‘Messenger of Jah’ coming to the lake
June 4, 2007
Fans of authentic reggae have an opportunity to hear the music in its purest form this week.
Winston Jarrett, who plays Sunday, June 10 at Whiskey Dick’s Saloon, grew up in the same Trenchtown ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. He credits his devout Christianity to overcoming severe poverty and having both parents being dead by the time he was 9 years old. And in 1966 along with the rest of the island’s residents, witnessed Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica, calling it “a religious experience.”
Selassi, the late emperor of Ethiopia, is considered a living god to Rastafarians. Some believe he was the reincarnated Jesus Christ.
“When his imperial majesty came everybody lined the streets, even the rastamen from the hills came down,” said Jarrett, whose age is reported to be in his middle 60s. “From Kingston to Montego Bay, everything was black. When his majesty look on all the rastamen, which was his sons and daughters, he wept. He wept because it was a blessing for him to come to Jamaica.
Jarrett spoke of the sacrament of Rastafarians.
“We smoked the herb and there was no police, no government – nobody could stop it. So much smoke was coming out of the pipe man, the whole place was dark. So that’s why they want the herb legalized. It is a medicine and a healing of a nation man. When I smoke my herb it’s my inspiration and I write my music.”
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Jimmy Cliff played a large role in Jarrett’s musical inspiration.
“We were at the barbershop and Jimmy Cliff and me trim at the same place,” Jarrett said by telephone from Seattle, where he has had a home for three years. “While he’s waiting, he’s signing and he inspired me a lot because I couldn’t play the guitar. But when I hear him play the guitar I cried because he motivate me.”
Another neighbor taught Jarrett some guitar techniques.
“Anton Ellis was living about three blocks from my home,” he said. “He’s who started (Anton and) the Flames. He really schooled me onto a couple of chords. But I really have to improve by myself.”
After Ellis’s musical partner Eddie Perkins moved to the United States seeking musical opportunity, Ellis brought in Jarrett and Eggar “Baby Gee” Gordon to form Anton and the Flames.
Getting a song on the radio in Jamaica in the 1960s was much like it was portrayed in the Jimmy Cliff movie “The Harder they Come.”
“On Sunday you go to audition,” Jarrett said, saying aspiring musicians needed to get in line early if they wanted a chance to be heard. “You carry your guitar and your books with the lyrics. Every studio in Jamaica in the early days was like that (“The Harder the Come”). And if you passed with your song, then you record. There was a long line of artists with ‘dem’ guitar and books.”
Jarrett’s composition “The Preacher” was the first to make it onto the radio. A slew of more songs hit the airwaves, getting play on “Treasure Isle Time” a show named after the record label. The show always opened with the cock-a-doodle-do cry of a rooster, and Jarrett was a rising musical star, albeit one who didn’t make much money.
The studio was headed by Duke Reid, who was intrigued by sounds from the United States. Do wap had a big influence on early reggae sounds.
“Not enough people really know (it came from do wap)” he said. “It was coming from the early mento days. And calypso and meringue and all the sounds emerged from the jazz sounds in the states. And R&B.
“In Jamaica they love the American music so much more than 200 percent. Duke Reid used to get that and come back from the states to the artists to listen and to learn that do-wap music. It was like a Motown. After Duke Reed died. We stayed by (Sir) Coxsone at Studio one. So my career my career started there for the second time around.”
After Ellis moved to Britain, Jarrett and Baby Gee continued as The Righteous Flames and record with Studio One.
“It was one of the best times for us – especially me,” Jarrett said, “and for a lot of artists who emerged from the ghetto. It was overwhelming for me. It was like a chicken lay an egg. It was a rebirth for me.”
Jarrett has gone onto record and estimated 15 albums. He also recorded under various pseudonyms and as a studio session vocalist.
Three years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Studio One, Jarrett released the album “Crucial Time.” He recently returned from Jamaica where he recorded a yet-to-be-named album. The first release from the album will be “Crucial Time,” which he likely will play at Whiskey Dick’s Saloon.
Jarrett, who tours Europe every year, is reveling in finally being financially successful enough to bring his message across the world.
“My heart is an open book for Jah,” he said. “It never close. I let the father come in. From my preaching my singing, I put him first. I am not gonna work for the devil and I’m not going to listen to him.
“I am here to be a messenger of Jah and I am here to do Jah works.”