Justin Hinds: Postcards from the Idren
by Michael Kuelker
Independence for Jamaica arrived on August 6, 1962. The island’s music industry then was in its infant bloom, and a new original music called ska was moving the youth. Sometime in the autumn of 1962, a young man made the journey from his little north coast village home to the sprawling capital city of Kingston to cut a record, “Carry Go Bring Come.” It became a ska sensation, and the tune set in motion a recording career for Justin Hinds (1942-2005) not only in ska but also in rocksteady, reggae and nyahbinghi, producing a musical legacy which brought Hinds wide renown.
In Steer Town, where Justin lived all of his life and where many of his family and friends remain, his memory remains as strong as a phantom limb.
This is a special artist to me. I listen to Justin’s music at home and jam it on “Positive Vibrations,” and the three occasions in the late 1990s when I saw Justin and his fabulous band perform in St. Louis are among my top-shelf reggae experiences. I’ve trod to Steer Town twice and spoken to many of Justin’s musical compatriots and family. Below, you’ll find excerpts from 11 of them.
A year ago, I found a new angle of vision to Justin’s depth and timelessness when I participated in a symposium in Jamaica titled “Justin Hinds @ 70.”
The St. Ann Heritage Foundation staged the symposium on the long wide verandah of the Seville Great House in St. Ann’s Bay. Across an expansive lawn, the Caribbean Sea is in full view. The venue is not far from Steer Town in the parish of St. Ann, a place rife with cultural history and famous sons (Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Burning Spear – and Justin Hinds, who deserves mention in the same breath).
The August 5, 2012 symposium coincided with celebrations island-wide of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence. Outside our mellow gathering, the island was feting itself loudly and inna fine style, flags flying high. The same afternoon, one of the biggest television events of the year was taking place: Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt racing in London. Given the near-synchronous Olympic dash and the start of the symposium, some of us were left wondering whether anyone would show at all. But 50 people attended and lingered for both the program and informal chat-and-jam time.
Among the symposium attendees were several of Justin’s children – Donald, Archibald, Jacqueline, Randy and Carlton – and extended family; Junior Dixon and Noel Drake of The Dominoes; Milton “Neville” Beckford, Warrin Williamson and Maureen Freemantle of Wingless Angels; Wingless Angels producer Brian Jobson; Rupert Willington (original member of the Burning Spear trio); and Shedrock (aka Pat Kelly). In addition to celebrating Justin’s music and memory, the gathering shone a light on the importance of artists from the parish of St. Ann, which has been generally recognized but under-documented.
The symposium opened with kumina drumming led by 84-year-old Seymour Moore and sons, a nod to the Maroon heritage of Justin’s mother. Then came a statement by Foundation chairman Dennis Higgins, a lecture with music samples by Michael Kuelker and renditions of Justin’s songs by a variety of local singers and players of instruments.
The free-form music segment on the verandah lasted an hour, all Justin songs. One of the most moving was “Mighty Redeemer,” a song Justin & the Dominoes did in the early seventies at the end of the Duke Reid/Treasure Isle period. This evening’s spare arrangement – drums, hand percussion & vocals – lent the song lovely, elegiac quality that brought to mind mild tropical showers and rivers running into the sea.
oh Mighty Redeemer, run come see
oh Mighty Redeemer, run come see
oh Mighty Redeemer, run come see
famine is on the land
how can the good ones suffer for the bad ones
how can the righteous ones suffer for the wicked ones
how can the good ones suffer for the bad ones
that’s why famine is on the land
in every corner you may walk
you’ll see a group of people talk
they’re not skylarking, they are only talking
they are saying that famine is on the land
[For more documentations on Justin Hinds that have been made available recently, see Brian Keyo’s bio on Justin at Tallawah.com as well as my article “Justin Hinds @ 70” and 45-minute audio program “Justin Hinds: Foundation of the Artist” at winglessangels.com. Werner Kajnath’s discography of Justin Hinds & the Dominoes can be found at www.wailers.de in the downloads section. Brad Klein’s documentary Legends of Ska, which includes Justin Hinds in conversation and performance from 2002, is premiering in Chicago in late September 2013.]
Abigail Hinds Llewellyn – sister
Abigail Hinds Llewellyn (b. 1938) was one of three children (including Justin and David) born to Alphonso Hinds and his wife Edith Macbean. Alphonso Hinds was a preacher at the Steer Town Macedonia Revival Church and, as his daughter explains here, the family lived a churchical order.
On a Sunday Papa would start his service at 10 o’clock in the morning and that goes on until 2. There is a break there for dinner, and then he start back his night service from 7 until 10 at night. That’s on a Sunday. On a Tuesday night, he would start at 7 and be over at 10, that is our prayer meeting. And on Thursday night, he would have the same 7 – 10 and that is a family worship. People build their testimonies and everything, clapping and praising God.
But do not forget this: He always keep the Sabbath. So on a Saturday, no member of his family is allowed to [gird] the fire or do any hard work in the yard. We would have only things that are baked, like pudding and other things for that day. He starts at six in the Friday evening when the sun is down, and he does not do anything on the Sabbath day until six the evening when we break the Sabbath.
We would have to keep quiet [even on Saturday nights]. Justin was very fond of music, and our neighbor used to have a dancehall over there and so they would bring in their sound system on a Saturday evening. And there would be pure music going on, and even though Papa was so strict he would steal away and go over and dance and enjoy himself.
Justin was a musical instrument, I would call it, from a little boy. We couldn’t keep him away from music, the calypso, the whatever.
But I used to be at home. I have to be a well behaved daughter, just sit and read my book and ask Papa question about the Bible and we would sing sometimes. Because I love to sing so I would be singing hymns and he would teach us hymns. When we would have concerts, I would participate.
The spot where Justin is buried [in Steer Town], that was the place where we had the church. There was a building from the corner of the line, behind the grave, come across to where you see the house, and we would walk on a little step go up. And there were this building made from wood covered with zinc and it has windows and we would put seats in it, cross benches. That is where we had everything. You would invite people and they would come and say, ‘Mr Hinds is having a get-together,’ and new people coming, he would not charge any big money; they would come in and enjoy the music of the drum and whatever he has there and people singing hymns.
Jacqueline Hinds – daughter
Jacqueline Hinds (b. 1962) lives and works in Steer Town.
I am the oldest of the kids with my mother [Peaches, who bore six of Justin Hinds’ nine children]. When we were growing up, he always cook for us. My mother had her children, every year or so she was pregnant, you understand? My father do the cooking. He taught me to cook. At the time I was very young, and he call me to help him and he show me what to do. What he likes special, he likes his roast saltfish with those roast dumplings and cocoa. He love it.
If he was alive now and you were here [at the Hinds home in Steer Town], he would roast those dumplings for you and you would always love them; they are very very delicious when you roast them. You’d enjoy it if you were here. Mango is his favorite fruit. He love mangoes and naseberry.
When my father was young [circa 1960], he used to work on the boats for Ernest Smatt. He’s still there in Ocho Rios. He used to carry tourists on the boat, my father. He told us that one day he was going out with some tourists and he start to sing in the boat. And from that time and those tourists saw him, they come yearly and when they come here, they ask for Justin. Because he always entertain them with his voice. They would want to see him, they love him.
Noel Drake – Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Noel Drake (b. 1942) is a singer whose contributions to Justin Hinds & the Dominoes have largely gone uncredited in the annals of reggae. Brian Keyo’s article cited above includes a previously unpublished mid-1990s interview in which Justin cites Noel Drake as “an alternate Domino.”
In 1964, Dennis and Justin and Junior went to town and did a song, “Carry Go Bring Come,” and they go to Duke Reid with “Carry Go Bring Come” and “Cornerstone,” stone that the builder refuse head cornerstone. Dennis now, him tenor wasn’t so strong. Duke said, ‘Justin, you gots to get a next man. Dennis nah do right.’ So Justin come to me now, ‘Gene, I want you in my group.’ From there-so, I just keep on with Justin. We never take [Dennis] back. Me and Justin and Junior.
I sang on ‘Old Mother Banner,’ ‘Mighty Redeemer,’ ‘King Samuel,’ ‘Teach the Youth, ‘Over the River,’ ‘Boderation,’ ‘Jordan River.’ So many, yeah, so many. ‘Holy Dove.’ ‘Mama told me once,’ yeah. ‘Here I Stand,’ which is an imitation [of Wade Flemons’ 1958 R&B hit]. And we have a next song, ‘Come here to drink milk.’ So many.
MK: When was the last time you were paid for your contributions to this music?
ND: From 2002, nothing more come to me. I wonder why. I’m original Dominoes, you know, I was in the group from 1964 right up to ’73. Been on a lot of stage show, understand? We were so swing. Everybody love Justin Hinds and the Dominoes. We perform so well. I have a good time, things are all right. [But] I don’t get no money, and I wonder why they stop the money from copyrights. I try to get my rights. They try to hide things.
MK: When did you last perform with Justin?
Sunsplash 1989. Delroy Wilson was on the show, John Holt, Mighty Diamonds. It was a great show. I think we do about eight song. We work on the show, we get our bucks and we split out.
Pablo Black – keyboardist
Pablove Black (b. 1950) appears on myriad roots reggae recordings in the late seventies and eighties made at Coxsone Dodd’s seminal Studio One and other studios. He was Justin Hinds’ friend and musical collaborator in the 1980s and early 1990s. Today he lives in south Florida, performing regularly.
I used to play steel drums at Jamaica Hilton [in Ocho Rios]; by 1967 I was doing regular Sunday gigs. I was from Kingston but north coast, that’s where the money is. I would see Justin every week. He and his group always come over on the beach beside the hotel, jamming and rehearsing; a herb spot. He live up in the hills but he gather there everyday to jam and smoke under a tiki bar and they’d wait for the boat to come in with fish. Singers and players, but not really a band, maybe have a one guitar. So I go there and I see what I see, ‘Whappen, Justin?’ I recognize him but he never recognize me; I was just coming into music. We start getting close.
I used to go see him [from Kingston] way on the other side of the island. When we reach [the Hinds home in Steer Town], everybody get busy, all the youth-dem, wife gone in the kitchen. Him just say, ‘Pablo!’ and call one of the kids, ‘Go look down deh-so and you see some coconut. Bring dem come.’ So we sitting down and we eating cane, coconut, every fruit off of the land, you know?
Leroy Pierson – producer
Justin Hinds’ album Travel with Love (Nighthawk, 1985) was co-produced by Leroy Pierson (b. 1947), a blues artist and music historian in St. Louis.
Justin had a wonderful memory and loved the music of church, and years later he would occasionally do a song where the melody or the lyrics came out of the church. He had a marvelous understanding and retention of some of the best parts of the Bible for a musician to pay attention to. He could quote that stuff chapter and verse. The Psalms, well he knew the Psalms. If you ever really want to see where a lot of Justin’s lyrics come from, just sit down and read the Psalms and then play a few Justin Hinds albums and you’ll realize that a lot of his lyrics come out of that book of the Bible.
I spent some time with Dorothy Reid once [family of the late Duke Reid, Treasure isle producer], and she took me out to her house. By Kingston, Jamaica standards, she had this marvelous little house with this garden in it, wonderful brick work in the garden. I commented on how nice the house was, and she said, ‘Three people build this house.’ I thought she was talking about masons. I said, who is that? She said, ‘U Roy, Justin Hinds and Alton Ellis build this house.’
Dayal Cadien – bassist
Also known as Bassie Dee, Dayal Cadien was born in Brown’s Town and presently lives in Runaway Bay, performing reggae music on Jamaica’s north coast and writing and producing original music. He played bass on five cuts on Justin Hinds’ album Know Jah Better (Nighthawk, 1992).
“Picking Up Chips,” “Want More,” “War Time,” “Love in the Morning,” “Deep in My Heart” – those are the tracks I played on. Grove [studio in Ocho Rios] was in operation at the time. We had some other guys on the session like Skully Simms, percussionist from Kingston; I think Handel Tucker did some overdubs; a guy called Eddie Miller played some keyboards; Carel Hewitt on guitar; Chunky, I don’t know his full, was another keyboard player there. These tracks I’m telling you about were recorded at Grove. The rest of them were recorded in Kingston [Peter Crouch Studio].
MK: How did you link with Justin in the first place?
DC: Guitarist Carel Hewitt took him to my place. He introduced us and we became friends. I was doing some demos in my room on a four-track recorder at the time. They came by and were watching me. That was our first link-up and before I knew it he said he was doing an album and he wanted me to play on it.
Some of these tracks I heard only on the day we were recording. We sort of put it together on the spot. But that was Justin – his head was filled with a lot of melody and lyrics.
He was a humble person. He was one of us. He wasn’t like ‘the artist’ and then you have ‘the musicians.’ He was one of us. So whatever was happening, whether we were joking around or talking about music, he was just a part of it. It is hard in today’s world to imagine a recording artist of his stature being like that because a lot of youths nowadays, as soon as they start getting popular, they’re all hyped up and they are filled with stardom. He wasn’t like that at all.
Wingless Angels began in the 1970s as an informal group of Rastafarians playing traditional nyahbinghi; they were joined by a friend named Keith Richards, who circa 1973 bought property in St. Ann parish that he still owns today. Justin Hinds was one of the members. The group recorded a self-titled debut in 1997, which was re-released by Mindless Records in 2010 as Wingless Angels Vol. I & II; the latter was a set of unreleased recordings in 2003. Wingless Angels’ 4LP boxed set earned a Grammy nomination in the category of best reissue edition.
Maureen Freemantle – Wingless Angels
Maureen Freemantle appears on Wingless Angels Vol. I & II.
My father and [Justin’s] father are two first cousins. We grow not too far away [from the Hinds family]. Justin was a good cousin. He want to talk to me all the time. He like to be where I am, and I like to be where he is. So we did have a good relationship. I pass [by his home], I stop. On again, he pass, he stop.
MK: When did you meet Keith Richards and link up with Wingless Angels?
MF: Justin tell me he was up in Steer Town and he was in a bar with Locksley. Locksley saw me and he called me. [Keith] introduced himself, and I just started to sing. I was leaving and I just started to sing, “love love love.” I think you hear that one [“Love Love Love” appears on the debut album]. It was a Saturday. Before I leave, he said Locksley should take me up there [to Keith’s home] the Sunday. We spent several night rehearsing from two o’clock to six the next morning.
Warrin Williamson – Wingless Angels
Warrin Williamson appears on Wingless Angels Vol. I & II.
I know Justin all my life. Ca Rasta, a close community. It was beautiful to be around him. He is a good person, an inspiration. When we start to play music, is non-stop. It is so beautiful, we don’t know the end of it, we just keep on going, going, going.
Justin don’t know where quarrel is. He don’t find that. If he do that, it bothers him so he can’t go there, can’t never go there. I always feel like his butler. Him say, ‘Warrin, you get that, you get that…?’ I still go and get it. He’s just a beautiful person, a very good person.
Milton Beckford – Wingless Angels
Milton ‘Neville’ Beckford appears on Wingless Angels Vol. I & II.
Oh, Justin is a great guy. I always give him a lickle smoke. [laughs] You know, when he go into the studio, I always like to see him in a good mood. I used to grow some pot and just give him the best so when he go into the studio he can give those guys that playing the instruments a nice draw and the album always come out good.
Justin never make no fuss. Justin is so loving, he just cool, you know? I wish he was here today. A great guy. Humble, you know, he doesn’t fussy. I can check him any time at his home. When he hear my voice, I’m welcome. He gone too soon. I miss him.
Little documented in Justin Hinds’ career is Chain Gang, an early 1990s side project comprising Hinds on lead vocals, Michael Stone on guitar and backing vocals, and Studio One keyboardist Pablo Black on keyboards and backing vocals. The group’s flagship tune was a 1992 house music recording in several mixes of Sam Cooke’s classic. There was a very good and now very rare music video made of “Chain Gang.” The group did some shows regionally but then went on to other projects.
Michael Stone – Justin Hinds & the Revivers, Chain Gang
A reggae artist, tattooist and erstwhile American expatriate in Jamaica, Michael Stone of Madison, Wisconsin has recorded reggae for almost 40 years, beginning with the 7-inch single “Rasta Dread” (Voice, 1975) and The Roots Band’s “Festival Time”/”Silent Night” (Voice, 1977); in 1982, he produced a Stone Foundation EP (Upstart, 1982) with guests including Bagga Walker on bass, Horsemouth on drums, Sticky Thompson on percussion and Ernest Ranglin on guitar. Most recently, he leads Kingtown Rockers in Madison, where he lives with his son.
My career with Justin culminated in ’92 with Chain Gang, with Pablo Black, Justin Hinds and myself. The song [“Chain Gang”] is on the Blackstone Reggae Allstars’ album [King Sound Legacy, Boat Records 2007]. A copy of it was released across the market, Canada and New York and elsewhere, on DJ International out of Chicago. There were seven different mixes on vinyl for DJs. We were on ‘Chicago Watch’ [a cable TV talk show], Justin, me and Pablo, in ‘92.
Then there were the years before that. I did two or three tours with Justin Hinds, we went out and did shows in Chicago and the Midwest. He had three or four different backup bands, I was one of them. He was promoting the albums he did for Chris Blackwell, Jezebel and Just in Time [produced by Jack Ruby], and Travel with Love for Nighthawk out of St. Louis. [The setlists for these shows are heavy on reggae; Treasure Isle recordings are absent in these 1980s performances except for “Carry Go Bring Come.”]
The first time I linked with him was 1975. I was traveling alone. At the time my hair was very long; I was an American hippie. I was passing through Ocho Rios, staying with some people that were there. There was an old dread named Edward Hardware I used to visit at the time. We’d go up to the falls swimming. He was busy, went to the market one day, and I went up in the falls swimming. Jamaicans all come to the river and bathe; they’d lay their clothes on the tree stump, get a bar of soap and bathe. It’s a Jamaican tradition. As I’m sitting by the river chilling out, I hear some soft singing down the way from me. Just around the bend in the river is a man who’s bathing, and he’s singing while he’s bathing. It ends up being Justin Hinds.
That’s how I first met him. I introduced myself and we were brothers right off the bat. He took me up to his house in Steer Town. I still have pictures from those days.
Jack LeTourneau – engineer/producer
Jack LeTourneau has engineered and produced many recordings, partial lists of which can be seen here and here. As producer for Michael Stone’s many musical projects stretching back to the 1970s, he was the natural choice to work on Chain Gang in the early nineties.
I worked for DJ International, the guys who started the house scene in Chicago.
I was the engineer and did all the records. When we worked on the Chain Gang thing, it was one of those things where I had to convince him to try to experiment. They tracked it at Smart and didn’t have any drums on it. It was raw tracks and a drum machine, and I said, ‘let’s see if we can make it a dance thing.’ He was excited because we were doing something new.
He cut the vocal at Smart Studios [in Madison; closed in 2010], Butch Vig’s studio. We had at the time famous DJs in Chicago to mix it, and it did well in the community but I think we were a little ahead of our time, trying to blend reggae with dance music. In England, it took off. In America it takes a long time for anything to happen. In Europe, they love anything American …
We only made 200 copies. It did okay. A couple of the tracks did well. It was a little too weird [for the audience] at the time because they didn’t know who Justin Hinds was.
“Chain Gang” has recently been remixed in a reggae-fied R&B version and is being readied for re-release. New parts were recorded by Stone, Black and others in late April 2013 at The Exchange studio in Milwaukee, WI. On hand is the original engineer/producer Jack LeTourneau.