Relatable to reggae music lovers everywhere, Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Mary Oliver once wrote: “Rhythm is one of the most powerful pleasures, and when we feel a pleasurable rhythm we hope it will continue. When it does, the sweet grows sweeter. When it becomes reliable, we are in a kind of body-heaven.”
On June 30 I was greatly privileged to interview legendary drummer Santa Davis about just such an epic rhythm, “Stalag 17,” one of the most famous rhythms (or “riddims”) in reggae history.
When I first interviewed Santa about his historic career in December of last year, we focused mostly on his childhood, how he became the drummer for the Soul Syndicate (the top studio band in Jamaica during the 1970s), the big hits Santa played on with Bob Marley, and, his extremely close relationship with Peter Tosh.
We still have more to discuss concerning those aspects of Santa’s storied career, in addition to a number of other still undiscussed topics, but, during this particular interview – on a sunny day in a park in Los Angeles – Santa and I focused our conversation exclusively on “Stalag 17.” Specifically, we discussed in depth how Santa played drums on the original “Stalag 17” rhythm, but, how he and the rest of his bandmates in Soul Syndicate (including bassist George “Fully” Fullwood, and guitarists Tony Chin and Earl “Chinna” Smith) never received proper credit and remuneration for composing that classic musical masterpiece.
What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity. The interview is just under 16,000 words, but real reggae fans – fans who care about the accuracy of the history of the music – will read it to the very end.
Q: Greetings Santa. Thanks for letting me interview you again – especially under these circumstances – it really is an honor. When I last interviewed you on December 1 of last year, “coronavirus” wasn’t even part of our daily vocabulary or calculations; things sure have changed a lot since then. If there weren’t a pandemic affecting the world, I know you’d likely be touring and traveling right now this summer with Ziggy [Marley]. Can you talk just a minute about how the coronavirus has affected your work as a professional drummer?
Santa Davis: Well, I mean it affected the whole music industry in a tremendous way, you know? I’d rather be working than sitting around the house. But it’s a situation where it can’t be helped. We have a serious issue with the pandemic spreading around, people getting sick. And you know, a lot of suffering. A lot of people – not just the entertainment industry, but just industry as a whole. For musicians, you know, we depend largely on crowds. Audience. Which means crowds. And if we can’t play to an audience, then it’s difficult. But you just have to make do.
Q: Is it accurate what I said, that if this situation weren’t going on right now, that you’d be touring with Ziggy?
Santa Davis: Yeah! For sure, yeah, because we had stuff lined up, you know?
Q: What are some of the places you would have gone [to]?
Santa Davis: I mean, just regular stuff, you know; I mean we’ve been to Europe a couple of times, so I guess we’d just be doing some U.S. stuff or what have you. Because we did Europe like two years straight. So I don’t think we would [have been] going to Europe this year.
Q: Of course, just a few months after our first interview, you released an incredible new solo album called “Africa Is My Home,” an album that was extremely highly rated in the reggae world and beyond. Has the pandemic hurt your ability to market and promote that great solo project as fully as you’d like to?
Santa Davis: Well not really you know, because the way how the business is nowadays: Everything is mostly online – social media kinda vibe, you know? It’s not like back in the day when you had to depend on a record store to sell your stuff. The record stores are all online; so it’s easy for someone to go online [on] iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, CD Baby, whatever. And download. So it’s not a big deal, you know?
Q: It’s your ability to promote [the album] through live [performances], I guess that’s hurt –
Santa Davis: Yeah (sighing), that’s still in the cards, you know? But, yeah….
Q: It’s delayed. Hopefully down the road you’ll be able to promote your album more on the road a little bit.
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: Now, the first interview we did together was close to three hours long and about 20,000 words when the transcript was published. So I think it’s fair to say that it was and is a very comprehensive interview concerning your legendary over half-century career as a professional drummer. Now of course, during our first interview, we spent some time discussing how you joined and played drums for the Soul Syndicate – the top studio band in Jamaica during the 1970s –
Santa Davis: One of. (Laughing)
Q: I guess that’s my own personal bias coming out.
Santa Davis: Yeah. (Laughing)
Q: I hear you. And I appreciate you saying that. But as part of that conversation we talked about your work playing on some of Bob Marley’s biggest hits; how you backed Dennis Brown and so many other stars, and your close relationship with Peter Tosh – as his friend and drummer – right up until the day he died. Today what I’m hoping we can do is build on [our] last interview by zoning in together on one of the most famous riddims (or “rhythms” to say it the American way) in the history of reggae music: “Stalag 17.”
Santa Davis: Yeah. (Laughing)
Q: Certainly there are many famous instrumentals and riddims that have been influential in reggae like the “Sleng Teng,” “Rockfort Rock,” “Real Rock,” “Black Cinderella,” many other –
Santa Davis: “Satta Massagana.” “Satta Massagana” was one of Jamaica’s number ones. “Satta Massagana” by the Abyssinians. So you have to get that straight, because the other stuff dem, dem a come, dem was just like a moment, you know? “Satta Massagana” was one of the big tunes to come out of Jamaica.
Q: What are some other ones you would throw out?
Santa Davis: We’re talking about classic rhythms, right?
Santa Davis: “Satta Massagana,” and then of course “Pass the Dutchie” or “Pass the Kutchie” or whatever. Because that was a classic again –
Q: Mighty Diamonds.
Santa Davis: Yeah – which was a Studio One – it was actually an instrumental, it was an instrumental, I don’t know [but] I think it was Robbie [Bernard] Lyn who played that instrumental or Jackie Mittoo – anyway I don’t want to get it mixed up. But it was a – that whole kutchie vibe was a “Stalag 17” thing. I think it might have been Robbie Lyn, keyboard player, you know? But when we talk about classic riddims, “Satta Massagana” was one of the big ones where, every time that play, every time “Satta Massagana” play, [the] dance mash up. Dance mash up because, you know, there were many versions. And then [came] “Stalag 17.” “Stalag 17,” I would say, was the second coming of one of the classics.
Q: And people have written that it’s been one of the most sampled and/or revamped [riddims in reggae] to produce many, many big hit songs – [the “Stalag 17” riddim]. Now I know you know this, but for the benefit of the readers [as a reminder], and to give some context for just how famous the “Stalag” riddim is: The riddim was named after a popular American World War II film. And it has provided the musical hook or foundation for literally hundreds of songs including Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” –
Santa Davis: Uh-huh.
Q: – Tenor Saw’s “Ring the Alarm,” and, I understand it was even used as an introductory riddim to introduce Bob Marley at concerts, with keyboardist Tyrone Downie – he would shout out “Marley” over the rhythm as Bob would come on stage. Is that true?
Santa Davis: Yeah, him used to use it, you know. It was a famous riddim used and sampled by many, many foreign artists too. They’d take it and twist and turn it. Because you know how the sampling thing goes?
Santa Davis: Sampling you can take somebody’s song, and in order fi don’t get into that copyright thing you try and switch it up. But you still know whose [original music] it is, you know what I mean?
Q: And later, I definitely have some questions about copyright [laws and rights] to ask you about. But before we get there, as you were saying, the “Stalag” riddim has been so influential and [has been] sampled so many times, its reach has even [branched out beyond] reggae; groups [and solo artists] in other genres have used it like: Public Enemy, Too Short, Gangstarr, Sublime, Run-DMC, Alicia Keys, Kanye West – all of these are artists who’ve sampled [the] “Stalag 17” [riddim].
Santa Davis: Yeah, I even heard a jazz version one time.
Santa Davis: I heard a jazz band that was playing and they were actually using it; I was listening to a jazz station, and I was like “wow.” And they were actually using the “Stalag” riddim in a way that [I] was like, yeah!
Q: [Now Santa,] you were the drummer that played on the original 1973 “Stalag 17” riddim – the one that was released by Winston Riley. True?
Santa Davis: Yes I.
Q: And a minute ago, I said that “Stalag 17” has overwhelmingly, in the mainstream media, been credited as having been composed by Ansel Collins and Winston Riley.
Santa Davis: (Laughing. Shaking head.)
Q: And for example, I just want to note, in January 2012, reporting on Winston Riley’s shooting death at age 65, Pitchfork.com – which is, as you know, a common music [publication] –
Santa Davis: Uh-huh.
Q: – posted an article [on their website] that says, “Riley created the Stalag 17 riddim –”
Santa Davis: No. No. No. (Laughing derisively. Shaking head.)
Q: And then, Santa, there are articles [that have been] written in both Billboard [Magazine] and also the New York Times by music journalist Rob Kenner, that credit Winston Riley and Ansel Collins exclusively for the “Stalag 17” riddim –
Santa Davis: No! No! (Shaking head.)
Q: – without any mention of you, Fully Fullwood, or the Soul Syndicate –
Santa Davis: (Laughing.)
Q: In fact, two years ago, Santa, vocal.media posted an article that was written by Philip Jancsy – I don’t know who he is, but he wrote an article – and it’s called “‘Stalag 17’ – How This Record Has Traveled Through Time.” And in the piece, Jancsy writes, “the funny thing is, considering how big of a deal the song is, it’s pretty hard to find out much about it . . . . The interpreter – ”
Santa Davis: Well dem gonna know now.
Q: And I’m glad for this. “The interpreter actually is Ansel Collins, but probably just as crucial in the making of this piece was the producer, Winston Riley.”
Santa Davis: (Laughing.)
Q: Santa, what is your reaction hearing these statements that are written in publications that credit Winston Riley and Ansel Collins exclusively for the creation of the composition of the “Stalag 17” riddim, without any mention at all about you, Fully, Tony Chin, or the Soul Syndicate generally. What is your reaction?
Santa Davis: First of all, it’s hilarious. It’s despicable, and it’s disrespectful. Dishonest. Mi could use all of dem words. There’s many more we can go for. But you know the funny thing about life? You see the music business – I love music, because mi started to play music in the church. And mi love music. Period. I’m gonna die being a musician. But you see the business, the business part of it is the nastiest, most despicable business you can get yourself involved in. Unless you a-do it yourself. And even if you do it yourself, you still have some likkle roaches (gesturing with hand to imitate cockroaches scurrying about).
Q: Do you think that’s true more specifically for reggae than in other genres?
Santa Davis: Every genre. The music business, you hear mi say, the music business – because when it comes to the creation of things, the musicians have never been credited the way their supposed to be credited, you know?
Santa Davis: You understand? Mi can go as far back to a group from the Motown era, named the Funk Brothers. Who created all the big hits dem. And never even get no credit; you never hear about dem until them do a video. So the same thing with we. You see, listen, here is the thing now. Here’s the weird thing. You see if something is done, and it don’t come out to be anything spectacular, it don’t come out to be successful, or it flopped. Let’s say that word. It flopped. Nobody don’t want to own it, you know? It’s like when a man make a mistake, him say, “No mon, the next man do it man and not me.” But when it becomes successful (raising hands mimicking celebration), “H-e-y, [look at me].” Him run from the back to the front [to take credit for it]. You see [what] mi a-say? So, this whole thing with this Stalag [riddim], when mi hear all the talk about Winston Riley, no disrespect to him because him pass on and gone. ‘Nuff respect. My condolences and God bless him, you know what I mean –
Q: And let me – can I stop you for just a second there, Santa?
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: Uh, I didn’t mean to stop you. Did you want to continue with what you were saying?
Santa Davis: No. What you a-say?
Q: Both Winston Riley and Ansel Collins are established Jamaican musicians. And I just want to make sure [because] not everyone knows this – I know you know this – but just to say it for the purposes of the interview: Winston Riley – I think most people know him from his early days as a singer –
Santa Davis: Techniques, man.
Q: – [for] The Techniques.
Santa Davis: Great group, man! Great group!
Q: [And their famous song,] “Queen Majesty.”
Santa Davis: Yes! Yeah man.
Q: He was a very well-known singer. And then I know that he began producing various people – I mean I think he produced Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” [and] Tenor Saw’s [“Ring the Alarm” – both] using the “Stalag 17” riddim –
Santa Davis: Alright –
Q: – so he was a very accomplished musician. And Ansel Collins too –
Santa Davis: – [let’s] back up a likkle bit. You see this whole thing about “produce?”
Santa Davis: You hear about “produce this, producer that?” Bull-crap. Because a lot of these people, they were just studio renters. Dem just rent the studio, and dem call the musicians – the musicians were always the ones left with the burden to come up with the ideas for the songs dem, in most cases. Out of a 100 percent, 98 percent of the time the musicians haffi come up with the idea, come up with the licks dem, come up with the lines dem. You understand?
Q: Compose the music?
Santa Davis: Compose the music! You understand. But true this guy rent the studio, and him call the musicians dem, and all of a sudden he’s a “producer.” What did you produce? You just produced the access to the studio. You produced the access to the studio time and blah, blah, blah. So when it comes to the music now, that you a-go hear Ansel Collins and Winston Riley dem have something fi do with the [“Stalag 17”] riddim being what it is – okay, let’s stop right there. Number one, as mi say before, Winston Riley provided the access to the studio time. Called in the musicians. Ansel Collins – great likkle musician. Right? But the only thing Ansel Collins [was] responsible for on the [“Stalag 17”] riddim that mi can say, that mi don’t have nothing fi do with, is him keyboard licks dem.
Q: The keyboard playing on “Stalag 17?”
Santa Davis: The keyboard parts (imitating keyboard playing) where Ansel Collins [did the] instrumental part that he fi do, him responsible for that. The keyboard [playing].
Q: Let me ask you this – and this is part of my not knowing that much about music. Would you call what [Ansel Collins] did [on “Stalag 17”] part of the riddim – the keyboard playing part of the riddim?
Santa Davis: It was an instrumental. It was an instrumental, right? It was an instrumental. And the thing is this – a lot of times – okay, you see me make a man know this – me, Santa Davis, to the world, mi is a very honest youth. Right? And me is a musician where me no need no one else’s credit. Now, if mi in the studio, and a man come to me and say, “Yo, Santa, do this [or try] this likkle vibe,” and mi do it, and it work[s] – mi never think about it, you know? But mi do it and it worked because a man say play [it this way]? And mi do it, and it worked? Yo, mi a-give the credit, you know? Case-in-point… case-in-point, [let me just] back up and go to something else. When we were doing Peter Tosh’s album “Mama Africa,” [there was] this tune about liv[ing] in a “Glass House.” Mi a-give credit where credit is due. Just for a likkle part of the song. We [were] in the studio a-recording that song [with] Copeland Forbes, who was Peter Tosh’s road manager at the time. We a-record the tune, and Copeland a-come over to me and whisper and say – because mi a-play straight through the song, still it was grooving, it was grooving nicely. But Copeland come to me with an idea. And him say, “Why not do that likkle part like: (imitating drum sounds and playing air drums).” But the idea that he gave me was to play [it like that] all the way through that section [of the song]. But I broke it up. I said, “nice idea.” (Imitating more drum sounds and playing.) So mi just do the syncopation on the first beat and play the rest of the song. That was Copeland Forbes’s idea; I wasn’t thinking about that. But right now pon video, pon tape, mi can say Copeland Forbes come to me with that idea, and mi do it. So, I am not ashamed – I am not ashamed – I’m not afraid to give people their credit where credit is due. So with that said, if all this bull-crap where the world hear already [about] Ansel Collins [told] Fully Fullwood to play that bass line, Ansel Collins [told] me to play that drum beat? It’s just weird and wicked, and evil and dishonest. Because – look here, right now, mi is an elder. My brain still a-function like it used to function from that time. I don’t forget things. You bring any song to me from dem times, mi remember every part of it. Mi can just play it. You understand? So if Ansel Collins, or Winston Riley, or anybody [who was] in that studio that day [we created the “Stalag 17” riddim], had come to me and [said], “Santa, I want you to play that beat there,” I would be honest. Because it is an honor fi me! For me to have to look myself in the mirror – mi have to look pon me inna the mirror, you know? So if you a-live a lie, you have to live a lie in front of God. Mi have to face God. Mi not gonna say mi a-God man and spiritual person, and be lying and tell someone. If one of those guys came to I and said, “Play that beat,” I would be man enough to deal, to say: “Yo, you are the man who tell me [how to play the beat], you know? Mi never think about that, you know?” I would be honest enough! I wouldn’t want – I wouldn’t be so dishonorable to say, “No man, a mi man, a-my idea that.” No! Because this world – we a-come pon this earth for a short moment. And the best way you can live until you leave is to be [honest]. So this whole rubbish about – because, hold on, if you listened to a song by Ras Michael named “I Am Ethiopian,” (singing parts of the song). Listen what you hear pon that song there: the same beat. Mi play that [same] beat on that song there before mi come play [it on “Stalag 17”]. Mi play the same beat. And so the thing is this, whether mi play it after or before, because hear what that beat they come up with now. Come on explain it? You see the whole thing, it sound like funk, right? And Nyabinghi mi a-play. Nyabinghi. And the only reason why me end up a-do that [on “Stalag 17”] was when the song – when Ansel Collins – okay, mi a-tell you exactly what happened.
Q: Are you talking now about the day that “Stalag 17” was recorded?
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: Now although in books and in articles and in references online, the “Stalag 17” riddim has been overwhelmingly credited as being the creation of the late Winston Riley and keyboardist Ansel Collins –
Santa Davis: No!
Q: In fact, this is not true. It’s not accurate.
Santa Davis: No.
Q: From what I understand from talking to you prior to the interview, it’s not true at all. And it’s an important fact that I’m really glad we’re able to clear up today for the sake of reggae history.
Santa Davis: Uh-huh.
Q: Now I just want to start off by [again] making [it] clear [again] Santa, even though this information is really hard to uncover online – or even in the books that claim to be authoritative about reggae music – you were the drummer who played on the original “Stalag 17” riddim?
Santa Davis: Yes, sir.
Q: The one that was released by Winston Riley in 1973 –
Santa Davis: Yep. Yeah.
Q: And a minute ago, I was saying how in the mainstream media, “Stalag 17” has been credited as having been composed by Ansel Collins and Winston Riley, and –
Santa Davis: No! (Laughing)
Q: – for example, there was a Pitchfork article – there’s a quote from it that says Winston Riley “created the Stalag 17 riddim –
Santa Davis: No!
Q: – which was used on countless tracks.”
Santa Davis: No, he didn’t! (Laughing)
Q: Then[, as I was saying,] there are [these] articles written in both Billboard and the New York Times by music journalist Rob Kenner that credit Winston Riley and Ansel Collins exclusively for the “Stalag 17” riddim – without any mention of you, Fully Fullwood, or the Soul Syndicate.
Santa Davis: Exactly! Exactly! So with that said, okay, that’s why I’m saying, when something is created or made or composed or whatever, if it flop, [using] a Jamaica[n] term, nobody wants to own it, nobody wants to be a part of it. But as soon as it becomes something successful, everybody want[s] to own it. Everybody [wants to say], “I am the one who did that.” Now just like I [said], I am a very honest man, and if I am in the studio and I am playing and someone come – because most of [or] all of the time, these guys who say they are producers, all them do is produce studio time. And call the musicians to the studio. And then it is the burden, it is upon the musicians – we are the ones who have the burden of carrying that whole composition on our backs.
Q: Can I ask you a question on that note?
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: Sometimes there were, especially in the early days of reggae music, there were situations – not to say that it is fair in any way – there were situations where, and I’m thinking of [legendary producer] Coxsone Dodd for example, [and] Studio One, where a lot of those arrangements, the contracts he would have people sign, were for “work for hire,” –
Santa Davis: Yes!
Q: – so when you do the “work for hire” then the studio does actually get the copyright for the song, right?
Santa Davis: Well, here’s what happened with a lot of that now. I don’t even think them even mentioned the words “work for hire.” Because a lot of musicians never knew about those terms. All musicians knew about – all I knew about – back in them days was royalties. I didn’t know anything about publishing and all these types of rights. See what I’m saying? So, when you go into the studio, and you record for a guy, yes him pay for the studio time, him hire you. You go in the studio, and now you play. But, it end up that the whole composition – you are the one actually coming up with the idea of what part to play, how you gonna play this part – [for example,] the bass player come up with a bass line. So it’s a collaborative effort between musicians to come up with the ideas. And then [these so-called producers] scream out, “Yes, that’s nice, I like that.” But them never come up with the idea. So I think with the whole Coxone Dodd thing, if I can be sure, is that the musicians dem used to work, or the singers dem sing or whatever dem do. And these guys, from what I learned, dem used to get like a weekly salary. Dem give dem a likkle money every week. And that was good, because man haffi pay him bills and feed him kids. But then them have you sign a piece of paper, where [it] was a big long blank piece of paper or whatever it was, but, sign here as a receipt for your salary. And if a man give you a piece of paper and say, “Sign here so that we can know that you’ve collect[ed] your money, this is to prove that you collect[ed] your money for this work.” Now all a man haffi do is take that signature upon that paper and then go in and fill in the blanks. You see what I’m saying? So whatever ideas, whatever involvement you had, in composing the whole composition of the music, even the lyrics of the music the singer sing, by signing on that piece of paper – and then dem go in pon the dotted lined – blip, blip, blip – yes, and this, that, and in perpetuity, you know the law terms them use.
Q: Yeah. Sure.
Santa Davis: “In perpetuity?” Wait a minute, what the hell is that? Forever. You know what I mean? (Laughing) Wow. Wait a minute. Did I sign that? I didn’t sign that. Yeah, you did, that’s your signature. You see what I’m saying?
Q: And a lot of reggae musicians lost a lot of their rights that way.
Santa Davis: Lost their rights that way because they just signed a piece of paper.
Q: They didn’t know.
Santa Davis: They didn’t know. It’s not that dem were stupid, they just didn’t know because nobody told them that. These guys knew that, Coxone and Dynamic [Studios], Byron Lee, all dem people. Those people who [were] in the business of [the music] business knew about publishing rights. They knew all these things. So them don’t tell we the likkle guys who never been to school of law, or school of economics, to know these things.
Q: When did you, Santa, start to realize that, and start to make sure you were getting credit for your compositions?
Santa Davis: It’s when I come to America.
Q: Not until you got to America?
Santa Davis: When I come to America. When I start[ed] [to] travel to America. When I started coming [from] Jamaica in the early 70s, or late 70s. It’s not until about the 80s now when I run into some people in the business who started to talk and say, “Well, publishing – ” And I said, “Publishing? What is that?” (Laughing) Okay, to show you how way out in the bushes I was as far as publishing [goes], I thought publishing was publicizing something. That publishing was like, “Hey, look!,” you’re publishing to the people. So again, people might laugh when they hear this, but that was my idea of publishing. You publish something. You publish an incident, right? I didn’t know the publishing thing was a right –
Q: A bundle of rights.
Santa Davis: – a bundle of rights that belongs to you, the person. So, I just learned that (sighing) a couple of years ago.
Q: I’m going to ask you some more detailed questions about – not to make this a music law interview, because it’s not –
Santa Davis: It could be. (Laughing)
Q: It could be, [and] I will ask you a few questions about those publishing rights, I’m going to get to that. But I do want to ask you, Santa, to respond also to another quote – I’ve read you a few already now, where people have talked about the creation of the “Stalag 17” riddim online –
Santa Davis: Okay, let’s get to that, yeah.
Q: [Again I want to return to that] article [posted] two years ago on vocal.media, written by Phillip Jancsy, called “‘Stalag 17’ – How This Record Traveled Through Time.”
Santa Davis: Okay.
Q: [To repeat,] in the piece, Jancsy writes, “[T]he funny thing is, considering how big of a deal the song is, it’s pretty hard to find out much about it…the interpreter actually is Ansel Collins…but probably just as crucial in the making of this piece was producer, Winston Riley.” What is your reaction hearing these statements, that statement and the other ones that I read you, that credit Winston Riley and Ansel Collins exclusively, for the creation [and] composition of Stalag 17, without mentioning you, or Fully [Fullwood], or Tony Chin, or the Soul Syndicate at all? What is your reaction when you hear that all these mainstream media sources have given credit, without mentioning you guys [, the Soul Syndicate,] at all? You were the drummer. You were the drummer [pon] the rhythm.
Santa Davis: Okay, one of my favorite cartoon characters was Daffy Duck. And Daffy Duck would say, “Despicable!” He would spit all over the damn place. “That’s despicable!”
Q: (Laughing) And that’s how you feel?
Santa Davis: It’s hilarious. It’s disrespectful.
Santa Davis: It’s dishonorable.
Q: And despicable?
Santa Davis: And despicable – [as I said earlier,] just use all the words that you can use to describe that whole statement. Ansel Collins nor Winston Riley never had nothing to do with the composition of that music. I can credit Ansel Collins with his keyboard parts. It was an instrumental. It was an instrumental. And it was made for Ansel Collins, but Ansel Collins never had nothing to do with the composition of the bass line and the drums – the drum beat that I played.
Q: So this might be a simplistic question, Santa, again because I’m not a musician and that’s why I was asking [earlier], you know, Ansel Collins, as you say, you give him credit for playing the instrumental keyboards – the keyboards on “Stalag 17.” But Jamaican music, especially for a long time, has been about drum and bass.
Santa Davis: Yeah man.
Q: And the rhythm, when you talk about the riddim of a song, aren’t you really, mostly, when you’re talking about Jamaican music, you’re not talking about the keyboards, are you? You’re talking about the drum and bass mostly when you’re talking about a rhythm?
Santa Davis: Yeah well –
Q: Is that true?
Santa Davis: Okay, drum and bass is what drive[s] a song.
Santa Davis: You know what I mean? And you cannot discredit the other guys, the guitars and the keyboard. Because that is a part of the rhythm.
Q: That is part of it? It’s all part of it.
Santa Davis: Yeah because even with the guitar – (imitating rhythmic guitar licks). Pon the keyboard, [too]. (Imitating rhythmic keyboard licks.)
Q: Are they all equally important or is the drum and bass –
Santa Davis: Yeah man, everyone is – you know we don’t want to make this thing be a one-sided thing. Every instrument that is played in the music is equally important. Equally important on every track. But, knowing that there is that foundation: the drum and the bass, the music could never be anything without the drum and the bass. But you can pull out the keyboard, and pull out the guitar, and pull out everything else, and that drum and the bass is still driving. And you dub that and you can do some crazy things. But when it comes to the music, [all the instruments] are equally important as far as the song is concerned. You see what I’m saying? So the thing is this with “Stalag 17,” a song like “Stalag 17,” because we don’t want to stray from that. “Stalag 17” was a collaborative effort of everyone putting in their little ingredients in the pot. You see what I’m saying? But, you see when it comes to – people call us to the studio because of our expertise and what we do. Because they know that when they call these people – whether it’s me, or another set of musicians – they know that it is the musicians’ wisdom and knowledge and know-how that is going to create the magic.
Santa Davis: And, you might not have a clue about the instrument, or about music. But you might say something [like], “Ah, I like that.” Boom. So even sometimes, you have some people in the studio who don’t know crap about music and they might just say, “Yo drummer, give me some (imitating drum licks).” But when you listen you say, “Hmm, he might have an idea, you know?” And you use it and it work[s].
Q: And like you said, you would credit someone who did that?
Santa Davis: I would – listen. (Laughing) If I’m in the studio and I’m playing and somebody comes to me and says, “Yo, try this.” (Imitating drum licks). I figure it out, I say, “Okay, boom.” I wasn’t thinking of it, but guess what? Because of that idea, I’m like wow. I wasn’t thinking of it but this guy said something and I use it, I’m gonna give him credit. Case in point [again, as I mentioned a bit earlier]: Copeland Forbes. When we were in the studio recording “Mama Africa,” and we were recording “Glass House,” there was a section that comes, if you listen to that song you’ll hear, (imitating drum licks). While we were doing the song, we were working it out and stuff, Copeland Forbes came over to me and him say to me, “Santa, you know that likkle part of the song, when that part come, you could play a little, (imitating drum licks).” So I take it [under] advisement. I was like, “Hmm, alright cool.” ‘Cause we a-create a song. We’re putting it together. So this man come with an idea, I’m not gonna push it away. That’s the person I am. So I listened to it. I said, okay, to me it was kinda tacky to play (imitating drum licks) through that whole section [of the song]. So to give it more groove, I just play the accent on the first beat (imitating drum licks). On the two and four, right? So I hit the four on the downbeat. And that’s what happened to that song. And it was a guy who don’t play an instrument [who suggested that to me]: Copeland Forbes. I haffi give him credit. Even though nobody knows that, I’m gonna give Copeland Forbes credit for that. That is who I am. I never have to say that. Because nobody knew that. If I didn’t say it on camera, nobody would know that. This is who I am. I give credit where credit is due. So, with that said, I would be honest enough, in the sight of God, if Ansel Collins, or Winston Riley, or anybody had come to me and say, “Play that beat” on that song, “Stalag 17,” I would be honest and man enough to say, “You know what –” ‘cause it’s me play it, dem couldn’t play it. So I’d have still given them credit. I’d have said, “Yo – ”
Q: And I’m gonna come back – there’s a quote, Santa, because Ansel Collins did an interview with United Reggae –
Santa Davis: Okay.
Q: And he was asked about the creation of “Stalag 17.” I’m gonna read that quote to you in just a minute. But I want to [first] note that although I said that most of the books and online sources credit Winston Riley and Ansel Collins for the composition of “Stalag 17,” there are a few websites that do mention the Soul Syndicate. For example, I thought it was particularly noteworthy when I was doing this research, to find out that the American Wikipedia [page] – now Wikipedia, of course you can’t go [by] or do all your research by Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is often incorrect, but I find it to be a useful source when you begin to do research, just to see the sources that are used. And [also], Wikipedia is one of the first things that pops up when you do an internet search. So when you search [for the “Stalag 17” riddim online] what you can find is an American Wikipedia page for “Stalag 17” that credits Winston Riley and Ansel Collins for the rhythm. But then there’s a French Wikipedia page that you can also pull up, that’s in French, and it credits the Soul Syndicate [for the composition of] “Stalag 17.” What is your reaction [to that]? What do you make of that discrepancy?
Santa Davis: Okay, you want me to tell you why?
Santa Davis: Because you have some journalists – some journalists. Okay, you see, Jamaica is a funny place. Jamaica is a funny place and the people are a funny set of people. Okay, with foreigners, when a foreigner [is] in Jamaica, [Jamaicans] say to a foreigner: “Yeah man, mi grow up with Bob Marley, man. Yeah man, mi and Bob Marley used to smoke. Yeah man, we used to hang out, and blah, blah, blah.” And in their mind, you coming from Jamaica, which is a small little island, they will think that you know everybody. Because sometimes people come to me and say, “Oh, I met this guy down in Montego Bay, his name was so-and-so, do you know who that is? Yeah, everybody know.” I say, “I don’t know who that is.” I don’t hang out in Montego Bay. Because they think that everybody knows everybody. And a lot of Jamaican people, the despicable ones, will tell people and give people information like they know.
Q: Like they actually know you?
Santa Davis: Like they actually know and they give you information that they heard from somebody else. So these guys don’t know. So they write what somebody tell them. Because you have some Jamaican people who are brilliant, you know? Them can listen to a story and then embellish it. And say something where you swear [he] knew it, he was there, you see what I’m saying? So the thing is this now, with the French people, the [reggae community in France] are a little more in depth. I haffi to have respect for them French [reggae fans]. Because guess what? Those people, they dig, they try to find certain things –
Q: About the music?
Santa Davis: Yes, and we as a group, [the] Soul Syndicate, are very popular amongst those people. Because a lot of those people were influenced by Soul Syndicate. By Fully Fullwood, by myself, Santa Davis, [Earl] Chinna Smith, Tony Chin, you know what I mean?
Q: One of my first interviews with Tony [Chin] at the Golden Sails [in Long Beach, California], he brought a number of artifacts from [the] Soul Syndicate days, and one of them was a French comic book. I don’t know if you’ve seen that. It’s all about the Soul Syndicate [and] it’s in French!
Santa Davis: Because the French [reggae community], bro, and I have to say this: I have a lot of respect for those people. Because they try to find the truth. That’s the one thing with those people. I don’t know what it is. They try and find what it is. And they know more about me than I know about myself. (Laughing)
Q: They dig deep into the music?
Santa Davis: Because they go deep. They try to find what the real deal is. So the thing is this: one set of people find out something from Winston Riley and Ansel Collins and them run with that. And them write their article. Because there’s many articles. People write – I mean you have a million different books. And it’s all something that they heard from somebody – a third party [who told them] – who don’t have no clue where the original thing come from. They only hear from someone who heard it from somebody else and then them come acting like they are the ones who had the full information.
Q: And a lot of times those people have their various motivations for saying things –
Santa Davis: Because they want to be popular. Imagine if you was a nobody. A nobody and you want to be [a] somebody. And you come from Jamaica. And you walk up to somebody and them say Bob Marley, [and you say:] “Yeah man, me and Bob Marley was bredrins, man. We used to drink corn meal porridge.” Because them hear the song pon we used to cook corn meal porridge. So a man feel like everybody did eat corn meal porridge with Bob Marley. “You were there?” “Yeah man a-Trenchtown mi come from.” You understand what mi a-say? And then these people don’t have no way to –
Q: Fact-check that?
Santa Davis: Fact-check that. Them a-believe you because you say you come from Trenchtown. Bob Marley grew up in Trenchtown, you know what I mean? So people will believe that because they have no other way of knowing.
Q: But you brought up the example of people who are not famous, who are not well known, who want to claim some kinda space by making these claims [to fame]. But what do you make of somebody like – as distinguished, because he is distinguished, based on other hits that are definitely his, someone like Ansel Collins who has a very distinguished discography – why would he want to make these claims?
Santa Davis: Because he wants to feel important – more than he really is. And mi can say that pon camera. Because if Ansel Collins was a man of good integrity within himself – a man with a good heart – he wouldn’t do that.
Q: And I want to get to now exactly Ansel Collins’s words, Santa, because I don’t think anyone has ever read this to you, and I think it’s important to get your reaction to it –
Santa Davis: It’s all about integrity man, and honesty. And respect and decency.
Q: And so in that regard, Santa, in April 2017, so we’re talking only about three years ago –
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: – Angus Taylor who writes about reggae music a lot –
Santa Davis: Uh-huh.
Q: – he published an interview that he did of Ansel Collins in Jamaica. And it was published on the website “United Reggae.” In that interview, Taylor asked Ansel Collins, “Can you tell me about the creation of another piece of music associated with Winston Riley, the Stalag?” Now I want to read you what Ansel Collins said – his whole answer – before I get your reaction. So Ansel Collins responded to that question, and he said: “Oh, it was me that created that man. That was 1974. His brother Buster Riley called me and said he wanted to do seven tunes with Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Soul Syndicate. So I was going to do these seven songs. That was all Buster because I didn’t see Winston there. Because I said I was not going to do anything for Winston again because of too much going on. And when we did it, I said, ‘Boy, I have a tune you know?’ And he said, ‘Go on.’ So I just told the bass man, Fully, and the drummer and Chinna that I wanted this style. And we just did this big, big, big, big tune man. Trust me now! The biggest tune that!” That was what Ansel Collins told [a] music journalist just a couple of years ago – in Jamaica. What is your response – I mean he doesn’t even say your name, he just says the “drummer.”
Santa Davis: Wow. Of course. You can do everything to minimize somebody’s input. You can do everything to demonize. You can do it; it makes you feel good, don’t it? It makes you feel good, like “Oh, I’m the big man.” As they say, “The hog with the big nuts.” Okay cool, so you want recognition, and that’s the way you’re going to go about recognition. Okay, I can tell you exactly what happened on that day.
Santa Davis: Or at least close to.
Q: What do you remember?
Santa Davis: Buster Riley [was] doing a session, and we were the musicians.
Q: The Soul Syndicate?
Santa Davis: The Soul Syndicate. Because we did work prior to that time with Buster.
Q: Now did Buster and Winston work together a lot?
Santa Davis: The [were] brothers! They had a jukebox business.
Q: Was Winston even there in the studio?
Santa Davis: No, he wasn’t. Because they had a bunch of jukeboxes, so him wasn’t in the record shop; he was kinda like the businessman.
Q: Winston was?
Santa Davis: Yeah. Buster Riley was more like the “grounder and pounder,” you know what I mean?
Q: [Being] in the studio?
Santa Davis: Yeah he was the man who did the dirty work.
Q: But let me just step back for a second and just say: As we’ve been talking about, so much credit wherever you go [for the “Stalag 17” riddim] has been given to Winston Riley, but you’re saying he wasn’t even there when it was recorded.
Santa Davis: Buster Riley was the man who [booked] the studio – mi used to work for Buster more than Winston. Because Buster was more like a jokester, so him was more personable. Winston was more the businessman, you know what I mean? Him was a successful businessman. So, no disrespect to Winston Riley. Him was an accomplished businessman, and I respected that. But Buster was the man, you know? Him never call Ansel Collins for Ansel Collins to do seven tunes. Him was doing some sessions, some songs, and it might have been seven songs, whatever – and then him say, “Okay well, Ansel, I want you to do a song.”
Q: How frequently before that day [that the “Stalag 17” riddim was first recorded] had you guys, the Soul Syndicate, worked with Ansel Collins before?
Santa Davis: I mean from time to time we might run into each other.
Q: Because he would play in the Aggrovators, he would play in different studio bands. So you –
Santa Davis: Right.
Q: – would see him that way?
Santa Davis: From time to time we meet up. Because the Aggrovators was a bunch of musicians. We[, the Soul Syndicate,] were kinda like one of the main parts of the Aggrovators. Myself, I was kinda like one of the regulars. Me and Fully, most of the time –
Q: Robbie Shakespeare?
Santa Davis: Me and Robbie Shakespeare played a whole heap of hit songs for Bunny Lee. And then you have a bunch of keyboard players. You have Bernard [“Touter”] Harvey (who played with Inner Circle), him was one of the main keyboard players. There was a bunch of people –
Q: That’s how you knew Ansel, just as like another fellow musician –
Santa Davis: Yes!
Q: – who would be in the studio sometimes.
Santa Davis: And also he had a previous hit called “Double Barrel.”
Santa Davis: Yeah, Ansel Collins’s wicked song “Double Barrel,” you know?
Q: Right: “I am the magnificent.”
Santa Davis: That was a big tune with the man Dave Barker, you know what I mean? So, respect! Respect! Let me tell you this bredrin: Mi respect every man for dem input. I am not gonna come like, “Oh, mi Santa Davis is the this – ,” no! Because it’s a big team of people. It’s a whole lot of us who contributed to the thing. We contributed to the ting! So it’s not just one person. You have some guys who might just play one song. Or him might just play two songs. He might not be a popular drummer or popular guitar player, but him was part of something at one point. You see what I’m saying? So coming back because we don’t want to stray, that day that we first recorded [the “Stalag 17” riddim in the studio] him say, “It’s just a likkle two-chord thing.”
Q: Ansel said that?
Santa Davis: Yeah, right, that’s all. So meaning the two chords – okay, the idea where him have, whatever melody that was in his head, which I never know anything about that. Because I couldn’t see inside of his head. But him say, “It’s a little two-cord rhythm,” so whatever him was thinking to play, those two chords would match up with what he was thinking. That’s it! That’s it!
Q: That’s the only direction that [Ansel Collins] gave you guys –
Santa Davis: That’s the only direction! (Imitating the “Stalag 17” riddim) That’s all Fully Fullwood! You see Fully Fullwood, man, sometimes, me talk to Fully and Fully is so frustrated. And it hurt[s] my heart. It hurt me. To see how sometimes Fully is frustrated like, him so disheartened. Because you see that bredrin, that man a-create some bass lines inna Jamaica. The man played on some hit tunes from Jamaica. [They] all used to wait for the next tune that Fully a-go play.
Q: Chinna said to me in Jamaica [when I interviewed him there in March], that Miles Davis said [Fully] was the baddest bass man he’d ever seen.
Santa Davis: Fully would come [up] with some [bass] line[s] where you’d say, “What the hell are you thinking?” That’s the type of person him is. And worse with me and him, because, listen, we used to get up and rehearse like there was no tomorrow. So me and Fully had a bond. Even to this day, if me and Fully went into the studio, it’s just crazy sh*t go on. It’s just some crazy stuff we would come up with – because guess what? We’re like-minded. We’re Scorpios. We’re both Scorpios. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. But we’re like-minded, we grew up together like a family. So we understand each other. I would do something [musically], and he would just answer it. He would do something [musically], and I [would] answer it. And I repeated it, and he would repeat. And that’s how we work off of each other. We work off of each other, so when me and Fully go inside of the studio, it takes no time. It’s not a whole damn day for him to just come up with a [bass] line [where you’d say], “Where the hell did you find that?” So Ansel Collins, yes – he mentioned he has a “two-chord thing. Just two chords.” Whatever the chords were. Fully came up with the bass line. So I’m there thinking, okay, I don’t want to just play a regular one drop – (imitating drum sounds). I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to push it. So I say, “How can I push this song?” Oh, my involvement with Ras Michael over the years of playing Nyabinghi. (Imitating more drum sounds).
Q: You used that [on “Stalag 17”]?
Santa Davis: That’s what I’m doing. That came to my mind. So I say, mi go play that. In my mind I go say that, you know? I didn’t say it to no one. That was the thought, I’m gonna play Nyabinghi.
Q: Do you remember that day – did you guys play a number of songs and rhythms that day in the studio?
Santa Davis: Yeah there was a number of songs. There was a number of songs, but I don’t even remember them to be honest. But I remember that –
Santa Davis: Yeah. And that song was done in Harry J’s Studios – Harry J. You hear some people talking about, “Oh, it was done at Treasure Island, it was done at Channel One.” No! Harry J Studios! Harry J! Mi never forget that. So that was the whole deal. So mi say, “Okay, Nyabinghi, alright.” Because the funde is like – (imitating drum sounds). Repeater [is like] (imitating drums sounds). So I just say, okay, I’m just gonna use the trap set and do all of that together. So I’m doing the funde on my kick drum – (imitating drum sounds). Which sounds like a funk sound. Sounds like a funk. You could call it funk. But I’m doing the funde on my kick drum. My snare drum is the repeater. And then this guy over here, the high hat, just doing all of the timekeeping and doing all these off-beat [drum licks]. That’s how I played that thing. I was thinking Nyabinghi! That’s why I played [drums on the original “Stalag 17” riddim] that way. And Fully, the kind of beast he is, the moment I start doing (imitating drum sounds), he’s that weird kinda creature, all of a sudden, he found something. (Imitating the “Stalag 17” bass line). He’s doing exactly what I’m doing on the drums [on his bass]. If you listen. (Imitating the “Stalag 17” bass line). So we are mimicking each other.
Q: When you imitate it – it just brings out how addictive that riddim is.
Santa Davis: This was the thing about that – no guy – I’m not saying somebody couldn’t come up with that idea, but not that day! Not that day! So when Ansel Collins a-run around and a-tell people like him want – okay, cool, if him want to own it, let him own it. But look, I will go to my grave knowing to the almighty God, that Ansel Collins never had nothing to do with that masterpiece bass line [or] the drum. Because [as I explained earlier] to you, if you go to a song that Ras Michael [has done] named “I Am Ethiopian” (imitating drum sounds). [That’s] me, and Robbie Shakespeare a-played bass on that one there. And it’s the same beat [as in the “Stalag 17” riddim]! I just used the beat again! I just used the beat again. So, you know, it’s really a disrespectful thing when people – bro, look, you’re gonna get credit. You were the featured guy on the song, but can you just be honest with yourself? Just be honest, man. It’s about integrity. It’s about decency. It’s about you being a real human being who gives credit where it’s due. Because my brother, if Ansel Collins had told me to play that, I would be man enough, be honest enough to say, “Yo, Ansel Collins told me to do that.” Because he couldn’t play it. I played it.
Q: Let me ask you two basic questions about this. In your view, and maybe you’ve already answered [this], but just to make sure I cover my bases: In your view, who deserves credit for the composition of “Stalag 17?”
Santa Davis: Me, Fully, Chinna, I think Tony Chin was there –
Q: Tony was there, yeah – he told me he was there.
Santa Davis: Right. Yeah. Okay. Soul Syndicate.
Q: Soul Syndicate?
Santa Davis: Soul Syndicate! No because mi just call out di names because mi just want the people dem [to] know who was involved – Soul Syndicate! We! Nobody else!
Q: Was Winston Riley involved at all in the composition of “Stalag 17?”
Santa Davis: No!
Q: And did he contribute anything other than studio time?
Santa Davis: No!
Q: Is that the only thing he contributed?
Santa Davis: Him contribute the studio time.
Q: Right. Now Santa, music copyright, from what I understand, has two parts: (1) there’s the actual composition of a musical work, and then (2) there’s the master sound recording. And of course I’m focusing in on the word “composition” when it comes to “Stalag 17,” because it’s the composition which leads to the existence of a copyright –
Santa Davis: Right.
Q: – for a particular music work. Is that true?
Santa Davis: Well, I mean I don’t know the law pertaining to that, but overall, if I come up with a part in a song, that’s my copyright. That’s my publishing, really. (Laughing) I guess.
Q: And then further, as a copyright holder for a song or riddim – some original piece of music, whatever it is – this then creates a bundle of different rights by which the copyright holder can financially benefit from his or her work through various royalty streams. Is that accurate in your experience?
Santa Davis: Yeah, of course. But the thing is this, you see here is the big problem now. Because these people always have themselves as “producers”; them also interject “arranger” into the thing. “Oh, I am the arranger; I arranged this thing. I composed this thing.” So yeah, they always – a lot of these so-called “producers” or whatever they want to call themselves, they stole the rights from musicians because we didn’t know. It’s when I came to America I realized, “Oh, wait a minute, you didn’t know that?” If you – if a song is being played and you say “booga-booga-booga,” and they use that in the song, that’s your copyright. You wrote that. Because the thing is this, okay, it wasn’t a customary thing, it wasn’t customary for people to write music and give to people in the studios in Jamaica. For that matter, a lot of us couldn’t read music. It was just on the fly, and nobody wants to wait for someone to run over [a piece of] sheet music to get a part done. And guess what? Those wicked-ass bass lines and drum parts, you couldn’t have gotten that – you couldn’t write that. A lot of the things that [were] done in reggae, you couldn’t write that. You can write it – you can think of something and write it. But a lot of things that we do, you couldn’t write it.
Q: Because it’s too spontaneous?
Santa Davis: Yeah. It’s a question and answer thing. You couldn’t write music for Bob Marley, you couldn’t do that. You couldn’t write music for Burning Spear. Because the way how these brothers think – it’s like right there, it’s a spiritual thing. Even if you were to write it, you would look at it and we [would] forget about it. So I would say this: If Ansel Collins had written that drum part, if he had written it and put it in front of me – I mean back then, I could scribble a little bit, yeah, okay, I could understand all of that. Because I used to mess with it back then. But once you leave it you lose it, you know? (Laughing). But anyway, that’s a different story. If [Ansel Collins] had written that part out and I played it, then I would shut my mouth up. We wouldn’t be having this conversation today.
Q: You’d credit him for the composition?
Santa Davis: He [would then have] brought his music – it was there. I read that. And I played it. Oh, the bass line, [if he had done it, I would say], “Yeah, he gave Fully that sheet. Fully read it and played it.”
Q: But that didn’t happen?
Santa Davis: That didn’t happen. And then [Ansel Collins is] saying that he gave Fully the [bass] line, that didn’t happen either. “Oh, he told me what to play.” That didn’t happen either. (Laughing) Listen to the song good, the bass and – because he’s acting like [there’s] two separate entities – it’s one thing. Me and Fully mimicking each other. That’s how we work. That’s the magic between both of us.
Q: That’s the guts of “Stalag 17?”
Santa Davis: Right. If you listen – go listen to “S90 Skank.” “S90 Skank” that Big Youth did. We did that song for a brother, God bless his soul, Keith Hudson. It was a Keith Hudson song. That was another good brother, too. And he sang the song but you know back in them days [artists would re-use/re-invent other artists’ songs, sometimes turning them into bigger hits than the original]. Big Youth hears it, and the next thing you know Big Youth makes it become something. Big Youth, mi bredrin, Jah Youth, Lion Youth, seen!? “S90 Skank” that was one of the big raves inna Jamaica at the time.
Q: Another reboot of “Stalag 17?”
Santa Davis: No, no, no. No I’m just saying “S90 Skank” was a –
Q: I have to go back and listen to it.
Santa Davis: I’m just talking about how people – I’m just talking about Fully’s creation. How he came up with classic [bass] lines. I don’t want to mix it up. I’m just saying the classic [bass] lines that [Fully] would come up with. And I’m just naming that song, “S90 Skank”[, as one of them.] (Imitating bass line of “S90 Skank”) Just things like that, you know?
Q: Santa, in your experience, where there are multiple creators or composers for a song, normally, unless they contractually work something out different, all of the copyrights are equally split between the creators of the song. Is that true?
Santa Davis: Yeah, it’s supposed to. It just depends. Okay, so if you go in [the studio], and after you’re finished working – [or] even before you work, them say “Sign this agreement.” Oh, “work for hire,” okay. Now that’s a different story. Guess what? I’m not gonna arrange nothing. I’m just gonna play whatever you want me to play. Because once you give me an agreement [that] says “work for hire,” don’t expect me to come up with crap. Because I’m gonna come up with an idea, and you’re just gonna take that idea even though I came up with the idea, it made the song, the song became a hit? And it’s “work for hire?” No, I don’t believe in that. But, the way it’s supposed to work is, if I go in the studio with you and I come up with a part, I make the song become something, it’s out of just a mutual thing where you’re supposed to [say] – by you recognizing my input – you say, “Okay, I’m gonna split the [copyright] with you.” Or, “I’m gonna give you 2 percent. 4 percent.” Whatever – I don’t know. Whatever it works out to that is fair. So if Santa Davis [goes] inside of the studio and I am responsible for the arrangement of that piece, it’s my copyright; I am the composer for the music so I have to get full rights that’s due to me.
Q: And without getting into too much detail about it, I understand that some of these royalty streams include things like “mechanical royalties,” –
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: “ – “print music royalties,” “public performance royalties,” and “synchronization license fees.”
Santa Davis: Right.
Q: All of these are different royalties that allow composers of original music, which includes riddims like “Stalag 17” –
Santa Davis: Right.
Q: – to make a living from their work. True?
Santa Davis: Right, because guess what now? Back in the day it was – so you used to have different versions of a song. People would record a song and then they come with a bunch of different versions. A bunch of different singers would come and sing on the song, depending on how powerful the rhythm is. Now, nobody was thinking that ten years, twenty years, even fifty years down the line that –
Q: Stalag would be so influential?
Santa Davis: Any song. So what happened, these songs, they license them again. So it’s like a whole new ballgame. That’s a totally different agreement and – because look, remember a Beatles’s song came back a few months ago, maybe a year ago, whatever, and it became a hit again? It was from way, way back in the 60s. And the song became a hit again. But what I’m saying is: Nobody thought about that. We didn’t know anything about, oh a song is gonna come back and they’re gonna license the song, and it’s gonna make an impact again. Which is what happened . . . it starts to generate income again. And then, because these guys already said, “Oh, we own the rights to the stuff,” even though they didn’t compose it, they end up collecting new money now. And you’re like, “Wait a minute. But I played on that song. Oh, he said he’s the composer. No! He’s not the producer. I played that part, he didn’t tell me to do that.” And that’s what’s happening now. And this is the reason why Ansel Collins and all of them [are] jumping on the bandwagon. Because what has he done in the last couple of years? But you can live off of a song. For many, many years to come. Which is what he’s doing.
Q: Ansel Collins?
Santa Davis: Yeah . . . . So some guy did an interview with him three years ago, right?
Santa Davis: So how come – the song[, “Stalag 17,”] was made in ’73-74 – and I never heard one day Ansel Collins say he was the one who –
Q: – told you and Fully what to play?
Santa Davis: It never came up in the 70s. It never came up in the 80s. It never came up in the 90s –
Q: But suddenly he’s saying it now?
Santa Davis: – but all of a sudden, because the song start[ed] generating money. And a way to really get the juice of the money is to say that you are “the arranger.” You are the “producer.” You wrote it. Even though you didn’t.
Q: Composer is the same word, right?
Santa Davis: Yeah, yeah, you compose. “Compose,” “arrange,” whatever.
Q: [You] made the music.
Santa Davis: You made the music. So in order for you to start collecting all these monies that are regenerating –
Q: You need that out there?
Santa Davis: – you need that. “Oh, I am the producer.” Because he was the guy who played that keyboard part, which I have nothing – if he’s gonna collect for the keyboard licks that he played, and that whole melody, I have nothing to do with that. I have nothing to do with that.
Q: You feel like he should get that?
Santa Davis: You know.
Q: That part is his, right?
Santa Davis: That’s his, totally.
Q: As I think we mentioned a little bit earlier, composers of music, they can give away their rights or they can sell them, if they want. Like if you write a song, you can give it away to the studio. Or you can sell it. Right?
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: And you can basically [do] what’s called “assigning the rights” to like a record label, for example.
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: Also record labels and producers – as we mentioned earlier – back in the early days of reggae music, and the early days of the industry in Jamaica, they would claim a copyright ownership by forcing or asserting “work for hire” [agreements] with reggae musicians and singers.
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: Now at the tail-end of that answer Ansel Collins gave to Angus Tayor for United Reggae – that I read to you, and that you responded to – Ansel Collins also said, and I thought this was interesting given the discussion that we’re having, he also said about “Stalag 17” that, “He didn’t get anything from it.” And then Angus Taylor asked him, “You didn’t get anything from all those versions?” And Ansel replied, “Yes, all those versions.” Basically saying he didn’t get any money off of “Stalag 17” –
Santa Davis: Because he was a musician on the session! He wasn’t the featured act!
Q: So he shouldn’t have gotten any money?
Santa Davis: You see – you see. (Laughing) This is what I’m trying to tell you: It wasn’t like, oh, it was an “Ansel Collins Day.” You see what I’m saying? He was part of the session. And if I had a song that day, if I said, “Hey, hey man I’ve got a song, I want to do this song.” They would say, “Oh yeah, go ahead.” But then they would end up owning the song because there was no paperwork. People used to just do things randomly. It was a random thing. (Laughing)
Q: Do you think then – and I hear everything you’re saying, Santa, that all makes perfect sense. But do you think that Ansel is being honest, that he actually never did make any money from “Stalag 17?”
Santa Davis: You know what? I honestly don’t know. And I don’t want to judge him on that – I don’t know. So I don’t want to comment on something I don’t know.
Q: But you do think that the reason why [Ansel] is saying this is because he might be able to make money from it [now]? And also because it adds to his discography, his reputation – to say that that was his rhythm?
Santa Davis: Yeah – his name – it was an instrumental that his name was on. And the problem with a guy like him, he still didn’t know nothing about publishing rights, copyrights. Nobody knew. So he just maybe signed an agreement with Winston – this is why he didn’t want to deal with Winston Riley. You remember in that part – in that part where he said, “Oh I didn’t want to do it because too much thing[s] going on?” Whatever happened between them in the past, he was like, “I don’t want to deal with it.”
Q: That’s why he was dealing with Buster?
Santa Davis: (Laughing) You see what I’m saying? You see. But didn’t know that if you deal with Buster –
Q: You’re also dealing with Winston? Which is why Winston’s name keeps coming up with “Stalag 17”–
Santa Davis: (Laughing) Winston – that’s what Winston did: He sent his little brother as the decoy. But he was the one who was doing all the big things. He was the guy paying the money! (Laughing)
Q: Now different from what Ansel says, on the opposite side of the coin almost, in that Billboard article from 2016 by Rob Kenner, [when] Winston Riley’s son, Kurt Riley, is asked about Kanye West sampling the “Stalag 17” rhythm, and he’s asked – this is the question that Rob Kenner asked Kurt Riley: “Did that lead to a nice check for the family?” And Kenner wrote that Kurt Riley laughed loudly, and then he paused before answering. And then he said: “Let’s just say . . . they did the right thing, paperwork-wise.”
Santa Davis: Uh-huh.
Q: Kurt Riley also told Kenner that his father’s catalogue is “monitored.” Now the Westbury Music Publishing Company in England administers Winston Riley’s catalogue. And they monitor all of his copyrights. Coincidentally – I don’t know if it is [actually] coincidentally – but Westbury Music Publishing also represents Ansel Collins.
Santa Davis: That – those two – I don’t know nothing about all that.
Q: But has Soul Syndicate – Fully Fullwood, yourself, Tony Chin – any of the guys from Soul Syndicate, have you ever raised this issue of copyright for the “Stalag 17” rhythm?
Santa Davis: No we didn’t because we didn’t know how we were going to go about it. Because all of these fences have been put up, you know what I mean? So we didn’t know how are we going to contest that. Because you know, to contest something like that, you’ve gotta have some money. Ain’t no lawyer gonna come and do stuff for free.
Santa Davis: You gotta have some money to put into stuff like that – to prove that.
Q: When did Soul Syndicate realize that this was a thing that was sort of like out there – that you guys weren’t getting credit for. That was so big.
Santa Davis: It was early! It was early on! Because they were saying, different people at one time – I was talking to Sly one time, Sly Dunbar – Sly’s my good bro, we talk all of the time. And he said to me that some people [were] saying, “Yeah, Sly, yeah man, that riddim the bad[dest!] [Did] you play it?” And Sly said, “No.” Sly said, “No I didn’t play that rhythm, Santa and Fully dem.” Because anything that’s done – any big music these days – because Sly and Robbie [are] established. They are producers.
Q: The riddim twins?
Santa Davis: They produce music. They do what they do. So if you hear Sly and Robbie produced an album, yes they did, you know what I mean. They are involved. Yes they did. No questions asked. (Laughing)
Q: That’s a different kind of producer.
Santa Davis: They make the music happen.
Q: They make and produce it.
Santa Davis: Right. So anytime people hear a song of that magnitude, they would automatically think, “Oh, it’s Sly and Robbie.” So Sly was like, “No, Santa and Fully played that.” Because we don’t take each other’s credits, man! You know what I mean? What kind of life is that?
Q: But then after a while, as you say “early on” – I mean it was such a big hit. When it came out. And it has been such a big hit – that’s been repurposed all these years –
Santa Davis: Yeah man, for years – years.
Q: And you guys, Tony and Fully, and you, and Chinna, you know you guys were seeing how it was being used, and how somebody is making a lot of money off of this rhythm. Did you guys, did you (1) ever do anything about it after the fact, and then (2), did you ever run into [either] Winston Riley or Ansel Collins, since the rhythm has come out, and you know, years after? Did you ever have conversations with either of them about the rhythm?
Santa Davis: Okay, since you ask that, let’s get [after] it. As my friend – not my friend, one of my favorite newscasters, Chris Cuomo, on CNN [says], “Let’s get after it.” (Laughing)
Q: (Laughing) Prime time!
Santa Davis: (Laughing) Hey Chris, don’t sue me, I’m just using your quote: “Let’s get after it!” So I mean the song, it was blowing up so much all over the place. Because back then that rhythm was like taking over everything. Everybody was on it. They re-recorded it with different people –
Q: In fact, Winston Riley made an entire album, it’s called “Stalag 17-18 and 19,” –
Santa Davis: Whatever –
Q: – which has all [the] songs just [riding] the Stalag riddim.
Santa Davis: – yeah, it had a bunch of different artists.
Santa Davis: Okay, so –
Q: Wilfred Limonius – he was a famous Jamaican artist – he made that [album] cover.
Santa Davis: Everybody – a lot of people – Sister Nancy’s career was all centered around that. Without that song, she wouldn’t be that big –
Q: “Bam Bam.”
Santa Davis: “Bam Bam!” I mean don’t get me wrong: She’s a great female artist. She did her thing. She deserves credit. But “Stalag 17” – (laughing)
Q: That was her calling card.
Santa Davis: “Stalag 17” is the riddim that got her – none of her – I mean she had some other bad songs, too, but [riding the] “Stalag 17” [riddim in the song] “Bam Bam” was her thing. So okay, back to Winston Riley – so that song was blowing up so much all over the place, every artist making their name off of [it]. So I saw him one day, I ran into him one day. And for me at the time, it was a joke because I didn’t know what recourse to take as far as – I wasn’t even thinking about that. But I saw him one day, and I looked at him and I said, “Yo, Mr. Riley, you know seh you owe me some royalties for that riddim dere? You owe me some money; you owe me some royalties, you know.”
Santa Davis: And he never spoke to me after that again.
Q: Did he even look [at] you when you asked him that?
Santa Davis: He, he was so –
Q: [Giving you] the cold eye – the stink eye?
Santa Davis: Yeah. It was as if I stole something from him, or I messed with his family or something. The way he was like a scorn – I was saying it as a joke. But he got angry because he realized that it was true. He owes me some royalties off of this thing, right, but when I said, “Yo Mr. Riley” – you know, as a joke – “you owe me some royalties off of [the Stalag 17] riddim, you know?” And Winston Riley never spoke to me after that. Never a word!
Q: Do you have any idea roughly Santa when that was? That you had that conversation?
Santa Davis: That was in the 70s. That was somewhere in the 70s –
Q: A couple of years after it came out?
Santa Davis: Yeah, it could have been ’77, ’78.
Q: [“Stalag 17”] came out in 1973. So a few years after?
Santa Davis: Yeah, in that timeline. And I said it to him and he looked at me. And he looked at me with a scorn. Like Bob Marley say, “He looked at me with a scorn, while you eat up all my corn.” (Laughing) So, he did an interview, [or] his son or whoever it is –
Q: Maybe that one Kurt Riley [did]?
Santa Davis: Yeah. I don’t know him. But anyway – I might know him, you know? No disrespect, because I’m not here to bash anybody, I’m just speaking my truth. So, they’re talking about Kanye West – I don’t know, because I’m not in their business, I don’t know what kind of contractual arrangement [they have]. But Winston Riley himself did an interview, and it came out, I think it was in the Jamaica Observer. Maybe you might have a way to backtrack and find that article. Where he was talking about the [“Stalag 17”] rhythm. And he said – and I read the [article] – man I should have cut the damn thing – or if I was on my computer I should have just copied it. But in the interview, he was talking about all the songs he did. Because remember I told you about the Techniques?
Santa Davis: He was a part of the group. That was one of the premier singing groups in Jamaica, right? And he said, out of all the rhythms or songs he has ever made, he made more money off of “Stalag 17” alone, cover[ing] all them songs. He would say, “Look, I bought a big-ass business place. I bought houses.” He was talking about all of the [material] achievements he made with that one rhythm.
Q: Before he died, he had invested, I think, it was written in the Jamaican papers – I think he put like $850,000 into a reggae museum of sorts.
Santa Davis: I don’t know, but what I’m saying is, he said in the interview, just to cut it short, he made more money off of “Stalag 17” than anything he has ever done in his whole music business life.
Q: How does that make you feel as the drummer on “Stalag 17” –
Santa Davis: Hurt.
Q: – who hasn’t gotten any –
Santa Davis: Hurt. Hurt. And, that day [we recorded “Stalag 17”], I got paid, yes, I got paid, because I tell you he use to have jukeboxes. And, we actually never deal with him personally – it was his brother, Buster Riley [that we dealt with]. I went to go collect my money one day, and Buster Riley took me in their little van, and take me all around, they had some jukeboxes in the ghettos, in some bars. Because back [in] them days they used to have jukeboxes in bars. And they had a bunch of those. And he had me drive around with him for like half of the damn day, clearing those jukeboxes – like I was his security guard.
Santa Davis: Clearing his jukeboxes! And then, this man gave me a bag of damn silver.
Santa Davis: A bag of silver! Tears came to my – I said, “Bro, what am I gonna do with this? The amount of money I was supposed to – one hundred dollars or whatever it was –
Q: That was [your] payoff [for drumming on “Stalag 17”]?
Santa Davis: It was bag of freakin’ silver, bro.
Q: He was trying to pay you off?
Santa Davis: And I was like, that’s – I said, “Bro, man – ” And he said, “Okay, we’ll wait ‘till Winston come.” Bro, tears [came to me], and I said – I stood by their gate outside, because they used to use their momma’s house where they all grew up. And I stood outside. Bro, tears came to my eyes. I cried. Literally cried. Like damn, you know? I had to wait. After this man [took] me around through [a] jungle – Trenchtown has some places where you’d get robbed at the time if people – if guys wanted to do something. And I was this tall guy – Buster Riley was a short guy, you know what I mean? So I’m this big, tall giant and this man is clearing these jukeboxes. So somebody could have probably licked my head off just to take the damn money. And this man tried to give me a bag of freaking silver. I couldn’t even lift the – I said, “What am I gonna do – go to the bank with this?” They would look at me – I’m not a businessman. And I’m walking into a bank with a bag of freaking silver. And I was there, and he said, “Alright, alright.” And I stood there and I waited and I waited and I waited. I waited for – and the sun – when the sun start coming out in Jamaica, anywhere you stand it hit you, you gotta keep moving. And I was doing that for like a portion of the day. Then the big boss drove up, and I was so embarrassed. So you know, when you see these people doing these things, and then when I hear Ansel Collins and all these other people talking about ownership for this thing – it hurts. It hurts.
Q: Was what Buster did – that story that you just told, and I’m glad you did – do you think that was Buster’s guilt getting at him, trying to give you something just to –
Santa Davis: No, that was his, that was his way of saying he’s going to pay you. He’s going to pay you, but this is how they’re gonna pay you because they collect his money. Technically, it’s money, but I’m like “Bro – ,” you see what I’m saying?
Santa Davis: And I said, “What a I gonna do with it?” I can’t even – a bag of silver!? I never forget that. So you see, there is so much things, this is why it hurts me. It really, it’s really disrespectful to my integrity as a musician. People don’t know what we go through. They see Santa Davis, they see Fully Fullwood – there is millions of dollars owed to us, bro. Millions of dollars.
Q: Before Winston passed – and you just mentioned that story about Buster – [but] before Winston Riley himself passed, and after that conversation that you had with him, you’re saying that was the last time he ever talked to you, right?
Santa Davis: And that was way before he got shot and stabbed, or whatever it was, way before that. He never talked to me again.
Q: And do you know whether any other members of the Soul Syndicate ever talked to him?
Santa Davis: I don’t think so because, Fully, like Fully was always a reserved person, you know? Fully’s not like me who just go get it, like (growling). He was like really – Fully’s not confrontational. I’m not confrontational but I will speak for my rights. And I used to take back up for [Fully], you know what I mean? (Laughing) I use to be the ramrod, you know what I mean? But it’s not a bad-man thing. [Fully] was just more reserved than me. I would talk.
Q: And what about now with Ansel Collins? Over the years, has there ever been an attempt by you guys, the Soul Syndicate, to talk to Ansel Collins about maybe even him himself correcting the history about how it went down?
Santa Davis: Well, Fully – somebody called Fully. And told Fully about what Ansel had said.
Q: In that interview I just read [done by Angus Taylor for United Reggae]?
Santa Davis: Yeah. Somebody called Fully, and told Fully. So Fully got his number. So Fully called him, and he said “Ansel, what kind of thing [are] you talking about, you told me and Santa [what] to play [when we first recorded “Stalag 17”]?” And him say, Ansel say “But that’s my tune, man. A mi tell the men what to play. It’s my tune.” So it’s like, it’s like an affirmation to convince himself that he actually was the one. I’m like, wow. So I tried calling him, too, but you know what difference would it have made? He might have got me so angry that I might have – you know? And I can’t grab him through the phone. And I mean – I wouldn’t do that. I’m not gonna disrespect – I’m not gonna get into a physical thing with no musician. I’m not gonna do that. But in a way I’m kinda like glad I never actually talked to [him]. Because for him to be telling me that he told me what to play, it would just be a back-and-forth crap, which wouldn’t go nowhere. So you know, as I say bro, just to make it straight, Ansel Collins [is] responsible for his keyboard melody – not [the] “Stalag 17” riddim.
Q: Maybe you’ve answered this, but how come Soul Syndicate hasn’t done more to vindicate its intellectual properties. As the true composers of the “Stalag 17” rhythm? I mean, I guess you mentioned lawyer fees, and things like that –
Santa Davis: I mean, you know that.
Q: I do.
Santa Davis: You can’t just go to a lawyer and say, “Hey, look here: I got this case and we’re gonna make a lot of money, but can you do it pro bono? Come on, that’s a lot of work because, you know, you know that if you’re gonna do an investigation like that, it’s a team, it’s not one person. You gotta have a team of people.
Q: Why have you decided, Santa, after all of these years to speak out about this issue now, about how Stalag 17 was created?
Santa Davis: Because after hearing all the lies – you know, maybe you’d just have let it slide, like okay, whatever, you know what I mean? Which is what a lot of people do. You know what, I’m not going to get into it because it’s a lot of back and forth. But then when I see somebody actually shape their mouth, shape their mind, and say that – that you told me what to play even though you didn’t. If you did, I would have admitted to it. But to hear this guy saying that. That is what prompted me to say something about it. Because it’s pure fabrication, it’s a lie. I mean I have to let the world know, even if I don’t get anything out of it. It’s okay. It’s okay. The world needs to know that these people are a fraud. Ansel Collins – I’m gonna say it on camera – is a liar. Is a liar! He didn’t compose Stalag 17. He played on the riddim that we composed. Soul Syndicate. We composed it. Me, Santa Davis, George “Fully” Fullwood, Earl “Chinna” Smith, Tony Chin, and of course, him was the keyboard player. I don’t know who else was on the session, but hey, that’s it.
Q: Santa, I’m gonna ask you for one final word on this. But before I do that, I just want to say thank you so much for this time to talk to you.
Santa Davis: Yeah.
Q: There’s still as I mentioned to you when we wrapped up our first interview – which was already [three hours] long – there’s still so many things I want to ask you, and talk to you about as it concerns your career. Like I want to talk to you much more about your work with Dennis Brown. I want to talk to you more about Peter Tosh and what that was like being with Tosh for all those years. When we last spoke, we talked mostly about things revolving around Peter’s death, but not so much your time with him. So I want to revisit that when we next get together.
Santa Davis: Yep.
Q: And of course I want to ask you more about you emigrating to California and your work with Big Mountain – which is a huge part of your discography. So I definitely want to get into those things. Will you, Santa, for the sake of reggae music, and the fans who really want to know more about your career, will you meet with me maybe in the fall again, so we can continue our interview, and talk more about some of these things we haven’t gotten to today?
Santa Davis: Yeah man, we can. Look the history – [it’s] just like Dennis Brown had a song, “The Half” that’s never been told.
Q: That’s true for reggae music, eh?
Santa Davis: So you know, the thing is this man, there is so much that goes into what I’m saying, bro, you know what I mean? I don’t have to lie to nobody. Just like I say, I don’t need to lie, I don’t need to take somebody else’s credit to be who I am. Because if you notice, I’m at the back all the time [onstage]. I’m the guy behind the drums.
Q: It’s hard to see you back there [at shows].
Santa Davis: If you look at that Peter Tosh video [you took at the tribute in Long Beach for Tosh’s 75th Earthstrong Celebration], you can’t see me. You hardly ever see me on a Peter Tosh performance unless the camera guy just deliberately comes around, because my drums – I don’t care if you see me.
Santa Davis: I’m not the kind of guy who is into hype, “Hey, here I am. I’m playing the drums over here.” I don’t care. I want you to hear, I want you to feel. (Laughing) I don’t care about me. It’s not about me.
Q: I hear you, Santa. Santa, I only have maybe 1.5 questions [left] for you here.
Santa Davis: Let’s get after it! (Laughing)
Q: (Laughing) Yeah, let’s get after it. And you’ve already answered this, but I want to make this part of the question anyway: I wanted to have this conversation with you because I wanted to know how it feels for a drummer like yourself who actually composed one of the most famous rhythms in reggae music – to be the actual drummer for that piece of music and to not be recognized for it – [that] is one of the major reasons why I’m so glad that I’m able to talk to you about this situation. And I guess we’ve talked a lot about it today, but I want to give you one final chance – and of course we can talk later, and next time when I interview you in the fall we can certainly say more about it. But is there anything else that you want to say, that you want the reggae-listening world to know about “Stalag 17,” how it was composed, or anything else that you haven’t already said. Anything more you want to say about it?
Santa: Bro –
Q: Your feelings about it – anything.
Santa Davis: Stephen, Jesus Christ did more than I could ever do. They lied on him. They crucified him. As the Bible said, he died for us. He died for the world. That’s what the Bible says. Who am I to complain? Who am I to complain? Jesus Christ did more than I could ever do. And look what they did to him. So, to me, it’s just an honor to know that I did a song that the world love[s], or a great portion of the world recognize[s], you know? And you know what? By me not getting the reward that I think I deserve, [and] my brother[s] Fully, Chinna, Tony, you know what? It’s okay. Because Christ – I go back to that again. Jesus Christ did more than I could ever match up to. Look what they did to him. So who am I?