Especially in the 60's and 70's a number of Jamaicans emigrated to Toronto. The economic hardship in their homeland drove them to remote parts of the world. Among the people who migrated from the tropical climate to much more moderate latitudes were at the time already well-known musicians like Jackie Mittoo, Johnnie Osbourne, Wayne McGhie, Lloyd Delpratt and Jo-Jo Bennett. When they arrived in their new home, they did what they could do best: they made music. Among these musicians were Jay Douglas and Everton "Pablo" Paul who founded The Cougars back in those days. In 2006 the compilation "Jamaica To Toronto - Soul, Funk & Reggae, 1967 - 1974" (Light In The Attic) honoured the veterans from those days and also started a "Jamaica To Toronto"-Allstar Liveshowcase, including Everton "Pablo" Paul and Jay Douglas, who was the bandleader. It was a great pleasure to meet both of them in Pablo's beautiful backyard and talk about past and present in the reggaeworld of Toronto.
You came to Toronto back in the 60's. What was the reason for you and so many other Jamaicans to move to Canada and especially Toronto?
Pablo: That was a new wave of immigrants, probably the first one to come from the West Indies. And I think mainly there were certain occupations that didn't have enough workers locally, so they were importing workers from the island. In my case, my sister who was a nurse, was brought in, because they had a programm recruiting nurses. So when that first wave was coming they took off to Canada.
So it was not the Jamaicans at first deciding to go to Toronto?
Pablo: It was an import situation.
Jay: My mom came as a domestic worker. After she came, she brought her brothers in the 60's.
How many people from Jamaica would form the jamaican community of Toronto back then?
Pablo: When I came here, if there were a couple of thousands that would have been plenty. When we came here there were very few Jamaicans in the city ...
When did you come here?
Pablo: I came here in 1965, in early spring. I remember driving from the airport saying to my brother in law: 'You guys have a drought here, a serious drought. There are no leaves on the trees. So, shit, I came from Jamaica to come to this......' (laughs).
Was there a community?
Pablo: Oh yes, there was a community.
Jay: For example, my mom. She would work with the ladies at the english homes and they would get one day off per week... mostly on thursdays. They didn't have many places to hang out, so they would go to the restaurants and sit there for most of the day until it was time to go back home. But then from that the community started to form. The West Indian Federation, wich is known as the W.I.F.-club down on College. So the west-indian people could go there now and get the meals from the islands and listen to the music from home. That's how it started to shape...
Pablo. That was started by a gentleman, his name was Mr. Geary. He was probably one of the first Jamaicans to migrate to Canada. He founded the W.I.F.-club. with other people that came up about the same time he did.
You also had music coming in and a lot of musicians playing at that time....
Pablo: The first band to come to Toronto from Jamaika were The Sheiks. They were really the pioneers as far as it comes to jamaican music in the city. The Sheiks came up and shortly after, we migrated to Canada.
Jay: The Sheiks went to the United States. They had one of the greates ska- and rocksteady singers of that time, who came from Barbados: Jackie Opel. He was one of the lead singers next to Eddie Spencer, who can also be heard on the "Jamaica To Toronto"-compilation and Bobby Rousseau. From the States they decided to go further north to Canada. When they came here, the Sheiks decided to stay. But Jackie Opel didn't like the cold, so they put him on a Greyhoundbus, back to the States and then back to Barbados, where he got into a caraccident and died. So then The Cougars came up.
Pablo: I knew The Sheiks from Jamaica. I remember when they went on that tour to the United States. After The Sheiks disbanded, I ended up living with Karl Mullings, who used to manage The Sheiks, and Bobby Rousseau, an MC at the time. We all rented a house together. And we were sitting there all bored, you know, and I said: 'Karl, why don't we start another group?'. And we started The Cougars. And how we got the name The Cougars was because at the time Ford came out with a car named 'The Cougar'. And thats where we got the name connected with the hope: 'If were advertising the name lets write to the company to see, if they would give us cars' (laughs), that didn't work.
Jay: They didn't even reply (laughs).
The Cougars (courtecy of Jay Douglas)
Pablo: So we took members of the Sheiks, like Newton Barker, the keyboardplayer, and founded The Cougars....
Where there a lot of places to play in Toronto in those days?
Pablo: There were a lot of places but we wouldn't have gotten into them.
Jay: The barrier wasn't easy to break. As a matter of fact, The Cougars would play at Club Jamaica and the W.I.F.-club, but that was not enough for us. We were really into the music. So we started to open up our minds to the northamerican music too and mixed that with the ska, rocksteady and reggae. So, the number one soul-club at the time on Young Street was Le Coq D'Or. They imported all the groups from the United States. Most of the groups, before they made it big in the US, came to the club, like The Commodores. And they would have a matinee every saturday afternoon, starting at 3 o'clock. And The Cougars decided to show up there with the whole band. They had another Band from the United States called Little Charles and the Sidewinders ... awesome! ... Kick ass, man ... Good frontman, Charles, he could sing, sharp, and they had choreagraphy to come with the package in those days. So when they took their first break we went up to the leader: 'Hey man, can we sit in while you have a break?'. He said: 'You guys wanna do that?" ... Yes, that was all we wanted. And they gave us the break. My first somg, I remember..... 'Bap Baaaaa Dap'..... 'I don't care..' ...
Pablo: James Brown
Jay: "Cold Sweat"!
Pablo: And the rest is history.
Jay: The boss gave us a date in there before the show was over. First local band to penetrate that club. The Cougars. We backed up quite a few artists. And that was how The Cougars started to take off.
The Cougars (courtecy of the Mullings family)
Pablo: Club Jamaica was on Young Street with a lot of other clubs. So that was the street you wanted to be playing on, because that is the main drive where the music was. It was the club scene. The W.I.F.-club was sort of off beat. Of course, we had a great crowd, because we had all the west-indian people with nowhere else to go and they wouldn't go to the Le Coq D'Or. So friday and saturday night the W.I.F.-club was packed.
Did you have anything here in the city that could be compared to the jamaican soundsystem scene?
Pablo: Back then, no. They didn't have that. The city wouldn't allow that. Toronto was very sterilized back then. You couldn't even sell liquor in bars on sunday. They even had men's entrance and women seperate.
Jay: The church dictated very hard in those days.
So there were no comparable soundsystems to Jamaica?
Jay: No, not at all. We had collectors like Harry. He was in England and when he came here he brought his trunks filled with vinyl. And a great soundsystem.
Pablo: We used to go to his basement, he served up some food and some gambling, you know, and he played some music ... man ... he had a collection. Mainly he was into Jazz...
How did you get new records from Jamaica?
Jay: Oh, they had record stores! Selling vinyl. Every friday, saturday new stuff came in from Jamaica or from England. So you went there and the guy would play records.
It's not like that anymore, right!?
Jay: Oh, no....
Pablo: The old record stores dissappeared. But we still have a lot of collectors here.
Jay: It was difficult here when we came with "Simmer Down" from the Wailers. And the radiostations would say: 'No way'. We would call in and ask: 'Could you play us some of this and that?' But they didn't play that kind of music. So we had to tune in to Buffalo for the R'n'B and soulstuff. The english invasion later changed a lot here into a new direction.
Was there some recording of jamaican influenced music going on in Toronto at that time?
Pablo: There were a few guys recording, but I don't recall them getting a lot of music out on vinyl.
Jay: It was hard .... you know, it was a different game. That is why we are now so happy to have young minds like Jesse King (Dubmatix) who embrace that idea and respect it ... and doing what he is doing.... Back then you would think you are nobody in the business unless you were signed by Motown or CBS or so. That was the only sort of hope.
Pablo: From Canada you don't get signed to anything (laughs)...
Jay: And when we got called from Light In The Attic from Seattle about Wayne McGhie's album being out again ... We couldn't even afford to pay for one song, how could he get a whole album out. Then we thought back about Wayne McGhie ... he was sharp. He was always doing music. If he wasn't playing music he was either drinking or playing poker. If you didn't see him for a week or so he was probably playing in New York with some band. So he got an album out with them. But it was a great thing happening, because the studio caught fire. A few copies of that original album slipped to the westcoast, that's how Light In The Attic found out about it. And it was one of the best things for the music. Pablo did a lot of sessions on that album. The young Hip Hop-kids heard one of the songs on that album, "Dirty Funk", and they wanted to cover it. And then Light In The Attic found out. Listen to it...... "Wayne McGhie & The Sounds Of Joy". You should really get that album!
Do you see a special canadian flavour in the music developing here far away from Jamaica?
Pablo: There was a hint of canadian in some of the stuff with Wayne McGhie, you know. There was a band called The Band. They did "Up On Cripple Creek". So they had that beat in there, it was really great and hypnotic. I loved it, so we applied it to our stuff, hoping, since these guys get airplay, maybe if we do it, we will get some airplay too. But it didn't help us. We didn't have enough white guys in the band, you know (laughs).
You never stopped to play music up to this day. What do you like about performing?
Pablo: Oh yes, .... performing. There are many things about performing, that I like. Number one, I love playing! In the process there is this creation that happens. Every time I play there is a different something coming up. Even back in the days with The Cougars, we hardly played the same tune twice the same way. Everybody was on the same brainwave. That is one of the things I like most about it. It also gives me release ... it is the fullness of body for me. I welcome to play music of all kind, Bluegrass, Jazz, Blues, Funk ... any kind, I am open for it.
If you look at the reggaescene of Toronto today, how would you describe it?
Jay: It's come a long way.
Pablo: Is there enough of it, I don't think. The problem is, there is a competing music - Hip Hop. The young kids go more for Hip Hop, so when reggaeacts come in they have to be big names, that would pull the crowd. Otherwise a lot of young kids are not really interested in reggae ... compared to Hip Hop. If you go to Montreal or Vancouver and put up a show, there is always a crowd.
And the scene itself. What do you think about that?
Pablo: I would say it is good. It is a good scene, it's strong. But you have to be playing some good reggae to attract the people, you know.
Pablo: What Jesse is doing.... that is some of the baddest thing out there.
Jay: He grew up with it, he paid attention to the foundation... What I love about Jesse's approach to the music is, that he has a great art of listening. In anything you do, that is very important. I can tell that he listened and payed attention. He is very detailed. He goes into every little thing. That is good for the music.
Pablo: He always drops me a copy of what he did. And I listen to it over and over again. I play it until I see how it all comes together. And he is on top of it.
Jay: This is the last frontier to break. And with Jesse's approach, he is going to make a difference. Not only here in Toronto, also in the rest of the world.
Pablo. You know with Barry Gordy and Motwon - there was a discipline ... he said as a producer, they had to follow. In the reggaescene, most producers don't have discipline. There is a lot of crime and homophobic content involved in the messages of the music. And they push that. With no respect for the population in general. Barry Gordy's thing was discipline. You come in and you sing your songs a certain way...
Jay: When he voiced Gladys Knight and all of them.... they had to SING!
Pablo: And your lyrics had to be appropiate, you know. You couldn't just go in and sing any garbage like you hear it today, they sing all kinds of shit. Bitch and.....
Jay: Oh no, that is negative. Also in Studio One it was the same approach. Yo couldn't fool Coxsone. He knew what he wanted. You can tell!
...and you can hear that until today....
Jay: Yeah, same thing with Duke Reid and Treasure Isle....
Pablo: Their lyrics are clean. Anybody can listen to it and appreciate it as a message, you know. Positive message.
Jay: The unfortunate thing about it - when you put that negative energy ou there, it comes back. It is gonna come back and jump into your face.
Pablo: It has gotten to a point now, where a lot of jamaican artists can't go to some places anymore - in Europe or the US for example.
Jay: And I feel bad for them, because they were misguided from the beginning. There are limits and boundaries that you have to respect ... and that's what they didn't do. At the end of the day we will have Jesse and others come in and put it the way it is supposed to be.....
Interview: Karsten Frehe (7/2010)
Selected albums to hear more about the past and present of jamaican influenced music in Toronto:
Interview with Dubmatix (12/2008)
Interview with Ammoye (10/2010)