By Stephen Cooper
Due in part to my friendship with legendary sound engineer Scientist I’ve been blessed to meet and interview some of the most famous names in reggae, legends like Sly Dunbar and Tony Chin. Sometimes, however, I’ve been just as fortunate to be exposed to artists that aren’t as well-known but are brimming with talent and have a history in the music that runs deep – artists like General Jah Mikey.
A versatile and conscious vocalist with an effortless flow, General Jah Mikey recorded his first song as a professional at the tender age of 17 in 1985. Since migrating to the United States a year later, he’s carved out a successful career and continues to produce quality music. Although studio time is precious, on May 15 I was able to interview General Jah Mikey for about twenty minutes during a break in his work at Grammy Award-winning Studio City Sound with Scientist. What follows is a transcript of that conversation modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations, as well as a few photos and video clips showcasing General Jah Mikey’s undeniable charisma and prodigious skills.
Q: You grew up in Kingston, [Jamaica], is that true?
General Jah Mikey: Yeah.
Q: And you had an apprenticeship with King Tubby, right? You were working with King Tubby from an early age?
General Jah Mikey: Yeah, I was there with King Tubby and Scientist.
Q: Now as you may know I’ve been interviewing Scientist, [so] I’ve been trying to find out more about King Tubby’s studio. What kind of a man was King Tubby?
General Jah Mikey: King Tubby [was] cool man, but him no talk much. No sir. He’d say, “You can’t smoke no weed in my place. We good?”
Q: What are some of the most important lessons or things you could say you picked up from being at Tubby’s studio, or around Tubby himself?
General Jah Mikey: [He was] a principled man. Him always keep clean. Him no bullsht with people. Him no take bullsht. [He’d be] [s]erious with you, man.
Q: A lot of times it’s been said [and written] that Jammy was Tubby’s “right-hand man.”
General Jah Mikey: Tubby no really have no “right-hand man.” Tubby can do him own thing for himself (laughing).
Q: So he had a bunch of engineers and would rely on [all of] them.
General Jah Mikey: Yeah, him have a bunch of engineers.
Q: When you were 17 that’s when you [did] your first [professional] recording with Mozziyah Records, right?
General Jah Mikey: Yeah.
Q: That was called “Catch the ’85 Style?”
General Jah Mikey: Yeah, “Catch the ’85 Style.”
Q: That’s a pretty cool tune – I was [just] listening to it.
General Jah Mikey: Give thanks!
Q: And then the next year, when you were 18, you toured [for the first time] in the U.S.?
General Jah Mikey: Yeah.
Q: When did you move permanently to the U.S.?
General Jah Mikey: 1986.
Q: So just [the next] year [after releasing “Catch the ’85 style], then!? Do you still go back and forth [from the U.S. and Jamaica]?
General Jah Mikey: No, I haven’t been back to Jamaica since June 1986.
Q: Any particular reason why?
General Jah Mikey: No. Never have no reason why. Because me do alright, you know? I feel comfortable with what I was doing. And my family moved here[, too,] you know? My brother moved here. My sister moved here. And my dad moved here.
Q: Did you settle in California?
General Jah Mikey: No, I was in New York City first. In the Bronx. I was in the Bronx doing my record store, putting out records. Still working with Jammy and those guys, you know? Shelly from World Enterprise. And Chris [Chin] from VP [Records]. I was pressing and selling my own records. ‘Cause I came and I learned the business, too. With my friend named “Hammer.” I have a friend named “Hammer.” Hammer Records from the Bronx. He was producing Sugar Minott too at the time. And Tony Tuff. Yeah man.
Bushman and General Jah Mikey at the 1st L.A. Reggae Vegan Fest (photo courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper)
Q: Let me step back for a second and ask, were you parents involved in music at all?
General Jah Mikey: No. It’s so surprising. None of them was in music, but they just loved music. They’d buy music. And I used to see them with music around the house.
Q: How’d you get involved in music?
General Jah Mikey: Well how mi get involved in music is when mi really start go a-college. I got closer to the music. Because I started to try to learn to play the piano.
Q: So this was [during] your early school days in Jamaica? In Clarendon?
General Jah Mikey: Yes, I went to Clarendon College for three years. I didn’t finish school.
Q: Who was raising you, was it your dad and mom?
General Jah Mikey: Yeah, my dad and mom. [And] [m]y uncles and my aunts.
Q: What did your parents do?
General Jah Mikey: My mom was a nurse [at] Black River Hospital. And my dad used to work for JPS, the “Jamaica Public Service.” He’s an electrical engineer.
Q: Are they still in Jamaica?
General Jah Mikey: My dad passed away, sadly. Maybe two years ago.
Q: Sorry to hear that.
General Jah Mikey: My mom is still in New York City.