Sticky Thompson Still Sweetening The Reggae Pot: Jamaica Observer

Sticky Thompson: still sweetening the reggae pot

Observer Reporter
Friday, June 06, 2003

STICKY'....when it comes on to steadiness and hol' the rhythm, a me dat

It is hard not to pick up Uzziah "Sticky" Thompson's frenetic tapping of the "manhead" on The Techniques' classic Ska number, Little Did You Know.

To the biased musician, it is as memorable as lead singer Slim Smith's silky-smooth vocals.

Little Did You Know was the first time Thompson played percussion on record, but it was not his recording debut. Interestingly, it was his vocals that first caught the attention of producer Clement "Coxsone" Dodd who used him as a "caller"on The Skatalites' Guns of Navarone, Ball of Fire and Timothy.

Moving to producer Arthur "Duke" Reid's Treasure Isle, he did the same on The Silvertones' Guns Fever. It was at Reid's studio that he started playing percussion, rocking on Little Did You Know before heading off to Lee "Scratch" Perry's rising Upsetters label.

Thompson stayed with Perry for five years, playing on outstanding sides such as The Wailers' Soul Rebel and Duppy Conqueror and Junior Byles'Beat Down Babylon. In the mid 1970s, he was a regular session player at Channel One where his sound can be heard on The Mighty Diamonds' Roof Over My Head and John Holt's Up Park Camp.

He was also in demand at the rival Joe Gibbs' studio and for Sonia Pottinger, playing on several hit songs by Dennis Brown (How Could I Leave) and Culture (Natty Never Get Weary), respectively.

Over the years, Thompson has recorded and toured with Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. He played on the latter's Grammy-winning Conscious Party album.

Now 67, the dreadlocked Thompson laments the rise of computers and the death of the reggae percussionist. He says demand for the sound has fallen out of favour with contemporary acts and it is the older artistes, and producers, who provide him with the "likkle work" he gets.

"A computer a run tings right ya now, so a nuh nuff work a gwaan. So tings kinda rough right now," said Thompson from his Kingston home.

A self-desribed "old boy", Thompson is still keeping the beat and was firing on all cylinders when he spoke to Chordially Speaking.

Howard Campbell: How yuh move so fast pon Little Did You Know?

"Sticky" Thompson: "Mi move and stop, move and stop.

HC : How much takes did you do?

ST : It tek wi a good likkle while 'cause wi haffi get the right feel (starts making percussive noises). (Saxophonist) Tommy McCook mek the rhythm and Duke hear mi a fool fool roun' the corner and sey, 'dat soun' good, man, si a manhead ya'. Him always have manhead, cow bell and tambourine inna him place, and mi jus' tek the manhead and start beat it and a it dat. But mi neva follow it (percussions) up, mi kinda leave it out fi a while.

HC : So you never played a lot of percussion for Duke Reid?

ST : No, mi move on to Scratch and start do mi likkle ting with mi grater, and a drummer name Hugh Malcolm sey, 'yes, man, go inna it'!

And mi go buy some grillo and tambourine and start tek it serious.

HC : But you got a lotta work in the early seventies?

ST : Yes, man! Yuh have man like (producers) Rupie Edwards, Phil Pratt and Lloydie Chalmers...dem man dey call yuh up and mek yuh eat a likkle food. Dem days did nice.

HC : How different was it at Channel One?

ST : Whole heap a work, but it did cheap, yuh nuh, the money neva big.

HC : How did the link with Ziggy come about?

ST: Dem dey a Nassau a do the Conscious Party album and somebody tell him 'bout mi and dem check mi fi come. When dem hear mi play, dem sey, 'wha'! And Ziggy sey mi mus' get ready fi go (tour) wid dem.

HC : How many albums yuh did with Ziggy? And which one do you think you did your best work?

ST : 'Bout five, yuh nuh. Mi really like 'Conscious', 'Free' (Like We Want 2 B)...dat one hard fi play pon stage. Neighbour (the I Three).

HC : Which instrument do you like using most?

ST : All a dem...Kabasa, grillo, tambourine, funde drum, bass drum...all a dem.

HC : Is it hard recording percussions?

ST : No, from yuh know yuh ting, yuh awright. My ting is, listen to the song and right away mi know what it want. Is like Dennis Brown song, Cassandra. When dem was doing it no drummer was there and mi jus' bruk a broomstick and play Cassandra, and it come out good. Might sound funny but is true.

HC : Do you create instruments?

ST : No, nuthin' like dat. Mi buy everything.

HC : What does the percussion do for reggae?

ST : It help it...come in like yuh cook a pot and there's no seasoning, it can't taste good. The percussion is the seasoning, yuh can dance off percussion alone.

HC : What about influences, anyone you listen to?

ST : Denzil Laing (father of Tony Laing). Him teach mi couple tings, how fi mek the Kabasa and the Kasha key dem drop. Mi listen 'Scully' (Noel Sims) and Bongo Herman (Herman Davis).

HC : How would you describe your playing?

ST : Steady, me's a old bwoy, yuh nuh, but when it comes on to steadiness and hol' the rhythm, a me dat. If yuh nuh steady, yuh can't play the percussion.

HC : When did things start slowing down work-wise?

ST : 'Bout four, five years, since the computer come in. Mi do some work wid The Congos and the Frenchman (Pierpoljak), and sometime Sly and Robbie will call mi fi do two tune.

HC : Think you could play Little Did You Know on stage today?

ST : (Laughs) Not so'd haffi play and stop. It come in like 'Free', yuh haffi have time fi ease off and come again.

Posted: Thu - June 12, 2003 at 12:08 AM