The 100th release on Pressure Sounds is the brilliant set of ‘Rockers from the land of reggae’ this album was originally released in 1982 and has never been re-released since. Its some what amazing that this album has never been made available since its first release. Now re-mastered and with bonus tracks. An essential release for all fans of roots music. I Mo Jah only ever made one album and it was exceptional. The sleeve was a hand drawn illustration by Magnus Johnson a prime mover in the Boston hip hop scene and cult radio Dj. He later went on to be celebrated artist in the Boston area.
Phillip Fullwood was born in Kingston, Jamaica, a cousin of bassist George ‘Fully’ Fullwood, before moving to the parish of Saint Ann’s, and then on to Linstead, Saint Catherine. Perhaps it was the importance of the region’s history with slavery that inspired him, but as a young man hanging around the local nyahbinghi community he started pursuing Rastafari.
“I was twelve years old before my mother cut my dreadlocks. Cut my hair off my head. I was no rasta then, yunno. And then after a while I become rasta because I was hanging with guys like Sons of Negus and Ras Michael.”
The move to St Catherine gave Phillip not only a spiritual direction in life, but also close friendships with two youths named Eric Donaldson and Freddie McKay.
“We used to play together. Freddie know my father and my brother. I know his mother. She used to ride a donkey come to town to the market and go back to the country the next day. She was a poor luck lady. Didn’t have anything really. So me an’ Freddie become friends, yunno. Freddie McKay occupation was a painter and do entertainment on the side. He was a good stage actor, a good dancer. Eric Donaldson used to be a fisherman. He lived at a place called Bog Walk. I hear he have a club there now. But Freddie was my friend and him love singing. We used to stay over by Freddie little room. His girlfriend went to America and she sent a picture of her back to him. That’s why he sing ‘your picture is hanging on the wall’. Because of that picture. And the song become a hit.”
Phillip’s first foray into song-writing came with ‘Old Joe’ for Freddie McKay, released on Freddie’s debut album for Studio One.
“You know how I write that song? My father was town councillor and he had a man called Mr. James, he was kind of handicapped. Walk on his hands. One day I went over there and I asked Mr. James ‘Look man I’m hungry, I need some food’. Do you know what he told me? ‘Son if you can’t buy land you can’t buy stone and if you can’t buy beef you can’t buy bone.’ And he was eating a steak at the time. I started to cry. I went back over to Freddie’s house and there was a guy called Privy. He used to play with the Soul Defenders. They were cooking and I tell what the man said to me. And Privy said, ‘don’t you know Joe and Job is the same name?’ That’s why Freddie sing ‘You just can’t buy land if you can’t buy stone. Old Job I don’t want your job’. Yunno? That’s how I become a writer.”
Phillip, now inspired to write poetry and song lyrics, travelled around the country selling African literature printed in London, getting a few cents for each publication sold. On one such trip he met the young Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, and was soon writing songs with Spear, and touring as a percussionist in his band. In America they recorded ‘The Whole World Wants To Be Free’ together, and also Phillip’s first lead vocal on ‘Love Everyone’, a longing plea for love and unity. His close relationship to Burning Spear gave Phillip valuable insight into studio work, and his move into production and mixing was inevitable, soon resulting in the profound self-production ‘I Gave You My Word’ in 1979, with arrangement and backing vocals by Winston Rodney.
Also in 1979, Phillip met Winston McKenzie, with whom he would start the group I-Mo-Jah.
“Imojah mean ‘Unity’ in Swahili. I used to do upholstery in a room I rented in a little dancehall and Winston’s mother used live cross the street from the beach and that’s how I met him. He come to America when he was 14. He’s from Saint Ann’s too. And when I come to America I used to stay at his house in New Rochelle, New York.”
In 1982 Phillip moved to the US where the I-Mo-Jah group, which had been started in Jamaica, gained a third member with vocalist Cassandra Jenkins.
“Cassandra lived around the block. She’s a young American girl, only sixteen at the time. I was in my thirties. I think Winston McKenzie was in his thirties. I don’t know where she’s at. She was a nice girl. She used to come over to Winston and hang out. Her parents never approve of her being around us either. She was in to reggae – a few Americans get into it.”
While in the US, they started going over the rhythm tracks that Phillip had brought with him on master tape, deciding which to re-record and create news songs over. The backing tracks featured Jamaican musical dignitaries such as Sly and Robbie, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace and Clive ‘Azul’ Hunt, and would form the backbone of the ‘Rockers From The Land Of Reggae’ album. New vocals were recorded at SFZ studio in Long Island and New Age Studio in Queens, with further overdubs on keyboards and lead guitar, and the album was mixed by Phillip.
“Them give me the board and I do the mixing myself. I don’t know if it come out good or if it come out bad. I gave Spear a copy of the album and he said ‘yeah it sound good’. There was a man who played the music over the radio and Freddie McKay say ‘man, I hear the music play over the air - you sound good’, and I never continue after Freddie McKay tell me he heard the music playing. I was never meant to be a singer to tell you the truth.”
The striking sleeve, in black and white with green handwritten typography, told the story of Jamaica, with Arawaks overseeing the arrival of Christopher Columbus’ ship Santa Maria, whilst between two sound systems the dreads were dancing and smoking a spliff under a tree. The art was drawn by Magnus Johnstone, a painter and deejay who presented the radio show ‘Reggae Mukasa’ on WMBR, and would later become the foremost champion of the burgeoning hip hop scene in Boston.
“Yeah yeah! He used to live in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He used to have a radio program. He was living more over on the black side. When I used to go to his house we used to drink Guinness stout, smoke weed, and he had a big room with a lot of painting. And we went to an art gallery one night and I was scared because there was a lot of white people. I got used to it. I got a lot of white friends after that.”
With its off-kilter mix and eccentric vocals, the I-Mo-Jah album was never destined for mainstream success. But its distribution was seriously derailed by some unfortunate events.
“When I made ‘Rockers From The Land Of Reggae’ I was taking about 500 to Jamaica and I was told I had to have a license to go through the customs. I got fed up and I just leave the album with them. They wanted me to get a license and all them things, and I said ‘Why I want a license to bring my own thing to Jamaica?’. They said no, so I leave them at customs. I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe they sell them. And that was the end of it. I give the rest of them to Chin Randy’s in Jamaica Queens to distribute.”
And so ‘Rockers From The Land Of Reggae’ soon vanished into obscurity. By 1983 Phillip Fullwood had settled permanently in the US and virtually retired from music. Over the years, partly fuelled by its extreme rarity, the album’s reputation has grown immensely, and original copies now command a very high price. Phillip is thrilled that this reissue will now expose it to a wider audience.
“Life happen that way. I got kids and grandkids. I’m just a small guy who was with Spear and just tried to do my thing, like everybody else in the entertainment biz. My occupation, my passport you know says entertainer. Wishing a t’ing, yunno.”
released August 29, 2018
Lead Vocals: Phillip ‘Zalucas’ Fullwood
Background Vocals: Cassandra Jenkins
Vocals: Winston ‘Johnna’ McKenzie
Drums: Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace,
Eric ‘Fish’ Clarke
Keyboards: Bernard ‘Touter’ Harvey, Clive ‘Azul’ Hunt, Barry Weinstein
Bass: Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt, Robbie Shakespeare,
Eric ‘Bingy Bunny’ Lamont, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett
Reggae Guitar: Bertram ‘Ranchie’ McLean, Eric ‘Bingy Bunny’ Lamont,
Lead Guitar: Steve Goldstein
Percussion: Phillip ‘Zalucas’ Fullwood
Trumpet: Bobby Ellis
Sax: Richard ‘Dirty Harry’ Hall