King Stitt – A Legend
The early 1970s saw the beginning of the deejay explosion in Jamaica. The explosion continued throughout the roots reggae era of the late 1970s, culminating in the establishment of dancehall music proper in 1983. This ‘jive-talking’ over already existing rhythms, began with Winston ‘Count Matchuki’ Cooper, when he introduced the phenomenon as a selector on the Luke Lane/Charles Street-based sound system, Tom The Great Sebastian, during the 1950s.
Although most of the credit for the groundwork associated with dancehall, hip-hop and rap, has been accorded to U-Roy, Matchuki remains the foundation of the genre. U-Roy himself, is quoted as saying, “Matchuki was a man I used to love to listen to. I used to say I’d like to be like this man”. Using signature phrases like, “Whether you’re young or you’re old, you just got to let the good times roll”, Matchuki on many occasions, energised lethargic audiences, elevating them to fever-pitched hysteria. His voice can be heard on the Duke Reid-produced ska recording Alcatraz, credited to the Baba Brooks band. Matchuki not only motivated U-Roy, but paved the way for the emergence and heroics of one Winston ‘King Stitt’ Sparkes.
Born with a disfigured face, Stitt was not always accepted.
The selector turned the setback into an advantage, proudly stating, “I am the ugly one, Van Cleef,” taking a cue from the 1966 movie, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
Possessing immense wit, humour and articulation belying his appearance, Stitt was more like a walking encyclopedia of Jamaican music. I must admit that I am indebted to Stitt, who helped make me musically better off.
His wit was demonstrated on one occasion when I asked to purchase an album from him titled Soul Vendors On Tour. His response was simply, “that gone pon tour long time”, which meant they were no longer in stock.
Stitt was born in Kingston on September 17, 1940, and grew up there. Before getting into music, he tried his hand at woodwork, but soon ventured into the area he loved most, by first becoming a handyman for one of Kingston’s top sound system operators during the 1950s, Lord Koos The Universe, which operated out of a restaurant named Sterling’s at the intersection of East Queen’s and East streets in downtown Kingston.
Stitt’s frequent attendances at dances brought him to the attention of the sound system giant, Clement ‘Sir Coxson’ Dodd and his sound, Sir Coxson’s Downbeat. At first, he worked as a handyman who would sometimes dance to entertain fans.
“I started my career on a Friday evening in 1957 at the Barbeque Lawn along Fleet Street. Count Matchuki took on to me because I could dance,” said Stitt.
He would eventually be drawn into the deejay business by Matchuki’s encouraging words. “If you can dance to those records, then you could make a good deejay”.
STAGES OF ELEVATION
Carl ‘Mannie’ Campbell, who at one time operated one of Coxson’s sets, and was a close friend of Stitt’s, explained the stages of Stitt’s elevation to the top.
“He got the practice when the selectors took a break, and then Mr Dodd put him on the No.4 set. He got promoted to the No.3 set when King Sporty migrated, and then to set No.2. Stitt got the No.1 set after Richard who had relieved Matchuki, left.”
Stitt’s jive talking was stinging yet soothing: “Love is true, love is pure, love is something no doc can cure, now let the musical spotlight fall on the man Bibi Seaton,” he would declare in ceremonial fashion, before playing the artiste’s record, while interjecting in mid-play some shouted phrases.
Stitt got into the recording business through the urging of producer Clancy Eccles. In an interview with Eccles, he told me: “I saw King Stitt those days with Coxson, and knew he had a talent to talk, and decided to put him on the rhythm of a song I wrote, titled Shoobeedoo. The result was Stitt’s first recording and first big hit of 1969, Fire Corner, from which came his famous introductory toast:
“No matter what the people say
these sounds lead the way.
It’s the order of the day
From your boss Deejay, I King Stitt.
Haul it from the top
To the very last drop.”
Stitt became the first recorded deejay to have hits and make an impact on the charts, thus raising the profile of the genre.
Eccles claimed that Stitt did close to 20 recordings for him. An ardent movie fan, Stitt got his main inspiration from seeing films like For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Van Cleef, the ugly one from the latter movie, became the title of Stitt’s next hit.
“These are the days of wrath, Eastwood, I am the ugly one, I am Lee Van Cleef,” a line from the song rang.
King Stitt’s other hits included I for I, the punch line of which ran:
I for I, a tooth for a tooth
I am the one you got to salute.
Herbman Shuffle and Vigorton2, in which he said:
Look how you sad and blue
I King Stitt have got a new discovery for you
It’s the bad, bad, Vigorton2.
The last two songs were done at Dynamic Studios.
King Stitt worked with Dodd’s Studio One, in various capacities, from the late 1950s until close to the time of his passing.
In later years, his knowledge of the pressing plant was crucial to the retrieval of several exclusive stampers which enabled the repressing of some hard-to-get recordings.
In the early 1990s, Stitt recorded for Studio One, an album titledDancehall ’63. Putting his voice over some original Studio One cuts, he revived memories of Gold Coast, Forrester’s Hall and Mutual Hall.
King Stitt passed away on January 31, 2012, was eulogised at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on February 25, and laid to rest that day at the Dovecot Memorial Park.