By Ian Martin
He proclaimed himself as King of ‘Ska’, the beat that became the forerunner for Jamaica’s own Rock Steady and Reggae beats. He was a no-nonsense jurist who casted judicial restraint to the wind. His verdicts were swift and sure. As the proverbial Judge Dread, he handed down some ridiculously lengthy and harsh sentences. Today some of those sentences would be considered cruel and inhumane on many international fronts. He was a singer, songwriter and record producer. Born Cecil Bustamante Campbell, he was professionally known as Prince Buster. His outlook on life was “Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iibpewIA_ik - "Enjoy Yourself"
On September 8, 2016, Prince Buster passed away at a hospital in Florida. No sooner than his death was announced, the social media came alive with some glaring tributes to Buster.
Undoubtedly, Buster was one of Jamaica’s greatest entertainers during the 1960’s. The responsive recordings between him and another Jamaican legend, Derrick Morgan are often talked about at Jamaican social gatherings. During some of those recordings, the two men resorted to some serious name calling, as they battled for bragging rights as to which of their related recording studio ruled Orange Street. Despite the rivalry, there was an unbroken and profound friendship between the two entertainers.
Buster was dauntless and controversial. He was dauntless in the sense that he was not afraid to bring Jamaica’s troubling and pressing social issues to the forefront through his music. He was a thorn in the flesh of ‘so-called rude boys’ and gunmen. He was not afraid to rebuke them by way of his musical works. Judge Dread, one of his works told the tale of the scorn he bore for the ‘so-called rude boys’ and gunmen.
He was controversial to a fault. Many of his personal recordings were banned from the Jamaican airwaves and considered baneful to children ears. Taking a page out of the Mighty Sparrow’s book highlighting his sexual prowess, Buster made lyrical mockery of Tony Joe White’s work “Rainy Night in Georgia”
It did not matter that some of Buster’s works garnered no play on the Jamaican airwaves. Truth be told, his sanctioned songs were heard on jukeboxes in shops and bars all over Jamaica. Another truth was many of those jukeboxes were owned by the Prince. Globally, Buster’s stock took off. His message to the Jamaican airwaves police was he Buster was “A Hard Man Fe Dead”.
The Prince was also a philanthropist and a successful entrepreneur. Many credit his success to another Jamaican music icon, Clement ‘Coxsone” Dodd with whom Buster worked as a studio-hand and security guard. However, a good friend of mine, former YMCA and Jamaican footballer, Hector Henry, who roamed the streets of Kingston with Buster during their heydays, strongly disagree with such a position.
According to Mr. Henry, Buster earned his business acumen while operating a fleet of handcarts in the Kingston Metropolitan markets. In defending his position, he remarked how Buster built the fleet of handcarts and rented them to the small and downtrodden men on a weekly basis enabling them to put food on their table.
Buster’s songs are known for their easy catching phrases and upbeat tempo. His negro-spiritual type works, “Wings of A Dove” and “Wash, Wash” (Wash All Your Troubles Away) were very popular with Jamaicans of all age group. The Prince was very versatile. His cover version of James Carr’s “The Dark End of The Street” and the Beetles’ “All My Loving” is a testament of his versatility. My personal favorite piece of Buster’s works happens to be his prophetic warning song “Tongue Will Tell”.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya_QZXqHyZ4 - "Take it Easy"
With the advent of the Reggae beat, Buster gradually departed the recording scene. Although he appeared in a few music festivals in the 1980’s in the UK and Canada, and resumed recording in the early 1990’s, he could not revive the Prince Buster of the 1960’s early 70’s.
In 2001, the Prince was duly awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica for his contribution to music. In bringing my tribute to the legendary Prince Buster to an end, I would like to bid him a royal salute, and express deepest sympathy to his family, relatives, friends and fans and bid the Prince a peaceful rest.
Ian D. Martin
Brooklyn, New York