In the music industry, the term ‘artist’ is often arbitrarily tossed around like a basketball at an NBA finals. In my opinion however, a true artiste, not just as it pertains to music but in any field, is some who possesses the ability to not only pay homage to the genesis or foundations of that art form, but able to successfully incorporate their own unique flavor or brand to it. All while managing to forge new ground in said art form.
Recently, I was introduced to some music that immediately after hearing it, then watching the video, I, an unabashed reggae connoisseur, was convinced I was listening to one of the best things to happen to reggae as an art form, in quite some time. It was more than apparent that this artiste was serving notice if his intentions to take reggae music in an entirely different direction.
Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting to you, “Five Minutes with….Courtney “Yogi” John.
KM This new CD, Made in Jamaica, has been described as Motown meets Kingston. I would describe it as, true vintage Dancehall on the Rocks with a twist of big band Soul. How would you describe your music to our audience?
CJ I would say the music is like a throw back but a more progressive type of throw back. Some of the of the tracks on it just really consist of what we would call rock steady mixed with musical movement from the ska era . We have a few tracks on it that is like, progressive dancehall . So, yes, it would be a little bit of a throw back reggae fused into a progressive reggae. Just taking it to where I feel the music could go.
KM The title of this album is distinctly different from your previous three where you used titles more readily associated with the theme of the album, “Miracles” or “Unselfish” for example. Besides the obvious connotation, why, “Made in Jamaica” for the title of this album? I was curious as to whether it had anything to do with wanting to nullify any association of say, Lucky Man, for example, with the concept of “Motown”?
CJ Ah… No. Made in Jamaica for me was just, I wanted to just speak of my experiences growing up as a Jamaican and to try to resonate with people who are are proud to be Jamaicans. I think the music ,as it is right now, is getting a lot of backlash. The music has been coming under a lot of fire and I think what’s going on with the music now is not really a representation of a lot of Jamaicans. You know what I mean?
CJ a lot of Jamaicans are still lovely hard working people with good morals and scruples. That’s how I was brought up and my friends who are Jamaicans, were brought up the same way; so I wanted to speak of those people. I also to be sure of the music and my approach to the music, which is like a second language….so therefore, it was almost like… if you’re proud to be Jamaican, then here is something for you. Something that reminds you of when days were good. It brings you back to days that when, even if you had no money you didn’t know you didn’t have any money because there was so much love around you. You know maybe you were conceived to music. (laughing)
KM Laughing…I know for a fact that I was.
CJ See? So yes. It was just a matter of loving the sound.
KM Your voice, that distinct falsetto, has been likened to to some of the greatest in music history, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield to name just a few. How do you feel about that?
CJ Oh man. I grew up on that type of music. It’s great! that type of music was like food. I remember singing with a screw driver as a microphone to Curtis and the Impressions, you know when they used to do a lot more of the ballads and love songs. And then Smokey Robinson…I am a lover the whole rock steady era. Rock steady to me was like our Motown. Alton Ellis was like our Godfather of Soul. So I think subconsciously, by just sitting and listening to it, it has just become a part of how I feel music. I am definitely not taking any credit for my sound being just me, because it has definitely like melting pot of the different things I have been listening to and been exposed to.
KM a lot of performers often discuss that light bulb moment when they discovered their talent. When did YOU discover your voice?
CJ Wow! I mean it’s weird because now, when I see certain people, they tell me, “Man, I always used to love to hear you sing.”But it’s almost like I can’t remember that. So I guess I’ve been singing forever. You know, just singing…singing to get the girls…singing to get money…you do that as kids…but it wasn’t until I was around ten or twelve that I realized I really, really loved this thing. I never thought of it as a career really, just recognizing that I had a different talent and not everyone could do it…but not thinking in terms of a career path…more as, “Oh I have this thing that no one else on the block had.” (laughing)
KM It has been said that you penned your first song at the tender age of twelve. How did that come about?
CJ Well, the first song at twelve really came out of seeing my uncles who are performers writing and being in their pensive moods. That’s where it began…then hearing the song. I used to watch them write songs under the trees and I always thought, ”wow” that is like a crazy process…for them to just be like really fierce, and trying to get energy from different surroundings in their writing. I just kind of went off and wrote my own song. It’s weird because the other day my son who is seven, I saw him writing a song and he actually gave to me a song that he wants me to sing so …laughing…
KM That’s awesome…So your uncles were also performers?
CJ Yes, I have two uncles who are performers. Yes.
KM Are they anyone that we are familiar with?
CJ One of them is like a big superstar actually, and the other one is a big superstar but not on the world stage, but certainly to me and our family he’s like the big star.
(After doing a bit more research uncovered that one of Courtney’s uncles is actually reggae music superstar, Beres Hammond.)
KM Let’s discuss your first release from the CD, ‘Lucky Man’, for a moment. Tell us a little about how the concept for that song come about?
CJ OK. Well The song was produced by Chris Peckings out of London?
KM Yes, we are familiar with Chris Peckings.
CJ It was originally done by Tommy MC Cook and the supersonics for Treasure Isle sometime back in the sixties. And you know Tommy McCook and Supersonics?
CJ Well, their band was the Skatalites but they were the session band for Treasure Isle which was Coxone’s big competitor, and so I got the original rhythm track and had it in the studio and… you know. This particular album is mainly, the feelings is just about me being in and out of love…one day I’m not …then the next day I miss her and want to get back with her because I’m so in love. (Laughs) All those types of things.
CJ But this particular day, I just felt truly truly lucky and when I heard the track that was the first thing I could say how lucky I felt to have this particular person.
KM That’s beautiful….. (laughing)
CJ You know, just some of the things I think men should say to a woman when they make them feel as if they were the luckiest man.
KM So the song did have a muse? There was someone in mind when you were writing it?
CJ Oh yes! Yes.Because, like I said during that period…it was the ups and downs that come with the emotions of love, really. On this particular day it was just about me feeling very lucky to have this particular person and how I would tell her…how would I express the way I feel in terms of me feeling lucky to have her…If that makes sense.
KM It does..it does…It makes the song all the more special.
KM Let’s face it, I’m sure you had a profound belief in the song as it was the first release off the CD, but did you anticipate the international attention and critical acclaim it would be receiving?
CJ You know…I knew there was something special with the project. You just know…after doing enough recording, I just knew there was something special with this one….America has always been a huge supporter of Reggae. But it has only been for the last couple years and mostly reggae, or more of the cultural stuff…but I always told people that America is there for real soul and if we can get the soul and package right, make it sound like something they are familiar with?
CJ They will definitely appreciate it. And Jamaicans are like a given because we grew up on it. One of the great things about Jamaicans is that we don’t throw away old music.
KM That’s true.
CJ They will play your old records from now until tomorrow.
KM Yes, every dance always has that time when they play the ‘old hits” portion.
CJ (Laughing)…Yes…I wan’ tell yuh… right now the old hits dance dem ram up more than the new dance ting. People just love old music. I knew that Jamaicans would have definitely embraced it. But in terms of the mainstream audience, I just thought that people, when times are hard, just want quality for their dollar. And even there time. Time is the most valuable asset. If you aren’t going at people with anything that is good, and worthy of their time, they’re not going to be in tune with it. So it was combination of all those elements. The big thing was about keeping it sincere and keeping it from the heart.
KM How involved were you with the development of the video?
CJ Well most if my videos, or I should say, all of my videos, are my concepts. I am a very creative person by heart, from the shoes that I wear to everything..laughs…I may need to chill a little but it’s been working you know?
KM yes..yes…..but that’s what makes superstars…
CJ Yes. So what happened was, I wanted a video to represent the era of the sixties and what I did was spend a few months just to research. I got old the old Beatles, Ska videos, the early Jackson Five stuff, Righteous Brothers… I just researched…Otis Redding all of them. Just to make sure the production, the clothing, everything… made sense. Then I approached an up and coming director who I happen to think is very very talented, his name was Ras Tingle, to work on the video with me and he loved the idea… we did a little more research to get the coloring and stuff. We thought, to make it really authentic we would have shoot it at the Ward Theater.
KM I saw noticed that…
CJ a lot of people don’t know that the Ward Theater in downtown Kingston is one the first theaters in the Western hemisphere.
KM Interesting…I had no idea.
CJ Yes, right there in down town Kingston , named after…Mr Ward or one of those guys (laughing) …they gave us the theater and we shot it there and it’s just been magic ever since.
KM Now according to some of my clandestine, ubiquitous informants in the music industry,() in terms of professionalism, organization, production and presentation, your team has been described as being as thoughtfully assembled as Barack Obama‘s 2008 Presidential Campaign. Can you tell us a little a about that? For example, how did of such reggae luminaries as Sly and Robbie, Chris ’Peckings’, and ‘Dub Duke’ Price come to be involved with the project?
CJ Well, first, it was about the talent and the second was about integrity. I really try to make sure my integrity is the most important thing I offer to anyone…talent first of coarse… and just to keep being honest…letting them know what you want, and are they willing to help us get there. It’s not really rocket science when you are just honest with people about how you truly feel. Sly and Robbie has really been there for me. Sly Dunbar, is a great friend and very instrumental in the different stages of my career. There are some other people on it like, Lenky…who is also a great friend of mine…Peckings, is also a great friend. It was taking an opportune time to really capture the moment and through this record, we were able to because we all were on the same page in terms of making something that people can talk about, and also inspire other artists to say, “…if he can do it, let me try to do the same thing.” You know, I think people like a success story and sometimes people just need to be inspired. As you mentioned Barack…if anything…the one thing Barack has done is just to inspire people and make them feel good about themselves. I think once people have that kind feeling, they are able to do great things
KM As a genre and in terms of life span, Reggae has only just reached middle age. But in such a relatively short period, it has gone on to have a tremendous impact on almost every corner of the globe. So much so that it has been correctly credited with spawning new forms of music IE Rap and Reggaeton. What impact do you wish to have leave on Reggae music?
CJ Well the older artists have done so much. It’s almost as if we, the younger generation, is playing catch-up. I mean you can’t go without mentioning Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, but for me, it’s just to create that awareness among a younger listening audience for obvious reasons. I am much younger, my presentation is a little bit different, and my appeal speaks to probably a new audience. For instance, next week I will be on the MTV Network, starting with the MTV University channel. So now this younger audience will have the option listening to probably something that they hear their parents listening to but, somebody of their generation is now speaking of it, with a contemporary spin.
KM I must tell you that almost everyone I know now has Courtney John music on their MP3 player or Itune. Who do you have loaded on yours? Who does Courtney John listen to?
CJ Right now? I recently got the best of the Isley Brothers…so I have that on the laptop. That’s what I’m bouncing to right now.
KM Most of your songs are thematically centered on love or relationships and all that entails the two. Would you consider yourself a romantic?
CJ Ah… Yes…(laughing)…you know…I think I understand women. I really think I understand women. I grew up with a house full of women. So I really think I can go on record and say I do think I understand women and know what makes them feel good and know what to do and what not to do. If that is considered romantic…well I guess I’m up in that little group.
KM You are often referred to as Courtney “Yogi” John. Where did the moniker “Yogi” come from?
CJ When I first started in the business, I used to be Yogi. My first album was under the name Yogi and Yogi kinda got really caught up in doing the industry part of the business. I used produce and write a lot for other artists. I realized that I loved that and I am grateful that I was able to explore that side of the business. I had a lot of fun doing it, but the desire to really just speak through myself was one that was much bigger than doing it vicariously through other artists right?
KM I understand.
CJ Then, I decided to just re-invent myself and come as my true self which Courtney, Courtney is my first name and John is my middle name. I kinda grew up hearing my Mom calling me Courtney John. The name Yogi came from my grandmother because I had a t-shirt with Yogi Bear on it that they just couldn’t get me out of. So my Granny’s name bounced off and became a part of Mommy’s name. That’s how it came. But it made sense for now. I think as Courtney John, there is something that goes into the creative process that I never used to get as Yogi which makes it resonate a little bit more. I guess people feel it more because I’m really speaking of who I am, versus a name that was adapted.
KM You have accomplished so much musically. What’s next for Courtney John? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
CJ Immediately, we have the fouth album written and out of the way and we are ready to start producing. But, the focus right now is just to get this record to as many people as possible and try to kind of just reap some of the benefits that come with having a successful record. All efforts right now is just making more people Courtney John fans, and fans of reggae, and fans of Jamaican culture. I would like to have an opportunity to work with more artists.
KM So do u have anyone in mind Who would like to work with?
CJ Well…(laughing)…it couldn’t hurt to get get Jay -Z on my next single. l would really love to work with him.
KM The Jigga Man? Absolutely!(laughing)
CJ Let’s put it out there…(Laughs again in)…Lets see if the Jigga is listening…(laughing)…I’m am claiming that one. I’d love to get Jay-Z on that track Win Some. I think that would be a hot track.
KM I agree..I agree one hundred percent. You gotta give me an exclusive though when that happens OK?
CJ I will…I will definitely…it’s the first time I’m saying it and often times, anything I say normally manifests.
CJ Yes, but I am a big fan of Jay-Z you know…I like what he has done, not just as an artist but as a business man and just being able to just…not be one of those just get rich and book and mix-up. He’s just been able to hold this thing together and I really admire that.
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