The world of reggae has its share of mavericks and rebels. Some of them, namely Keith Hudson, Lee Scratch Perry and Vivian Jackson, enjoy a hallowed status among music fans outside the discipline that equals or surpasses their importance within. But one artist who deserves more recognition from both perspectives is the late “Prince” Lincoln “Saxman” Thompson, leader of the Rasses, whose approach proved ultimately a little too weird for almost everyone and died in relative obscurity in January 1999.
Thompson cut a series of daring yet genuine roots reggae LPs during the 1970 and 80s, notable for their experiments with African and disco rhythms and unremittingly positive humanitarian lyrics. These were delivered in his striking, unique voice that seemed to contain every colour in the musical rainbow. In 1980, while signed to the UK label Ballistic, he released Natural Wild, an ambitious concept album in collaboration with rock musician Joe Jackson. The record was a commercial failure and Lincoln’s career never recovered.
He would continue to create artistically triumphant music; absorbing dancehall influences on his album Roots Man Blues AKA Unite The World. Having gone into semi retirement he opened a food store, and even collaborated with UK rapper Rebel MC, before succumbing to cancer at the age of just 49.
To celebrate his birthday this month, and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, I spoke with his friend and co founder of their first singing group The Tartans, Cedric Myton of the Congos. Thanks are due to Nicolas Maslowski of Makasound records and Ras Lawi for making this interview possible.
How did you first meet Lincoln?
When we started our group the Tartans. It was two of us start first. I myself and Devon Russell. And then we recruit another kid named Linbergh Lewis and Lincoln who was the youngest of all. Lincoln was going to Excelsior School at the time. He was still going to school when we recruit him in the group. This was 1964. End of 1964, beginning 1965. So we did our first single Dance All Night for Federal Records. The four of us - Lincoln Thompson and myself, Linbergh Lewis and Devon Russell.
How did you recruit him?
Well he was a brilliant singer as a young kid coming up. He used to sing and I like his tone of voice. And he was just a kid going to school and I thought “we could take him in”. But it was not my own decision. It was myself and Devon Russell. He [Lincoln] was a kid living up the street from us. He didn’t live far from us. All of us where just living in a circle right there in Cockburn Pen Kingston 11. So we all know each other you know?
What were your impressions of him?
He was a brilliant kid. Bright. He could play football very well. He could play cricket – all sport things. Had lots of girls. He was a nice kid. Nice kid.
How did he get his nickname Sax?
From the socks. He used to wear lots of red socks so we called him Johnny Red Socks! He just loved to wear them socks! (LAUGHS).
So, anyway, then we split with Federal. They didn’t give us enough justice. The single was a hit and they didn’t give us enough attention. We told Federal we like other man dispensation so we left Federal and go to Duke Reid. And we did Far Beyond The Sun and some other songs there.
What was it like working with Duke Reid?
He was worse than Federal I think! (LAUGHS) We jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire! (LAUGHS) What happened then was I myself and Devon Russell did some songs that we produced ourself. And I myself and Lincoln worked together. So when the group split I myself work along with Devon Russell, and I work along with Saxman also. So that’s when the Royal Rasses album started. But we still carried on with the Tartans work.
Why did Lincoln split from the group?
Well what happened was really creative. Creative stuff. I personally was working with both parties independently. We had some songs like Kingston 11 and Love The Way It Should Be and I sang on those recordings on the first album Humanity. That album was produced by I myself, Lincoln and Errol Thompson from JBC [Radio]. He was the man behind the scene there. He produced and also helped to finance the project. I was on the whole of that album but we [Lincoln and I] did some extra special songs also.
What was happening in your own career at the time?
Well Lincoln he get some money and he take it all for himself. So I said, “I’m just gonna start the Congos then”. So that is how the Congos created – out of that atmosphere. But there was no rivalry between my group and Lincoln’s. Just doing different things.
And how much did you stay in touch with Lincoln after that?
Well for a period of time I did run away to America. And Lincoln was all over the place. He was in England for a time. When the Humanity tour started in late ’76 he came for me but I couldn’t go because I was creating the Congos just then. But I did talk to him a few times and I saw him a few times before the tragedy came upon him.
What’s your favourite of his records he made after you worked together?
All of them. All of them. Anything he do – I love them. For he was a very clever kid.
What did you think of Natural Wild?
It was great. Fantastic. The kid was a talented kid. He come from a good school! (LAUGHS) If I had been along with him he would have done much better but that’s a part of life. It’s part of the story that needs to be told.
And how did you feel when you heard of his passing?
I feel it in my heart man. It pains my heart up to know man. I was the love of my life. He was like my son.
Finally, what’s your favourite memory of him?
I have much good memories of him. I have so much. From all over the world so many good times. One thing about him was he was a very good swimmer! Extremely good swimmer! When he’d go into the sea he’d swim waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out! Like a mile! He was a very very good swimmer! Clever kid. With a beautiful voice.
Thanks for answering my questions.
One love my brother.
Interview by Angus Taylor