By Stephen Cooper
After watching legendary reggae band Black Uhuru perform in September of 2016, I wrote: “Duckie Simpson is an ageless, still spry reggae icon; like fine wine, his artistic beauty and complete mastery of reggae music has only matured over the years, ripening and deepening in its richness and maturity.” Over two years later and coming off of the September release of “As the World Turns,” the first new Black Uhuru album in over fifteen years – a superb addition to Black Uhuru’s discography that received a Grammy nomination for Best Reggae Album – Simpson is now more like an extremely rare VSOP (very superior old but not pale) cognac: robust and full of flavor, roots, and culture; when he sings or speaks about reggae music, it’s an experience to be savored.
So on March 12, when I had the opportunity to see Black Uhuru perform a riveting set at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, California, and afterward, when I was invited on the band’s tour bus to interview Duckie Simpson, I was conscious of the privilege I’d been given, and was determined to make the most of it. For approximately forty-five minutes, Simpson and I spoke about: the Grammy Awards; the making of “As the World Turns”; songwriting generally; ganja; Rastafari; the return of reggae superstar Buju Banton to Jamaica; his relationship with former Black Uhuru bandmates Garth Dennis, Don Carlos, and Michael Rose, and much, much more. What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.
Q: Greetings, Mr. Simpson. Fantastic show!
Duckie Simpson: Thank you.
Q: I heard you being interviewed [just a few days ago] on Hawaiian Public Radio, and you were saying that you were just recovering from being sick.
Duckie Simpson: Very, very sick.
Q: You said you got sick in Los Angeles?
Duckie Simpson: I came up for the Grammys. And the rain fell on me, man. And it’s funny: I’m from the tropics, but whenever rain falls on me, I get sick. I can’t figure it out. So I got sick in L.A. And I was sick for like three f*cking weeks. Not sick, but I had a cold, and you know when you have a cold your voice get f*cked. So I was kinda struggling tonight. I’ve been struggling for a couple of shows.
Q: Well just so you know, I couldn’t tell.
Duckie Simpson: I’m glad you say that.
Q: I got some very good footage of you singing –
Duckie Simpson: It’s funny. I saw you in the audience, and I knew you was that guy Robbie’s [Black Uhuru Booking Agent/Tour Manager Mr. Robert Oyugi] been talking about.
Q: Well I’ll always remember, you were one of the first reggae artists I interviewed, in September of 2016. And I had [recently] stopped practicing law and [had] started to interview reggae artists. And you were so nice to me.
Duckie Simpson: (Laughing) You were practicing law? Why are you interviewing reggae artists?
Q: Why do you think? I couldn’t take Babylon’s rules anymore.
Duckie Simpson: (Laughing) So I was really cool to you?
Q: You were awesome to me. And you taught me a lot. So I know I’m going to learn a lot tonight. When I listened to your interview on Hawaiian Public Radio, you were asked about the Grammys this year. You said you knew that Sting and Shaggy were going to win. And you hypothesized this was because in recent years Shaggy has both performed and presented at the Grammys –
Duckie Simpson: 2018 Shaggy performed at the Grammys. And Shaggy host the Grammys in 2019. So I knew he was going to win.
Q: It was inevitable?
Duckie Simpson: Yeah. Yeah.
Q: Your album “As the World Turns” which was of course [also] nominated for [Best Reggae Album] wasn’t released until September 7th , very close to the deadline for Grammy consideration.
Duckie Simpson: Yes.
Q: Do you think the late release date might have hurt Black Uhuru’s chance to win this year –
Duckie Simpson: No. The Grammys [are] like the Miss Universe beauty [contest]. They know who is gonna god*amn win before the sh*t is even [held officially], you know?
Q: So they’ve chosen the winner early?
Duckie Simpson: A long time ago! That’s how it is. I knew Shaggy was gonna win.
Q: Did you see Shaggy and Sting at the awards ceremony?
Duckie Simpson: No. But I saw Shaggy onstage; Shaggy was hosting. And when he got the Grammy he big-up’d Black Uhuru and the rest of the guys dem. And that was great. But Shaggy is my boy, you know? I like Shaggy.
Q: You’ve known him for a long time?
Duckie Simpson: No. I don’t “know” him. I’ve met Shaggy officially maybe one time.
Q: But you respect his music?
Duckie Simpson: Yeah, well I like him. I like the guy and his music, yeah.
Q: Now even though Black Uhuru didn’t win this year, it must have been very pleasing to you after having not released an album for over 15 years for Black Uhuru to be nominated –
Duckie Simpson: Yeah, [it] was. This is my 7th or 8th nomination. Won the first time.