So glad to hear about Beth Lesser‘s new book The Legend Of Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion was released this past week. Before I go any further, order it from Muzik Tree now (they’re the folks that brought you all the terrific Small Axe books) and read Susannah’s interview with Beth at Shimmy Shimmy.
Finding out about the new book got me reminiscing. As those who read this blog may be aware, I was involved in getting Beth’s King Jammy’s reissued back when I was toiling at a rather low-paying publishing gig. As Scott C explained in his 2003 article about the book, I was super interested in getting a copy of King Jammy’s for my boyfriend at the time. When we got the original 1989 version in the mail, the two of us pored over it, amazed at how the writing so vividly depicted soundsystem culture. I’ve often said that I fell in love with reggae not through the music of Bob Marley, but the sound of Stone Love–however, Beth’s book most certainly clinched the deal. I don’t think I’d be going too far to say that it got me over to the UK to chat with Steve Barrow (and have him write the afterword), getting up the nerve to get a cover blurb from Dennis Alcapone, and applying for a job and then moving to Jamaica in 2003.
After making a plea to ECW Press that this would be a valuable and important book, we had to figure out how to get it done well and inexpensively. Intro design (specifically Martina Keller) painstakingly conceptualized the look of the book, which was, of course, made to be the exact same size as a 45″. Intro had been responsible for a whole run of spectacular covers for Blood and Fire, and they were willing to cut their fee to something that would manageable, given that I represented a rather small Canadian publishing house (and if you know anything about Canadian publishing, there’s not really much money in it).
Beth kindly provided us with every back issue of Reggae Quarterly the 1980s dancehall fanzine her and her husband Dave Kingston had put out–this lead to the inclusion of eight selections in the book, additional interviews with Half Pint, George Phang, Jazzbo, Jammy, Tiger, Admiral Bailey and King Kong, as well as a piece on Youth Promotion and Sugar Minott.
Though I left publishing to take up research and my move to Jamaica transformed (and transmigrated) into years of research into Ethiopia, I do believe that working on King Jammy’s was a bit of a gamechanger in my life, and it remains something I’m still quite proud of.
Even in a climate that makes publishing quite difficult, I am so glad that Beth’s books have been released–her photography and her words jump off the page, providing amazing descriptions and asking all the pertinent questions. Here’s to the next book…