“Scratchy Sounds” DJ Barry ‘Scratchy’ Myers (Trojan)
“Scratchy Sounds” takes its title from the radio show presented by Barry Myers (aka DJ Scratchy) in the early 1980s on NYC radio station, WHBI. Old Skool Ska and Reggae had been an integral and vital part of Scratchy’s sets since he’d been resident DJ at Dingwalls Dancehall.
Myers graduated to become the foremost concert DJ on the punk scene, spinning between groups at the Roundhouse, the Lyceum and all the major venues in London, ultimately joining up with the Clash for two years as their tour DJ. More recently, since hooking up with Joe Strummer again, Scratchy has returned to DJ-ing in his own right and has compiled this personal selection of Ska and Dub, Rockers and Rocksteady, a veritable ‘roots, rock, punky reggae’ collection of tunes regularly featured during those early years and still at the heart of his roots mix!
“Scratchy Sounds” is a double disc featuring a meaty 43 sides:
Johnny Reggae - Big Youth
Stop Your Gun Shooting - Errol Dunkley
Stop Your Gun Shooting (Version) - Errol Dunkley
Love Is A Treasure - Lizzy
Money Day - The Pioneers
Fever - Susan Cadogan
Your Love’s Gotta Hold On Me - Dennis Brown
The Ska Rhythm - C. Hyman
Moon Hop - Derrick Morgan
Blood And Fire (1979 12” Version) - Niney
Copasetic - Rulers
The Bitterness Of Life - Bruce Ruffin
On The Track - Winston Scotland
Leaving - The Revolutionaries
Ride Your Donkey - The Tennors
Copy Your Donkey - The Tennors
Sister Big Stuff - John Holt
Public Enemy No. 1 - Max Romeo
Bafflin Smoke Signal - Lee Perry
Ghetto Dub - King Tubby & Scientist
On Broadway - Dave Barker
Rawhide - The Survivors
Love I Bring - Hugh Roy & Slim Smith
Book Of Rules - The Heptones
Freedom Time - Ken Boothe
Freedom Time (Version) - Ken Boothe
10 Commandments Of Dread - Mr. Bojangles
It Was Written Down - Toots & The Maytals
Roots Man Dub - The Revolutionaries
Cool Operator - Delroy Wilson
Wreck A Buddy - Soul Sisters
Ba Ba Ri Ba - Dennis & Lizzy
Vampire - Black Art
Revolution - Tappa Zukie
Revolution (Version) - Tappa Zukie
Vibrate On (Dub Version) - Augustus Pablo
The Whip - The Ethiopians
Machukies - The Destroyers
Parade Dub - Niney & Tubby
In Fine Style - Dennis Alcapone
Cool Collie - Hopeton Lewis
72 Nations Dadawah
Harrison Bored caught up with Myres recently to bring you the full juice under severely heavy manners:
trakMARX - What was the first record you ever bought?
Scratchy The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ on the pink Pye label. I’d been listening to the Beatles and the Stones on Radio Luxembourg and ‘Saturday Club’, on the BBC’s Light Programme. But my older brother was the one who’d been bringing them into the house. Once the weekend started with ‘Ready Steady Go’, it all really took a hold. The Kinks were weird. Really didn’t know if they were boys or girls. But, what a sound. The Kinks, along with the Small Faces, the Who and the Spencer Davis Group, were the pop music of my youth.
trakMARX - How did you get the gig at Dingwalls?
Scratchy I was doing some occasional slots at the Speakeasy and there was a dj who’d spin in both places. He suggested I check out Dingwalls. So happened they were looking for a new resident. I went down and did an early evening trial. This was the era pre mix CDs. The guy whose job it was to take someone on, didn’t show. But the rest of the people who worked there behind the bar, in the kitchen and waiting tables, really dug what I was playing. Dingwalls wasn’t exactly a co-operative in those days, but there was a system in place where the employees got to have a say, were often listened to and were treated pretty well. There was this ‘day-book’ in which they were free to write comments, complaints and suggestions and one of the waitresses collected it from the office and they all wrote ‘Hire this guy.’ People Power!
trakMARX - What can you remember about the altercation at the Ramones’ Dingwall’s show that led to their subsequent ban on Punk?
Scratchy It just seemed like a bit of your standard rock’n’roll excitement to me. To be honest, I was pretty charged up myself. I’d been spinning an import copy of the first Ramones album like crazy and here they were, revved-up and bopping’n’zapping through these songs I was already in love with. The hi-spirits out front just seemed like par for the course. I was gutted when the club announced they were cancelling the upcoming Pistols’ date and any other UK punk bands.
trakMARX - Even though Dingwalls had banned live Punk Rock - you continued to spin Punk rekkids as the enemy within - what were the big discs of this period on yr decks?
Scratchy At first there was little ‘punk’ of our own generation available. So, this was the time when I really forged my style of the mix of ‘soulful roots, rock, rhythm’n’reggae’ that I still basically adhere to, to this day. So, in the early days, as far as ‘punk’ was concerned it was down to the early releases on Stiff and Chiswick plus the imports that were flooding in like the Ramones, Patti Smith and the first appearance of Blondie on Private Stock. Obviously as domestic releases came out - the Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks - they’d be on my decks as fast as I could get them. And I’d flesh all this out with everything else that I just felt fit in spirit and attitude from the Stooges to Big Youth, Johnny Burnette to the Kingsmen, Wilson Pickett to the Upsetters. I’ve always considered it crucial to mix up the contemporary with roots music and I’d just expand the canvas in all directions digging into the past and leaping on anything remarkable that was new. Much of punk’s initial strength often lay in the 45 as with the Adverts’ ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, the Saints’ ‘I’m Stranded’ and the Boys ‘First Time’. But it was a joy when whole albums worked as with the Heartbreakers, the Slits and the Cramps.
trakMARX - Were you spinning off single or double decks at this time?
Scratchy Double for sure, though it so happened that the very first concert I did, one of the double decks I’d hired in wasn’t working. This was real in the deep-end stuff as the headliners were ‘Kool and the Gang’. I was far more into sixties soul and the heavier rockier funk of Sly or the New Orleans sound of the Meters and Lee Dorsey than the slicker approach of disco. So, I was busking around with the records from my own collection and a few extras I’d borrowed from the Dingwalls’ record library. Can you believe that? A club which actually had a budget for records! Rather than have dead air between each song I had to talk, whilst changing records. There was no mic stand, so this was quite a complicated operation. I was relatively new to using a microphone too. I’d done some college radio in the past, but in Dingwalls the most I’d use it would be to introduce the bands or ask someone to move their car! By the time I did my next gig for Straight Music, which was the Runaways, I felt quite a seasoned pro.
trakMARX - Were you aware of what Don Letts was throwing down at the Roxy?
Scratchy Not really. I went to the Roxy a few times, the most memorable being the Clash on New Year’s Day ‘77. I wasn’t a regular though, working most nights myself at Dingwalls and the Roxy didn’t actually survive that long. It made its impact in a relatively short time. Also, I’d come to reggae through my own route some years earlier. I look upon Don as a fellow traveller in the cause, rather than a personal influence.
trakMARX - Why do you think Punk Rock & reggae made such good bedfellows?
Scratchy Partly, it was a right time, right place situation: people of the same age and similar experiences taking things into their own hands, disgruntled with the state of affairs around them both politically and musically. The fact that there was a homegrown reggae scene, as well as the sounds coming out of Jamaica, also meant that punk and reggae bands started doing gigs together. Both types of music were at a particularly creative and exciting phase and that made the connection even more relevant. Sure it also helped that the major faces of the punk scene like Rotten and the Clash gang were enthusing about it and people like Don at the Roxy, Peel on the radio or myself in both club and concert work were giving it a good airing. But the time was right. The bond was there in the rebellious lyrical content and, musically, reggae provided the necessary yin to the amphetamine-fuelled yang of punk.
trakMARX - How did you get involved with The Clash?
Scratchy Our paths had crossed on the circuit, but the first appearance I made alongside them was when I MC’d the first half of Rock Against Racism gig in Victoria Park that has been immortalized in Rude Boy. I’d offered my services but Johnny Rotten was already supposed to have been up for it. However, I received a telegram from Red Saunders of RAR the day before the show, saying that they needed me. By then I’d confirmed the evening show at the Roundhouse. The bill was Graham Parker, Pere Ubu and the Count Bishops. So, I could only do the early section. Best seat in the house for the Clash though. In the end I had to step forward and tell the audience they wouldn’t be back for another encore, whilst the stage crew tried to wrestle Ray Gange to the ground! It was hilarious. I’d’ve been happy if the Clash had played all night. Except I did have somewhere else I was meant to be. After this I succeeded in persuading Bernie to let me spin on two of the four nights at the Music Machine during which Johnny Green let me know how much he and Joe liked what I was playing. Then I worked the two rearranged nights at the Roxy in Harlesden and when they came back from Europe, joined up for the ‘Sort It Out’ tour and was part of the team into the beginning of 1980.
trakMARX - What did you make of them as individuals?
As you’d expect they were a very diverse bunch of complex individuals who combined to make a band who were undeniably unique. Even though that first album was the one that had a major impact on many people’s lives, mine included, I think inevitably that when most people think of the Clash, they would automatically think of Topper as the drummer and I do believe that he was the ideal fourth character to compliment Joe, Mick and Paul. That was the line-up throughout the couple of years I worked with them. But it didn’t stop there. I’d add another two important faces to the pack and that’d be Johnny Green and the Baker. They were essential extras in making that particular engine tick and heart beat.
trakMARX - Which Clash tours did you play out on?
Scratchy After ‘Sort It Out’, I was in for the start of the US ‘campaign’ and did the first three tours of the States, squeezing in another UK tour along the way, in early ‘80. There was the odd extra too, like the Notre Dame in Leicester Square, the last-minute Xmas ‘79 shows at Acklam Hall and the Concert for Kampuchea that followed.
trakMARX - What do you recall about the making of "Rude Boy"?
Scratchy Rude Boy was already underway when I signed up, but was still well in production. The night that Ray was dumped in the bath stands out. Word quickly spread through the hotel of that spontaneous cinematic moment. Brought great rounds of approval that one. As far as my own brief moment is concerned, it took about a dozen takes for me to get my one tiny scene right. I’m not sure if you can see them in the shot, but I lined up a can of Red Stripe at the front of the booth for every take I did.
trakMARX - Johnny Green became a close mate - you even stood in for him when he was ill once - what do you recall about the night you caught Joe’s Telecaster?
Scratchy Johnny’s remained a very important friend down the years and it felt odd not having him there that night in Seattle. Once I’d received the nod that the band were ready to go, I had to put on the night’s intro track and dash over to stage left to take up what-would-have-normally-been Johnny’s spot. I’d realized earlier as soon as I said to Joe “Don’t mind filling in for Johnny, but whatever you do, don’t chuck the guitar at me”, it would’ve been better to tell him how much I was looking forward to TRYING to catch it. I could see in his eyes that later that evening, it’d be flying in my direction. My first grab for it was rather ham-fisted and it was only at a second desperate attempt that I managed to prevent it slamming to the ground. It was inches away from collision. As I caught the Tele, I also caught a glimpse of Joe watching me with more than a touch of wicked glee.
trakMARX - Tell us about your stint on NYC's WHBI-FM.
Scratchy To me, concert djing is somewhere between club work and radio-on-the-road. It has that live, working-a-crowd element of the former where you’re trying to create the appropriate atmosphere, combined with the freer musical selection of radio where your concern is not necessarily about making people get up and dance. So, it was great to be able to take all those experiences and convert them into a radio programme. WHBI was quite a fascinating station. Due to the way it operated, it meant that the whole range of communities in the area had access to air-time. I’d often be sandwiched between ‘Hellenic Harmonies’ and ‘The Voice of Argentina’. Guess it was real World programming before anyone came up with the name! At the height of the so-called ‘New Wave’ part of the programming, I was doing 6 hours a week that went out around 2am spread over 3 days. Various bands who were passing through town would come in. I interviewed Julz from Delta 5, the Only Ones and Carlene Carter. I, myself, guested a couple of times with the ‘Roots Man’, Earl Chin on his reggae programme.
trakMARX - Where did you go after New York?
Scratchy Eventually ended up back in London. For a variety of reasons, as the 80s progressed, I found less and less inspiration in the music that was being made and had become more interested in concentrating on being a bass player. I always seemed to be in bands with memorable names, the first of note having been the Snivelling Shits. I played in an earlyish line-up of country-punkers Rank & File. But it was with Khmer Rouge that I’d say I became really involved as a musician on a creative level. We recently put out all our recordings on the Hip Priest label, a wonderful feeling, especially as it took 20 years for them to see the light of day. After we wound up Khmer Rouge, I formed the garage band, the Trash County Dominators. The line-up included a couple of Junior Manson’s Slags, who I also had a fairly explosive spell with at the same time. But it was the Dominators that mattered to me and when I broke up the band, I decided to call it quits and stepped out of rock’n’roll for a while. Thankfully, you can never escape what’s in your blood.
trakMARX - You returned to the decks in the late 90s - what brought you back?
Scratchy Actually, it was the new millennium. I had helped some friends start a club called ‘Kitsch Bitch’, which was at the forefront of the punky-cum-glam club scene in the later 90s. But the time wasn’t right for me and after a few appearances I bailed out. I’d returned to college to study film, then photography, and I wanted to focus on that. But I was asked to do their ‘chill-out room’ on New Year’s Eve 1999 and found myself really enjoying being back behind the decks. And then later, the same friend behind all this, Wendy, invited me to come and play some ska and old skool reggae at a bar and I was hooked again. Djing felt fresh once more for me and there was a lot of music, new and old, to sink my teeth into.
trakMARX - Tell us about the assembly perameters for "Scratchy Sounds".
Scratchy In compiling "Scratchy Sounds", I wanted to put together an album that was more than just a repackaging of material that was readily available, whilst also making an album that would not be for the converted alone. It was my chance to acknowledge and to share my passion for the music of Jamaica and to try to put something back out there. The opportunity to do this was also about achieving a release that was reflective of my own personal taste and the era in which I’d been originally involved. Any selection was also bound by whatever Trojan had the rights to. So, I took my time honing down all the possibilities and finally came up with the 43 cuts that make up the album. Ultimately, every track that was used, whether well-known or rare, is there because it played a big part in my personal sound-track of those times. That wasn’t the end of the process though. The running order was vital too. It wasn’t about just slapping the tracks down in any old order. I wanted it to play like a set. I am a dj after all. It was also essential to see it through right to the end. I was given a great mastering engineer, a guy called Giovanni Scatola who’d also worked on the Top Deck series, who was totally responsive to what I was trying to achieve and would tweak the knobs in the right direction, when I felt we were starting to lose too much of the original vinyl’s magic. We actually salvaged a couple of tracks in a way I wasn’t sure was possible. The finishing touch to the entire package was provided by another master of his craft, Janfranco Caro, who designed the sleeve. We discussed what I was about, what colours I favoured, what the general look should be. It was agreed to use Bob Gruen’s pic on the front and I then provided the images, passes and record labels that I’d ferreted away over the years and left him to it, whilst I went away to write the sleeve notes. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting result.
trakMARX - What are the sounds today that give you the buzz reggae did back in the day?
Scratchy Although I’m not that comfortable with the description ‘World Music’ - for what isn’t World Music? - I do appreciate the way the blinkers have been torn off and my musical vision is far less UK-US-centric, as it once was. At least it did also travel by-wayof Jamaica. The great thing is the way the world has been opened up to many people’s ears. And I’d credit the likes of Charlie Gillett, Andy Kershaw and Strummer for playing important roles in that. Ultimately, what moves me in music is in its sound and intensity. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Balkan brass band or some hip-hop or, for that matter, some cross-pollination of the two, as long as what appeals to me is there in its content, its rhythm, its production. So, to toss a few names into the ring, I’ve been really excited by the likes of Tinariwen, Fanfare Ciocarlia and Ojos de Brujo. I still listen to the Blues Explosion and some of the loosely-termed ‘Nu-Blues’ bands. The Soledad Brothers and the Von Bondies have both greatly impressed. The Fat Possum label is well worth checking out too. I rate highly a couple of New York bands that I’d recommend to anybody, Gogol Bordello and Mad Juana. Whilst on this side of the ocean, I’ve enjoyed great nights out to Mick’s Carbon Silicon, the Future Shape of Sound, Ska Cubano and Geneva’s Dead Brothers. However, Tinariwen at Glastonbury and the Pogues Reunion tour aside, the gig that genuinely moved me to tears of ecstasy last year was finally seeing the Stooges. Guess I’m still an old punk at heart.
trakMARX - And finally, what’s yr take on the state of reggae in 2005?
Scratchy I’d say that the Jamaican part of my collection is currently expanding at as great a rate as any aspect of it. That said, it’s because of all the music from the 60s and 70s that has been miraculously reappearing on the likes of Trojan, Pressure Sounds, Soul Jazz, Motion, Blood and Fire and whoever else has been taking the initiative. It’s wonderful to come across reissues and collections like ‘Dubbing with the Royals’, King Tubbys’ ‘In Fine Style’, ‘Sounds from the Burning Spear’, and the various Skatalites’ compilations, all put together by people who really care about the music. The reggae sounds of that era are often easier to get hold of today than when first on release and I’ve been able to pick up on tracks I’ve lost, only had on vinyl or completely passed me by the first time around. To be honest, in the main, I still favour this golden age and find that the way some reggae has leant more to the US-style mainstream dance sound has little appeal for me. And yet, there is a strain of roots and dub reggae that has been bubbling away for years and this can be found in the work of Alpha & Omega and Jah Shaka and on small labels like New York’s ROIR or Burial Mix out of Germany. The reggae rhythm and modern technology needn’t necessarily be at odds. Also, as I point out on the sleeve notes of ’Scratchy Sounds’, I do appreciate how the reggae beat and dub-style production has transcended territorial borders, its influence being absorbed rather than slavishly copied. I find I’m no less enamoured with Reggae than I ever was.
Answers Barry Myers
Jean Encoule tMx 18 02/05