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Reggae Legend Clinton Fearon in Montana

Longtime reggae musician Clinton Fearon continues pushing the envelope with new collaborations, new sounds and a far from jaded outlook on music and life. Fearon discussed his musical philosophy, his musical past, working with iconic producers and an amusing incident in Butte.

Montana Press: You grew up in St. Catherine, Jamaica. What was the music scene like for you growing up as a child?

Clinton Fearon: I loved music from a tender age. I was a child of The Skatalites from when I was nine years old. From them I determined that’s what I wanted to do. I went on to build my first guitar when I was like 10 and a half.

I built my first guitar because my dad couldn’t afford it when I asked him for one. I went to Kingston, formed a little group called The Brothers. Not too long after that I joined up with The Gladiators who were already established.

We were self-contained and then we started to play for different artists in the studios and with different musicians. Some of the musicians who I admired when I was younger like Tommy McCook, those guys, it was like, ‘Whoa!’ It was a goose-bump kind of thing.

Montana Press: How have you evolved musically to where you are today?

Clinton Fearon: I started professionally roughly 50 years ago. I always see myself as, ‘Oh boy, I’m at 10 percent going for 100.’ Today I can say I’m like 25 percent going for 100. When I moved to the U.S., I put together a band called Boogie Brown. Most of the musicians were jazz players and way more advanced than me as a musician in terms of theory, different styles, but they don’t know much about reggae music.

So my thing is if they are inspired and willing then they are able. It’s up to me to be patient and I was. So while I’m being patient I’m learning from them as well. I think I’ve grown and I’m still growing and I’m trying to be humble because there is still so much to learn.

Montana Press: Early on you worked with producers Coxsone Dodd and Lee “Scratch” Perry. What did you take from working with them?

Clinton Fearon: Sometimes you have to get involved and sometimes it’s wise to sit aside and let the thing roll. They were opposites in their approach. Say you did an audition with Coxsone he would say, ‘I like it, come record it.’ He will let you record it, not get involved at all. When it’s finished if he likes it he will put it out. If he does not like it, it will not come out.

Scratch on the other hand from the moment he likes it he’s going to get involved one way or another. ‘Let me hear it again! Let me hear that line again! I think you need to step it up a semi-tone, man!’ He’s always coming with something to be involved. But it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. I would say he’s a genius in producing in terms of coming with a new vibe, a new beat or just a new sound.

Montana Press: What can fans expect from the Montana shows with Kevin Kinsella?

Clinton Fearon: He’s my friend and several years ago when we played back east, according to his story, we were the group who got him inspired. Later on, he contacted me and told me the story. He came to Seattle and I jammed with him a little bit and then he invited us back east for a few shows back there. It’s like two friends doing something for fun.

Montana Press: Do you have any fond memories of playing in Montana?

Clinton Fearon: I think we were playing Butte with the very early (lineup) of Boogie Brown at a festival. And there was a reverend, he passed away now but he used to sell merch. So we invited him to come along with us and sell merch.

He said, "Where are you going?" We told him Butte, Montana.

"Well, are you sure man?" I said.

"Why not?" he said. "You might have to take your gun with you!"

So we convinced him to come along but when we got there (Butte) he didn’t want to come out. But everybody had so much fun and that day our friend the reverend sold the most merchandise.

I told him, "You see my friend, not all things that glitter are gold. Sometimes what don’t glitter gold could be underneath it. Never judge!" I’m going to do what I love and spread that vibe. Hopefully it catches on to the people we meet.

Montana Press: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Clinton Fearon: In June we have an EP release with the four different versions of a jazz song. In September we’re supposed to go to Europe to promote the new album, then we’re going to tour in October and do a little tour. My daughter Anita is also on the album and will be touring with us.

Montana Press: Why do you think reggae is so uplifting?

Clinton Fearon: I think it’s the spirit of it. I remember growing up in the 70s in Kingston when things got hot politically. Music is what helped me, my vibe, that’s why some of the songs like "Rich Man Poor Man," "Chatty Chatty Mouth" all them songs I write about it's seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. If you see the light you can laugh, you can dance, you can smile, you can encourage. "Hey man, we’re going to get through!" We try to carry that spirit.

—Jason MacNeil

Clinton Fearon plays in Whitefish at the Longstaff House in Missoula on April 4, the Filling Station in Bozeman on April 5 and in Butte at the Covellite Theatre on April 6.

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