Interview with ...
What made you become an engineer ?
Really wanted to be a rapper and the engineering evolved out of that pursuit.
How did you learn the mixing process ?
From the tutelage of Dave and Tony Kelly and listening to what producers wanted in a mix, namely Donovan Germain and what sound owners wanted from a song, namely Winston ‘Wee Pow’ Powell from Stone Love.
Which engineers work inspired and influenced you ?
Dave and Tony Kelly, Steven Stanley, Bob Swedien (a five-time Grammy winner, he was the primary sound engineer for Michael Jackson) and Al Schmitt (who has won 18 Grammy Awards, more than any other engineer or mixer).
Who found the nickname of "Rookie" ?
Rookie was the name that best embodied my status at the time, being surrounded by older and far more experienced players in the industry.... So when I needed a name for my label I went with Rookie.
We talk a lot about artists, musicians and producers, but not enough about the engineers. What is, according to you, the contribution of the recording engineer in the musical productions ?
A recording engineer has the responsibility of making sure that all the elements of the recording are amalgamated to the best technical standards possible and sets the foundation for the final mix of said recording. A good recording engineer can make a mixing engineers job quite easy or make it a nightmare, it all depends on the recording engineers skill level.
When and how did you get connected with Donovan Germain ?
When I was in first form at school and pursuing a career as a Rap artist I went for an audition at Penthouse, around 1989 and that's when I met him.
What is Donovan Germain's singularity comparing to other producers ?
It would definitely be his knowledge of the Reggae grooves from the golden era of the 1960's and 70's.
Penthouse Records ruled the dancehall during the 90s thanks to a recognizable sophisticated sound. Can you describe how you elaborated this sophisticated sound ?
The sound that was associated with the label was mainly due to the adherence to the standards of Germain, I simply continued yielding to that adherence.
You recorded in Penthouse studios with some greats riddims makers like Dave Kelly, his brother Tony Kelly whom you talked about earlier and also Steven "Lenky" Marsden. Can you tell us a little bit more about them and the way they work ?
My internship at Penthouse was under the tutelage of Dave and Tony Kelly. Both extremely talented individuals with different styles. Dave's style is more hardcore with the grime and grit of inner city dancehall while Tony seemed to strive for a more pop dancehall sound. Lenky's contribution to Penthouse came after the Dave and Tony Kelly era, he came to Penthouse as a complete musician with an extraordinary gift to play the keyboards. His style also seemed to be more geared towards the pop dancehall style.
Why did you form your own label Rookie Production in 1993 ? What differences do you make between your own productions and the work that you realize for Penthouse Records ?
I worked for Penthouse as an engineer, I worked for myself as a producer. I am a huge Tenor Saw fan, and after being asked to give the "What One Riddim Can Do " project a different mix I came across the Tenor Saw song "Nuh Work On Sunday" and subsequently asked for permission to remix same and that ushered the birth of Rookie Production with "John Crow".
The singularity that defined my label was the brand of creativity. The production dictated the colour and the vibe of my mixes, so whatever song I was given I would listen for the basic groove of the production and seek to enhance it to the best of my ability. There may be some songs that are drum driven or there may be some songs where the bass or synth instruments take presidence in the groove of the production, which ever the case may be my job as the mixing engineer is mainly to enhance, nothing more nothing less.
What was your first production ?
The very first song I produced was "Give My Love A Try" by Wayne Wonder and Buju Banton. An hip hop dance tune, that's what I was into at the time. This tune appears on Wayne Wonder’s album "Don't Have To", released in 1993.
Is it different to produce or mix new Roots riddims or Dancehall riddims ?
The approach is the same whether it be Roots or Dancehall, and that is to find the most creative rhythm to compliment the lyrics of the artist without overpowering them. And as it relates to mixing, regardless of the genre the approach is always to enhance the dynamic range of the tracks and improve the overall tonal quality.
Did you work for other labels ?
Definitely ! Stone Love, Shocking Vibes, Harmony House, Star Trail, Shang Records, Takafumi, Flames Records, Steely & Clevie and there were others.
Steely & Clevie played a lot of riddims for Donovan Germain. Did you met them at Penthouse ?
I actually met Clevie before and met Steely at Penthouse. I worked for them on Shabba Ranks album "X-tra Naked" that went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1993. I was also the mixing engineer for their smash hit with Buju Banton "First And The Last" on the Koloko riddim.
You have been in the reggae industry for a long time. What is your opinion about the new reggae music and the evolution of the jamaican music over these years ?
The evolution of Reggae music has been constant over time and for the most part for the better. Reggae's offspring Dancehall has also been evolving over time. The current style of Hip Hop Dancehall is but a faint shadow of what it used to be. The surplus of technology plus the deficit of talent makes for a recipe of inferiority.
Do you still produce Dancehall music ?
I have not released anything since the Superstar riddim in 1999. I will be going in the direction of Dance music. That's where some real creative stuff happens. House, Trance, Dub step... I am inspired by creativity, I hear a lot of that in house music.
I've just released the first volume of Rookie Production Anthology, a collection of some songs that I have produced over the years.
Favorite Rookie's projects for Penthouse Records (Recording / Mixing Engineer) :
Beres Hammond - My Wish
Beres Hammond - No More Pain
Buju Banton - Operation Ardent
Buju Banton - Deportee
Buju Banton - God Of My Salvation
Buju Banton - Willy
Buju Banton - Champion
Buju Banton & Tony Rebel & Terry Ganzie & Cutty Ranks & Brian & Tony Gold - Tribal War
Buju Banton & Beres Hammond - A Little More Time
Buju Banton & Nadine Sutherland - Wicked Dickie
Buju Banton & Carol Gonzales - Second Class
Garnet Silk - Fussing And Fighting
Garnet Silk - Complaint
Junior Tucker - Lock Me Up
Marcia Griffiths - I Shall Sing
Marcia Griffiths & Lt. Stitchie - Special Gift
Richie Stephens - Forever
Spragga Benz - Moving Up The Line
Terror Fabulous - Matty's Son
Tony Rebel - Know Jah
Tony Rebel - It Can't Work
Tony Rebel - Creator
Tony Rebel & Jack Radicks - Rise
Wayne Wonder - Saddest Day (also co-writer)
Wayne Wonder - Die Without You
Wayne Wonder - Do You
Wayne Wonder - Missing You
Wayne Wonder - Why Did You