By the mid-1990s, Bell was DJ'ing under the Lockjaw moniker (*clue) at The Twilight Zone club in Gastown (now the Portside Pub) to a small, but dedicated selection of subculture practitioners, misfits, Japanese exchange students, and the odd curiosity seeker. Attending Simon Fraser University at the time, I would venture down each week and listen to James play, to watch how he spun the records, learn from his collection of 7" and albums, drink pitchers of beer and long island iced teas, dance the night away while dreaming of meeting a dancing partner, and then return home to my family in Coquitlam with my ears still ringing from the proceedings and my mind buzz with thoughts of ska, sex, and school. Prince Buster's "Al Capone" was a song that I'd request at every Twilight Zone session, the inspiration for another fave, The Specials' "Gangsters." There was something about the attitude, rhythm, and Buster's raw delivery that touched my soul. It's a feeling that still burns from deep within in my heart. Whenever a Buster song would come over the speakers, we'd rush the floor, pretending we were at a sound system dance or street party in Kingston in the mid-1960s.
From their I went deeper and learnt as much as I could, buying CDs and vinyl when possible. The Prophet, a compilation disc released in 1994 on the Lagoon label, was a particularly well done set and an influence on my archival work in terms of curation and presentation. Eventually, I started DJ'ing myself, and loved trying to get people off of their feet to Prince Buster songs like "Wash Wash" and "Cincinnati Kid." But the music could only take us so far. After years of brotherly love, dressing up/not down, party times, and maximum dance floor pressure, James committed suicide at the dawn of the new millennium. Keen to continue his legacy, I inherited one of his most prized possessions, a gold label FAB 7" pressing of Prince Buster's "Rock & Shake," said to be one of the first dub songs with its use of reverb and delay. James had bought this tune directly from Lionel Young, the compiler of Trojan's "Solid Gold" From The Vaults series, yet another key influence in my musical development. I will always play this single with pride.
When I heard the news about Buster's passing earlier today, I couldn't stop crying. I pulled out a few records, but mostly rode the rhythms on Youtube. Songs like "The Prophet" (a killer Chuck Jackson cover), "Nothing Takes The Place Of You" (another R&B classic, this time by Toussaint McCall), "Sit And Wonder," and on and on. I thought of James, I thought of my youthful dancing days, and I thought of the global influence of a legend from Jamaica born Cecil Bustamante Campbell on May, 28, 1938.
Prince Buster, I'll forever be your student.
PS - You too James ; )
Kevin "Sipreano" Howes
Voluntary In Nature
- Prince Buster from his Pain In My Belly LP
- James Bell (aka Lockjaw, RIP)
- Gold label FAB "Rock & Shake" 7"
- Prince Buster (with baseball hat) dancing with friends outside of his record store on Orange Street, Kingston, Jamaica (image taken from his Pain In My Belly LP)