Walk and Skank! This is one of those tunes which you know even if you think that you’ve never heard of it. You have. Trust me. SL2’s On A Ragga Tip and countless remixes that keep coming out to this day make sure of that. I just had to ask Jah Screechy about his involvement with sound systems and the history of Walk and Skank.
Tell me about your history. When did you first get involved with sound systems?
I started deejaying on a sound called Black Lion back in the seventies.
Whereabouts was that?
Kingsbury, NW9. Mainly we used to play outings at seasides and clubs. We played a few sounds, People’s Choice, Success… But I wanted more and it didn’t seem that the other guys were as serious about sound as I was.
A guy I was friends with was a cousin of Bikey Dread (Coxone) and that’s how I met Bikey. He came down from Walsall, Birmingham where he was living to live in London. Bikey joined Coxsone and then I remember not seeing him for a while, thinking that he might have went home to Walsall. Then I went to a Coxsone dance and I saw Bike chatting on a mic. It was like „whoa!“ because Bikey Dread and I always used to go and listen to Coxsone. Coxone was our sound. I used to go and lift boxes to get into the dance. One thing led to another. There was another friend of ours, Gappy, who was a selector on Coxsone, Gappy Crucial. So it was like people I knew from before was there and I wanted to dj, I wanted to get on, I wanted to do something. I just loved music! I remember going to a dance at Brixton Town Hall and the dance had finished. I was outside and they were putting the boxes in the truck. Lloyd Coxsone was there and I said to Bikey: „Ask Lloyd if I can join the sound.“ Lloyd is a big man, you know, and so I was a bit nervous. But he ended up asking him and that was it! From he said „yes“ there was no turning back. I travelled the whole country with Coxsone.
Coxsone already knew about your talent on the mic?
No, I just started off lifting the boxes. The next dance I went to, I started hanging around with them, with Bike and the rest of the crew. I already knew them but not really personally until I got on the sound and got to know who was who. Blacka Dread, Festus and some other elders. They took me under their wing as a young dread. I used to lift the boxes in and I used to jump on the mic when no one was about. Blacka used to say the best time is before everyone come in and at the end of the dance when everyone is going just to get a little practise. When I was with Black Lion, my favourite thing was „Humble Lion, who say natty natty?“ Those were my first lyrics. I started chatting little things and I used to get vibes from General Dan and Duffus Irie. They sometimes forced me to chat, you know.
A lot of people don’t know- you hold Coxsone’s mic for the first time and it’s such a big sound and a lot of the guys on there are so professional and you sweat! I’m telling you! You make a mistake and everyone is standing there, looking at you… Oh my gosh! Many of times I sweat. But you learn. As time went on, I started to get better and started to come out with some slang sayings: „Wadeng, wadeng, wadadadeng“, „Ey, ey wadadadey…“ and Coxsone started calling me „Wadey“. Then he left to go to Jamaica. When he had gone someone said to me that Coxsone had said that they shouldn’t let me chat on the mic on the sound because he thought that I wasn’t ready. But when he came back, he found someone different. He couldn’t believe it. Now people were coming to the dance not just to hear Coxsone and the other djs and singers on the sound, they were coming to hear Jah Screechy as well! A had a little vibes about me. My name started going on posters. It was great! Those were the days that you can never bring back. Best times of my life!
I got my name at Acton town hall when we was playing Fatman and King Tubby’s. At the end of the dance it was time to pack away and I was kind of shying away from it. Some stairs at Acton Town Hall… So they said „Ah, Screechy!“ They called me Screechy and it just stuck. It was Screechy Don, Screechy Banton and then it was Jah Screechy.
Walk and Skank was born in People’s Club. I think People’s Club was where I really made my name. We used to play there so often. When there was no music playing, I would talk to the crowd and keep them entertained until Black or whoever put on the needle and music started again. I remember saying to Castro Brown who used to run People’s Club at the time „Bwoy, I’m gonna make the people bawl for me tonight! They’re gonna cry out for me!“ And he said „I’m gonna give you a bottle of champagne.“ So I was in there chatting and I was saying „If you’re happy and you love it say Screeeeeeechy!“ And the whole house tear down. Man and woman was bawling „Screechy“. I got my bottle of champagne but I didn’t drink at the time and so I gave it to the guys who did. I’ll never forget that. He put me on my first show with Dennis Brown, I did a show with Frankie Paul, General Trees, Josey, Welton Irie, gosh, man, loads! Everyone who used to come used to be at Coxsone. Don Carlos, Junior Reid, Sugar Minott, Willie Williams – the list goes on and on.
I was on the mic in People’s Club and a lot of artists was there – Sugar, Dennis, Junior Reid, a lot of artists was in there. Blacka has got this way of walking, when he’s walking it’s like he’s dancing and I think it was Sugar who called him over and said „Blacka, how come you a walk like you a skank?“ So Blacka came over to me and said „Screechy, Screechy! A new dance, walk and skank!“ So straight out of my head I was like „Ey, ey, wadey,… Walk and skank, me say walk and skank! Gwan! One hand inna your pocket…“ and the place rip up! So Blacka just came to me and said „bwoy, studio tomorrow!“ We started working on it and got Professor Larry and Horsemouth Wallace and them to play the riddim and then Chemist and Black mixed it. That was it. History! None uf us thought
A lot of people think that the Ragga Tip came first. The Ragga Tip gave Walk and Skank a lot more fame but the Walk and Skank came first. It’s still here. Even when I’m gone it will still be here. The amount of remixes is unbelievable. Walk and Skank was built in People’s Club, Paddington.