Combining a full-time job with music journalism is not always convenient, hence Pascal Bormans and I arrived slightly too late at the Ibis hotel in Brussels. We decided to drive on to Vaartkapoen, only to find out that the gentlemen we were supposed to meet, Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore en Noel 'Skully' Simms (the former mostly renowned as trumpeter with the legendary Skatalites, the latter one of Jamaica's most famous percussionists who has worked, among others, with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh), were still at the hotel. Nothing much left to do but to return to where we started. Luckily Jamaicans invented the expression "soon come" so we found 'Dizzy' and 'Skully' in an excellent mood.
'Dizzy', first of all welcome in Brussels, second time around with the Jamaica All Stars. As an introductory question, could you tell us how this whole Jamaica All Stars project got started?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "Well, we tried a couple of things before, but it never turned out right. Finally we wound up with the concept of Jamaica All Stars and that seems to be working well. It's been some hard work too. Pierre Simonin and I tried to package something that everyone would enjoy. So far everywhere we go the reception has been wonderful. I want to thank Pierre Simonin again, because the effort he has put in to get this thing rolling has been immense."
I heard some comparisons being made between Jamaica All Stars and the project started by Ry Cooder in Cuba, Buena Vista Social Club. Do you think that comparison stands?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "I don't know. It depends on how you look at it. There are quite a few oldies in Jamaica All Stars, but we are certainly not all oldies; there are also a number of young musicians playing with us. In terms of musical concept, Jamaica All Stars is propagating the Jamaican musical heritage, just as Buena Vista Social Club was doing with the Cuban music, but personally I don't like to compare, I'll leave that up to you all."
On a personal level, is Jamaica All Stars just the next project for 'Dizzy' Moore, or is it more about a musical legacy that you want to pass on to a next generation?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "Definitely the latter part of your question. We want to keep the music alive. It can do so much for mankind. If we could play more music and fight less war we would be better off!"
Quite a number of musicians in Jamaica All Stars have a connection with the Alpha Boys School, be it as a pupil or now as a teacher. Could you talk a little bit about the importance of that institution?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "Quite a few of us are from the Alpha Boys School, nothing to be ashamed of, everything to be proud of! It is one of the institutions on the island that nurtures young musicians. There aren't many other institutions like that. We have the Jamaican School of Music, but they are more into the classical stuff. I've seen quite a few of their students who don't really fit into our scenario. Alpha teaches a broader scope: some classic, some mento, calypso, cha-cha, jazz, blues... music in general. I think in the world we live in now, you shouldn't be too specific in your music, but rather generalize your spectrum to make the music suit the minds of the general public worldwide."
You're a trumpeter yourself and you learned to play your instrument at Alpha. Was the trumpet your own choice and if so why?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "To be honest with you my first choice was the piano, mainly because I grew up in a house with a piano there. Sadly, I wasn't allowed to touch it. My parents tried to scare me by telling me it would turn me into an alcoholic and that my backside would be out because my pants would be all torn. However, I said to my mom: "If there's no music than nothing!". One day one of my friends was rattling away on the drums and I asked him where he learned that. He told me: "At Alpha!" I said: "Well that's where I have to go then!", but the kid responded: "No man that's impossible, you have to be a bad boy to be sent there." "Ok." I responded: "That shouldn't be much of a problem!" (laughs) So from that moment I chose some of the worst kids in my neighbourhood to hang around with. My parents got real nervous and said: "Oh Lord, what's going to happen to the kid? We have to get him out of here!" It was all planned by me to get into Alpha and like I say: "No regrets!"."
Truly great story! You have the same nickname as one of the great jazz trumpeters namely Dizzy Gillespie. Is that just coincidence or is there more to it?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "(laughs) You'd have to ask the general population that. They gave me that nickname and it stuck. To be honest, I liked Dizzy when I was a kid. I used to play a lot of his stuff for practise purposes. It's possible that at the offset of my career in music I might have sounded somewhat like him."
The Jamaica All Stars project is backed by Pierre Simonin and his French company Passage Productions. Do you guys perform in Jamaica too and is there any interest in your motherland?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "There is certainly interest there, but we haven't reached the point yet where we want to respond to that interest. What we want to do first is to try to certify ourselves through Passage Productions. We are aiming for the world really, but we have to take it step by step."
It's well-known that you are enlightened by Rastafari. Could you tell us shortly how you got involved in the Rastafarian way of life?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "That is probably due to family heritage. My grandfather was a Rastafarian. His children thought he was mad then, but now they are asking me questions like: "How did he know the things he knew?" All I can say to them is: "Didn't you ask?" (laughs) I had quite a tough time with my mom as a kid, being the way that I am, but now I'm the favourite kid. I can just lay there and everything comes to me. I'm talking a bit in the abstract here, but we can't reveal all in detail, not at this point anyway, maybe further along the track! If we explained everything at this point in time we might get sabotaged! In this modern world you can't let everyone know what you want to do until you are doing it!"
This weekend (06/02/2005, red.) is a weekend of big celebrations surrounding Bob Marley's 60th birthday, and this is probably just the start of a whole year of festivities. As an artist and as a human being does he hold a special meaning for you?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "In the band everyone knows and respects Bob. Because we are here doing our job, we can't be in Ethiopia doing what they are doing. It's a pity we didn't have a little bit more time on our hands so we could have been there. Commemorating Bob is a worthy cause; he was like our messenger. As kids we spoke of Rastafari and the way we saw life, how we could make the family of mankind happier. Bob took that message across the world."
Sizzla was recently jailed for using profanity on stage. Jamaica is really clamping down on that kind of offence. Where do you see the role of the artist in the age-old conflict between "freedom of speech" and "being a role model"?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "If I had known exactly what was said, I could be more specific in my statement. Profanity... If it is just wasteful words, then that doesn't make sense. It's not necessary to use them, but I think some words like "bomboclaat" or "rasclaat" have become part of the Jamaican language. Everybody uses them, even the people at the top who might put you in jail for it. I even heard the police use those words. Whenever someone in Jamaica gets mad that's what he or she will shout. I'd rather get called a rasclaat or a bomboclaat a million times then to be hit with a stone once!"
You've been at it for so long now Dizzy: a musician at Studio 1, a member of The Skatalites, now Jamaica All Stars. Is there any moment or record in your life that you treasure above anything else?
Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore: "I put music in general before anything else! That's my favourite subject; it's my woman, my companion and my soother when I have problems. Music is my life. There are so many records, that it's very hard for me to say which one I like best. I could say that I don't like any of them because I'm always striving to do better. (laughs)"
Skully, I already asked Dizzy earlier how the Jamaica All Star project got started. Couldyou give us your version?
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "Jamaica All Stars came together when Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore and Sparrow Martin, who is the musical leader of the Alpha Boys School, got together and thought up this project; also involving a number of students from Alpha. Johnny chose me especially to be involved in this project, being an old patriot like himself."
Talking about old patriots, I read you stem from the original Rastafarians surrounding Count Ossie (Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, red.). Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "(agitated) Count Ossie and me we were blood brothers, bone brothers and so was Dizzy! The three of us lived together east west north and south of Jamaica! We preached love all over. Count Ossie was, no, is the best repeater drummer. We the rastaman praise the Almighty, Emperor Haile Selassie (shouts) JAH JAH JAH, Rastafari! We defend his dynasty because his dynasty led to us. All civilization comes from Ethiopia, flowing down the river Nile. We teach the world. I will say this without apology; the rastaman will teach the world and lead them to civilization!"
Apart from 'Skully' your other nickname is 'Zoot'. What does that mean?
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "No my nickname is not 'Zoot'! I got my nickname at school. I went to school at Ebenezer. That is Back-a-wall what they call Tivoli Gardens now. That's where I and my partner got started. The first recording artists in Jamaica were Simms & Robinson. I am Noel Bartholomew Simms and my partner was Arthur Robinson."
Later that night, Skully tells us the real story behind his nickname.
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "When I was at school there was this boy whose arms didn't grow quite straight. His name was Teddy, so we called him 'Twisted Teddy'. He saw me sitting on the school steps one day, observed my large forehead and said: "Boy, you're all skull!", and that stuck!"
I went on the internet in search for these old recordings of Skully & Bunny, but could not find any. Wouldn't it be an interesting idea to think of re-releasing them on CD and presenting the music to a whole new generation?
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "Yes! I would gladly do that! If you just give me your address I will send you one of the first recordings I did in Jamaica in 1953. That was when the recording business in Jamaica just started. The only recording studio was owned by a man called Stanley Motto, at the corner of Hanover Street and Law Street."
You are often mentioned as being one of the mentors of Bob Marley. How do you remember him?
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "Bob Marley was a great youngster who came into the reggae business and uplifted the music to the height where it is right now. (gets agitated) 'Dizzy' Moore played on most of Bob's hits and even rearranged some of the music, but he gets nothing! Just like myself, but you see I and him and many more we are doing the Almighty's work; Emperor Haile Selassie who liveth and reigneth here on earth!"
Noel 'Skully' Simms: "Every time man! Rastafari!"