Leroy Sibbles at Reggae On The River
photo by Billy Espejel

Interview from the KMUD Press Tent, August 2 or 3?, 1996

Bill Remme: Much Respect to the Heptones, the legendary Heptones in our presence here. Welcome to Humboldt County and Reggae On The River.

Leroy Sibbles: Greetings and respect to each and everyone, yes. It's a pleasure to be here for the first time and we love the vibes. We've been here from Tuesday, right? And is like a great community spirit and we just love the people. Is like another world. Trust me, it feel good. I wish the whole world was like this.

Eric: Much respect to the Heptones. I'm Eric from KUNR-FM in Reno, Nevada. We do a two hour reggae show on Sunday nights. And we love the Heptones, and you had a very successful solo career with some great music that you put out, Leroy, but there's something magical about the three, the trio, especially in Jamaica . . . what is that?

LS: It's a spiritual thing where I would say . . . just a God thing. Cause is not nothing that was planned that we said this is exactly what we wanted. We came from Trenchtown, right? As kids growing up, the direction was there for us. It happened. Like magic. It was nothing that we studied. It just happened. And here we are. When we get together, that magic always comes about. You can understand what I'm saying.

Eric: Is there something mystical about the trinity?

LS: Yea, because like I'm saying. Where we came from, we had nothing, no direction. There was nothing planned as kids growing up in the ghetto. And it's like God, the Almighty God brought us together cause these two brothers (Barry Llewelyn and Earl Morgan) lived a lickle distance from me, and I did not know them until we met musically. Yet we were in the same community, if you understand what I'm saying. So is like God put it together, not even we ourselves. So whatever happen when we come together, is of God.

Carter Van Pelt: Yea, maximum respect to the Heptones, to all three of you. I'm wondering if you could go back . . . we all love Studio One and there was a time there when the ska turned into rock steady and the sound was changing and it became so Jamaican, so strictly Jamaican for the first time. And as a musician too, as a bass player, if you could talk about when that slow-down of the rhythm occurred and what part you had to play in that as a studio musician?

LS: Well, when we were listening as kids to music, it was ska. Bob Marley was doing ska. Toots & the Maytals were doing ska, Delroy Wilson was doing ska. I was even as a kid, when I left school and started doing arc welding, electrical welding, I was singing some Delroy Wilson songs, which was really up-tempo, right? And a lot of people was saying, even then, 'hey, you sound good and you . . .' but I wasn't taken that much seriously. Then, when we got together, our kind of music was much slower than the ska thing. I would not say that the Heptones were the ones who changed the music, but we know that we were responsible for the change too. Because when we started, we started with songs like "A Change Has Got To Come." And it was much slower than what was happening. We were a part of the change for sure. We started doing songs like "Ting A Ling A Ling," and dem songs deh. And dem songs was different.

CVP: So when that vibe caught on was everyone, was there a real feeling like, 'this is something special that we're coming into a time,' or did you have to look on it later and say. . . Did you know at the time how crucial that new sound was?

LS: What we know at the time was what we felt. We felt that we were a part of something now. And that felt really good. We had a purpose in this world right now. That was one of the greatest things, the greatest feeling. We were somebody. We were a part of this world. We had a say for once in our lives. And that was the most important thing. We weren't even thinking of money. When we did these songs and we heard these songs and we see how people respond in our community all around us. That was the most important thing.

Barry Llewelyn: The love for the music.

CVP: And while I pass [the microphone], do you remember doing any harmonies with Burning Spear, on any of his tracks . . . or play bass.

LS: Yea mon. The very first album that Burning Spear did for Studio One, we have this song "Door Peep Shall Not Enter" and those songs. I played on that album. I play bass and did some of the arrangement on that song. Yea mon, and I've played for Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Studio One music. I've played songs like, some of the most popular Studio One songs, like "Full Up," which they call "Pass The Kutchie" and "The Dutchie," you know. That's a song that I made personally. Two instrumental songs. That one and another one called "In Cold Blood." And songs like "Satta Massa Ganna," I arrange "Declaration of Rights," the original Abyssinians. That's one of the songs [Satta] that made version start in Jamaica. I got the most version when that song came, yea mon. That make version and version and pure Satta version! And even then, I did not have a manager, because Coxson now was everything. Coxson was the owner, the arranger, the manager, and yet Coxson was never there when a song was being made. And Coxson is known all over the world as the producer. We were producing the songs. Coxson is the executive producer. That's what Coxson is. And even today Coxson claims that he owns everything. He's the one sole owner of everything. Songs like "Declaration of Rights," songs like "Queen of the Minstrel," "Stars" by Cornell Campbell. There was a group called the Mad Lads who did songs like "Ten to One," yea mon. You remember a song called "Freedom Blues"? "Freedom Blues" is . . . (sings nah nah nah. . . boom . . boom. . .boom). You must know that, big big tune. Me as a bass man, Studio One create some of the greatest lines, and it's not just me saying this, time has proven this. All of these songs are songs that have been versioned from the time that I did it many many years ago. Every year, they version them. And new songs is being sung on these, and is like the same rhythm, same bass line, cause you cyaan change that.

CVP: Did you play "Sweet Talking?" Is that your bass?

LS: I did that too. Songs like "Things A Come Up To Bump." You know that track deh? Wicked wicked mon! Me have created some of the wickedest bass line in Jamaican business. Why I say this is because those are the lines that stand out. A lot of people playing bass.

CVP: Yea, and you hear Luciano will sing over them . . .

LS: Of course, everyone mon! I did a song on the one called "Full Up." And why I'm here stating this is because history has not shown this. That's why I'm here saying this you know. It's not like I'm here trying to show off or nothing. But I have to tell this, cause it was not told.

CVP: Coxson didn't give credit.

LS: No! Coxson didn't give credit to no musician, so no-one know these things. After I did that. I have to come back and really have to tell the story. It's hard. The song called "Full Up," me and Beenie Man did tell a story of the original "Full Up." (sings) "I didn't know what I was doing when I made this one. I didn't know that one riddim coulda last so long. Is true. Mighty Diamond call it Kutchie, now every singer every deejay wan touch it. Lift up my hand to the Almighty, who made me the original bassie." Ya know wha I mean? Yea! Is only a few people who knows these things. And is not just that we did. While we were there doing that, we were there singing harmony to a lot of these other singers tracks too. The Heptones made a lot of these tracks, songs like Bob Andy 'Ba boo Ba Baya' ["Let Them Say"]. We were working.

Sanjay Dev (Chico, CA): This is my fourth year at Reggae On The River. Last year, Alton Ellis sounded really really good. And this is great, cause from the old Studio One sounds, all of a sudden Alton Ellis got a lot of respect. So it's like Skatalites got a lot of respect. Today I think judging from the audience, judging from the listeners, I think the Heptones really got a lot of respect. The show was incredible.

Heptones: Yes

LS: I did appreciate that.

SD: I know a lot of the young singers are very much influenced by you. Earlier I spoke about Michael Prophet. Now another one I want to ask you about, how about Little Roy, cause I know you are a very good friend with Little Roy. Earl, I believe. We would love to see Little Roy here, cause [he] deserves a lot of credit.

LS: A lot of people might not know him, but he is a great singer, great writer too. It's true.

SD: Everybody knows a song called "Tribal War." So I just wanted to ask you what your relationship is with Little Roy and would you ever be inclined to bring him in the US?

LS: Well, truthfully, I haven't seen him in a long time. I think I saw him like four or five years ago. But I hope he's in good health doing well as usual, cause he and I come a long way, and he's a good brother.

SD: A Little Roy record that just came out from Pressure Sounds had the Heptones harmony in it. The credit is given to Ian and the Heptones. That's what it says, so that's why I was asking you that question.

LS: We sang a lot of songs together. Singing is our life. And this is what we do and what we'll always do no matter what. We enjoy doing this. We love to have the opportunity to do this. I know I was born for this. And I'll show you why. When I was from about nine years old, growing, I used to have a vision. When I sleep at night, I used to see myself float off the ground to about the height of a telephone pole. And was floating, not flying, just floating there and a crowd would gather and would be pointing up at me. And I'd be looking down at them . . . and that vision used to haunt me. And I would never, could never understand what that meant. And it was like about ten years ago while I was living in Canada in Toronto, the visions stop for a while, and they start coming back to me again. And it hit me one day, and you know what I saw out of that vision? Myself on stage. And a crowd of people around me, pointing at me. I say yes. I had that before even know. That's why when I do so, it comes so easy. I'm telling you, it's a natural thing. I was made for this. And I tell you something else that is so ironic, whenever I try to do anything else, it doesn't work. Believe it. And no matter where I go in the world, whenever I sing for people, they understand, they love it, and it comes naturally. What I do is real, cause if I'm having a bad night, everyone will know it too. Yes. I can't hide it. I'm having a good night. I'm having a good week.

Rankin Mr. B. (KPOI-FM): Just a note, there are two songs that are out on Heartbeat and RAS. On RAS, Ragga Mania Part IV is the original "Full Up" that you do with Beenie Man that's great. And then also Heartbeat has released Studio One Treasures and they had "Baby" with the Heptones, which is a great track. Being brought up in the sixties and the seventies, harmony quartets like the Temptations, the Four Tops were a great inspiration, and when I hear you guys, I hear the same thing, also with great reggae trios coming out of the sixties and seventies. Right now, are there any young groups maybe trios, that we're not aware of, who will continue the music that you guys put forth?

LS: Well, right now in Jamaica the music has changed. The kids who are singing right now there not doing it in that kind of style. Yet they have groups, Luciano, he has backup singers, and there are a lot of groups and things, a lot of nice music is coming right back. A lot of sings, which we need, good songs.

CVP: One more period that I want you to touch on that I think is important is the work with Scratch, and what you remember from that time and how that came together. Another transition.

LS: (to Barry) You want to talk about Lee Perry? That's one of Lee Perry buddies. That's Barry Heptones people! (applause).

Barry Llewelyn: Like Leroy say now, me and Scratch go way back. During the period of time when we were working with Scratch was because of Island Record company. Our second album with Island is how come we get involve with Lee Perry. Producing it locally, like doing the recording. Scratch is like a guy who have good idea. He work with other people, not only Heptones, but even people like Bob Marley. He's a guy who doing the work just like how you expect him call himself the musical scientist, mad scientist (laughs). But Scratch is a great guy and producer. I enjoy working with Scratch.

LS: We did the album with Lee Perry called Party Time. That was with Island Records. We had fun too. Cause he's a fun kind of . . . he's crazy as hell.

CVP: Was it better than working with Coxson?

LS: I don't know, cause they all learn the same tricks. Jamaica is kind of trendy, and all the producers kind of follow each other, the same kind of things, for real. But there's always fun in there and that's what I look for. You don't dwell in the past, you just keep going ahead, cause that's where life is. You don't look back too much. You do what you have to do. Yes.

Brother K (KPFA-FM Berkeley, CA): I just wanted to ask when you were doing your music, first touring, way back, did you come to some venues in the States? Like after Book of Rules, around that time? Where were the places you went early on outside of Jamaica?

LS: We started touring London. We did a lot of England thing. We did Canada. We did a lot of single shows in the states. We never toured the States during [those times].

Brother K: Since so many things are being reissued now on CD that were on vinyl only before . . . I'm wondering if you could recommend some things that you know might be getting reissued . . . some things that are difficult to get in the States currently. What kind of CDs of the Heptones would you recommend?

LS: Well, since we came back together, we have done a new CD called Pressure, which is on RAS. And for who might not know, it's something to listen to. And I have a solo CD on VP called It's Not Over, it's something to listen to. Earl has some new stuff.

Earl Morgan: We have a new CD out, Twenty-Five Golden Years of The Heptones.

Bill Remme: Thank you very much for joining us here at Reggae On The River.

LS: A pleasure

Earl & Barry: Yea.

Transcription by Carter Van Pelt 1998