Many Reggae fans might not have heard Val Douglas’ name before, but all of you have listened to him. His mighty bass can be heard on some of the biggest Reggae tunes ever. Val Douglas is quite far up on the long list of unsung heroes of Jamaican music. This needs to change, we think, so we met for an interview with the musical backbone of the current Skatalites-lineup.
10 classic tunes that feature Val Douglas on bass:
Y Mas Gan
So Much Trouble in The World
Ride Natty Ride
Beat Down Babylon
Breakfast in Bed
Is it Because I’m Black
Tears on My Pillow
RSS: When preparing this interview, we realised that even though you have played on so many records, it’s not easy to find much information about you on the net. One thing we did find is that both of your parents were school teachers, right. Did they not try to convince you to do a “proper” job – like teaching?
Val Douglas: Yeah, well they did that, but this is the way it has worked out. And they accepted it, because everything I did was on level and I was still the same person. So they didn’t bother too much.
RSS: You have worked with a long list of illustrious people, some of them like Peter Tosh and Lee Perry maybe even difficult. Of all those people, who left the most lasting impression on you?
Val Douglas: All of them really, that’s kind of hard to say. Working with Peter Tosh was good, we were brethren and he was a good guy. Bob – no problem there, he was easy to work with. Dennis Brown was very good too. Well, Scratch…. I worked with him before he did all that explosive stuff, so that was cool.
RSS: You did both, a lot of studio work and plenty of touring. What do you prefer?
Val Douglas: Nowadays I’m more touring, back then it was more studio work. For a long time, I stayed away from touring because too many guys came back with really bad stories – like going on a tour to Africa and then the promoter messed up and left them alone. There were a lot of stories like that, so I was very comfortable working in the studio.
RSS: What are the recordings, the bass lines you are most proud of then?
Val Douglas: There are so many… Breakfast in Bed, Beat Down Babylon, Y Mas Gan, So Much Trouble in The World and Top Ranking for Bob Marley. There’s one bass line I did for Roman Stewart, that’s a wicked line and it’s still out there. Pluto Shervington’s “Dat” is a nice one, too. On a different level, I did some nice things with Eric Gale on his “Negril” album. I did all the tracks except for one. Eric was the writer for people like Roberta Flack (Killing Me Softly). That was like a learning moment for me. Eric was wicked.
RSS: After you finally started touring, what was the most memorable one?
Val Douglas: Seeing cultures like Japan or Australia first hand was really interesting. I loved that. It was summer and sometimes we would play in front of 60,000 people, as far as I could see.
RSS: We read that you recently recorded with Shaggy. Is that music you can relate too?
Val Douglas: Yeah man! Shaggy comes from New York and when he started doing his thing, I lived in New York, too. I had a band called A-Team. We played a lot of the Reggae Sunsplash tours in the 1980s and 1990s, backing lots of different artists. A lot of them came round asking us to play with them. We were the first who did Buju (Banton) or Shabba (Ranks). Later on they got to a level where they could bring their own bands from Jamaica. I know Shaggy from even before he became famous. He has always been a very good guy. He is a philanthropist and gives work to the community. He knows where he is coming from.
RSS: Do you still enjoy touring nowadays?
Val Douglas: Yeah man, absolutely. Sometimes it’s a little challenging, but “challenging” is a positive word, right?
RSS: When you play on stage you look very comfortable and at home with what you are doing. Is that the way it feels for you?
Val Douglas: Well, with my kind of experience you are supposed to be quite relaxed. If you are not relaxed, you cannot execute properly, but at the same time I am also totally focussed to play every beat of the bar.
RSS: You started out playing mostly Reggae. How do you feel about playing Ska nowadays.
Val Douglas: I grew up on Ska. All my high school years were Ska, Ska, Ska! I used to love to dance to Ska and sing back all the solos long before I thought about becoming a musician. So playing Ska now is some kind of fulfillment.
RSS: There is this stereotype of any bass player in the world to be the quiet guy in the band. Does that apply to you?
Val Douglas: I don’t know. I can be quiet, I can be noisy.
RSS: Jamaica recently celebrated 50 years of independence. How has Jamaica developed in all these years?
Val Douglas: A lot of work has been put into the infrastructure like highways. Jamaica could have progressed more, but it doesn’t have many natural resources like oil. Unfortunately, the sugar or banana industries are not very profitable anymore.
RSS: Can we ask you a few questions about your own tastes in music?
Val Douglas: Sure, go ahead.
RSS: Can you remember the very first record you ever bought?
Val Douglas: Oh man, that’s a long time ago. I grew up with a lot of records around me. My parents used to bring home new records all the time. My brother had his own soundsystem, so he owned many records, too. The very first one I bought? I really couldn’t tell you.
RSS: What sort of music do you listen to on the tour bus?
Val Douglas: The Skatalites, of course! They have recorded so much music that we sometimes struggle to remember all of the titles. Apart from that I listen to stuff that inspires me, Chicago, for example.
RSS: What’s the saddest song you know?
Val Douglas: ‘I Was Born A Woman” by Pam Hall comes to mind. I played on it and every time I hear it, it brings back memories of the time we worked and toured together. It was also used for a soundtrack.
RSS: What’s the best dance song you know?
Val Douglas: ‘Guns Of Navarone’ always gets people moving. I have seen a lot of things happen when we played that one. One time, in Washington, they had to evacuate the venue because things were going so wild. ’Occupation’ also does the trick.
RSS: What kind of music do you listen to on a Sunday morning?
Val Douglas: Sunday morning? I will usually be asleep because last night’s gig went on for so long. If I am awake, I like a bit of Stevie Wonder.
RSS: How about your favourite love song?
Val Douglas: ‘For You’ by Dennis Brown comes to mind and ’I Need Your Love’ by Delroy Wilson.
RSS: And finally, what’s you all time desert island album?
Val Douglas: You boys do ask some hard questions…. Maybe Bob Marley’s ’Survival’ – album – Survival is what it’s all about on a desert island after all!
RSS: Thank you very much.
Peter Clemm, Sven Trapp, photos: Uli Grobusch
For a list of the bass credits of Val Douglas go to allmusic.com.