Fire On The Wire: Earl "Wya" Lindo Interview by Mark Gorney
I had heard that for the duration of the Wailers Band 1984 tour, Earl "Wya" Lindo didn't utter one word. This didn't give me a lot of confidence for the interview I had arranged last fall with this clearly brilliant man, but once the tape started rolling, my fears were put to rest.
Wya is best known for his keyboard work with Bob Marley, but he had been a talented teenage presence on the Kingston recording scene since 1970, when he was still in school. He was also a member of the Now Generation band of the early '70s, and a member of Taj Mahal's band for a number of years, and a composer in his own right. He played a crucial role in the international launch of the Wailers in 1972, starting in the U.K., where he brought his keen interest in progressive rock to the Marley, Tosh and Wailers experience. Not to be missed is his searing organ and clavinet prowess on the Wailers' inaugural tour of the U.S. in 1973, documented on Bob Marley's Talkin' Blues (Tuff Gong/Island).
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time Wire has spoken at any length with anyone about his career. Here is a rare dialogue with one of reggae's genius musicians--"Wya."
Q: Tell me about your childhood.
A: I was a country boy, watching the plantation [on the] St. James/Trelawny border.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: They weren't really together. From a very early age, I heard about America. I was a bit spoiled, that kind of child, yunno? I was very sheltered, they were very strict, very Christian people--don't do this, don't do that. They were trying to imbibe in me you're not what you are, or something like that, like a temptation thing. It was a heavy psychedelic thing, like a temptation thing, don't give in. I was kinda not so popular at school. Because the American influence thing, it makes you kinda not so liked with the kids, yunno? They used to jive me like I had a chip on a shoulder or something like that. I wasn't so happy with school.
Q: What sort of music was coming to you from the radio?
A: It was Top 40 music, early rock 'n' roll era--"Duke Of Earl."
Q: What drew you to keyboards?
A: Actually it was like curiosity. Like we wanted to learn music, yunno? [They favored] Gershwin, Beethoven and people like that, Schubert. But there was a kind of discrimination at school, [Excelsior High School] so people began crashing the music room, and then they started playing like, "Sidewinder" [Lee Dorsey]. Jazz stuff. It was a traumatic thing to me. I mean, who'd want to do that when you can be with the greens, yunno? Nature green. It was hard to adapt to that.
Q: You started with piano?
A: Yeah, on piano first, one of two of us, myself anf this other brother called Peter, we caught on. And then we began to kinda form out own little groups, and then we were on to the High Steadford competition, in music, which is like the end-of-term music competition. They invited me to play bass. So originally I was on bass.
Q: Which American organists influenced you?
A: The early "Mojo" stuff. Jimmy Smith. I had an intuition that I would be a part of that, from "Sidewinder" and "Mojo" and all of that, I could envision myself being involved. Playing.
Q: Was Jackie Mittoo an inspiration?
A: I don't want to say anything bad about him still, but to me he wasn't so impressive because they brought me in to re-do some of his stuff, like "Evening Time." I spent two whole evenings doing overdubs. That's like a high point to me. A high point.
Q: You were thrilled to be in Studio One?
A: Yes. Sir Coxsone Dodd! We were very much enthused, very excited, myself and the other brother called Carl, we wrote stuff that we made up ourselves, so when actually met Coxson now it's like, we were very much at home. We just kind of transposed our environment to Coxson's studio. I wasn't as amateurish as one could have ever expected.
Q: What was your first Hammond moment?
A: It was kinda out of the usual, like, behind the scenes. I was behind Tommy McCook and the Supersonics, they kinda liked me, yunno. So they encouraged me to kinda jam. It wsa very, very strict. They challenged me to take up music lessons. It was a bit too strict. Trying to make the pattern exactly the original style, so Duke [Reid] began to kinda encourage me to improvise a bit more, yunno? That's when he brought U Roy and we began to kinda create more. And that's when everything just kinda took off. I made it to a tv show. [Laughs] "Top Tunes Time" tv show [on JBC]. Yeah! [Laughs] My memory has just come up. People were kinda thinkin' that I was kinda one-dimensionalized, so when they heard me on the radio on the "Top Tunes Time" thing, they wouldn't believe it. I covered myself up so people couldn't recognize me, since I was supposed to be a student. But people saw me on the street and said "Hey, wasn't that you on tv?" [Laughter] Some people are saying that it was my tune that took off, yunno? [Duke] was turing out hit after hit.
The producer [Duke Reid] didn't come to the television studio. My friend Joe Cooper came over and started to show me the Hammond footpedals, and how to play with the drawbars and everything. I was kind of blessed. I wasn't so inept. I was working with U Roy mostly, and then I met Peter. They were kinda funkadelic, psychedelic kinda people, yunno what I mean? They were making their own shoes. [Laughs] Peter pressured me to innovate, not just go with the trend.
Q: What was the first band you were in?
A: I was in a band called the Meters [after Allan Touissant] with Bobby Kalphat, Bobby Denton. We did tunes like Bob Andy's "Games People Play." Peter [Tosh] discovered us. We did that early Peter Tosh stuff, and Dennis Brown, "Money In My Pocket" at Joe Gibbs.
Q: When did you first get the reggae thing?
A: Through Peter. He was like, a divisive force coming in because of a spirituality. Not one to sacrifice our spiritual beliefs for commercialism. We weren't so Jamaicanized so much. I noticed Peter had a commitment more, 'cause everyone was kinda anxious to travel to foreign and get the foreign sound or whatever.
Q: I know everyone asks you, but working with Bob was like...?
A: That was like originalm, authentic, kind of ingenious, the days of the genius, clouding up the studio. It was a real sensational thing. It was uncommercial to me. I mean, I flipped over it. I was crazy about it, but I didn't know that there was any group that was experimenting. Doing experiemental music. What do you call it--the hippie revolution. Bob, Peter and Bunny invited me to come and jam on some early material [at Randy's].
Q: So you guys were all composing and writing together?
A: There was a bit of competition, know what I mean? They called me to do stuff, then [Bob] tried to dominate the stuff. I kind of won the competition in a way. [Laughs]
Q: So you were influential in arranging the early stuff like "Catch A Fire" and all that?
A: Yeah,, "Do It to Your Bad Self" ["Am A Do"], the kind of stuff that Roger Steffens writes about. The unexposeed tapes. First stuff was "Sun Is Shining," stuff like "Iron Lion Zion." They were experiementing with like, two drums...
Q: When Bob asked you to tour the States, what was your reaction?
A: I was a bit aghast, amazed. I was very into written piano, jazz kind of stuff, more exalted, crossover. It was all in my head. So he said, just king of jam with him. It was about three songs..."So Jah Seh," "Belly Full," "Road Block." He was always playing those songs! So I said, let me just learn those lines, the bass lines, and we kind of co-wrote together that way. I was heavily into rock, yunno.
Q: Can you tell me a little more about that?
A: Oh, great men. A lot of great men. Eric Clapton. Lot of the early rock era there . . . whenI came over I got more exposed to, what do you call it--"Zarathustra" [Rick Wakemen and Yes]. We got more into that afterward. We knew all that stuff. I thought Bob couldn't hear himself so good, I mean they couldn't hear him. He saw something in me that he couldn't see, that natural ingenuity about it. I think I kind of discovered, or we discovered each other on that creative plain, yunno? So we just kind of jelled in that dimension. Then I met Rita. Rita came on, and they had this kind of debate. Rita and himself had a debate as to whether they could get too commercial or something. They were encouraging us to kinda get more Rasta or something, because it seems it was getting too...blueprint. He was becoming too much of an exact blueprint of those other rock artists. I think she changed him a bit, not to get that way too much, but to get more Rasta.
Q: Do you think that Chris was pushing him in the rock direction?
A: Yeah! Because he had tapes, and it was like a genius discovery, not being able to see one's self, that young genius, prophetic, ahead of his time kind of thing...we were very much into Cream. All those cats.
Q: Bob was into Cream?
A: Yeah, he was too, I mean, I thought it amazing...and Joe Cocker. I mean I found it really amazing. He was already a superstar before he was even heiled as that, to me.
Q: Did Chris Blackwell play with you rock that was on Island at the time?
A: No, we just talked. One whole day we just kinda talked and something came up...a conflict or something that upset him, something pertaining to crossing over, that we shouldn't be too eager to cross over, so it brought in a kind of chill. It send a chill through everybody. I was really anxious. At one point, somebody whispered to me "This guy owns Europe!" He was in engineering and distribution. Bob was like, "Yeah, man, this is it!" I was cautious. I wasn't so headstrong. It didn't go to my head so much. I was kinda reserved. There were some serious critics. It was like we were another...copy people.
A: Yeah. Bob had to sing backup vocals at one point. I didn't like that point. He did backup vocals on "Put It On." I couldn't stand that. But the rhythm was incredible. They weren't sure he could produce another commercial success, like "Concrete Jungle" or something. But he was very confident. I said to him, you should play all the instruments! 'cause he was always jammin' on his guitar. It was this divisive force that came in over this spirituality business. Are we to do commercial music or are we to...it kinda brought a rift, because some people are higher. Like, you are the genius composer. To actually come down to any level. Bunny and Peter felt it was kinda like thinnin' out or something. But to me he was trying to impress his genius. Impress his virtuosity, yunno? But they apparently misunderstood that as a repelling force. I recognized it as creativity. There's a mystery about the man. How could he have jelled everything? I don't want to suggest anything, but he appeared to be just like another groupie! [Laughs]
Q: That American tour in '73, was it really chaotic?
A: There was this kind of challenge from the Ethiopian community, or the white community. They felt like they were being overpowered. Reggae was becoming too much like their rock music, I think, so they began screaming and moaning and wailing, heh heh. They were burning and wailing, as the song says. They were really screaming and wailing and moaning. Really moaning. After he became a driving force, a spiritual force, it seems they had to check us out. Maybe they were trying to protest [us] becoming a mainstream commercial artist. He was just like another Bob Dylan, yunno?
Q: When you came to England with Bob in '72, what keyboards did you have with you?
A: We rented Pink Floyd's. Those were like the convertible kind--sawed off. That probably helped us a bit, a spirit thing, a force. [Chris] wated a more common crossover, common denominative kinda group, like a group that was more into the--
A: Yeah, like a college campus kind of thing. Integrated more into them and becoming like that, since we were kinda diversified in a way still.
Q: How did you come to rent Pink Floyd's keyboards?
A: Oh, I was in examinations, I was awaiting my examination results, in London, high school examinations, so Chris Blackwell said, can you handle it? [Laughs] And then he said, OK, go ahead, and he sprung for about five keyboards--Fender Rhodes, ARP, MiniMoog, clav. A debate came up as to we should really do the circuit, freak stuff. If we should expose ourselves to the freaks! [Laughter]
Q: Can you recall recording on that tour?
A: They were trying to produce us, and we wanted to produce ourselves, and they were...crass commercialism. We felt like the whole world's caving in on us--claustrophobia. The frustration began to come in a bit. I think he was more wild, and then all these producers and promoters wanted him to play their kind of rock, and he wanted to improvise more, and they wanted to structure him in the...uh...
Q: American formula?
A: Yeah. They wanted a crossover, like what everyone else way playing. He wated to be the leader, yunno, like Prince or somebody like that. He wanted to be the leader of that generation. He wanted to be a force, and they wanted commercialism. I guess they wanted to transform us into their own, to make us other beings. Make us--white. [Laughter] We really had a hard time. Struggled to maintain our roots. We were greatly respected for that.
Q: What about Scratch?
A: He was kind of the innovator--the aggrovator, the dub professor. I know that he didn't change his style. I met him at Cambridge, in England. We did a studio jam thing. He suprised me...he was so adept at the foreign environment and stuff like that. He had this experiemental, different from everything. That's what gave Bob that genius. The genius input.
Q: You made great use of the clavinet.
A: That was after I came to America and heard Stevie Wonder. "Superstition." After I came back I was the only musician who knew about clavinet.
Q: Thaere wasn't one on the island at that point?
A: [Herman] Chin-Loy was the person that was producing [Augustus] Pablo. I think I was a bit ahead.
Q: Tell me about Taj Mahal.
A: He saw the genius, the ingenuity, the creativity, the creative side. I think this was his point too, developing one's self as an artist as against commercializing one's self, selling your soul. Baring your soul so much that you become...brand name. So he sent for me to come and really bring that out more, yunno? He was a blues artist that discovered reggae, yunno? So I felt more like an inventor, I felt more like someone who could invent the music and take it to a higher level, higher plane.
Q: I meant to ask you about Winston Wright.
A: Yeah. Winston tried to impress me. Duke [Reid] got angry, and asked him to stop.
Q: He was competitive?
A: He wasn't originating ideas in the studio. Not the studio, for the artists. he wasn't showing an interest in artists. He was just kinda too ruminating. He took us for granted. I mean, he was very good, but they wasnted a harder drive. Turn it up more.
Q: More distortion.
Q: I noticed that on the Taklin' Blues cd that you seemed to really get into that distortion and over-drive.
A: [Laughs] That's what they call the force. People sending the force to you, so powerful. Their force is stronger than our force. It could have just propelled us off the stage! [Laughs] So I got kind of confused at that point. I said, wait. Are they weighing for us or weighing against us? So I started tripping out slightly, and people would come up to me, and say, "Hey, are you all right?" At one point [Bob] didn't know what was happening. I was trying to make them conscious. They wondered if I'm tripping out or if I'm tripping out them.
Q: What about Tyrone Downie?
A: Tyrone has been a bad boy. He skulked school. He went to the best school and he was like a studio bug. I idolized him a bit. We were kind of envious of that school he went to. I still rate him as the king still, in a way.
Q: And Gladsotne Anderson?
A: I was scared of Gladdy. Gladdy doesn't want no one to know his style. Doesn't teach anyone, [he's] crouched over. You can't see no notes or anything. Keith Sterling was the only person who actually demonstrated a run or something. Aubrey Adams stressed the written point. The point of being able to cope with written stuff. So he tested me, gave me some tests.
Q: Did Gladdy every play organ?
A: Just strictly piano. That's where I came in with Tyrone. 'cause he wasnted me to be like Gladdy to him! [Laughs] And I said, 'No, Tyrone, you do piano, and I'll do the Lowrey [organ].
Q: Is there anything you want to touch on that I haven't asked about?
A: Just the Marley thing really is a mystery to me, yunno? Like, spiritually, we are like one spirit. High, mysterious, kind of shactic energy kind of thing, not so easy to perceive. The essential part of it. No one really knows.