Coffee break chat: Musician James De Lovell
James De Lovell is a music producer who has worked with some of the most talented artists in Barbados including Alison Hinds, Krosfyah and Square One.
He is well known for his drumming skills and has even invented his own rhythmic style called ‘chuck’.
As a drum teacher at the Barbados Community College, James is currently influencing the artists of the future.
He spoke to Yello about his successful career, why he loves being a musician and how he feels about Barbados.
Tell us about your upbringing
I grew up in Durants Village, Holders Hill, St James. My dad’s side of the family are musical, and my mum was always singing in church, but at that time in Barbados, people didn’t think about making music their career.
I started off singing in church and beating the cymbal but then my dad decided to start me on the guitar. I didn’t actually choose an instrument, but the music was in me and a guitar was in the house, so I started playing it.
My dad was an engineer for a band called ‘Spirit’ and he took me to the sound checks. I used to look at the guitarist and everyone else playing, and it fascinated me, just to see how so many people could come together to make one sound.
How did you start playing the drums?
It just came naturally I suppose. Once I tried it, I realised I liked it more, and I moved away from the guitar.
I set up a fake drum kit in my bedroom with buckets, a saucepan cover and a hammer as the foot pedal.
When I was 12, my mum came home one day and told me that a gospel band called ‘Sister Marshall and the Victory Voices’ was advertising for a drummer. I went to the rehearsal, which was the first time I had ever sat behind a full drum kit and played with a band, and the bucket practicing in my bedroom paid off as they chose me.
You enjoyed success at a young age; tell us about that.
I was playing with Alison Hinds and Krosfyah at 17 but that was before they were the names we know now.
I went to Krosfyah after playing with ‘Sister Marshall’. I snuck out of the house for about six months to rehearse with them because my mother was a Christian and she didn’t want me to play with a secular band. The owner of the band was a friend of my dad’s but he kept my secret.
I played hotel gigs with them, and I was on their first recorded song, but then they went into the clubs and changed management so I decided to leave.
I chose to session because I didn’t want to be part of anyone else’s agenda. I wanted my freedom and to record different music with different people.
My journey was never about money, fame and commercial gain from the music. I just wanted to improve and to understand the talent that God has given me.
I think I played with every band in the 90’s – Second Avenue; Axis; Splash Band; Holder’s Band; Square One and Kolour Blind. Every band around at that time, except Spice.
So you were in huge demand?
I would say so, because drumming at that time was moving to the drum machine and electronic drums and it was hard for a drummer to keep steady time, but I was one of the few people who changed with the times and didn’t complain.
Instead I went back to the drawing board and found my own rhythm that you couldn’t recreate using a machine and it became popular.
When I realised no one else was doing it I decided to call it ‘chuck’ but I never really promoted it. It was supposed to be the spirit of how musicians in Barbados were playing at the time and, out of that, some people then put on their own style and interpretation.
What was the highlight of your career?
Every day is a highlight. I remember situations that were good but there’s no artist that I played with who was bigger than the next, or an album that sounded better, or a stage that was bigger or smaller than the next.
For me, just being a musician is good and better than being a carpenter or a mason, and I enjoy hearing my songs come back to me in recordings.
What artist/s would you like to have played with?
I would’ve loved to have played with Bob Marley’s band. Just to have been there, even if I was playing tambourine or triangle, would’ve been good.
I’d have enjoyed being on stage with Harry Belafonte; Tito Puente; Famoudou Konaté; Mamady Keïta; James Brown; George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. They all produced songs with a message and that’s what I try to produce, so-called rebel songs, which make you think.
Nowadays I’d even play with Rihanna, Ariana Grande or Lady Gaga, why not?
Tell us about your teaching career
When I was performing live, a lot of people would approach me and ask me to teach them, but I’d say no, because I didn’t think I’d be any good because I never had an official teacher.
But David Carnegie asked me to teach him, and I liked it, so I started my own school. At that same time the Community College asked me to teach too, so I made a decision years ago not to leave Barbados, and to stay here and teach.
Right now I think every drummer and club band that’s playing here, was taught by me, and if they didn’t come through me, then they came through one of my students. It’s great to see that the level of drumming here right now is on par with the best in the world.
What do you love about Barbados?
I love everything about Barbados; every bird and centipede. I like the scenery, the sun and I love the people. It’s green all year and our soil produces almost anything.
If Barbados didn’t exist then I wouldn’t exist.
How would you like to be remembered?
I don’t want people to remember me for more than I was or what I did for them.
Just remember me as me. A man who knew rhythm well, who produced music, made music from scratch and taught the spirit of rhythm.
Remember me as somebody who passed through the human experience and did pretty well at it.
Find out more about James De Lovell on his Facebook page