Words and Interview by Sherman Escoffery—
In August 2012, I heard from my friend Dwayne Smith, son of reggae singer Wayne Smith, that his dad was moving back to Jamaica in a few weeks, asking if I wanted to interview him before he left New York for good. I never realized that it would be the last time I would see him and the second to last time we would speak.
It was raining hard that day and I almost never went to meet up with Wayne Smith but when we did we we went to a Golden Krust restaurant and reasoned over how he had changed reggae music and ushered in the digital revolution of dancehall music with “Under Mi Sleng Teng”— something King Jammy’s described as music that belong to the youths of that generation. I can still remember my reaction the first time I heard the Sleng Teng rhythm: “What the fuck is that?”
I never got to ask Wayne all the questions I wanted to that day, and unfortunately I won’t get to. The next time we spoke he had called me to put him on to a custom broker to help him clear his belongings that he had sent back home to Jamaica from New York. That was the last conversation we had.
LargeUp: Wayne, Lets go all the way back. How did you come into the business?
Wayne Smith: I was born in Waterhouse, and the only studio in Waterhouse at the time was King Tubby, zeen. Tubby used to have his sound and everything playing in Waterhouse. Growing up, my brother used to move with the Wailing Souls, Black Uhuru and Michael Rose. All these artists used to have to pass around our way to go to Tubby. Jammy’s used to have a sound and he was learning engineering at Tubbys and he was our neighbor. If you jump over our back fence, you gonna reach over Ms. James and Mr. James. Trevor James [King Jammy’s brother] and my mother used to go to the same school. Junior Reid and me were good friends because Junior Reid used to move in my brother’s gang. Lacksley Castell and me used to go school together so we were in the music all over because we were hanging with a lot of top artists, Hugh Mundell…..
LU: You mentioned some names that a lot of people don’t talk about, Hugh Mundell and Lacksley Castell, talk a little bit about Hugh Mundell and what you knew about him.
WS: Well Hugh Mundell did cool but I was never that close with him, me and Junior Reid were close, they always came to check Junior Reid in Waterhouse and we were all there. I would hail them up and we would do some reasoning while they waited on Junior Reid before they drove out. At that time Hugh Mundell and Lacksley Castell were up there as big artist. Me and Junior Reid as youths were still trying to pull through, but they were big in England at the time, from back in the late 70s.
LU: What was the first song you recorded?
WS: The first song I recorded it never did gwan with nothing too tough, I did it for some Buckers youth from Balcombe Drive. The tune was “Want You Tonight Girl,” that was 1979. We cut some copies but I never had any name at that time. That was at Harry J. Studio.