This month Open Spaces ditches its cowboy hat in favour of a Red Stripe cap, as we were fortunate enough to speak with Reggae superstar Glen Washington, who’s recording some new tracks in the south of France. Specifically, he’s at the renowned Irie Ites studio in the Pays De La Loire region, about two hours south-east of Paris. The studio has served as a recording home to such notable artists as Eek-A-Mouse and Max Romeo, and Glen is booked to record there through the end of June. One of his newer tracks, “When You Gave Your Love To Me”, is an example of Glen at his Lover’s Rock best as he’s a master at singing the praises of affection and virtue. Here and on another recent song “This Is A Sign” he strikes a very positive vibe, and although he’s been at this for quite a while he always manages to keep things sounding fresh.
“It’s easy,” he says over the long-distance phone line. “You just think about your situation and you keep it on a positive level. The positivity comes from my heritage. That’s how I was raised. My grandmother used to take me to church all the time. I ended up singing in a bunch of different choirs in church. That’s where I got all of that stuff from.”
Born in the Jamaican parish of Clarendon, Glen began his musical career in the early seventies as the lead singer for the group Names And Faces. He later became the lead singer in a band called 35 Incorporated but he soon found himself behind the drum kit.
“I was the apprentice drummer, you know,” he laughs. “I actually started as a singer but the drummer left the group and I ended up becoming the drummer. In any band you got somebody that sits down. Every time the drummer gets up somebody goes there and sits down. I was that little busy body that always fooled around on the drums and I ended up playing them. The drummer was an excellent drummer, the late Joseph Hill. That’s who taught me how to play.”
The story then takes a Canadian turn. Glen was in Jamaica playing in a band called Happiness Unlimited, when they were heard by Stevie Wonder who was vacationing in Ocho Rios. Stevie took a liking to the band and joined them on stage and when all was said and done, this was the catalyst in Glen’s decision to move to Detroit. Not long after that he journeyed to the Great White North.
“I love Toronto,” he says. “When I was in Detroit the first time I said I want to drive to Toronto and see what’s going on there. I found a whole lot of Reggae bands playing really good Reggae music. I said ‘wow’ because there weren’t too many Reggae bands in Detroit and some of them weren’t even that good. When I drove up to Toronto I fell in love. It was like, whoa, this is where I want to hang out.”
And hang out he did, moving to Toronto in the latter part of the 80s and gigging with ex-Heptones vocalist Leroy Sibbles, who spent over 25 years in the city, as well as local Reggae favourites The Satallites. Many a Saturday night you would find Glen doing his thing at the historic Bamboo Club. (“I used to play the Bamboo all the time with both Leroy and The Satallites, mostly on weekends.”) Leroy also played a large role in Glen’s return to the microphone.
“He did encourage me to record,” Glen explains. “One time we went to look at cars and we were talking about the price of the cars. He said, “You can buy any car you want to because you can sing”. That stayed with me a while and when I went back to the U.S. I started recording. Someone took me to (famed Jamaican producer) Clement Dodd and he liked what he heard and decided to start recording. The first album we did was “Brother To Brother” (1997) and everything went on from there.”
Glen has had a string of successful albums since then including “Can’t You See”, “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down” and “Masterpiece”, which includes his classic “Fall On Me”. His trademark is his voice, a sweet but raspy blend that works equally well on Roots Reggae and Lover’s Rock. Some of his songs like “This Kind Of Feeling” are pure romance, while others such as “Jah Glory” are spiritual and still others, “Gun Fever” for example, carries a strong social message. The recent track “Liar, Liar” goes down two paths as it is a song about faith but it also conveys a pointed missive from Glen, who now resides in Ocala Florida.
“True that that is so true, (singing) ‘What will you do, what will you answer when you’re face to face with his majesty.’ You have to stay with stuff that people can relate to. I love country music too. I’m all over the place but I love that Roots Reggae music. I like songs with good structure. I like songs that give me a challenge because the end result is always really, really refreshing.”
“The message in ‘Liar, Liar’ is about what’s going on right now with our president who keeps telling people different things. It’s supposed to be subliminal but sometimes even the subliminal comes out.”
The recent song “This Kind Of Feeling” is particularly catchy and lends itself to a dub version called “This Kind Of Dub”. Glen, who writes his own material, talks a little about the songwriting process.
“Sometimes somebody will come to me with a rhythm but if I don’t like it I won’t use it. Good rhythms always go together with proper lyrics. You have to have a strong message. Some of the time I’m writing something and it doesn’t make no sense so I tear it up and start again. I always try to go for the best and I’m my own worst critic. I ask myself if I was a consumer would I buy that? If the answer is yes then I know that it’s good.”
Glen also writes songs for other performers, one of which, “Find Your Way To Me”, he recorded last year as a duet with Montreal’s Miss Diva. Although the recording turned out nicely, the experience for Glen was a little bittersweet.
“When she came to me that song was already written,” he says. “I was just trying to help out a newcomer. I don’t have no problem trying to put someone out there. But they started getting a little bit greedy about the publishing. I don’t mind sharing but when you want to take that big chunk of cake that you did not bake, that’s not cool.”
The title of Glen’s recent album “Time Of My Life”, pretty well captures the man’s positive spirit and outlook toward life. So what’s the key to keeping upbeat?
“The key right now is to keep doing what you’re doing to the best of your ability. And the key is also to stay down to earth. I’m very down to earth and I can talk to anyone about anything. It’s like I said in ‘Time Of My Life’ when I’m on stage singing I’m having the time of my life. You know the best thing is when I see people out there really enjoying it.”
Other Roots stuff:
The best place to hear Glen Washington is online on Toronto-based radio station G98.7FM, particularly on Delroy G.’s Showcase program which airs on Saturdays from 3pm to 7pm. Delroy, also known as The Party Machine who “Cooks and smokes while the kids laugh and joke”, spins continuous Reggae mixes. You can catch international acts as well as great Canadian artists like Nana McLean, Jay Douglas and Jimmy Reid, all of who Glen Washington names as friends.
Open Spaces’ other favourite show on G98.7 is Soul Jazz, hosted by Marion Rodrigues on Sundays between 10 a.m. and noon. Marion spins an eclectically marvellous selection of music, both old and new, that can at times be nostalgic, reflective or romantic, but is always inspiring. Don’t be surprised to hear Sarah Vaughan mixed into a set with current Canadian artists like Elise LeGrow and Jill Barber, or Raymond Lefèvre’s “Soul Coaxing” and Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s In Love”. Marion also has a very relaxed delivery, which she uses to great effect to provide positive between-song messages of encouragement and hope. It’s great stuff and you can listen to both Marion and Delmore at http://g987fm.com/live.php
We thought we’d sign off with a couple of recent notable Canadian country releases. Heating things up just in time for the summer season, Saskatchewan powerhouse Samara Yung returns with the release of her latest single “In Case You Missed Me”, available for streaming & download everywhere. With four albums under her belt, Samara caught her break in 2019 when awarded the coveted iHeart Radio Future Star spotlight for May & June with her smash hit “Swerve”, marking her first top 30 at Canadian country radio. She went on to have a banner year, winning the Saskatchewan Country Music Award for Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year.
Displaying a mixture of rebellion and respect for tradition, Sudbury native Andrew Hyatt has a new single called “Stuck”. This is the second release from his forthcoming EP “Neverland” and the follow-up to his previous radio single “I Needed That”, which surpassed 450k cumulative streams since its release. “Stuck” follows his previously released Top 15 track “Didn’t Know Me” and back to back Top 10 hits “On Me” and “Do It With You”.