Interview: Max Romeo

August 11, 2013

“Scratch is the only man in the world who is as sane as can be and make millions out of madness!”

“Give me a break please. I’m doing an interview” says Max Romeo to his English musicians the Charmax Band. He’s cutting short a lively dressing area confab after a triumphant performance at Summerjam Festival in Cologne. “Keep a lid on it for a while.”

Max Romeo

He has stepped in to replace Ken Boothe who has curtailed his entire European tour (fear not: Mr Boothe’s management assure us that his health is not the reason – just a logistical mix-up). Later Max will step in again for another legend – the injured Toots Hibbert – at WOMAD in England. The Romeo tour, which takes in Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and now Germany, seems to be mopping up his colleagues’ cancelled dates. Is Max the man reggae festivals call in a crisis?

“I’m the man who fix a problem. I’m Mr Fix It.”

We thought Winston Francis was Mr Fix It?

“No, no, he is Mr Repair” says Max with a laugh “I’m Mr Fix it”.

“It’s just my nature.” He continues. “Help is my middle name when it’s dishing out. My agent learned of the difficulty and called me and said ‘Let’s do it.’ It’s fun doing it. I love to be on the stage.”

Even so, does he feel the need to make an impact when coming in at short notice? In his answer the regard Max has for a friend and elder statesman is clear.

“Yeah. I’m trying to appease the situation for Mr Boothe. I have to do my best because I’m doing Mr Boothe’s show. I can’t go in and do no little finicky thing. I have to give them the real thing like Mr Boothe was here.”

Dressed in white with greying locks, the slightly built Max might be a venerable veteran himself, but he is keen to salute the generations that came before. On this tour he has been closing with a ska medley featuring Byron Lee productions like Wings Of A Dove, Sammy Dead and Ska Ska Ska, as well as Derrick Morgan’s Sunday Monday. As a youth, the young Max Smith was enthused by the pioneering Jamaican beat to become a singer.

“Byron Lee became a good friend of mine. And Derrick Morgan is actually my godfather in the business. He was the guy who inspired me most of all in the early days when I was first coming. He is the grandfather of reggae and still alive and still performing.”

The ska had slowed to rocksteady when Max got his initial whiff of musical success. It touched his very first group the Emotions, formed with Robbie Shakespeare’s brother Lloyd and Kenneth Knight. They voiced Buy Me A Rainbow for Ken Lack of the Caltone label which became a Jamaican hit in 1966.

“It was a short, short period but it was my starting point. The first song I recorded with the Emotions went on both national charts at the time. It went as far as number two but because of lack of proper promotion it tumbled back out of the chart and did not make it to number one. But that was my first effort and that inspired me to continue.

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