Searching for Rocksteady
“A book must be like an axe for the frozen sea inside us.”― Franz Kafka
Two years ago, I licensed a record from rocksteady legend Derrick Morgan. He was one of those figures from Jamaica who found his way climbing the English charts in the 60s, helping define his musical style in both his homeland and abroad. He was so big in Jamaica that at one point he held the first seven positions in the Jamaican top ten music charts; his “rude boy” image and songs would go on to influence an entire ska movement in late-70s, in both sound and costume, that included bands like The Specials, Madness and The English Beat.
The record I licensed is called Development, a record released in 1972…but completely unknown by me and most everyone I know who is a fan. In fact, besides the handful of people on discogs who had it in their collections, I could not find anyone…not a sole…who owned it. I had heard some of the record’s tracks from some singles he had released around that time…and they were classic Derrick Morgan rocksteady style. The record was just a huge mystery, coming out right in the middle of a popular time for the artist but nevertheless immediately falling into obscurity.
My friend Mark Gorney introduced me to Derrick…I will never forget the first time the legend actually whats app’d me…and we made a deal for me to reissue the record. And this is when life got hard: no one had a copy of the album and there were no tapes of the recordings to be found. Derrick Morgan’s wife had a copy, but it was trashed. I started cold e-mailing the people in the discogs community who said they had it…one person sent me a low-rez scan of his destroyed cover…and then disappeared, while others either did not get back to me or sent me these strange paranoid e-mails questioning my motivations and mocking my attempt at getting them to send me their record (which is kind of fair, I guess, knowing record collectors like I do). They would say, “You supposedly licensed the record from the artist….why doesn’t he help you out?”
I finally met a collector, through Gorney, in Holland who had a test pressing of the album…but he was so fearful of Covid that he would not leave his apartment and did not own a copy machine, making him incapable of printing out a shipping form, even if I could get DHL to make a pick-up. He made a recording of the record, but it took me seven months to find someone to go over and retrieve it (thank you Jesse Lauter for turning me on to that person). When the recording was finally shipped over…and hundreds of dollars later….it still had some ruff parts to it that would make it difficult to master from. And while that seemed like another strike at the plate, at least this person supplied some high-rez scans of the cover that, while in pretty bad condition, were good enough for my wife to work her magic on.
Did I mention that in the meantime, I bought two really expensive copies of Development, both without covers (the record really are that rare), that came to my door from record shops in Jamaica in totally trashed conditions, way worse than advertised (both record shops ignored my requests to return them). Given the infamous nature of bad Jamaican record pressing, I guess I should not have expected less.
Getting discouraged and running up a mastering bill with the great Gary Hobish (made bigger by discovering some of the songs on the record were pressed at the wrong speed…again: bad Jamaican pressing plants), I reached out to Derrick to see if he had any better ideas of how I could get this project going. He re-introduced me Merrick, his son, who lived in the states and was a truly nice guy, Merrick was going to Jamaica over the weekend, and told me he would see if he could dig anything up down there that would be of help. And here is the comical part of the story: while he could not find any tapes of the original recordings of the music, he DID find the one copy of the record his parents owned—the one Derrick’s wife had originally said was trashed. And yes…it was trashed…at least the cover was. When Merrick pulled out the vinyl from the sleeve, he found a record that was in great condition. My search ended where it had started; the record I needed was there all along.
Merrick is bringing that copy back from Jamaica and sending it to Hobish this week…it should be mastered and ready to go in a month, ending the longest time it has ever taken me to put together a reissue. But putting out something that rare is sooo sweet…and the record is a killer, just check out one of the tracks that was a single for Morgan as well, Hold You Jack.
“Margaret Atwood, Ben Okri and JM Coetzee have joined more than 100 writers from around the world in calling on the Rwandan president to intervene in the case of the poet Innocent Bahati, who disappeared one year ago today.” Not much of his poetry is available in English, but for what I can tell…it was pretty biting. Bahati sounds like a very brave and heroic soul.
Jesse was the person in the above story who introduced me the person who picked the recording of Derrick Morgan’s Development for me from the person in Holland. Jessie also directed this new film documenting a reunion of sorts of the band that played on Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in 1970….great film filled with legendary performances.
“It's always a fascinating source of inspiration when the Sony World Photography Awards reveals its national winners, plucked from over 170,000 images from 211 countries to give us an insight into different cultures and perspectives.” There are many articles documenting these awards
The big news coming out of the “musica technomica” space over the past few weeks has been Neil Young’s public break-up with Spotify, and the artists that have followed suit. He is yelling about something we have known for a long time, that Spotify is not good for artists and the low-quality music just doesn’t sound that great if you really care about that kind of thing. My friend Dan Makta has been having a field day ever since with the music streaming service he heads up in the US, Qobuz…because it is the service Neil is praising, where you can stream music at better-than-CD quality sound. Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips (OH YEAH!) is also on board as a Qobuz artist spokesperson, talking about how the company acts almost like a mom-and-pop record store of old, allowing you to buy the tracks you like, getting the best quality for your money. Qobuz really does sound fantastic, and knowing that Dan is a Signal reader, I reached out to him to see if he would give the rest of you some sort of deal to hear for yourselves. He agreed, and if you want to check Qobuz out, you can get your free three three months here. Now, it does not come close to the power of vinyl, but nothing can be as perfect as a that.
To Change The World Enough
By: Alice Walker
To change the world enough
you must cease to be afraid
of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of
humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off
daunted and ashamed
into the shadows.
the world ending
the only one all of us have known
we seek the same
the same high place
and ample table.
The poor always believe
there is room enough
for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard
In us there is wisdom of how to share
loaves and fishes
we do this everyday.
Learn from us,
we ask you.
We enter now
the dreaded location
of Earth's reckoning;
no longer far
or hidden in books
that claim to disclose
it is here.
We must walk together without fear.
There is no path without us.
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