Some songs become signature pieces for certain artistes and they cannot take a stage without performing them. What would a Marley concert be without No Woman No Cry or a Rolling Stones show minus Satisfaction?
The same would apply to singer Fred Locks if he did not belt out Black Star Liner, his ode to Pan-African giant Marcus Garvey’s ambitious attempt at mass repatriation to Africa.
The Black Star Liner
Fred Locks will likely sing his signature piece this evening when he appears on events marking the 125th year of Garvey’s birth. Thirtyseven years after he recorded it, Fred Locks says the song, and the Garvey message, remains relevant.
“As a Rastaman, repatriation (to Africa) is still a must, dat never change,” he told Splash. “As for Garvey, he was a great scholar. Rasta, Christian, Muslims… everybody can refer to him.”
Fred Locks says he co-wrote Black Star Liner with Owen Goode in 1968 after reading a Twelve Tribes of Israel pamphlet about Garvey. He was a member of the harmony trio, The Lyrics, and had recently accepted Rastafari.
The second of 12 children, Fred Locks was born Stafford Elliott in east Kingston. He was the youngest member of The Lyrics which also included Danny Campbell and Albert Tomlinson.
The songs he did with the group were mainly rocksteady ballads. They were recorded at Studio One and produced by Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd.
Black Star Liner was totally different in tone and content. It was inspired by Garvey’s bold, but ill-fated initiative, to repatriate blacks to Africa through his Black Star Line steamship company.
At the time, the St Ann-born Garvey was a leading figure in the Harlem progressive movement in New York City. He died in London in June, 1940 but his body was not returned to Jamaica until 20 years later to be interred at National Heroes Park.
A new generation of blackconscious youth had discovered Garvey’s work in the 1960s. Black Star Liner was one of several songs recorded during the 1970s, honouring his legacy.
The song was co-produced by Michael ‘Jah Mix’ Mowatt and Hugh ‘Boothie’ Boothe, both members of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Featuring guitarists Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Jerome ‘Jah Jerry’ Haynes and Howard Roberts, bassist Earl ‘Bagga’ Walker, drummer Benbow Creary, and keyboardist Pablove Black, Black Star Liner’s rhythm track was recorded at Randy’s, the studio where Burning Spear had done his epic Marcus Garvey album that same year.
Released on the Jah Love Music label, Fred Locks says the song was initially distributed in Twelve Tribes circles, but made little impact. It got the attention of artist manager/producer Tommy Cowan who had met the singer while he was ‘voicing’ the song at engineer Osbourne ‘King Tubbys’ Ruddock’s studio.
“Him mek two call to Don Topping at RJR an’ ET (Errol Thompson) at JBC (Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation) an’ in no time it enter the charts,” Fred Locks recalls. “It sell 9,000 copies in three months.”
The success of Black Star Liner influenced an album of the same name, produced by Boothe. The 10-track set, which had had other message songs such as Time to Change (The Last Days) and True Rastaman, was released in Britain by the independent Vulcan Records.
Fred Locks has six albums to his name, the last being 2008’s Glorify the Lord. His latest song, Your Love, was recently released by Caveman Productions.
This evening, he is scheduled to perform at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation’s Garvey show on Windward Road in east Kingston, and at the Twelve Tribes of Israel headquarters at Hope Road, St Andrew.