by Eric Doumerc
Winston Thompson, aka Doc Alimantado or Winston Prince, is a Jamaican deejay and producer who was quite successful in the mid-1970's in England and in Jamaica.
Born in 1952, Thompson first worked as a deejay with various sound systems like Lord Tippertone and Downbeat, before recording a few sides for Lee Perry in the late 1960's like his versions of Junior Byles' "Place in Africa" and "Beat Down Babylon."
In the 1970's, he recorded a now classic toast to the Lee Perry-produced "Ketch Vampire" by Devon Irons. His singles were first collected on the LP entitled Best-Dressed Chicken in Town, which was released in 1978 and the title-track was actually a Lee Perry production. This first LP included the popular title-track, "Poison Flour," "Gimmie My Gun" and "I Killed the Barber."
In 1977, Alimantado was nearly killed by a bus in downtown Kingston and released a life-affirming single which made him popular in England: "Born for a Purpose." Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols' lead singer, sang his praises and The Clash referred to him in "Rudie Can't Fail" (London Calling, 1979). Alimantado's name was becoming a household name in punk circles. The deejay continued to release singles in Jamaica like "Reggae Music" (with Hugh Blackwood) and "Rasta Train" (with Raphael) for Lee Perry as well as twelve-inches for the English market like "Slavery Let I Go" (Virgin, 1978). In 1979, Alimantado released the Kings Bread LP on his own Keyman label. The album contained strong numbers like "Just Because a Bit of Bread" and dub versions of some of his songs like "Babylon Let I Go" (the dub cut to "Slavery Let I Go"). A third LP came out in 1981, entitled Sons of Thunder/Born For a Purpose. This album featured strong material like the hit "Born for a Purpose," "Oil Crisis," "Chant to Jah" and "Dreadlocks Dread."
Between 1985 and 1990, Dr Alimantado released a series of interesting dub albums (the In the Mix series) and the Wonderful Time LP in 1986. He and even toured England in 1991, a thing he had never done before. Since then, he's kept releasing records on his Keyman label but his career has been more or less dormant. In 2006, he released a compilation of hard-to-find singles entitled House of Singles on his Keyman label. After living in Holland for a while, he is now believed to be based in the Gambia.
Dr Alimantado's contribution to reggae music is quite unique and lies in his ability to come up with very convincing versions of well-known riddims, his talent for straddling different styles like dread seriousness and humour, and finally his contribution to the genesis of the dancehall style.
As a deejay, Alimantado had a flair for proposing exciting versions of well-known reggae standards. For instance, he recorded (as Winston Prince) a very soulful toast to Junior Byles' atmospheric and Lee Perry-produced track entitled "Place Called Africa." Byles' song was a moving and nostalgic tune about Rastafarians' desire to go back to Africa and was hard to surpass in terms of emotional impact, but Thompson did just that by adding a laid-back and eloquent toast to the track. His style is subdued and he does not overdo it. Towards the end of the track, he manages to reproduce the effect of sound reverberation by repeating the words "ever more, ever more, ever more" as the track fades out.
Alimantado continued to work with Lee Perry, cutting impressive singles like "Ketch Vampire" with Devon Irons, "Rasta Train" with Raphael and "Reggae Music" with Hugo Blackwood. On all these recordings, Alimantado's enthusiam comes through, and he really instills some energy into the original songs.
He also released a number of self-productions, recording at various studios like Channel One, and which were later gathered on the two albums Best-Dressed Chicken in Town and Sons of Thunder, which came out in England on the Greensleeves label. The tracks gathered on these albums are reworkings or new versions of well-known reggae tunes and, in true deejay fashion, Alimantado instills new life into these songs and transforms them completely. For instance, "Poison Flour" reworks the song "Man Next Door" ‘(about a noisy neighbour) and uses it as a vehicle for a social commentary tune about a consignment of flour which had arrived in Kingston in 1975 or 1976 and had resulted in the deaths of several people. "I Killed the Barber" is a humorous and wry new version of the old John Holt tune "Ali Baba" (originally recorded for Duke Reid) and which had given rise to a memorable "dread" version by David Jahson ("Natty Chase the Barber," 1975, produced by Tommy Cowan). David Jahson's version was a playful deconstruction of the original John Holt tune which was about Ali Baba of course. In Jahson's version, Ali Baba became the "barber" (Ali Barber), that is every Rastafarian's worst enemy. Hence the need to chase him away. Dr Alimantado did his own version of the tune and claimed that "Tom" had "shot" the barber who had cut off so many dreadlocks ("he pulled a 38 from his waist last night").
But Alimantado's popularity was also due to his ability to perform in a variety of styles. On certain recordings, Alimantado performed in the then-fashionable apocalpyptic style and sounds like a biblical prophet thundering against evil forces. This approach characterises his version of Devon Irons' "Ketch Vampire," a song about hypocrites and false Rastas. Alimantado's delivery and chanting style are perfectly suited to the dark and brooding atmosphere created by Lee Perry's mix. His "Oil Crisis" reworks Horace Andy's " Ain't No Sunshine" and the deejay's plea to Jah again fits the sombre rhythm and mournful track. On "How Long" (to be found on the Wonderful Time LP) Alimantado delivers a very sombre toast in the style of the gruff-voiced deejay Prince Far I and this recording features one of the "dreadest" and darkest basslines to have graced a reggae record. These recordings contrast sharply with tunes like "I Killed the Barber" and "Chant to Jah" which are characterised by a more upbeat mood and a more ebullient approach. His chanting on "I Killed the Barber" ("Gone, gone, the barber's gone!") is brimming with enthusiasm.
Alimantado's versatility also extended to singing or rather to singjaying. The LP entitled Sons of Thunder contains his best-known recording, "Born for a Purpose," originally released in 1977 after the deejay nearly died in a traffic accident. The life-affirming tune became a hit in England with its echo-laden and sax-led hook: "If you feel that you have no reason for living, don't determine my life." But the novelty was that Alimantado sang on this tune, and sang beautifully. Dr Alimantado was to develop a style which would be half-way through deejaying and singing, and the tune entitled "Slavery Let I Go" released in 1978 is a good example of that approach:The youth will work for his bread,This recording is highly melodious and rhythmic at the same time and as with "Born for a Purpose," a sax line drives the recording. This concern for melody and hooks was at the time unsual for deejays and made Alimantado's recordings quite unique. The lines quoted above are delivered in a style which is quite distinct from that of the other 1970's deejays and which can be best described as "singjaying." It is often said that Sugar Minott, Eek-A-Mouse and Tenor Saw all contributed to the genesis of the "singjay" style, but Doc Alimantado was probably one of the earliest Jamaican artists to develop that approach and thus can be credited with paving the way for the modern dancehall style. The songs entitled "Just Because of a Bit of Bread" and "Zion Steppers," both on the Kings Bread LP, are good examples of the singjay style, with a melodic yet rhythmic delivery, a strong "steppers" riddim (which was fashionable back then) and a heavy mix. In "Just Because of A Bit of Bread," just like on "Slavery Let I Go," towards the end of the song, Alimantado goes into a semi-improvised or scat-like mode which is reminiscent of the jazz tradition while being firmly rooted in Jamaican deejaying, but he still maintains a very melodic approach.
So do not fight against the youthman, dread.
Leave the youth, may he survive
And keep God's words, God's words alive.
God called up on the youth ‘cause he know
The youth is strong, yeah.
You can't terrorise youth long, long, longer,
Youthman get wise and strong.
My mother told me there was a weeping,
There was a wailing, there was a moaning.
Help help, help I !
Freedom rocking in a freedom land,
Free dem man with Jah Jah plan.
Thus Dr Alimantado can be credited with having contributed to the modernisation and evolution of reggae music and with blurring the distinction between singing and deejaying, which eventually led to the birth of the "dancehall style" in the 1980's. He is, in other words, a true original.
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