I started buying records when I was around 8 years old.  Seven inch 45s were around 50 cents then, which worked out to be one week of saved lunch money if I ate nothing. So maybe once every month I would have saved enough to buy one record. This would have to be the record that I could play every day for a month straight because I didn’t have shit else to play. In other words it had to be a real monster tune. Arleen by General Echo was my third music purchase ever.

How do you explain Arleen?  How can you explain in real terms the impact of the Stalag Riddim which Echo rode? As a child I just knew it made me feel good. It was funny, I could dj along with it, I could dance and do my 8yr old badman skank to it. It sounded like what great Jamaican pop music should.

I guess decades later I can put it in perspective as being one of the most  perfect dancehall songs ever. Echo’s comedy, social commentary,pop culture references, wordplay, melody and flow turned this song into an anthem. Other dancehall songs had made noise before but never in the way Arleen did.                                                                                                                                                   The Stalag riddim with it’s almost ominous bassline became a monster that still to this day is unstoppable.  You felt Stalag. It massaged our souls in a way few riddims had done before. It made subwoofers work overtime and made any artist worth their salt get a hit.  I knew at age 8 that this was a special song.

“Papa Riley sen mi dung a riva side fi go hear dem sing/ Disa rubadub hard/Di people love it so/An Jah Jah know it haffi reach numba one”

Winston “Fiya” Riley was its producer.

I knew Riley. I met him around nine years after that childhood purchase. His nephew Sherman and I lived on the same street in a scheme called Hughenden. I knew Sherman had some family in the music ting that he would hang out with on Saturdays but I never knew or drew the connection. By this time Riley’s Technique’s label had had countless hits and was battling neck and neck with King Jammys to be the most influential producer of the 80′s. One day, with my interest in music growing, I went downtown to Techniques Records on Chauncery Lane to see what the was going on.

I met Riley that day. He was a serious man, with a raspy hoarse voice. He wasn’t inna no skin up or smiling ting, Fiya was all about music business. His shop then wasn’t more than 10ft by 10ft which was stocked sky high of mostly 45s, some albums, some cosmetic products, and maybe a clothes iron and possibly some panties for sale as well.  His modus operandi in business as I later learnt was to try to control all aspects of his business in a grass roots way that would never leave him out of the loop. He produced the records, he pressed them, he wholesaled them to other stores as well as retailing them in his store.

He took boxes upon boxes of his records to the UK and the US and took the train with them all over to the ethnic record shops in Brooklyn, Brixton, Bronx, London and anywhere else he could. He would buy American music on the way back down to sell in his shop in Jamaica.  Fiya was always always on the grind.

Throughout the years as I got involved with music, he and I did business together. I was happy when I realized that miserable grumpy Riley actually respected and liked me. He looked out for me. In a business of snakes, Riley played fair. He was a hard negotiator but always held up his end of the deal. He was willing to give advice and opinions freely. He would cuss you to your face and happily buy you a drink afterwards. Fiya was the real fucking deal. He understood patience, hardwork and persistence in a way that I wish I could. Sherman said it best to me once. He said that,”Fiya doan believe it real if him neva haffi work fi it.”  It’s an old school work ethic that is pretty much lost on my generation and all the ones subsequent.

Over the last few years Riley was working to expand his Orange Street located Technique’s Record shop into a full studio and Jamaica’s first reggae museum.  He was doing it the only way he knew, brick by brick, one piece of equipment at a time and without any real assistance from anyone. He loved Jamaican music and to his last healthy day he was still on the grind. Still planning to record songs and still believing that our music had a special power that could make people around the world move. I never doubted what Winston Riley said. He had been there and done that while being involved with Jamaican music from its inception to its current stage.  He had number one records in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and in 2002 with Tony Rebel and Suade. No other producer in Jamaican history has that pedigree. And he was still on the grind.

Winston Riley died lastnight. He had been shot last November and never regained consciousness. Words can’t really express how I feel now about Jamaica, its treatment of its icons and what our music and society has evolved into.

RIP Fiya. Condolences to Kurt, Donahue, Sherman and the rest of his family.

This is a small snapshot of some of the music that made Winston Riley a legend:

At age 16 Riley formed The Techniques with two other school friends. They were inspired by the American Doo Wop and Soul groups of the era. They recorded a bunch of tunes for Studio One and then moved into the rocksteady era with Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. This is one of my favourites from that period.

Riley left The Techniques and started producing for himself under the Technique label. He recorded many of the major acts of the 60′s and eventually hit number one in the UK with Dave and Ansell Collins. The name of the song was Double Barrel. It is arguably the first rap song to top an international chart. The year was 1971

His next hit was the actual Stalag 17 riddim done by Ansell Collins. It was named after a popular movie of the day that was shown on JBC TV. It was a straight instrumental originally.

In the 80′s Riley worked with many new artists and became one of the go to producers. His songs helped define the music that we call Dancehall.

Singers had a special place in Riley’s production machine. As a singer himself he would always take chances on new and unknown talent. These were some of his classics.

Thank you again Mr. Riley. Your work will live way longer than any of us.