http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/13/nyreg ... .html?_r=1
Here are some pics from his new studio above Moodie's Records:
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/0 ... index.html
New Roots in the Bronx for a Lion of Reggae
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Lloyd Barnes, 64, is back producing music in his studio in the Wakefield section of the Bronx.
The elevated trains roar over the din of the streets and aging storefronts of Wakefield in the Bronx. Up a circular staircase in Moodie’s Records, past a wall of shrink-wrapped LPs and stacks of 45s, a neighborhood sound that began in the 1970s — Bronx reggae — is struggling to be reborn.
On a recent evening, Lloyd Barnes, 64, sat fixated at the mixing board as young and old collaborators moved around his studio, chatting over bottles of Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer, nodding to the reverberating beat and laying down tracks.
“If you have music in you, he’s going to bring it out,” said Lenny Chambers, 68, an auto mechanic who has begun recording with Mr. Barnes.
The studio on 225th Street and White Plains Road is called Wackie’s, as was its predecessor, at 241st Street and White Plains Road. The Wackie’s label, with its Rastafarian image of a lion with a dreadlocked mane, was one of the earliest reggae labels in this country; it has developed an international following, and its recordings are sought and collected for their distinctive sound.
Mr. Barnes created the 225th Street studio by hand in the compact space, opening it in December. “I love it here,” he said, his gaze proudly moving from the checkered maroon and white ceiling to the purple and brown floral carpet on the walls to the coffee maker and microwave in the recording booth. “I even built the couch, stayed here last night, yeah mon,” he said in his soft Jamaican patois.
Its predecessor was at the northern end of the No. 2 line and included a record store. That studio, a red storefront with a yellow lion heralding Wackie’s latest releases, soon became a magnet for Jamaican musicians from all over the city after it opened in the 1970s.
“It was like the reggae Motown in the Bronx,” said Ras Menelik DaCosta, 54, a percussionist with a white dreadlocked beard who jammed at the space. “People get wives just from being there; some people became fathers. It took on a life of its own.”
Claudette Brown, who was half of a Wackie’s female duo called the Love Joys, said: “Those were good times, I miss those years. But this is it, this is where I belong.”
Mr. Barnes was raised in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica, called Trenchtown, considered the cradle of reggae. As a teenager, he regularly attended ska shows and dub concerts where D.J.’s, known as sound system men, traveled from party to party, spinning records, which they punctuated with signature sound effects.
Later he befriended the producer Clement Dodd and hung around the legendary Studio One in Kingston, where Bob Marley and the Wailers, the Maytals and Burning Spear all had sessions. “I found a certain peace in the music,” he said. “It’s not always good times, but the music gives you that.”
In 1967, Mr. Barnes emigrated to New York, first to Brooklyn, where his mother lived. “It was a time to meet people of the same heritage, West Indians from all over,” he said, describing the large influx from the Caribbean to the city.
He attended a trade school, learning upholstering, but eventually settled in construction work. Spending his days tying steel for reinforced concrete, at night he would be a D.J., lugging turntables, crates of records and speakers on the subway with friends to gigs in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
“We didn’t have no car then, so we took the train,” he said.
With his earnings, he slowly began to accumulate amplifiers, effects units, and other studio equipment. Around 1972, he rented a leaky basement on White Plains Road, where he set up a disco and his first studio, imprinting it with his nickname. A few years later, Mr. Barnes moved to his second location, 241st Street. There, working with various artists, he perfected his raw analog sound, defined by deep drum, bass, minimal lyrics and interludes of reverb.
“It was a New York sound,” said Milton Henry, a singer and distributor for the label. “It had a whole different energy.”
But without the distribution capacity of a major label, Mr. Barnes could not afford to press more than 500 to 1,000 records at a time. “We tried to reach the world, but no one was interested,” he said.
Unable to pay for a house and a studio, he gave up the home and occasionally slept on the floor of the drum room in the studio. “You can’t make music in the house so we keep the studio,” he said, adding that the electricity sometimes failed there. “The light, sometime we lose it for a day or two, but we always get it back,” he said. “It was difficult, but we were doing what we wanted to do.”
Over the 13 years that the studio on 241st Street was open, Mr. Barnes recorded artists like Sugar Minott, the Meditations, and Wayne Jarrett. The songs he produced included “Instrument for Jah,” “West Bound D Train,” and “Wack Rap,” an early rap single, released in 1979.
After rising rents forced him to close the studio in 1989, he said, he moved to Englewood, N.J., where he mainly mastered recordings for Japanese record companies.
“It wasn’t till much later that Wackie hit his heyday” and found wider popularity, said Ira Heaps, owner of Jammyland, an East Village record store that specialized in reggae. Mr. Heaps added that “Dance Hall Style“ by Horace Andy, a record on the Wackie’s label, was his store’s most popular album.
Although Mr. Barnes has not released material in years, he still records and tours with reggae musicians. In 2001, Basic Channel, a German label, began to reissue his earlier recordings.
Having returned to the Bronx, Mr. Barnes said he planned to release his last few years of music soon. He reflected, “When I travel, my records pop up everywhere; sometime I wonder, how come 500 records can get this far around the world?”