Photos and Interview
by Stephen Cooper
Back in early March, before “social distancing” and travel restrictions became the norm, before in many ways literally and figuratively (except online, at home, and in our hearts), the music died – killed by the coronavirus – one of my wildest dreams as a reggae fan came true.
Because of my friendship with legendary musicians Santa Davis and Tony Chin, whom I’ve interviewed and try and hang out with every chance I get, and, because of the kindness and professionalism of my friend Clifton Bygrave, I was blessed to interview legendary guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith. Clifton helped me navigate Jamaica, including driving me from Negril to Kingston on March 9 to Chinna’s house, braving torrential rain through Fern Gully and other obstacles en route without worry; it was largely because of Clifton that everything, as is commonly said in Jamaica, was “no problem.”
The interview took place at Chinna’s house, on the front porch overlooking his yard – a reggae mecca where countless legendary musicians have jammed – not far from Halfway Tree Square. What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations.
Chinna: I’m glad that you are here. I’m glad that you are here. Yeah man, come through my house. And walk through. Interview my house. Look around. Yeah. Go around [the] junkyard. Give him a tour. Give him a tour. Yeah man, take any kinda picture you want.
Chinna: Yeah man. Go do your thing. I’m happy that you’re here.
(I took a 10-minute guided tour of Chinna’s house, including of his yard and back office, and took pictures.)
Chinna: Alright there’s a story you need fi write pon the whole Jamaican music scene, but hear what it is: we can do it like a vinyl, A-side and B-side. So you have reggae, [and] reggae flip-side. So here’s how you can get the reggae flip-side now: by going around and interviewing all the wives of the [reggae artists] –
Q: Yeah. That’s a good idea.
Chinna: – but not the wives only, but the babies’ mothers. (Laughing)
Q: (Laughing) Then you get the real story.
Chinna: Alright, so that’s what you want.