So long, sorry we had to go so soon.
Since music is the food of love, I’ll forever sing on.
Prince Buster, Ghost Dance
I grew up with Two Tone – The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat. And so I grew up with Prince Buster, the singer and producer who inspired all these bands (Madness, originally called Morris and the Minors, renamed themselves in 1978 after a Prince Buster track). His death last week was losing another of the little threads back to my youth.
Born Cecil Campbell on Orange Street – the commercial hub of Kingston that was later to become the legendary heart of Jamaica’s music scene – Prince Buster was gang leader, boxer (he converted to Islam, and changed his name to Mohammed Yusef Ali, after meeting Muhammad Ali) singer, producer, and in the words of the Specials’ Jerry Dammers, ‘all round coolest guy in Kingston, and therefore Jamaica, (and therefore quite possibly the world at the time)’.
Most of all Prince Buster was a shaper of Jamaican music, transforming the American r’n’b that dominated the island in the 1950s, to help create a uniquely Jamaican sound that came to dominate the world. Buster worked for a while as a security guard and gopher for Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, who ran the Downbeat sound system playing the latest American dance sounds. In the late 1950s, he left Coxone to strike out on his own, setting up a record store, sound system, and studio. And it was in his studio that skank – the stress on the backbeat – that came to define ska, bluebeat, and then reggae, was born.
Buster, he sold the heat
With a rocksteady beat
Madness, The Prince
As bluebeat mutated into roots reggae, and with the rise of Rasta culture, the centre of Jamaican music moved away from Prince Buster and his studio. Until Two Tone brought Prince Buster centre stage again. So, here are six Prince Buster classics, followed by six Two Tone covers.