Interview: Winston Francis

Kategorien Interviews
Winston Francis
Winston Francis
Winston Francis

[Guestpost] We had the pleasure to talk to Mr. Winston Francis about his musical activities, stories his life wrote and music in general.

We told you about the Upon My Soul Club going on in Dresden. We’ve just discovered a nice song that has been performed by a guy called Billy Cole. You know anything about that?

Winston: (Laughter) Unbelievable, man. I wrote “Extra Careful” and you know, it wasn’t a regular reggae song, I wanted it to be different. So, Phillip Chen (Bass player from Kingston, active since 1960s) joined me in Manfred Mann’s studio, we started to work together and had regular session nights. Not very far from the studio was a university and I saw the kids walkin’ by with their instruments, horns and violin cases. So I went over one day and asked a teacher if I could work with some of these kids.

I thought it would be a great experience for them, so I brought 8 of them back to the session. Immediately I asked about payment, but they said “Oh! No, we just wanna play!” And when these guys realized it was Manfred Mann’s studio they were very very interested. One of them wrote down the chords and two minutes later they were playin’. I took it to MCA when it was finished, they loved it! But they had some internal problems, so Paul Robinson, who used to be manager of Sam Cooke, released it on PowerExchange.

And it became a hit in Jamaica?

You know, I just send it down there. My brother released it back then. I didn’t know anything about it. I went to Jamaica 1975 with my wife, my daughter was three years old at that time. At the customs area they asked for a look in my bag and a guy said “It’s Billy Cole!” (Laughter) A lot of them thought I’m American, they didn’t released I was Jamaican. When I got home and I told my mum about the excitement at the airport with “Billy Cole”, she said “Wait, in a minute the whole house is full of people talkin’ about that Billy Cole”. Man, that record was so big in Jamaica. I couldn’t believe it!

What was the reason you changed your name for this song?

Nothin’! I was just singin’ reggae, this is more R’n’B. So I thought if I would change the name, people won’t know who it is. I even tried to wear a hat, but it didn’t work (Laughter)! A lot of people know it’s Winston Francis, especially the djs. And you know, it’s crazy, if I don’t sing “Extra Careful” in Jamaica, I can’t leave the stage.

About 2002 at the Sunsplash in Jamaica, I had to sing this song! One of the most popular Jamaican DJs, Winston “Merritone” Blake invited me to his Waterfall Club and I went there with my friends Dennis Alcapone, Glen Adams. During the night they played “Extra Careful”, the light was going on. I said “Oh no!”. One record, unbelievable.

Winston Francis
Winston Francis

There’s another story about “Stand By Me”, right?

I actually got a call by Dennis Bovell to work with him for good money. I went to the studio and a french guy wanted to gave me 300 pounds for doin’ this. Did it, one take. Dennis recommended taking royalties instead of the cash, because it’s a big company, Vogue / BMG. So I got handed out the two-paper contract, straight forward, I signed it. That was it. I went home. Forget about it. A year later I’m doing a tour in the states, really didn’t remember the recording.

My wife called me up and said some french guys called, sayin’ I’ve got a hit in France. “What?” I come home and she said these people keep callin’, they wanna talk to you. I asked her about what and she said “A song you recorded for them in France”. “I’ve never been to France!” (Laughter) A few days later I got a call from a french lady, my record has been sold 90.000 so far! Man, that was mind blowin’! I’m still gettin’ royalties from that. Later I went to France to record an album with Sly & Robbie, under the name of King Cool.

One thing’s for sure, you’ve got a lot of names.

Haha, just when I started singin’ there was a contortionist, called Cobra Man. I used to been called Cobra later too. I can’t remember the name, but King Sporty was recording a song at Studio One. He just couldn’t sing it properly, so Coxsone and Sylvan (Morris, Engineer) told me to sing it. I sang it, came out, went back into the monitor room and Dodd told King Sporty to sing over my voice, but he won’t change the song and it became a hit. Sporty always says he got his first hit just because of me.

David Rodigan gave me a call one day and said he’s just been listening to a tune called “It Ain’t”, he asked when I did that and I said I never sang this one. Later he even played it for me, I can hear it’s my voice, but still today I can’t remember when I recorded it, who I recorded it for, but I know it’s me. And the guy who I’m singin’ it with, I don’t know who the hell it is. It’s a very popular song, but more like one of these underground hits!

Winston Francis Microphone
Winston Francis Microphone

Your musical work ranges from ska to reggae and r’n’b to soul… What can you tell us about your musical inspirations?

All Jamaican singers, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs, we all grew up listenin’ to American music. We tried to imitate the American sound and the way they sang. That’s why a lot of Jamaicans had good pronunciation of lyrics, because we listened to the way Americans delivered the songs, all the time.

A lot of singers, like Jackie Wilson came to Jamaica and we watched them on stage and so we did the same moves. It’s where we got most of our ideas and influence from. You know, we really studied American artists and tried our best to be better than them. Alton Ellis’ version of Chuck Jackson’s “Willow Tree” got more feeling and became more popular, well deserved.

Has there been any input for you these days, like listening to records or the radio?

To be honest, at that time buying a record was like buying a car, very expensive. We had the radio to listen to the hit songs of the week. We couldn’t afford to buy records, but we went to a lot of dances and sang there… Man, that takes me back.

Any contemporary music you really like?

Oh yes, I love Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Jamaican music, Spanish music, just anything. If the music’s good, I love it. Pavarotti, Bocelli, Ken Guru (Laughter). You know, music is the only international language there is. If you read and write music or you’re a musician, you speak the same language and it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’re from China and I’m from Africa playin’ my cello and you can’t speak any african word, we can communicate from b-flat to c-minor, you know.

Music is so simple! My teacher gave me a very important argument; always remember, the first note in music is “do”, the last note in music is “do”. And “do” is money, so always get paid (Laughter). Very important. Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. To be honest, you hardly ever see a sad musician.

All photos by © VickyNuff /

Über Gastautor Ronny Ramone
Verlobt mit Rocksteady, Mixtape-Ticker und 7″ Nerd, Twitter Opfer, Hauptsache Bass & DresdenSoul Supporter.

Hier schreiben Gastautoren über ihre Liebe zu Reggae, Dub, Dancehall, Soundsystems. Ihr wollt auch mal? Meldet euch per socialdread (at) googlemail (dot) com.

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