Home / Arts & Entertainment / A Historic Conversation with Legendary Drummer Santa Davis (The Interview—Part 1)

A Historic Conversation with Legendary Drummer Santa Davis (The Interview—Part 1)

Media and interview by
Stephen Cooper

On December 1, 2019, I interviewed drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis—at his house in Los Angeles—for over three hours about his legendary career. The interview focused heavily on: Santa’s work playing with the Soul Syndicate, backing artists like Dennis Brown and Burning Spear, and contributing on some of Bob Marley’s biggest and best hit songs; the years that he toured and recorded with Peter Tosh; the night Tosh was killed—with Santa addressing baseless allegations that have been made since then about what happened; the need for reggae musicians to unite and invest in their own awards show and museum in Jamaica, one that is not connected, funded, and controlled by government and corporate entities, and, so much more.

Indeed, this is the most comprehensive interview you can read anywhere about Santa Davis’s historic, over four-decade-long career in reggae music. So it is very long. Few reggae aficionados will read the entire interview which spans over 20,000 words, but, if they do, they will not be disappointed. Also, keep in mind, my interview with Santa is not yet complete—there is still so much to talk about—so Santa has agreed to sit down with me again in 2020 to continue the conversation. Santa and I plan to do it for the love, honor, and abiding respect we both have for the history of reggae music.

But for now, please enjoy the first part of our interview. 

Q: Santa, thank you for inviting me here to your home in Los Angeles during this time when you’re not touring the world with Ziggy Marley, and between all the many other musical projects I know you’re involved in, and that I hope to find out more about today. But first, humbly and respectfully, I just want to give thanks for this honor to be able to reason with you, a legendary drummer, a man whose riddims, rolls, and fills are the foundation of so much of the roots reggae that I love; I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity.

Santa Davis: You’re welcome, my brother. It’s a pleasure.

Q: When it comes to reggae music, and similar to when I interviewed your brethren [legendary guitarist] Tony Chin, I basically had to give up trying to create a [comprehensive] list of all the famous reggae stars you’ve played with over the more than four decades you’ve been a professional drummer – the list is just way too long to complete.

Santa Davis: (Laughing) Yeah.

Q: [However,] [c]orrect me if I’m wrong, but my research shows that, in addition to being Ziggy Marley’s drummer for about twenty years, just a partial listing of people you’ve recorded with as part of legendary studio bands like the Aggrovators, the Observers, Roots Radics, Soul Syndicate, and more –

Santa Davis: [Like the] “Impact All-Stars” which was Randy’s.

Q: Randy’s All-Stars?

Santa Davis: Impact! (Laughing)

Q: Randy’s Impact All-Stars! And [you did this] for producers that included Bunny Lee, Lee Scratch Perry, Duke Reid, Niney the Observer, more?

Santa Davis: Yes.

Q: And these are [just] some of the [reggae stars] you’ve [recorded] with: Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, both separately and when they were together as part of the Wailers –

Santa Davis: And Bunny Wailer.

Q: And Bunny Wailer. [Also,] Burning Spear, Dennis Brown, Big Youth, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Clarke, Ken Boothe –

Santa Davis: Um, I performed with him, but I swear (laughing), all the years I’ve known Ken, I’ve never actually recorded with him. But I did a couple of shows with him back in the [day].

Q: Gregory Isaacs?

Santa Davis: Oh yeah.

Q: Then, the Mighty Diamonds, U-Roy, also I-Roy, John Holt, Horace Andy, Max Romeo, the Abyssinians –

Santa Davis: Yes.

Q: Now I was surprised by this, but King Yellowman?

Santa Davis: Oh yeah. I did early stuff with him when he was recording for [producer Henry] “Junjo” Lawes.

Q: “Them A Mad Over Me?” That’s one of my favorite –

Santa Davis: (Laughing) Yeah.

Q: Oh man, that is amazing. And then [there’s] Yabby You?

Santa Davis: Oh yeah.

Q: Augustus Pablo?

Santa Davis: Yes.

Q: And then I know this because I asked him, [but] as part of the Roots Radics, Scientist?

Santa Davis: Yeah! I first met Scientist up at King Tubby’s studio. He did a lot of work with King Tubby. I think that’s actually where he started.

Q: And then [also], as you [just] said, there’s King Tubby, Pat Kelly, who (unfortunately) recently passed away.

Santa Davis:  Yes – yes.

Q: Wailing Souls?

Santa Davis: Yes. 

Continued on page two–>>