Prince Buster

Cecil Bustamente Campbell (born May 28, 1938), better known as Prince Buster, is a musician from Kingston, Jamaica and regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of ska music. The records he made on the Blue Beat label in the 1960s inspired several reggae and ska artists.

Early Life

Campbell was born into a working-class family in Kingston. The son of a rail driver, he grew up in one of the city's toughest neighbourhoods. At a young age, he developed a taste for music and yearned to be a singer. In 1956, he started singing at Kingston nightclubs for small pay. He formed a succession of bands with several of his friends, none of which were really successful.

What turned Campbell's music career around was the growing sound system craze. Across Jamaica, music promoters drove vans filled with stereo equipment to stage mobile parties. The operators of the sound system would play the most popular R&B dance records of the day, and often they would have a vocalist called a toaster call out the dancers' names, chant in rhythm, and make light-hearted boasts; the toaster form was the primary influence on early rap MCs.

Eventually, Campbell was introduced to Clement Dodd, a musically inclined businessman who operated one of Kingston's most popular sound systems. Interestingly, Campbell was not hired as a musician but as security; because of rivalries between fans devoted to a particular sound system, the parties sometimes could become quite rough, and Campbell had been a skillful amateur boxer as a teenager. It was in this line of work that he earned the nickname "The Prince", which along with his boyhood moniker "Buster" (from his middle name Bustamente), formed the name under which he would later become famous.

Artistic & Producing Career

In 1960, Buster produced a record for the Folkes Brothers for the Wild Bells label, "Oh Carolina," under his nickname. It was an instant hit in Jamaica, and Buster's early records (most of which were released in the [United Kingdom|UK]] by Melodisc Records) contributed greatly to the developing sound of ska. Buster was soon recording himself as well as producing records for others. By this time ska was becoming the hottest music in the country, and he moved on to Melodisc's spinoff label, Blue Beat, which focused exclusively on ska.

From 1963 to the end of the decade, Buster wrote and cut dozens of records for Blue Beat, nearly all of which were hits. In addition, he produced over one hundred records for other artists on the same label. He experimented with new production techniques that were used by other producers for years. Soon after his initial success, Buster was drawing international attention. He toured Britain extensively during this period, playing to sellout crowds, and appeared on BBC-TV's Ready, Steady, Go! in 1964. Several of Buster's singles charted in the UK; "Al Capone" was the first Jamaican record to break into Britain's top 20. He also toured the Netherlands and other European countries. Although none of his singles charted as highly in the United States, he went on a successful American tour in 1967.

Although beloved by music fans in his home land and many others, Buster's relationship to his fellow ska pioneer, producer Leslie Kong, was far less amiable. A former protegé of his, Derrick Morgan, had a falling out with Buster and starting working instead with Kong. When Morgan and Kong started releasing singles that lifted their melodies from Buster's own recordings, Buster fought back by recording an indictment of Kong, "Blackhead Chinaman." The two hitmakers continued to trade insults in song form back and forth, foreshadowing in many ways the famous rivalries between rap producers in the 1990s.

Besides being a pioneering musician, Buster, like Clement Dodd, was also very interested in business. He started a record store in Kingston in the early 1960s which is still owned and operated by his family today. Later he founded a jukebox company. He also started the Prince Buster Records label; although it proved unsuccessful, he was able to cut most of his losses by selling it to the former owner of Blue Beat.

Post-Recording Life

By the 1970s Buster had slowed down his career as a musician to focus on his business ventures. The ska sound was not as popular as it once was, but its influence was clearly felt in its descendants: rocksteady, which was basically ska with a slowed-down beat, and by rocksteady's better-known successor, reggae. In addition to the musical influence, many reggae lyrics expressed an Afrocentric, Marcus Garvey-inspired worldview, which had been present in some of Prince Buster's songs. Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert, and other reggae stars have acknowledged their debt to The Prince. Buster also made a cameo appearance in the acclaimed international hit movie, The Harder They Come

By the late 1970s, Buster was in serious financial trouble. His business ventures were all posting losses or low profits, and the loans he had taken out to start them were catching up. Fortunately for him, ska was experiencing a revival in the United Kingdom. In 1979, the band Madness released its first record, a tribute to Buster called "The Prince," which urged ska fans to remember "the man who set the beat", stating "So I'll leave it up to you out there / To get him back on his feet." Interest in Buster soared during this time; he received royalties when bands like The Specials, The (English) Beat, and The Selecter recorded covers of his songs, and his old records were reissued and sold well. Between these boons, The Prince was indeed able to "get back on his feet."

Prince Buster now lives in Miami, Florida. He no longer records or produces, but has performed at a few shows over the past several Buster fr:Prince Buster


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