Last week I heard an interview that featured Donald “Tabby” Shaw and Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson who both are members of reggae group the Mighty Diamonds. The other member, Fitzroy “Bunny” Simpson, was absent due to illness.
Now the Mighty Diamonds has been singing since 1969. By the late 1970s they recorded numerous international hits such as “The Right Time”, “Africa”, “I Need a Roof” and “Shame and Pride”. Songs that consistently still sell well even with today’s younger generation.
The Mighty Diamonds wrote all their songs. So I was surprised to hear Tabby and Judge state that they earned no royalties from the sale of those hits.
Over the years we have heard stories of reggae singers/songwriters being ripped off, short changed or tricked into signing away their publishing rights without realising the consequences.
From the 1960s – 1980s many Jamaican artistes never knew their songs were being sold in volumes overseas.
- In 1987 I saw music by my own cousin – Junie Ranks – being sold at Tower Records then Europe’s largest record store. Junie had no idea that her songs were released.
- The late Alton Ellis used to tell us stories of the rough times experienced when he first moved to London from Jamaica despite his songs doing well in the UK reggae charts.
- Singer Marcia Griffiths once said that all she received from some of her earlier hits at Studio One was “lunch money”.
Fans purchased these records and must have enriched someone, some organisation, some family, but not always the singer/songwriters.
Today many of these iconic Jamaican artistes are living under harsh conditions. Some face major health issues which is costly. We only need to see the health and financial pressures that plagued the late Frankie Paul in his final days. It was well known that Paul suffered from financial trickery by unscrupulous record company officials.
Recently the Mighty Diamonds performed on stage in Jamaica. But while Tabby and Judge were mobile on stage Bunny stood still because of his own health issues and you felt for him.
Despite being in their 60s the Mighty Diamonds continue to tour overseas to make a living. Yet the proceeds from the hits they composed should have provided them with a comfortable pension package. We know good money from reggae sales was made by record companies during the 1970s.
During the 1970s the Mighty Diamonds’ records were sold in the UK on the Frontline label. Frontline was setup by Virgin’s Richard Branson.
In his best selling book “Screw It, Let’s Do It” Branson wrote:
“(1977-1978) I went to Jamaica as a holiday but I also intended to look for bands and sign them up, so I took a suitcase filled with money…. Fortunately I had cash in my case that enabled me to sign up almost twenty bands and some toasters. We sold a lots of records with them; a perfect example of my motto- have fun and the money will come….
Further on in the book Branson summed up that exciting period of his life:
...I had signed up bands in Jamaica and ended up with an airline and (Necker) island.“
The late Clement “Coxsone” Dodd – founder of Studio One label – was notorious for not paying his artistes their due royalties. Today a number those former singers from that period are philosophical about their experiences with Dodd. Despite Dodd’s actions some are grateful for the exposure he gave them. That sounds all well and good but someone is earning today what should simply be theirs.
- Should the reggae fan be smarter at how and why they buy records – especially music from the 1960s/70s?
- Should record companies be forced to inform the consumer who earns from any sales?
As consumers we have become smarter in buying food products thanks to better labeling e.g. Freetrade. Maybe each CD/download etc should provide a percentage breakdown on where the proceeds of record sales ends up. Especially for albums.
Would the Mighty Diamonds fan purchase “The Right Time” if they knew that the songwriters would earn zero from the sale?
If I knew back then that so few Jamaican artistes earned so little royalties from their endeavours then maybe my record collection would have been a lot smaller.