by Wayne Montana
When I get interested in something I usually dive right in and get obsessed with it. When I started playing the bass I never put that sucker down. When I first started buying reggae records at the end of high school there were not all that many to be found, especially on Long Island where I grew up. I bought the Wailers records, the bad later Black Uhuru records, knowing I wanted something out of the music but not completely knowing what. When I was exposed to Lee Perry (Blackboard Jungle Dub) I almost shit myself, I mean I knew there was something I was supposed to get out of reggae but I didn’t know it would blow my mind. Over the years lots of reggae has blown me away and to my surprise I’m still finding stuff that kills me. How much more amazing stuff is still out there from that tiny island, I don’t know but I want it all. That’s why I ‘m writing this.
In 1988 I first heard Blackboard Jungle Dub and a record called Man of the Ghetto by Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames. It was in 1988 that I moved to Chicago and started playing bass in a group called Trenchmouth. One of the guitar players of that group was Tom Sweets. He is an excitable dude to say the least and I love him for it. Tom played Man of the Ghetto for me for the first time. He was almost crawling out of his skin telling me about it and when he put it on he just shut right up. As I listened the hair on the back of my neck really did stand up. Man, it was an amazing thing for me. Winston Jarrett’s falsetto “whoas” freaked me out, it was an intense thing for me. Tom and I would often put this record and Blackboard Jungle Dub on and freakout. Something to add to this drama, Tom’s copy had a crack about 1 1/2″s into the record. So we could only listen to the last 3 songs on each side without a big thump, and the needle jumping off the record every time it hit the crack. So that meant that there were even more songs on this record that I couldn’t hear untainted. Ouch! So what does an obsessed person do when they hear something like this? They go out and find it and buy it and freakout to it over and over again. Blackboard Jungle Dub was easy, there was a Clocktower reissue around from the early 80’s (that one took me less than a year to find – it’s currently in print now go get it!). Man of the Ghetto took me from 1988-2007 to find.
It was during a Trenchmouth tour out west when I came one step closer to finding it. We always used to go to record stores on tour, and I would always run to the reggae section to find the gems. There was a store somewhere in Texas that had a big reggae section. Damon, the proprietor of this blog and the former singer of Trenchmouth, was right next to me filing through one of the reggae rows. He let out a high pitched “oh!” the sound an excited child would make when finding some secret cookies their mom was hiding for a family party. Damon always being the controlled cool guy lost his cool. He pulled it up from the other records and showed it to me “LOOK!” We both looked at one of the coolest covers ever and one of us said “I hope it’s not cracked!” It was 100%, no cracks and if I remember correctly it was like $3.99 or something. DAMN…I was one row of records off. You see we were both on the search for this one and Damon’s search was now over. I was very happy though, now I could hear those other tunes stuck in Tom’s cracked record. I would like to add the four songs unearthed by the uncracked copy were worth the wait.
Many years of searching record stores and Damon vowing to keep a trusted eye out for a copy for me turned up nothing. What to do?…keep looking. Then years later a thing called eBay started. Of course reggae record buyers like me are not too discriminating about how much they are willing to pay for something they really, really want. I have dropped some change on some records. My 12″ of the Gladiators Pocket Money was not cheap, but shit I had to have it. So for years I checked eBay for Man of the Ghetto with no luck. One day I was checking the completed listings and came across a copy that sold for $160.00…..SHIT! That’s a lot of dough and I didn’t even have a chance to get out bid. I wouldn’t even have known how much to bid. As far as I know no one knows the quality of this white whale of reggae records. It doesn’t even show up in the reggae record guide books.
A little closer now.
At least I knew someone else has a copy. Then 2 years later BAM a copy comes up on eBay Starting at $10.00. I got a little nervous now knowing that the last copy sold for $160. Did I want to spend that much on one record? I don’t know, maybe. Cut to the chase – I won it for $38.00. I put my max bid at $105.00 hoping for a miracle, and one came my way. A beautiful copy with no cracks is now in my possession.
The last time my current band was on tour in Japan I did what I do and was record shopping. I found a crazy store that had almost every reggae record that I have searched high and low for. Sure they had them but they were all around $100.00 each. It kind of weirded me out seeing all those amazing records one after another. Kind of like going to some rich kids house and looking at his records and knowing he didn’t have to sweat to pay for them he just has them all. Sure enough they had Man of the Ghetto for a cool $200. Of course Damon was standing right next to me when I picked it up. I showed him the price and he said “Whoa, it’s a good thing you just found a copy” and I said “No shit” So if you ever come across a copy of this never-reissued-record please buy it and send it to me, I need a back up copy. Enjoy.