The virtuoso Jamaican producer takes Mandingo on a trip down memory lane
Edward ‘Bunny Striker’ Lee the hit making, pace-setting legend was born 23 August 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica. His record productions are famous amongst British, USA and Jamaican companies notably, Trojan, Island, Jet Star (formerly Pama), Virgin, VP, Creole, Randy’s, Shelley, Brad's Records/Clock Tower, Dynamics and others.
“I grew up in Greenwich Farm, Kingston 13 where some of the best dancers in Jamaica like Sparky and Pluggy came from and some of the early Sound Systems like Count Smith, Admiral Deans and Count Jones. When Sir Coxsone of Studio One was making his name as a Sound, he played at 15 West Avenue. Stone Love has just come into the business and claim they are celebrating almost 30 years, saying they are the king and ruler of sounds – I’ve been in the business about 40 years and I’ve just heard of them! Great veteran Sounds are Ruddy, Stereo, King Tubbys, Jammys, Emperor Faith, Matador, Wasp, and Gemini”.
I first met Bunny in 1965 when he and his friend (my father), Teacher Williams kept dances over the Easter week-end with Prince Buster’s Sound where Reggae legends like Derrick Morgan, Keith ‘Slim’ Smith and Roy Shirley had attended. Bunny was a great dancer and cricketer but he soon got involved with producing records. “I went to Denham Town School, Kingston College and finally Kingston Technical High School but in those days, no matter how much ability you had you were discriminated against on the grounds of racism and class prejudice so I did not get the play in cricket I deserved and a lot of teachers discriminated in the classrooms too. So, after leaving school, I started to go around with Derrick Morgan (Morgan later married his sister) and Prince Buster and in the early 1960s. I was a member of JBC radio’s Teenage Dance Party where we used to vote for new records in a competition called ‘Hit or Miss’.
My first production was in 1967 when Duke Reid had given me some free studio time in appreciation for my plugging of his record ‘Ba Ba Boom’ by The Jamaicans which won the second ‘Festival Song’ competition. At that time, I was a plugger promoting records for not only Reid but Coxsone Dodd, Leslie Kong of Beverly’s and others. I had only twenty pounds and I gave it to Lyn Taitt (the bandleader) who made his band play four songs for me. It was Taitt on rhythm and lead guitar, Gladstone Anderson on piano, Brian Atkinson on bass and Joe Isaacs on drums. The songs recorded were ‘Do It To Me Baby’ by Lloyd and The Groovers with an intro by Derrick Morgan; ‘Music Fields’ by Roy Shirley; a song about ‘Return’ by later guitarist Alva ‘Reggie’ Lewis and ‘Wallflower’ by Ken Rose and Alva Lewis”.
The hits that started with his first session and continued unabated with the likes of Derrick Morgan, Owen Gray, Slim Smith, Pat Kelly, Johnny Clarke, Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards, Horace Andy, U-Roy, John Holt, Linval Thompson, I-Roy, Barry Brown, Delroy Wilson, Cornel Campbell and the Uniques whose first hit ‘Let Me Go Girl’ was written by BB Seaton and sung by Seaton, Slim Smith and Lloyd Charmers. Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ (the biggest selling Festival Song which was also covered by the UK’s Rolling Stones) was produced by Bunny as well as Donaldson’s first album ‘Day and Night’. Max Romeo’s ‘Wet Dream’ entered the British charts on 28 May 1969, peaked at number 10, spent 24 weeks and re-entered the charts on 29 November1969 but only spent one week as Bunny explains, “I took out an injunction because I was not getting the money I was entitled to as the owner and producer even though the song was getting airplay!
When ‘Wet Dream’ first entered the charts it got no radio play; the Sound Systems played it to success. I wrote the song and recorded the rhythm at Treasure Isle studio and went to Studio One to do the voicing with the then famous engineer Sylvan Morris whose apprentice is the now legendary Errol Thompson. None of my big singers (Derrick Morgan, Slim Smith, Delroy Wilson, Pat Kelly, Stranger Cole, Roy Shirley) wanted to sing the sex lyrics. Max Romeo was only my record salesman at the time and I told him to sing the song or don’t come to work tomorrow! Glen Adams (the keyboards musician) felt sorry for Romeo and said, ‘come Maxie mek me show yuh the timing' and the rest is history. The session ended abruptly after this because Dodd (the studio owner) came in and was angry about the sex lyrics and we quarrelled. I sent the song to PAMA only to make up numbers and I was shocked when Harry Palmer phoned me and said the song was in the British charts and Maxie had to come to England now! Maxie never even had a passport! All of my big singers who had refused to sing the song were now willing to sing anything I told them to (laugh). Other hits voiced at that session were ‘Everybody Needs Love’ by Slim Smith and ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ by Slim Smith and Pat Kelly”.
Commercially recorded Jamaican music is generally segmented into the era of Mento, R&B cum Boogie Shuffling, Ska (Blue Beat, an English label owned by Emil Shalit), Rocksteady and Reggae. Bunny is one of the few authentic authorities on modern Jamaican music in particular and culture in general. “Reggae is the organ shuffle which Jackie Mittoo and Glen Adams played. John Crow Skank is the creep organ sound found on ‘Better Must Come’ by Delroy Wilson (which I produced); ‘Duppy Conqueror’ by The Wailers produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and others but a lot of these so-called ‘historians and experts’ don’t know this and many other things because they were not born and bred in the culture like we were. Most of their works are based on hearsay. Our personal homes were then the Dancehall where the top Sounds from the early days played and I feel we should write a book about the history of the music because we live and study it so, we should teach it.
There is a lot of racism in the business but most people are afraid to speak out because of fear. Bob Marley could never ever sing like Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown, Alton Ellis or Gregory Isaacs but Bob got the promotion because he was not of ‘dark complexion’ like them. Today, it is the same racism why Maxi Priest, Shaggy and Sean Paul get the promotion and so the riches over the ‘dark coloured’ Bounti Killa, Beenie Man, Sizzla, Capleton and others. Sean Paul was a Jamaican DJ before him buss but now he is a Portuguese Chinese Jew! We have to expose and destroy this racism! The story of Bob Marley’s father being a White captain is Chris Blackwell’s story; it was the marketing strategy he used for Bob. Marley’s father was a little man who used to be a ticket collector at the Ambassador Theatre in Trench Town. Ask Bob mother? She knows that what I say is true and I tell people this publicly all the time.
A next big lie is that there is a thing called ‘Dancehall’ music - the Dancehall is a place where people go to hear music and dance! The rhythms are one-chord or Pocomania revival, religious African rhythms from our ancestors. It is not new at all. Music that is played in the Dancehall is called Dancehall music. Idiots dem! Most of the drumming comes from the church; Skully (of Skully and Bunny fame) is one of the main drummers alive who knows this. Bunny and Skully sang the R&B tune ‘My Baby Has Gone’ in a boogie style with Val Bennett the great band leader”, states Bunny positively.
Bunny’s other numerous accomplishments include being the most prolific non-studio owning producer; one of the most creative producers alongside studio owning producers, Duke Reid and Clement Dodd. He made Ansel Collins play his first keyboard (piano) session on songs by Slim Smith, Roy Shirley and Max Romeo as Ansel was a member of Bobby Aitken and the Carib Beats band that rehearsed at Bunny’s mother's home. Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis, his Aggrovators drummer had introduced the flying cymbals sound in Reggae that made him the first and greatest producer of that sound. Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace played his first session as a drummer with him and produced Beenie Man's first album. He helped Lee Perry and Clancy Eccles break the almost monopolistic rule of the producing godfather legends Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid and Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd!
In the now historic Dance of 1972 at Sea Breeze Lawn, Port Henderson, St. Catherine – the Drum and Bass Dubs that Bunny and Lee Perry had given to King Tubbys (whose DJ was I-Roy whom Bunny had brought from Spanish Town as U-Roy was on his first English tour with Max Romeo and Roy Shirley) strongly held off the Dubs of Studio One played by Clive of Tippertone whose DJ was the then new sensation Big Youth. When Clive played ‘Joe Frazier’, ‘Rockfort Rock’, ‘Mojo Rock Steady’et al Dubs – Tubbys (who was selecting) countered with Bunny’s ‘Joe Razor’ by Roy Shirley and Perry’s ‘Iron Gate’ and ‘Caveman Skank’ Dubs and won over the crowd!
Still ever active, Bunny continues to produce at his own studio now and has a company of licensed albums by Barry Brown, Linval Thompson, Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry and Frank Malone’s Jamaican Recordings in London, England.