CDTimes meets the man who created reggae - Bunny Striker Lee - Bunny Striker Lee
“Everybody is saying it’s good cos it’s long overdue and they say Bunny should write a story about his life…” Bunny Striker Lee. October 28, 2004.
For the past few months, the long overdue documentary about legendary reggae producer Bunny Striker Lee has been in production in London and Jamaica. As one of the fathers of reggae music, Lee, along with King Jammy and King Tubby, has worked with all the greatest reggae artists, “Too many to mention,” The man now in his early 60s said, “All the people... Mighty Diamonds, Bob Marley… you name them….”
In fact there were many more, and the documentary will have interviews with everyone he has worked with and even those who know him personally from his early days. “This film is going to show you a clip with my mother and father, you know, and King Jammy and Fatman, and basically all the people that I work with that is alive today… Leroy and Tappa Zuki, Pat Kelly, you name them and you know, those who are not alive we will put the picture up and we will talk about them like Slim Smith…”
Lee’s Jamaican drawl is smooth and laid back when I spoke to him at the legendary club, Mirage and Stars in Finsbury Park. He wore his trademark fisherman’s hat and blue shirt, and lived up to his reputation for being the Cool Operator.
Asking him what to expect the interviewees to say about him, he replies in his relaxed manner, “I don’t know you know… Most of these people start with me, so I don’t expect they’d be saying bad things… I give them a start somewhere... Bob Marley and Lee Perry -- I bring his first 500 poems and make him start his own production…”
Although Lee is aware of his status, he knows the influence reggae has had all over the world is a shared achievement with the other artists and producers of the time, “Artists start coming to England and America and all those things... take it further, you know that it not a one man team… Roy Shirley... too many to mention…”
Interestingly, in Kingston when Lee was young, the music of the day was all he listened to, but reggae was born when it was brought it together, “I used to listen to Rhythm and Blues, and in the early days there was a music in Jamaica I called Quadula Mentos, you know, then it later developed into Calypso, and then R’n’B with sound system like Fats Domino, Louis Jordan, they were the guys in those days... Duke Reed… Calyspo and Rhythm and Blues were the music all in the 50s and there was a lots of youngs down the bridge… Duke Reed and Prince Buster... those songs used to run things in Jamaica.”
“We kinda name Reggae cos it was Calypso then Ska, R’n’B, Booglie. Ska become later Rock Steady, Rock Steady become later Junk and into the Reggae.”
It was 1969 when Lee’s reputation for being the leading hit maker in Jamaica was assured, and in the following four years he had hits with Slim Smith’s Everybody Needs Love(1969), Pat Kelly’s How Long? (1970), Delroy Wilson’s Better Must Come (1971), the song that was to become a hit for UB40, Eric Donaldson’s Cherry Oh Baby (1971), and John Holt’s Stick By Me (1972). By 1974 he produced a bounty of hits for Johnny Clarke starting with None Shall Escape the Judgment and Move Out Of Babylon. In the same year, Owen Grey showcased Bongo Natty and Cornell Campbell had a string of successful songs including The Gorgon.
“I don’t have any favourites,” Lee says with a furrow in his brow, “If I had a favourite I’d keep it to myself… cos I’ve seen that cause a lot of conflict with a lot of people cos I’ve worked with some of the greatest reggae singers.”
A documentary about the great man is indeed long overdue, and supporting the release of the film will be a tour in the Spring and Summer of 2005 starting May 26 at The Pool, Shoreditch, which will travel across the UK. Features of the tour will be a photo exhibition by the director of The Bunny Striker Lee Story, Tom Oldham, where stills from the documentary plus other portraits of emerging singing talent of the 60s and 70s and the first wave of reggae dons are on display, and there will also be live performances from Orijahnal Outernational at every date and reggae workshops and forums, for those wanting to learn more.
And as the documentary will cover Lee’s beginnings in Greenwich Farm to today in Kingston, his story will, no doubt, bring a context to what is known about the origins of reggae music, as he says, “I used to work selling car parts and also at Kingston Industrial Garage (KIG), and at that time I was doing reggae music … I got sidelined….”