Imojah - Rockers From The Land Of Reggae

Jah Love
I've Been Hurt
Peace And Love
One Song / Jah Music
Love Everyone
Fools Rush In
No Love
Weepin' & Wailing
Love Everyone (7" Mix)
I Gave You My Word (7" Mix)
I've Been Hurt (12" Mix)

A journey through Jamaica from Kingston to Saint Ann's Bay on the north coast reveals the bountiful nature of the island, once described by the plundering Christopher Columbus as the 'fairest isle that eyes ever beheld'. For a Jamaican in the late 60's, travelling the well-worn roads in a minibus might well have been a joy for the eyes, but was also a test of the will, as the minibuses were usually packed like 'sardine-can' since the drivers earned on commission. It was by these means that a young and aspiring writer, Phillip Fullwood, would travel regularly from Kingston to reach Saint Ann's Bay. Originally born in Kingston, Phillip, a cousin of bassist George 'Fully' Fullwood, had lived in Saint Ann's with his mother until he was nine years old, when he moved to live with his father in Linstead, Saint Catherine. Perhaps it was the importance of the region's history with slavery that inspired him, but as a young man hanging around the local nyahbinghi community he started pursuing Rastafari.

"I was twelve years old before my mother cut my dreadlocks. Cut my hair off my head. I was no Rasta then, yunno. And then after a while I became a Rasta because I was hanging with guys like Sons of Negus and Ras Michael."

The move to Saint Catherine gave Phillip not only a spiritual direction in life, but also close friendships with two youths named Eric Donaldson and Freddie McKay.

"We used to play together. Freddie know my father and my brother. I know his mother. She used to ride a donkey come to town to the market and go back to the country the next day. She was a poor luck lady. Didn't have anything really. So me an' Freddie became friends, yunno. Freddie McKay occupation was a painter and do entertainment on the side. He was a good stage actor, a good dancer. Eric Donaldson used to be a fisherman. He lived at a place called Bog Walk. I hear have a club there now. But Freddie was my friend and him love singing. We used to stay over by Freddie little room. His girlfriend went to America and she sent a picture of her back to him. That's why he sing 'your picture is hanging on the wall.' Because of that picture. And the song become a hit."

Phillip's first foray into song-writing came with 'Old Joe' for Freddie McKay, released on Freddie's debut album for Studio One.

"You know how I write that Song? My father was town councillor and he had a man called Mr James, he was kind of handicapped. Walk on his hands. One day I went over there and I asked Mr James 'Look man, I'm hungry, I need some food'. Do you know what he told me? 'Son, if you can't buy land you can't buy stone and if you can't buy beef you can't buy bone.' And he was eating a steak at the time, I started to cry. I went back over to Freddie's house and there was a guy called Privy. He used to play with the Soul Defenders. They were cooking and I tell what the man said to me. And Privy said, 'don't you know Joe and Job is the same name?' That's why Freddie sing 'You just can't buy land if you can't buy stone. Old Job I don't want your job'. Yunno? That's how I became a writer."

Phillip, now inspired to write poetry and song lyrics, travelled around the country selling literature printed in London, getting a few cents for each publication sold.

"I used to sell African literature. It was one of the things I used to do for a living, yunno. Like the 'African Word'. I used to get them from London. Literature about Africa, like South Africa. You know, back in the days when they used to beat black people, I mean like slavery days. The literature came from England through Africa. I used to sell it and get a few cents of the payment and then I'd return the rest to them. It was '69 to '71, dem times."

On one such trip he would meat another formative influence on his life.

"I went with a guy to St Ann's Bay. On arrival I didn't have nowhere to sleep and then he said tell me, 'Look, I'm gonna let you stay with somebody tonight'. So we sleep on a little single bed, yunno? We'd sleep like head-to-toe. When I wake the next morning the guy said to me 'My name is Pamo. I am the one called Winston Rodney'."

The man he had shared the roof with that night, sheltering from the St Ann rain, was none other than the young Burning Spear, a thoughtful artist taking his first steps into the music industry. That very same week Spear would travel to Kingston to record the song 'Door Peeper' at Studio One. As Phillip made frequent visits to St Ann's to sell his literature, he and Winston Rodney became good friends, often meeting and cooking dumpling and yam over a small oil stove. Cooking, talking and writing music. When Burning Spear recorded the album 'Marcus Garvey' several of the songs were co-written by Phillip, and when the album became an international success, Phillip Fullwood was brought in to play percussion on the US tour that followed.

"When we was travelling in the US, we record 'The Whole World Want To Be Free'. It was the first time I sang. It recorded in a basement in Queens. It was a white guy who used to play guitar and he had a studio in the basement. They come in to the concert and we became friends and then we went to their house and stayed there. So we got together and used to smoke weed and play music."

The session, consisting of local musicians alongside Jamaican organist Bernard 'Touter' Harvey, resulted in two tracks, including Phillip's first lead vocal on 'Love Everyone', a longing plea for love and unity. His close relationship to Burning Spear gave Phillip valuable insight into studio work, and his move into production and mixing was inevitable, soon resulting in the profound self-production 'I Gave You My World' in 1979, with arrangement and backing vocals by Winston Rodney.

The same rhythm, remixed into a long, enthralling dub, formed the introduction for the incredibly scarce album 'Words In Dub' (Jah Marcus LP, 1979). This highly unique set was released in a very limited pressing in a stark hand-printed sleeve. The original recordings were primarily laid at Channel One and also at the legendary Black Ark by Phillip Fullwood's own hands.

"Well the dub mix, I do it all. You know where I did that dub mix? By Lee Perry's Black Ark studio. When I went there that day he was acting crazy and then I asked him how much money him charge me and he said 'No, I don't charge you no money'. Because I was in the studio doing all kind of stuff."

Also in 1979, Phillip met Winston McKenzie with whom he would start the group I-Mo-Jah.

"Imojah means 'Unity' in Swahili. I used to do upholstery in a room I rented in a little dancehall and Winston's mother used to live across the street from the beach and that's how I met him. He come to America when he was 14. He's from St Ann's too. And when I come to America I used to stay at his house in New Rochelle, New York. That's near to the Bronx. He was interested in music so we bring him from New Rochelle to Jamaica, but his home was really in America. I gave him 'Words In Dub' to bring it to America. He made like only 1000 copies and he send me a couple of copies. Then he buy me a drum set and bring to Jamaica. That's all I get from it."

In 1982 Phillip moved to the US where the I-Mo-Jah group, which had been started in Jamaica, gained a third member with vocalist Cassandra Jenkins.

"Cassandra lived around the block. She's a young American girl, only sixteen at the time. I was in my thirties. I think Winston McKenzie was in his thirties. I don't know where she's at. She was a nice girl. She used to come over to Winston and hang out. Her parents never approve of her being around us either. She was into reggae - a few Americans get into it."

While in the US, they started going over the rhythm tracks that Phillip had brought with him on master tape, deciding which to re-record and create new songs over. The backing tracks featured Jamaican musical dignitaries such as Sly and Robbie, Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace and Clive 'Azul' Hunt, and would form the backbone of the 'Rockers From The Land Of Reggae' album. New vocals were recorded at SFZ studio in Long Island and New Age studio in Queens, with further overdubs on keyboards and lead guitar, and the album was mixed by Phillip.

"Them give me the board and I do the mixing myself. I don't know if it come out good or if it come out bad. I gave Spear a copy of the album and he said 'yeah it sound good'. There was a man who played the music over the radio and Freddie McKay say, 'man, I hear the music play over the air - you sound good', and I never continue after Freddie McKay tell me he heard the music playing. I was never meant to be a singer to tell you the truth."

The striking sleeve, in black and white with green handwritten typography, told the story of Jamaica, with Arawaks overseeing the arrival of Christopher Columbus' ship Santa Maria, whilst between two sound systems the dreads were dancing and smoking a spliff under a tree. The art was drawn by Magnus Johnstone, a painter and deejay who presented the radio show 'Reggae Mukasa' on WMBR, and woud later become the foremost champion of the burgeoning hip hop scene in Boston.

"Yeah yeah! He used to live in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He used to have a radio program. He was living more over on the black side. When I used to go to his house we used to drink Guinness stout, smoke weed, and he had a big room with a lot of painting. And we went to an art gallery one night and I was scared because there was a lot of white people. I got used to it. I got a lot of white friends after that."

With its off-kilter mix and eccentric vocals, the I-Mo-Jah album was never destined for mainstream success. But it's distribution was seriously derailed by some unfortunate events.

"When I made 'Rockers From The Land Of Reggae' I was taking about 500 to Jamaica and I was told I had to have a license to go through customs. I got fed up and I just leave the album with them. They wanted me to get a license and all them things and I said 'why I want a license to bring my own thing to Jamaica?' They said no, so I leave them at customs. I don't know what happened to them. Maybe they sell them. And that was the end of it. I give the rest of them to Chin Randy's in Jamaica' Queens to distribute."

And so both 'Words In Dub' and 'Rockers From The Land Of Reggae' soon vanished into obscurity. By 1983 Phillip Fullwood had settled permanently in the US and virtually retired from music. Over the years, partly fuelled by their extreme rarity, the reputations of both albums have grown, the original copies now command a very high price. Phillip is thrilled that this reissue will now expose them to a wider audience.

"Life happen that way. I got kids and grandkids. I'm just a small guy who was with Spear and just tried to do my thing, like everybody else in the entertainment biz. My occupation, my passport you know says entertainer. Wishing a t'ing, yunno."

Joakim Kalcidis

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