PRINCE LINCOLN THOMPSON & THE ROYAL RASSES
‘The Royal Rasses music is for the moral upliftment of all humanity’ Prince Lincoln Thompson 1979
As the clock of time ever marches onward the legion of reggae artists who have left us grows steadily larger. Some are acclaimed geniuses in their lifetimes such as Marley or Tommy McCook but others whose music is easily their equal remain half forgotten both in life and in death. One such man has to be Prince Lincoln Thompson who passed away in January 1999.
Principle songwriter and voice behind the innovative Royal Rasses (Royal Princes) band, Sax as he was known, (due to his love of brightly coloured socks or ‘sax’ in patois), contributed some astounding work to the reggae scene. Masterpiece songs such as ‘Kingston11’ and ‘Love The Way It Should Be’ to name but two of his recordings.
Little is know of Sax’s early life in Jamaica except that he grew up in Kingston’s notorious ‘west side’ shanty town until he surfaced in the Tartans vocal group around 1967. The group consisted of Lincoln, Devon Russell, Cedric Myton and a floating fourth member. Scoring heavily both in JA and the UK with tunes such as ‘Dance All Night’, ‘Lonely Heartaches’ and ‘Let’s Have Some Fun’, the group surprisingly split up in ’69. This was mainly due to, as Lincoln would put it a few years later, ‘…lack of interest between the four of us, – each one had different opinions’.
A dry spell of two years ensued until a young Pablo Black introduced him to Coxsone Dodd. Liking what he heard, Dodd took him in and in his nine month spell at Studio One three tracks were recorded. One, a love song ‘Daughters of Zion’ and two astoundingly deep self examinations ‘True Experience’ and ‘Live Up To Your Name’, both now recognised as the epitome of the cultural side of Studio One, standing alongside the likes of Burning Spear’s majestic ‘Door Peeper’.
Dissatisfaction with the music business crept in and Thompson went in to ‘virtual hiding’ until 1974 when, after much thought, he decided the only way to earn a living in the reggae runnings was to control your own label.ve
The ‘God Sent’ label was formed with cohorts Cedric Myton, Johnny Cool (Clinton Hall) and Cap (Keith Peterkin). The latter two were to be his main backing singers through out the Rasses heyday of the early 80’s. It was decided that each man should put in $100 to get the label off the ground, but due to some speculation by Lincoln, on a horse, his mother’s loan to him rapidly decreased!
Eventually the label was up and running but selling two or three discs a day was all that they could manage with out the distribution of a major producer or label behind them until, in 1978, they met Mo Claridge. Mo ran Ballistic Records, a London based label tied to US record giant United Artists, and he signed the Royal Rasses immediately.
A clear vinyl 12″ single in picture sleeve was released titled ‘Unconventional People’ which entered the reggae singles charts in March ’79 and an album, ‘Humanity’ which shot straight to the number one slot in the reggae LP chart of May 1979 and gave an instant hit for Ballistic Records.
The LP was a tour de force of Lincoln Thompson’s superb song writing and showcased the soaring tones of his vocals, while the 12″ crossed over in to the soul/disco market and was played widely through out the clubs. Both were well packaged with a picture sleeve on the 12″ and an inner lyric sleeve coming with the album.
Along with more intricate songs such as ‘San Salvador’ and ‘Old Time Friends’ there were two earlier recorded gems, both originally released as 7″ singles ‘Kingston 11’ and ‘Love The Way It Should Be’. These had been hits in JA and for the small UK label Neville King in 1977 each filling the floor at any reggae dance but they had not escaped the confines of the Jamaican community.
Now they were available to a wider audience and the Rasses were the premiere reggae group with a tour planned for September ’79 to promote a new album ‘Experience’ which Ballistic had picked up from Lincoln in JA and scheduled for release on 7th September.
The tour was hit by financial problems almost immediately and the only plane tickets that were affordable were stand by-seats with Jamaican Independence Day as the chosen day for the flight. The flights were swamped and in the end just two first class seats could be found, one for Prince Lincoln and the other for Pablo Black who was musical director and keyboard player with the band. The pair landed in London the day the tour was to begin at Dingwalls Night Club, a major reggae venue in the 1970s.
Hastily, the Israelites band were rehearsed to back Lincoln on the first gig with hopes that his remaining band members would arrive before the European dates planned and the heavily promoted Rainbow, London gig on October 5th. Finally the band arrived on the morning that the European leg of the tour was due to start after negotiating Hurricane David which closed their stop off point, Miami airport. Quickly kitted out in warm clothes, as the British autumn was freezing compared to JA, the tour was underway. After a resounding success through out Europe the full band returned to London for the eagerly anticipated Rainbow gig.
The instant Lincoln with Cap and Johnny Cool walked on stage the venue was in uproar. A night of pure uplifting real roots music followed with cuts from the new album, ‘Experience’, really hitting home to the buoyant crowd. The band were honed to perfection and with Prince Jammy on the mixing desk there were no prisoners taken that night.
Based on the vinyl and vocal output over the year the Royal Rasses were voted fourth best reggae vocal group of ’79 in the Black Music poll and ‘Humanity’ eighth best reggae album of the year. Culture were top of both polls.
The renamed Rasses, so as not to cause confusion with Roy Cousins group, The Royals, new album ‘Experience’ continued to sell heavily in to 1980 with noted reggae journalist Chris May citing that it was ‘..one of the best ever sets in the entire history of reggae..’. Reggae purists were having some problems with a few cuts on the album as Lincoln’s style had always encompassed far more than plain drum and bass reggae rhythms. Using the absolute cream of JA sessioneers he had created something he tagged ‘inter-reg’ or reggae with a more international feel. Taking snatches of soul, jazz and funky basslines then fusing in his own unmistakable song writing and soaring vocals to create a blend of styles, but always with the heartbeat of the reggae rhythm running through and under each
The next project for the Rasses was set to be even more controversial as Sax teamed up with white new wave rock musician Joe Jackson to record an album together. The fruits of this labor, ‘Natural Wild’ was released mid 1980 on United Artists Records.
Sales were slow due to reggae people not being interested as a white rock man was involved and the rock world having little interest in this strange hybrid. There are (luckily?) only three Joe Jackson tracks and admittedly to a roots reggae person they are not too special but the remainder of the album was pure Rasses with the sublime ‘My Generation’ bearing all the hallmarks of classic Lincoln Thompson work. This was issued as a 12″ and many bought this rather than the LP and, to be blunt, the album bombed.
A stunning album returning to more traditional roots was recorded at Tuff Gong and Channel One early in 1982 and found release via the German company Juicy Peeple utilising Lincoln’s own God Sent imprint. ‘Ride With The Rasses’ was simply magical, with Lincoln’s almost ethereal vocals running tales of hardship, greed and envy.
The golden age of reasoning and praises had all but passed and the dance hall was beckoning to young Jamaica as ‘Ride With The Rasses’ slipped out to an unknowing public. Hardly any reviews appeared and few tracks were picked up by the reggae shows which resulted in unjustly poor sales for such an exemplary album.
Around this time it is believed the Thompson family relocated to Tottenham, North London with Lincoln opening a green grocer’s shop. Nothing was heard of the Royal Rasses until a UK produced album quietly appeared late in 1983.
Recorded at Addis Ababa Studios, London and financed by Target Records this was unmistakably Prince Lincoln’s work with his familiar cultural themes and containing a recut of ‘Love The Way It Should Be’. Presented in a superb gatefold sleeve this was no quick, cheap job but the money invested could hardly of been recouped judging by the attention the media and reggae public gave to it.
A flyer inside each album offered the chance to win a return ticket to the caribbean by submitting your winning number from the form. Presumably this ploy was hoped to bring in more sales for the album. It was never known if any lucky buyer did get to see the Caribbean.e
After the ‘Roots Man Blues’ set Prince Lincoln slid in to history as the relentless mechanical Sleng Teng slaughtered all in it’s path.
The dance hall craze came and went and the new resurgence of roots music in the early nineties reactivated many artists who had been making a living via other means.
As the roots revival surged on in to the decade rumours appeared that new Prince Lincoln material was around, then Kiss FM’s Joey Jay played a DAT with the unmistakable voice of the Prince on it.
A wait of a few months then around summer ’93 a 12″ single ‘They Don’t Know Jah’ on UK pressed God Sent appeared. The Royal Rasses or rather Lincoln Thompson was back, using the new digital rhythms perfectly with a song in the familiar spiritual mould.
A love song appeared on a 12″ blank ‘Rising In Love’ and a piece of production work on one Mello D called ‘Jahovia’. A sweet roots song bearing the unmistakable backing vocals of Sax and released once again on his God Sent label.
Then once again silence. Perhaps the response to his new music was not as Lincoln hoped or maybe other commitments took precedent. What ever, the voice was still until early in 1996 when a dub plate started to get airplay called ‘Heroes Just The Same’ supposedly the taster for a brand new album.
A CD single was issued of ‘Heroes…’ with the full album a few months later after some distribution problems were resolved.
The album, ’21st Century’, was recorded UK side with some seminal British based session men and mixed at Tuff Gong JA by the likes of Sylvan Morris. This was to be the most fulfilling and masterful piece of work yet to come from the mind and heart of Prince Lincoln. Released by the tiny 1-5 South Records once again it was obvious that a great deal of money and thought went in to the project. Every track was a gem with Lincoln’s intricate song writing leading you in to his thoughts and the wonder of his soaring voice twisting and pulling the words in to unbelievable strands of aural poetry.
The ragga world, of course, turned it’s back on this ‘old timer’ but those in the know were bowled over by the sheer power of the album. There was nothing but praise from critics and public alike for this landmark in reggae music. Not for almost twenty years had such a powerful message soaked album been recorded. Biting and succinct tracks such as ‘Hear Our Cry’, ‘Hard Times Come Again’ and the title cut all reflected a mature intellectual mind.
It seemed that the Prince’s time had come with this resurgence in creativity and more new music was hoped for as he cut a duet with his old time Tartans partner Devon Russell who had also relocated to North London.
Sadly Devon succumbed to cancer in June 1997 before a proposed album of the duo could be recorded. A year and a half later and Prince Lincoln also was stolen from us by cancer of the liver.
At the time of writing it is not known what, if any, music was being written or recorded but as of yet nothing has come to light. All we have is the legacy Prince Lincoln has left us of mesmerising, uplifting, spiritual music sung in his own unmistakable style.
Perhaps the last word should go to Chris May writing in Black Music magazine November 1979,
‘Lincoln Thompson….is one of the warmest, genuinely modest artists it’s ever been my pleasure to talk to..’