Prince Buster (24 May 1938 – 8th September 2016) RIP.
Ska legend Prince Buster has died at the age of 78. He had been in poor health for a while after a series of strokes, including one in 2009 which left him unable to walk. He passed away in a Miami hospital around 7.20am on Thursday 8th September. His death was confirmed by his widow Mola Ali, who is reported to have said he had been suffering heart problems, and son Kareem Ali. He also leaves other children and a sister.
Tributes were saturating social media soon after his death was announced. Reggae DJ David Rodigan among the first to pay his respects, along with UB40 member Robin Campbell. The Birmingham reggae star posted on Facebook: “Prince Buster, musician, born 24 May 1938; died 8 September 2016. RIP PRINCE BUSTER. Cecil Bustamente Campbell better known as Prince Buster, performer and producer, has passed away at the age of 78. He was the first superstar of Jamaican Pop Music, the prince of rude boys and the King of Ska."A hard man fe dead" he will live forever in Jamaican history.”
Madness paid tribute to Buster from the main stage of the BBC Radio 2 Festival In A Day event at Hyde Park on Sunday (11th Sept), telling the audience of 55,000 people that Buster was their biggest influence. In 1979 Madness released their first single on the 2-Tone label, a tribute to Buster called "The Prince". The B-side was a cover of his song "Madness" from which they took their name. Their second single, released on Stiff was a cover of Buster’s "One Step Beyond", which reached the UK Top 10. Graham McPherson aka Suggs, first heard Buster on "Al Capone," when he was 15 and that inspired him to form his own band.
Madness sax player and songwriter Lee Thompson told Blues & Soul magazine he considered Buster to be mega influential: "He was Jamacia's Leiber & Stoller. He wrote about serious issues & put a comical slant to them, i.e. Judge Dread was merciless; the character would dish out 4000 Year jail term's, before the accused have a chance to state their case! Guilty before proven innocent! The 10 Commandments of Man; a lyric about a domineering male chauvinist, that gets busy with it, twice on Sunday's!!
"I had heard recently that he was not too well. But 78 is not old if you are healthy. I'd like to think he enjoyed life. He was a Geezer. He liked to spa, to dance, a Red Stripe or two, his sound system kept him on the straight & narrow & his music kept him sane."
Lee met Buster in August 1992, at the infamous Madness Finsbury Park Earthquake Date concert (an earthquake was thought to have struck that night, but it was later found to have been resonance caused by dancing at the Madness concert) "He said, 'you got a strong pair of lungs for such a little fellow.' I just replied; you have a good sense of humour, Buster. He was going to join me at a local boxing club, to meet & greet some youths, but had to abandon this due to a more pressing matter." Lee plans to pay his personal tribute to Buster later this year during his DJ set at Butlins in Minehead.
Jerry Dammers of The Specials and founder of the Two Tone record label says Buster has influenced many genres of today’s music, from hip-hop, grime and reggae, and all the British Ska and Two Tone bands and artists owe him a debt of gratitude. The Specials covered Buster’s "Too Hot" on their debut album and borrowed from Buster’s "Judge Dread" in their song "Stupid Marriage" and from "Al Capone" in their track "Gangsters". They included a cover of "Enjoy Yourself" on their second album “More Specials.” The Beat covered "Rough Rider" and "Whine & Grind."
Cecil Campbell aka Prince Buster was an able boxer and that skill landed him a job as a security man for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and his Downbeat Sound system in Jamaica. During the 1950s, Campbell sang in several bands in Kingston where he came to the attention of Dodd. Buster joined Coxsone as a security man and an assistant, and quickly picked up lots of information about the music business.
Cecil Campbell’s father worked on the Jamaican railways. Cecil got his nickname Buster from his middle name of Bustamante (after the Jamaican Labour Party leader Sir Alexander Bustamante), and Prince from his boxing success. He left Dodd to set up his own record store, Buster’s Record Shack in the late 1960s and the Voice of the People sound system and record label. In 1960 he ventured into recording and producing, using the facilities of the local radio station, RJR. Buster produced the Folkes Brothers on “Oh Carolina,” later a smash hit for Shaggy in 1993. Buster’s production of the John Folkes’ penned song, is cited as being the very first Reggae/Ska track. Buster wanted something new in Jamaican music, so he blended Rhythm & Blues with Mento; which was Jamaican Folk music similar to Calypso, to create Ska. The track became a huge hit in Jamaica. Buster went on to further establish Ska as a genre, on hits he produced, (again emphasising the downbeat on guitar on his productions,) such as “Little Honey” as Buster’s group, “Humpty Dumpty,” “They Got to Go,” “Thirty Pieces of Silver,” “Wash Wash,” and “"Black Head Chinaman."
He released hundreds of productions on various labels in an eight-year period. Lyrical content placing focus on the “rude boy” gang members prevalent in a violent Jamaica of the time. He became wealthy and had a thing for flash cars and sharp suits. Buster helped develop Ska into Rocksteady in the mid 60s and introduced his fictional character Judge Dread. In 1963, Buster released his first studio album, “I Feel the Spirit,” on the Blue Beat label, produced by Siggy Jackson. The second cut on that debut was the song “Madness.”
Much of his own compositions and productions ended up on the Blue Beat label here in the UK and are now very collectable and sought-after. There are stories that Buster turned up at the door of various people in London with his minders to reclaim boxes of his records. One tale involved him wondering why a load of his records had suddenly hit the open market for sale at high prices and he turned up out of the blue to the source. But walked away empty handed when discovering the man was simply flogging his own collection, built up over some years, obviously shocked to find Prince Buster himself stood on his doorstep!
The first Jamaican to have a top 20 hit in Britain, reaching # 18 in 1967 and staying in the chart for 13 weeks with the timeless “Al Capone.” He toured here regularly and appeared on the live TV show Ready Steady Go in 1964. While over here, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Mohammed Yusef Ali after meeting one of his heroes, Muhammad Ali.
Buster went on to produce Jamaican DJs, including Big Youth and also worked with major artists such s Dennis Brown. By the 1970s, Buster’s interest began to wane – partly because as a Muslim he found it difficult to move along with the Rasta-influenced tide. He moved to Miami to pursue various business interests, including the running of a jukebox company he had set up.
His influence resurfaced in the late 1970s, when his music was the key inspiration for the Ska revival in Britain. In 1978, London band Morris and the Minors renamed themselves Madness after Buster’s classic song "Madness is Gladness," and in 1978 their first single, "The Prince," went straight into the top 20. The band later reached number seven with a re-working of the Buster song "One Step Beyond."
After the UK ska revival spearheaded by the 2-Tone label, Buster refused offers for a big comeback, but he did reappear onstage in the late 1980s and 1990s, and toured Japan with Ska legends the Skatalites. He recorded again in 1992, and in April 1998 re-entered the British charts for the first time in 31 years with a new version of an old song, "Whine and Grind." It peaked at # 21 and stayed in the chart for four weeks.
In 2001 the Jamaican government awarded Buster the prestigious Order of Distinction (OD) for his contribution to the development of the country’s music industry.
Buster’s widow Mola Ali told Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner on the day of his death, that since Buster's passing that morning, several people from the entertainment fraternity had called in to offer their condolences and she was grateful for the outpouring of support for her late husband.
Leicester-based musician, producer and musical director Stan Samuel, a member of top Ska band The Pressure Tenants remembered The Prince with affection from the many years of touring with him playing guitar, including appearing on Top of the Pops in his band promoting the come-back hit “Whine and Grind.”
“I first met Buster in 1988, when we were doing the first London Ska Festival and I was playing with Laurel Aitken. I thought then, Wow; I can’t believe I am meeting one of my boyhood heroes, Prince Buster.
“Then 10 years later, I had left Laurel Aitken and was playing in Desmond Dekker’s band and Buster’s 'Whine and Grind' had become a hit from being used on the Levis TV advert. He came over to do Top of the Pops and needed a band to back him. His manager also managed Desmond Dekker, so they used Desmond’s band for Buster. I brought in a horn section from Leicester; Rob Charles, Tony Looby and a young guy called Tim Smart, who is now The Specials trombone player.
“We did a UK tour and then a European tour, in 1998 and 1999, and we went into the studio for a couple of sessions to see what happened, but nothing came of those recordings. He kept coming back for shows and using the same band, and he did Jools Holland’s TV show with Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster and Jools on stage at the same time. It was with Jool’s own band, so I watched from the wings.
“Every now and then we’d get a call to put the band together to play for him on gigs in the UK and Europe. The last tour I did with him was 2007, but there were a few one off gigs since then in Europe. The last time would have probably have been 2008. When he had his first stroke it came out of the blue. When I last saw him, he was fine and in good spirits and talking about more work together.
"I always smile when I think of how he walked, because he bounced everywhere – like he was on a mission. He was great, just like one of the boys. He had that twinkle in his eye, a larger than life character and it always seemed like he was up to something. He was still humble though. A perfectionist with his music, he wanted the solos played exactly as they were on the record and he was very much in charge on stage. It was definitely his show. No arrogance, no ego, he just loved to perform and he would talk to anyone. He didn’t hide in a corner or shut himself away in his dressing room or hotel room. Desmond used to hide in a corner but that was not arrogance; he was just really shy.
“When I was a kid, I stood in front of a mirror pretending to play guitar in Buster’s band, listening to my Dad’s records. I never ever thought I would meet him let alone play in his band. I have been so lucky to play on stage with four of my five heroes; Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Desmond Dekker and Derrick Morgan. I also did a studio session for Delroy Wilson, my fifth hero.
"When I heard Buster had gone, because I have known he has been ill for while and we knew he would never gig again, I wasn’t shocked but was obviously upset he has left us. It feels like all my heroes are no more and I am not really sure what they will be replaced with. I’d put Buster right up there as a musician and a songwriter….I’d say he was the most influential person to come out of the Jamaican reggae and Ska scene.
"He had a colourful life story;’ he was a bouncer, a boxer, wrote some great songs and he really was the voice of the people. He used to hang out with the band and party like he was one of our mates. He had lots of energy and he was always totally accessible. He’d drink with us, party with us, chase women with us (Stan laughs loudly).... He always had a bottle of Courvoisier on his rider for gigs and we’d all fight for it!”
• All of us at Blues & Soul magazine were saddened by the news of Prince Buster’s passing and send our condolences to his family and friends. His musical legacy is here to stay.
Words SIMON REDLEY