Eric when did you start out to be a musician? Oh me? I started playing for Studio One In ’69, ‘68, yeah. 1968 yeah. I make tunes like ‘Hello Caroll’ [The Gladiators], ‘Fever And Fresh Cola’, ‘Rent And Taxis Get Higher’. I play for Robbie Lynn and Jackie Mittoo. Jackie died. And ‘Fat Girl’, ’Fattie’ and ‘Ram Jam’. Those special.
Did you play on ‘Ram Jam’? Yes, lead: pom pom pom pom chank chank. And ‘Hello Caroll’, bah doobie doobie doobie doobie doobie hello carol! yes dread.
So did you play on most of Jackie’s records on studio one? Yes. ‘Who Done It’. ’Who Done It’. Boop boop boop b-da boop boop boop boop boop ba-ding!. That’s me there. On the bassline. Picked the guitar with the bassline. It sound special. Yes it give you a glass sound. Like glass.
Well you mention the guitar, you play a different sort of guitar to most people.
Yes. You see I play rhythm and lead. I pick with the bassline and a rhythm. Like ‘Rent And Taxis Get Higher’ (sounds out verse of ‘Rent And Taxis Get Higher’). The rhythm style. And then I play for Studio One those style.
But it’s a different sort of guitar. It not a normal six or eight-string? Oh the twelve string. I play twelve string too. With Robbie Lynn and Jackie and Heptones, Leroy Sibbles. Sometimes you use a twelve-string?
Special times. Yeah special times play that twelve-string thing.
What sort of songs did you thing that you needed the twelve-string for? Oh its more chant music. Chant. I wouldn’t say classic because Ernest Ranglin and them man play classic. I don’t go and study those.
What sort of a man was Jackie Mittoo? Oh he is very ingenious. I mean he’s really good. He’s best at keyboards.
He was still probably pretty young when you were recording for Coxsone? Yes. You see jackie was the expert. He tell you what to play, you see. He could work out a bass line in five minute and give the rhythm too same time.
Even though he was a young man he ran the sessions? Yeah ‘Who Done It’ (sounds out a verse of ‘Who Done It’). ‘Ram Jam’, ‘Fat Girl’, Heptones, Sibbles.
Who else was in the backing band for Jackie at Coxsone? Yes. And you got the drummer for the Rockers, Horsemouth. Yes. Yes. And you got the bass, Boris Gardiner used to fill in for Shep Heptone. Coz Heptone [Leroy Sibbles] was the best. Next to Boris y’know? Yes dread.
What about the horns? Oh, you had man like Deadly Headley [Bennett] and Trammy [AKA Vin Gordon] and Vin Gordon, same boy. And you got man like yeah. Trumpet-man there Johnny Moore used to say he wouldn’t leave (laughs).
Do many still play or are they retired? Yeah they play. They get paid too. Me don’t get paid.
You said you started recording for Coxsone in about 68, 69. Was that your first recording session? Yes. I used to play in the bands. The Mighty Vikings and The Virtues. I used to play in them two bands. And Byron Lee same. There was a big thing going on there with them. And then you had man start firing shots on the dancehall. So the bands just fell off and so likewise me. I had to move in the studio.
It’s a bit safer in the studio than in the dancehall? Yes you know? I don’t want to do it. I might pick up and go on tour now but I don’t go to dancehall.
So you were a member of the Mighty Vikings?
Yes I was a member there. I play guitar in The Vikings with Horsemouth [Wallace], drummer. Yes
Who else was in that band? Oh that Desmond Miles. You have Mikey. Mikey Anderson on keyboard. And the singer. The chinese fellow there. Chung [Mikey Chung]. No. One of them. Two brothers of them [Sonny Wong and Victor Wong]. They sing in the Mighty Vikings. They run things with the band’s manager. Desmond Miles the band leader. Yes dread.
As a member of The Mighty Vikings, what vocalists did you support? They play everything. They play calypso. Their special was 'There’s A Reward For Me', ‘There’s Going To Be A Wedding’.
So what year was it that you joined your first band? Yeah ‘69, ‘68, ‘67, ‘68. The Virtues and The Vikings. Byron Lee. Competition. Kes Chin.
So you just missed out on the ska era? Yes. Right. I come in the reggae and the rock steady. Rockers with Horsemouth. Yes
When you were coming up. How did you get the sound? Well Mr Dodd you see, he have this little machine and it go there (sounds out strumming guitar sound). Yes. Mr Dodd. Coxsone. Studio One. He has a little machine there that make the guitar get that flex sound.*
Why did you decide to take up the guitar? I just like it. You see I was in the band first. And when I played in the Mighty Vikings, Sombrero [Sombrero Club] and The Virtues and The Diamonds Band Coxsone come and see band play. He say “I like that guitar man there” he said Rupie a man named Rupie. And he say “boss want to see you” and King Stitt. And I go to Dodd’s and Dodd say he like me and Robbie Lynn. Robbie Lynn yeah. Take two of us.
What sort of a man was Coxsone Dodd? Oh. I like him. See, they say he’s a shrewd man in the thing. But see. He’s expert see?
Did you get paid?
Me? I get weekly pay at that time. That was enough for me and girlfriend.
How did you start to become a musician? Oh, you see I have an uncle in the business. He was a bandleader at the time of The Vikings, The Virtues and Byron Lee were running. He was The Thunderbirds band. He was from Mandeville.
What was his name? Tony Hammond. He is in Miami. Doing big things up there. Yes dread. Food things. Yes dread. He’s my uncle and he taught me. He taught me the guitar you see? And he give me his work in his band first and they see me play and The Vikings and The Virtues take me and I come to town and stay in Kingston. He was a Mandeville man.
So that was the band era of Eric Dean’s Orchestra and all that? Yes. And Kes Chin and Souvenirs and Ernie Ranglin and them man there.
Byron Lee’s another man who they say is a bit shrewd. What do you say about him? You see he is principle. He keep up a principle in his band. You don’t go late on the show and you don’t eat and food when the band is working and the band is playing. Some bands do that and they lose people. Lose money. Yes dread.
Its about professionalism? Yes, really. You have to have principle. Else you wear your shirt out over your pants. And your girlfriend and three girlfriend. You see them things. The bandleader don’t like that thing. (laughs). You suit the boss.
They say Byron Lee wasn’t the real thing. They say when it comes to ska, The Skatalites were the real thing. He wasn’t respected Yes, The Skatalites or Sound Dimension. I come in The Sound Dimension from Studio One and another band was The Soul Vendors same Studio One. Me too with Joe Isaacs and Robbie Lynn.
Well, you would have been involved with Roland Alphonso then? Yes. I play Roland and Tommy [McCook]. All them bands. I play with The Soul Vendors. Sound Dimension is a strict reggae band with Jackie Mittoo and Robbie Lynn and Rico [Rodriguez].
Were you part-time guitarist with the Soul Vendors? Yes, part-time, yes.
Who were the other guitarists at the time that you were competing with for gigs? With me? Oh. Well I play with two guitar-players, Patrick Mac [Harold McKenzie?]. He was the Studio One expert. He could play jazz like Ranglin, Ernest. I run about third.
What about Jah Jerry?
Yes they were bad too, you see? The Skatalites. I play a different thing from Jah Jerry and them man.
Did you ever play with The Skatalites? No, no, never. I play with Jackie and The Soul Vendors and then go into The [Sound] Dimension yeah.
Who do you think is the most talented vocalist that you’ve played with?
Me? Oh I meet a lot. I meet like Ken Boothe and Heptones, Sibbles and Bob Marley and you see I rate them very high. Yes dread. And Dennis Brown really good too. Died. Yes dread.
*Mr Frater is describing an amplifier that Coxsone Dodd reputedly invented named “The Sound Dimension’. It had a tape which had about four heads and which could be adjusted and was attached to the guitar. It was essentially an echo-phaser. It was first used in 1968 and has been cited as pivotal to the creation of the reggae rhythm guitar sound.