LargeUp Interview: A Last Chat with Wayne Smith

February 28, 2014

Photo: Beth Lesser

LU: You were also featured in Beth Lesser’s book Dancehall: The Story of Jamaican Dancehall Culture. There is a whole bunch of pictures in there, one wicked photo by Beth Lesser with you, Tenor Saw and Echo Minott.

WS: Yeah, she’s been doing it from back in the 80s when we were at Jammy’s. She was taking picture an all sorta things for years, she has been documenting dancehall for years.

LU: So you are at King Jammy’s studio, he was out of the country and you and Noel Davey buck up now.

WS: Every artist who was going down to Jammy’s stop by my yard because I had a little name now because of “Come Along” and “Ain’t No Meaning.” So I see [Noel] one day and he said he was going get a keyboard because a guy gone a England suppose to buy one for him. I told him to come see me when he got it. Him comes back a few days later and said he got the keyboard, and we start to rehearse in my yard. I told him I was gonna take him to the studio, and he started doing some overdubs for King Jammy’s.

One day now I pressed a button on the keyboard and heard the pre-program track and he came back and said “Wayne, what you do?” I showed him and we slow it down, and he started to strum over the beat, but I wasn’t singing “Sleng Teng,” I was singing something else —“Under Mi Dragon and Mi Damn Raw Egg.” Every day we were there with the same riddim over and over, perfecting it, then one day we were pressing the button and it didn’t come on. So he said we’ll link up tomorrow because Jammy’s wasn’t here, he was in England.

A couple days passed and I was sitting on my wall, watching all the artists go pass and a man told me that Noel was around by Big Road rehearsing with some other guy on the same track that was in the keyboard. I said, let me go check him. I went to see Noel and told him we have to go to Jammy’s now to go record the riddim, because Jammy’s was back. So we go over to Jammy’s, and I told him I have [a] riddim that I wanna voice a tune on, and him say alright.

So we connected up everything, Noel pressed it and it started playing. We already have the tempo and key that we rehearse in everyday, the only thing was I was singing those different lyrics. So all Jammy’s did was put the jack in the keyboard, and we run it off to the tape. Noel put on the strum and do him thing [hums a tune] before Asher—Tony Asher come waaay after “Sleng Teng” start mash up the place. [It was then] Jammy’s do a instrumental and make Asher come play. So it was just me and Noel and, when Jammy’s listen to it, him feel it, so he put a clap [claps out beat] on it and said, “alright, ready to voice.”

I go and put on the headphones but I never had anything written out. From I started singing, it was like, boom! I was just looking at the wall, like I saw all the lyrics written on a blackboard and I was reading it out, one take! “Weighing my brain…no cocaine…I don’t want to, I don’t want to go insane…” So they say bring it back, do the harmony now, and bam! There it was.

Now after I recorded the song, some artist came through, same age was me but they were already popular. And you know when an artist big, the engineer tends to listen to him more, even if you were singing long before that artist. We were all friends still, but Jammy’s ask them, “What you think about this song?” They said it sounded too straight, it wouldn’t be a hit. I have songs in the dance but I don’t buss yet, I am not a household name, and my friend really just say that to the producer? That was wicked to me.

I went outside and water started to run out of my eyes and I washed my face, because I don’t want anyone seeing me crying. I am thinking, everybody buss and I have been singing long time! Junior Reid buss and gone, Half Pint buss and gone and I still can’t buss! And this song that is supposed to lift me up, my friends are saying they weren’t feeling it! That’s not right. I said bloodclaaat! I went back inside the studio and say to Jammy’s, remember that you haven’t given us any money, we just did the song, put it out and see what happens—you have nothing to lose. He was thinking about it and said, “Alright, I’m gonna to play it at the dance tonight and see what happens.”

I didn’t even go to the dance that night because I was depressed. One thing I respected with Jammy’s, if you have something, he will listen to it and give it a try. Sometimes he can’t make a decision without other peoples’ input, but he will give you a chance, and he is a good engineer.

I stayed at home, then, about 6 am the next day, people started to beat down my window saying, “Wayne! Wayne! Him put on the tune you know! The whole night is it a play! It mash up the place!” I thought they were lying just to cheer me up. So later I walk over to Jammy’s and everyone telling me that the song wicked. And Jammy’s tell me some other producer heard the song and want to play over the riddim now, so he was going to flood the place before they can lick it. So Jammy’s starts to voice a lot of people on it and flood the place. Then that was it.

Click here to read on.