Interview with The Tennors, Jamaica's Premier Rock-Steady Group, featuring George "Clive" Murphy, Ronnie Davis and newest member Sadiki Buckley as the group re-forms after a 35-year hiatus. It was in the midst of the memorable Ska era, or more precisely 1962, that George Murphy aka “Clive Tennors” and Alvin (Cheng Cheng) formed a vocal duet called “The Tennor Twins”. Both singers performed together at numerous Ska venues on many occasions and recorded their first songs for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label with The Skatalites as session musicians.
Culture

Interview: The Tennors Ride Again after 35 years

This is Sheron Pearson and I’m having a conversation with the Tennors for Jamaicans.com.  I’m speaking with Clive Murphy, Ronnie Davis and newest member of the group – Sadiki Buckley. 

SP: Clive Murphy as the founding member of the Tennors, what year did you start the group and who were the original members?

CM: The group was formed in the early 1960’s the original members were myself and Maurice ‘Prof’ Johnson.  Prof Johnson tragically passed away in 1967 and was briefly replaced by Nemiah Reid then Norman Davis stepped in and also sang with us during that time.

SP: The first song you recorded, went on to be a massive hit and is still current today how did you come to record that song?

CM: That was “Pressure & Slide”.  Actually this came from a dance move, where I was trying to get folks to do a new dance, I tried to show that we have the pressure and we slide – that’s how it came about.  One of the most intriguing parts about it, actually, I was with Jackie Mitoo, who was then an arranger at Coxson Dodd’s Studio One label.  I gave him a ride one day and on our way, I told him that I had song I wanted him to hear.  He asked me to sing it which I did.  Right then and there he told me to stop, and he went into a store and got a piece of paper, came back in the car and told me to sing the song again. he started to write.  I did the song again with no accompaniment at all.  The following Tuesday when I went to the studio to record the song, Jackie had recorded the song with the rhytmn and every bar was perfect all the measures were complete.  That was the first song we recorded for Coxson.

SP: I understand that you went on to form your own record label after “Pressure and Slide” where you had artists recording for you.  Who were some of the artists that were part of that label?

CM: Eric Monty Morris was one, I first recorded Roman Stewart, Ronnie  Davis, who later went on to become a part of the group, you could say that he became a founding member – he has been the longest member along with me.  Ronnie has done more recordings with me than anyone else.  The Harmonians  Tony Rebel just to mention a few. Those are just some of the names I can recall.

SP: You were always cited as producer and writer on a lot of your materials.  Where did you get your inspiration from?

CM: I love to write about events.  That’s my forte, I could just see something happen and decide that I’m gonna write something about that.  That’s how I get inspired.

SP: Tell me about the track that you wrote – “Ride your Donkey” – was this with Ronnie or with Norman.

CM: Actually, Norman wasn’t even a part of it, but because he got some publishing, his name is there.  Norman came to the studio with me when that song was being recorded, the person who was supposed to be singing the song, wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do.  Norman is a quick learner and he picked up the part and ended up doing the background, but he wasn’t a writer on any projects that the Tennors had at the time.  I think he may have worked on the song ‘Give me a Break’, he may have written something on that, but nothing else apart from that.  Ronnie Davis is the person who has written Tennors songs.  I met Ronnie Davis in about 1967 and we have been friends and partners and collaborators since that time – almost 50 years.  It is just a coincidence that Ronnie didn’t do the lead role on “Ride your Donkey”, because when I was ready to record the track, he had gone back to the country where he lived.  It wasn’t until after I recorded the song that we met up again and he became part of the group.

SP: “Ride your Donkey” was a major hit in Europe and particular, England, I understand that you didn’t intend to record this song as a group, but wanted another singer to perform the song.  Tell me the story behind that?

CM: – I tried several promoters with the song and they didn’t like it – they turned it down and then I decided to record the song myself.  Derek Morgan was instrumental in some little changes to the general arrangement.  That’s how I came to record the song and those people who turned the song down I’m sure regretted their actions!  I don’t know if the song would have been so successful being recorded by another group or singer, perhaps a different dynamic would have changed the composition and feel of the rock-steady beat.  That song changed the mood and sentiments of rock steady.

SP: The Tennors were certainly in the forefront of the Rocksteady era as evidenced by the catalogue of songs that the group produced in that genre.  Do you know why your songs were so popular in England and do you believe that you have achieved the recognition for your significant contribution to Rocksteady?

CM: I’m not sure if you know that the B side of “Ride your Donkey” was another big hit in England – “Cleopatra”.  I definitely agree that the recognition wasn’t there and the Tennors did not get their just rewards.  I don’t know why most of our music took off so much in Europe, perhaps because the musical foundation was there and was strong, in terms of the content and production, that’s where the fan base built up, knowing that the Tennors were known for good quality and novel lyrics.  Once you have a couple of songs and people like the group, they tend to accept whatever content you put out.

SP: I’ve been speaking primarily with Clive Murphy, who is laying the background of the history of the Tennors, but I am also speaking with the newest member of the group Sadiki Buckley and Ronnie Davis, who is an original and as Clive says – founding member of the Tennors.

CM: Yes I’m more knowledgeable of the history and inception of the group.  The group started off as the Tennor Twins,  it was Alvin, I call him Cheng Cheng, I can’t recall his last name, then Prof Johnson came, then Ronnie went back to the country again and I continued with Prof. and we went on to take part in the Jamaica Festival Award, we were actually disqualified as they claimed that I was a professional, having already recorded a song.  I recorded a song with the original Skatellites, a song called “Little Girl Over There” in 1952 and because of that recording, I was classed as a professional and the Tennors were disqualified that year from the Award show.

SP: Well I’m glad you didn’t let that disqualification deter you from continuing in the music.  How do you feel when you look back at all the projects you have touched over your years in the industry?

CM: I must say, I feel honored to know that I’m a part of this, though it didn’t work out financially the way it should have done, but I thank the Lord that we can be here talking about the contribution and I feel gifted and happy to know that I was able to contribute internationally and to my home country also.

SP: I know that you’ve worked with several producers when you were recording, your prolific recordings were in the Rocksteady, Ska and early Reggae era.  Which producer did you have the most rapport with?

CM: I always had a special place in my heart for Duke Reid and his Treasure Isle Label, he was always a special man to me and I liked him.  He was the person I most gravitated towards, he may have had a reputation for being a no-nonsense person, but I never any bad experience with him – I think he liked me, personally and I had no problem with him.  Ronnie and I produced two songs with Duke Reid – “Hopeful Village” which was in the final six in Jamaica Festival Competition in 1973, we came out as best performers in the final.  Duke Reid was also producer on another hit single “Weather Report”.  We had a great relationship with him.

SP: You are from the parish of St. Mary in Jamaica, how did it feel coming up against the competition of other singers and groups in Kingston?

CM: Actually, I didn’t compete with other groups, I got to know Owen and Leon Gray at Grantham College where I was sent to study, but didn’t stay there because I just wanted to go and record.  I have a very good rapport with other singers.  As a matter of fact, I started to sing with Owen before I got to know his brother Leon.  These are the guys that sang “Puppa Puppa Fits”, Owen and I started to sing before Leon came and then I branched off, they went and recorded before me and I was so inspired that I went back to Duke and recorded.

SP: Sadiki Buckley, as the latest newest member, what made you decide to pair up with the Tennors?

SB: Actually I was doing management for the group for about a month before joining and pretty much it happened when Ronnie came to town and we had a dubplate session and I actually produced and did the recording and was there helping him with vocals.  I just thought it would be great to sing with this group and so I approached Clive who spoke with Ronnie – they were definitely in agreement, that’s really where it started out.  Let me also say that in fact I also manage Monty Morris and Chalice.

SP: We see the Jolly Boys and folks like Monty Morris having a resurgence in popularity and in effect having another lease on life.  Is this where you see the Tennors heading?

SD: Most definitely it is, I think within our musical heritage, there are some treasure that we have yet to re-discover or yet to see come within their full potential where their careers are concerned.  Some of these foundation groups did not get the recognition they deserve and I think the Tennors is one of those treasurers in the Jamaican music industry and a group that needs to be pushed forward.

SP: How are you going to be topical, but at the same time stay true to the musical roots of the Tennors?

Ronnie Davis (RD: It’s not hard, I’m hearing the music everyday and for me, it’s just about meditating on what has to be done – it’s not that hard. Our music stands the test of time, it’s been around since the 1960s and we just build on that legacy.  We’re not going to do anything different, just what is good for our fans and will be creating some new fans too.  We’ll be staying true to our three-part harmonies.  We will also be thinking about re-releasing some of our original materials.  We will be composing original music and also may do some cover versions.

CM: We want to keep our own style, but fit in to today’s music.

SB: I think with me being in the group and being somewhat younger or of a different generation to Ronnie & Clive, it definitely brings some of the “now” into the Tennors music but without losing anything from the original.

CM: We will provide the listeners with the kind of harmonies that are key to longevity in music. 

SP: Any plans for a launch or tour or anything like that to celebrate the fact that the Tennors are back in business after a 35 year break?

SB: There is a schedule already for California, sometime in August, we’re gonna be planning a West Coast tour around that date.  We’ll be sending out PR information about it when the details are finalized.  You can keep up to date with what the group is doing by contacting The Skinny Bwoy Agency at 954 353 7781 or [email protected] or a visit to our Facebook page – The Tennors Rocksteady Group, Myspace, Reverbnation – we’re everywhere!

CM: I’m so happy to have Sadiki to be part of the group, he’s working very aggressively position the group.  I like having someone young in the group, he’s knowledgeable about technology and reaching out to our fan base.  In a few years from now he can take over the baton when Ronnie and I are gone.

SP: I know the Tennors is not going anywhere right now!.  Now, Clive I know you are not in Jamaica, but Sadiki and Ronnie are, how do you make it work in terms of recording, collaborations and working on projects?

CM: If you can recall 27 odd years ago, they recorded “We are the World”, with artists participating from all over -  so it’s easy.  We’ve been sending tracks back and forth and working on the music. 

SB: Thank God for technology.

SP: We’re celebrating Jamaica 50, have you been approached by anyone in the Jamaican Government to be a part of those celebrations?

SB: We haven’t been approached yet, but we’re hoping for that invitation.  We would definitely be honored if the Government were to request the input of the Tennors in celebrating Jamaica’s 50 years of independence.

CM: Definitely our song Jamaica 50 is something that would be perfectly appropriate.  WE are coming with something that has great content, not just a little independence song.

SP: What message would you like to send to your fans, family and friends.

CM: We wish you all the best.

SB: Big respect to the whole New York, look out for Jamaica 50 the single is now out on I-tunes, THE video is on Youtube; please listen and leave comments, we would love to get feedback on the song, let us know what you think.  We love to socialize with our audience. 

RD: Nuff love to the fans and all over the world, family and friends – just let the love flow every time.

About the Writer:
Sheron Hamilton-Pearson ([email protected]) is a community activist, writer, blogger and radio host of The Conduit Show which airs every Sunday 6-9 pm EST at  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/reggae-nation 

 

About the author

Sheron Hamilton-Pearson

Sheron Hamilton-Pearson was born in London but now resides in New York. Her popular Conduit Show can be heard Saturdays 11 am to noon at www.theenglishconnectionmedia.com and Sundays 6 - 9 pm at www.e2onair.com