until his death in hospital – after suffering a series of strokes – on September 8, 2016.
© MC Strong/GRD-outtakes-BG // rev-up MCS Jun2015

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