By Sadeke Brooks——
Some have had successful careers, others not so much, but with no pension and having worked in an unpredictable industry, several veteran artists have been faced with hard times since the end of their careers.
This issue was again brought to the fore at the near-empty funeral of founding Skatalite member Lloyd George Brevett in June. Addressing the mourners, Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna, highlighted the need for people to support the artists who have made a huge impact on the entertainment industry.
“Many of their families are still suffering because of hardships which they went through because of the nature of the industry at the time. Many of them were taken advantage of and the young people must understand, appreciate and get involved with the work that was done by these men who gave great contributions to the world and our culture,” Hanna said.
Although the purpose of Jamaica Vintage Artists and Affiliates (JAVAA) is to preserve the music, the group’s chairman said they have had to provide support for many older artists who have been faced with difficulties over the years.
“In preserving the music, we have to think about the welfare of musicians who contributed to the music so much in the past. Not all of them can live off the old-hits circuit,” Frankie Campbell told The Sunday Gleaner.
Campbell explained that some persons were very lucky to get major hits over the years and are still able to command decent fee for stage shows today. However, he noted that some persons were not as fortunate and have faced hard times as a result.
“In the past 10 years, it was a struggle to bury some of them and it was very embarrassing,” he said, noting that JAVAA has helped funerals for some of their members.
But help does not always come after death, as JAVAA has helped some entertainers by upgrading the production of some songs for re-release so that they can earn from it.
Campbell added that JAVAA has also done two albums featuring their members and has also tried to promote them. Additionally, he said the body has put on shows like JAVAA Tribute To Motown, September To Remember and JAVAA Anniversary Show, which all help to give the performers some income. He noted that the concerts have also helped to revive the careers of persons such as Boris Gardener, Keith Lyn, Dwight Pinkney and Charmaine Lemonious.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
But the situation was much different in the ’60s and ’70s, according to Campbell.
“A lot of people wrote songs and lost our rights. Some people knew the business and others didn’t and they took advantage of the ones that didn’t. We didn’t have the full knowledge of the business,” said Campbell, noting that JAVAA also tries to find these royalties wherever they are.
The situation at the time was also highlighted by singer and producer Derrick Harriott. According to him, people might say the onus is on artistes to save their earnings, but in those days, the earnings were not much.
“In the ’60s and ’70s an artist was mostly interested in getting a name on stage and on radio, nobody thought about money,” he said.
In the early 1960s, Harriott said he had two major hits with his group The Jiving Juniors and they were paid about 30 pounds for each song and that had to be shared among them. Later, as a solo act he did John Tom and received about 20 pounds.
“It was still too small to save but I was getting very popular on the music scene at the time,” he said.
“The only way you can really put down something is if you are making big international hits. Artists didn’t get much earnings from stage shows until much later,” he said, noting that older artists opened the door for younger ones to demand large sums for stage shows.
Had it not be for a strong catalogue of songs and wiser financial choices, singer Ken Boothe could have also fallen on hard times. In the early stages of his career, he too went through a lot.
At only 17 years old when he was trying to get his break in the music industry, Boothe said he was not aware of his rights when signing contracts.
“We didn’t know we need lawyers and such. Dem sign we up and keep the two contracts,” said Boothe, whose song, The Train Is Coming, was used as part of the soundtrack for the popular 1995 release movie Money Train.
“They know what they doing but dem just craven.”
In recent times, Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg) sampled Boothe’s song Artibella for his song La La La. While there are some uncertainties surrounding the contract that was signed when the song was done, Boothe believes he will be paid.
Despite the mistakes made by their predecessors, Campbell said it was quite a task to get young musicians and artists to attend copyright seminars that are put on by JAVAA.
“When you have seminars you see the ones that are trying to buss or will never buss,” he said, adding that after gaining some success most artists buy expensive houses and cars.
According to Campbell, another issue is the fact that some older artists do not change with the times. And after poorly planning for their future, he said they sit around hoping that they will once again be at the top of their game.
“Some of them can’t come to grips that three generations have passed and they are not on top anymore. That’s the problem, they don’t change with the times,” Campbell told The Sunday Gleaner.
He stressed that the onus is on artists to make good songs so that when the stage shows dry up, they can still earn from the music they did during their heydays.