Interview with Niney the Observer: Part 2

Niney the Observer in the studio
Below is the second part of our interview with groundbreaking producer Niney the Observer. Read part one here.

If you could, what would you most like to change about the music business?

I’d try to get rid of the pirates and thieves; that’s both artists and producers. Sometimes a guy will hear somebody’s song, and the first thing he wants to do is sing it over.

If a man comes into the studio right now and hears a nice rhythm, he’ll have it in his head and will go and redo it; that’s not creative.

If you listen to the guitar on Cassandra (produced by Niney and sung by Dennis Brown, above), it makes a ‘chengy’ sound. One day, [Producer] Rupie Edwards came down while I was working in the studio.

I had an idea to use the same ‘chengy’ sound as vocal and said to [guitarist] Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith: ‘Play this.’ And I told [bassist] George ‘Fully’ Fullwood: ‘Use your mouth and make a ‘skengy’ sound.

Rupie Edwards said it couldn’t work, but then, later that night, went back and recorded the same idea [Skangy aka Ire Feelings , below, which broke into the top 10 of the UK singles charts in 1974].

The great Lee ‘Scratch‘ Perry was there and said to Rupie: ‘Leave Niney with that riddim’ and then went up to his yard and tried to make a version too [laughs].

You have to watch your ideas. When I have an idea, I don’t let certain people into my studio because they will go away with it and take it on the street. There are a lot of thieves and crooks in the recording business.

Don’t you know any genuine, clean-hearted individuals in the industry?

Yes, maybe, but they died before I was born.

Where does your musical inspiration and vibes come from?

Music is happiness. When you are around certain people, like the people I grew up with, it’s always in mind that: ‘Hey man, this is how my granny used to go on.’ So when you think about them, you make things happen off their vibes; you remember how those people used to go on.

Where did the vibes for your big hit Blood and Fire come from?

Well, you have music that is made under certain inspiration and music that is made according to the environment you are in. Some of those things like, Blood and Fire, come under certain vibes. That was how you felt at the time and what you were going through. Probably those things come up and you have to let them out and that’s the vibes you get out of it.

What were you going through at the time you wrote Blood and Fire?

Probably I was hurt and never liked the treatment I received in a certain situation.

Was it a business or personal situation?

Personal. Most of the songs come under this order. A lot of times, a man feels hurt and instead of taking up a gun, knife or machete and attacking someone, he comes with words because words can often cut sharper than a machete.

When you say words, sometimes it upsets people. Sometimes it’s better if people hit me then says the things they do.

Is the music business better or worse than when you came into it in 1966?

It was better when I was just coming into the business because when you check it right now; there are pure vampires, duppies (ghosts) and all types of people around who don’t have any heart or soul and would sell out God to the devil for dollars.

When we made music; we were genuine. We made heartical music because it was something we felt. Back then, if you sat down and listened to music and were eating; you didn’t want the food again because your belly was full.

Nuff man would hear the music being played, think about their girl and buss out in tears. But right now, that type of music is not being made again; it’s just Satan business; mostly freaks and dirtiness. If you want to talk about something dirty; now is the time to do it.

Most of the people that have been in the business for a while try to keep themselves clean and avoid getting mixed up in corruption, but man I’m telling you: many of the people coming in bring a lot of corruption because it’s just the money they are coming for, and they sell anything, including their bodies.

They are corrupt; worse than the guys that were in it before. So if a little youth comes into the business now; he has to have faith, and know and ban himself from certain things. But anyhow he comes into the business for riches; he will end up selling himself.

There are a lot of singers out there that are badmen and gunmen who kill people and do all kinds of things and it don’t mean nothing to them. They kill today and get up tomorrow morning singing about God.

Many of the guys who are out there now have to understand; the type of people that own the recording industry have the money. You know what they are like; so why are you going to take their money, buy the same clothes they wear and then start cursing them?

I heard that you wrote Max Romeo’s hit Chase the Devil – is that true?

No, Chase the Devil is Lee Scratch Perry’s tune. Max and I work together. He is my brother. We lived in one house and share ideas. When things come up, I might say: ‘Maxi, listen this.’ And I might make a rhythm and the two of us write to it; like Macabee Version , The Coming of Jah , Rasta Bandwagon ,  and all these type of songs, him sing half and me sing half.

Me, Max and Scratch were forming a group together and did a lot of little things like Babylon Burning (above). I had my own label and so did Scratch. Sometimes when I was in the studio Scratch would be there too and we did things together.

What advice would you give a young producer coming into the business today?

Set your diary straight before you do anything. What I mean by that is: know the direction you want to head in; find a good lawyer and accountant and the right advisors; professionals who know how the ting is set and have ideas about what’s going down and how to guide you.

That means you know what you are doing and won’t end up crying with regret. Have a plan that will take you from point a right through to point z. You can’t be perfect so you might slip sometimes, but at least you will know what’s going on.

Most men in the business can’t produce or make a record, but they come with a little money, so they are a financier. They come in, invest a little money, but end up with the world; buildings and beachfront properties; and yet they don’t have a clue about how a record is made.

Even when they are selling and distributing the records; they don’t use one [accounts] book; they have the real one, which they keep hidden, another to show false figures and one more for the taxman. So really, they are just crooks under the quiet.

What does the future hold for Niney the Observer?

A lot of things. You have to set the future. It’s not something I like to talk about because when I say certain things other people get ideas into their head. The Father has the future and whenever I need it he just gives me.

What’s your greatest personal achievement?

That little one there [points to a picture of his son]. He is 16-years-old, but autistic. From he was born until now, I’ve never heard a bad word come out of his mouth. He doesn’t speak much, but when it comes to computers and things like that; he’s the greatest.

He can pull up a computer in five minutes; he’s really brainy. Only two things in life make him happy; water and computers. He makes me happy, he is my greatest achievement because whenever I think about him, I think about love, and loving the world is my greatest achievement.

Although he can’t speak; it’s like he was sent by God Himself. No matter how angry I am, once I hear his voice everything is OK. He goes to school in America, but when he is here with me in Jamaica I don’t need anybody else; it’s just the two of us.

Before I die, I’d like to do something to make the world know how special these type of kids are. He makes me do this.

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