Dread Reckoning

Dub architect, crossover dreamer, music exec, and all-around nice guy, Mikey Dread has kept the reggae fires burning for almost twenty years

Pleased with Dread's other studio contributions and enamored of his music, the Clash invited Dread to open for them on their next tour, and backed the "Bankrobber" single with a Dread song written about the tour ("Rockers Galore...UK Tour"). (The 1993 Legacy/Epic CD Super Black Market Clash contains another collaboration, the previously unreleased "Robber Dub.")

Dread is credited on the band's triple-LP Sandinista! for his unmistakable nasal vocals (on the song "Living in Fame") and for some studio mixing; one side of the album is presented as if it were a Mikey Dread radio show, replete with sound effects, patter, and even a "live caller" on the phone.

While living in England in the early Eighties, Dread enrolled at the National Broadcasting School in London. On March 30, 1982, the school's principal wrote a letter of recommendation for Michael "Mikey Dread" Campbell, noting that Dread had "a special gift.... In the opinion of myself and my senior staff he is the most exciting and original presenter that the School has ever trained."

Meanwhile, Mikey Dread continued recording, with albums being released in the U.S. and elsewhere by the Heartbeat label: Beyond World War III (a revised version of 1980's World War III, considered one of his greatest works); S.W.A.L.K. (for "sealed with a loving kiss"); and Pave the Way (Dread appears on its cover with a bulldozer). In 1989 Heartbeat issued a CD combining S.W.A.L.K. and Dread-produced songs by Hopeton Lindo, Sugar Minott, the Ovationz, Michael Israel, and others.

He made a foray into television with a six-part historical documentary, Deep Roots Music, which he hosted, and a ten-part show, Rockers Roadshow (highlighting new acts such as Simply Red), which he produced, both for Channel 4. In the mid-Eighties, Dread moved to Los Angeles, where he ran a Sunset Strip nightclub called Sound Storm, and in 1989 he went home to Jamaica, recording a comeback hit, "The Source (of Your Divorce)," with American rapper KRS-1 co-producing. A video for the song received airplay on U.S. cable networks such as BET and MTV. But in 1990 he returned to England to head the Afro-Caribbean department of Spectrum International (a London-based multiethnic radio station), where he also hosted a morning show.

Throughout all this Dread continued to find time to tour, until 1993, when he retired from roadwork, at least temporarily. "It was too hectic," Dread says of his tour schedule. "It's not what you expect. Without a good agency to promote you, if you try to do it independently, it's more difficult. It took too much out of me."

Outside June's restaurant, Dread and his pal Michael Israel are waiting for Dread's friend Monique Richards to complete some grocery shopping. A striking woman with a fancy hairdo and a black dress walks by. As she passes, Dread grabs her by the wrist. "Did that haircut cost $50?" he teases her. "It looks like a $50 haircut. If you're gonna leave, I'm not letting go of your hand. If you'll stay, I'll let go." She says she'll stay, he lets go, and she leaves with a teasing jaunt and an over-the-shoulder smile. Mikey Dread thrusts his hands in the air like a prisoner. "You could never do that with an American woman," he confides. "She cry 'sexual harassment.' But it's okay. She was Jamaican."

As he makes the most of his WAXY air-time, he remains open to every opportunity to bolster the reggae fraternity. Recent projects include appearing in a new movie shot in Jamaica (due out this year), being interviewed for a BBC documentary, and recording with Guns 'N Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Even so, he says, "I love music, but broadcasting is my first love."

Back when he was an electronics student in Kingston, Dread would spend his time outside the formal classroom learning other lessons. He'd devote hours to gleaning the best tracks from the bins of local record stores. He might find a song recorded by a dozen different artists, or a dub version of a certain tune, maybe an extended mix of a cut. (Today his personal collection numbers at least 5000, and he culls additional material from distributor VP Records's outlets in Hollywood and New York City.) He recalls that when he found something really hot, he'd play the song on his radio show -- over and over, back-to-back, until his point was driven home that this was a must-hear selection, a hit waiting to happen. He added jingles to the stew, and always found it difficult to keep his mouth from the microphone for too long.

The JBC informed him that he was "spoiling" songs by "putting verse 'pon them," Dread says now. The big problem? People were going into record stores and asking for the versions of the songs with that guy Mikey Dread talking over them.

Today's challenge is reaching South Florida listeners with the same mix of jingles, songs, effects, and that squeezed-from-the-bottom-of-his-lungs, taut, compressed, breathless voice cutting in and out of the music.

"Miami is a cosmopolitan city, and we need to utilize that," Dread explains. "My dream is to be on FM or TV. I started reggae at the BBC by getting them to let me do a weekly update about the scene. Then the BBC launched a reggae show, but they got someone else to host. And they still have reggae shows. Here they turn your ass away. But the people are ready. Look at all the Jamaican businesses around here. We're too close to the islands not to have this.

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