Real name Edmund Brooks, he was born in Kingston and made his start in the business singing with a little-known vocal group called the Tots. He and Pat Francis, AKA Jah Lloyd, formed the Teems label in 1969, and then launched it the following year with Jah Lloyd's own 'Soldier Round The Corner'. Mikey voiced his own debut, 'The Earth Is The Fullness', under the name of Edmund Brooks & the Tots for Lee 'Scratch' Perry, who'd already made his reputation with the Upsetters and at the time was riding high with recordings by the Wailers. Mikey still considers the eccentric Perry as Jamaica's greatest-ever producer, and would forge further connections with him later in his career, more of which later.
The Tots split up soon after voicing 'The Earth Is The Fullness', which remains highly sought after being reputedly released by Harvest in 1972. Harmony singer Norris Reid left to join Wesley Tinglin in the Voiceroys, and Mikey, whose soaring falsetto would later be compared to that of Curtis Mayfield's, concentrated instead on learning the art of record production alongside Francis, who would toast his own unforgettable sides for Perry under the guise of Jah Lion. The best of these later appeared on the classic 'Columbia Colly' album, only with a photo of Perry, and not Francis on the cover!
Tinglin would later voice 'Reggae In The Sun' for Teems. One of their first productions however, was the Mighty Diamonds' breakthrough hit, 'Shame And Pride', which they recorded at Randy's Studio 17 on North Parade, and allowed Channel One to release. The duo also recorded cuts on this same rhythm by Jah Lloyd himself ('Piece A Banana' and 'Black Love') and Bongo Herman, who guested alongside the deejay on 'African Drums'. Teems' act of generosity would stand them in good stead with the four Hookim brothers who ran Channel One and the oldest, Joseph, AKA Jo Jo, in particular. The family had operated various businesses from their premises at 66 Maxfield Avenue, Kingston, since the mid-sixties, including an ice cream parlour, liquor store and jukebox concession. They'd opened the studio in 1972, but had difficulties in establishing a settled, hit sound until upgrading their facilities to sixteen-track in 1975 and hosting a formidable, in-house group of session musicians called the Revolutionaries, led by drummer Sly Dunbar. It was the latter's 'militant' drumbeats that ushered in the rocker's era, and would feature on innumerable hits for the rest of the decade.
"Channel One have their juke boxes, and Jo Jo start off by making dubs, but then they make some records with the Wailing Souls, Meditations ('Woman Is Like A Shadow') and Earth And Stone," explains Mikey. "When we make 'Shame And Pride' with the Mighty Diamonds, Channel One never open yet, but we still give it to them to release. That was the Diamonds' first hit song, and that's why our relationship with Jo Jo so was tight, y'understand? But the Hookim brothers have a good vibe, 'cause Ernest used to go a dance, so they was some down to earth Chineyman for sure. They have a genuine feel for Reggae, and that's what give Channel One their original sound."
Mikey's contribution to the success of Channel One is little documented, but no less important for all that, since it was him who would sing guide vocals for many of the bigger name artists to follow. He would often organise sessions for both Teems and the Hookims there, as well as producing occasional sides at Treasure Isle (including Pat Kelly's 'Night And Day') and Joe Gibbs' new studio in Retirement Crescent, where his friends, Morice 'Blacka Morwell' Wellington and guitarist Eric 'Bingy Bunny' Lamont exerted considerable influence.
"Bingy Bunny, Flabba Holt, and Blacka Morwell form a band called Roots Radics, and yeah, it was me who used to sing guide vocals on some of their sessions," he continues. "I was living over in the East, on Wellington Street, near Rockfort at the time. That's where I grew up, 'cause you have Arrows sound-system nearby with Puddy Roots and Crutches, who did this tune 'Jump The Fence', and sometimes I used to hold a mic for them myself, 'cause that was the in t'ing back then. It was all live too, because you have man like Johnny Osbourne, Tyrone Taylor, Sugar Minott, and Delroy Wilson who do the dancehall t'ing, also Dr. Alimantado, Big Youth, little Ranking Joe, Prince Far I, and Sir Lord Comic… The music was nice in them times, me tell you! The posse around me, it used to have man in it like Freddy McKay and Ronnie Davis, who used to sing with the Tennors them times, then all a we struggling musicians start gather in Chancery Lane, which Striker Lee name Idlers Rest. That was the international t'ing in those days, 'cause people come from all over to find the music, and a whole heap of artists come from early each morning. I get a little stall and put it on the corner to sell records and Miss Pat from Randy's never like it, so she call the police on me! They never do anything though…"
Chancery Lane is just behind North Parade in downtown Kingston, and runs parallel to Orange Street, which many veterans refer to as Jamaica's Beat Street. There were no such things as mobile phones back in the early seventies, and few of the artists and musicians could have afforded one in any case. To contact any of them, people from overseas would ring Randy's record store just around the corner, and request a member of staff look for them in Idlers Rest, where they'd invariably be sat either outside of Gregory Isaacs' African Museum, or on a nearby wall.
"After Gregory Isaacs have his shop, then Leggo start up a company called Cash & Carry, but it a the little man in the Lane that hold up the music really, which is to say artists like Al Campbell, Trinity, Dillinger, and Freddie McKay," Mikey recalls. "It was the downtown man who come with the force really, yet we still don't make no money as yet. You have man like Prince Tony who used to come, but uptown singers like Third World used to pass by and a man like Prince Far I would shout, 'Come off a the Lane man!' Jacob Miller and Bob Marley, they used to come and get the vibes, then the Lane get big after a while, and some of the downtown man start get the headlines now. I never really push myself to the front still, but just stay in the background with Jo Jo Hookim at Channel One. I used to sing on the occasional track if I like the rhythm, but otherwise I'd just be there with Jah Lloyd, and making some good music the same way."
Mikey did some recording for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One label in the mid-seventies, although Mr Dodd refused to release them as he accused Mikey of conspiring against him at Channel One.
"Yeah, Jo Jo used to lick over some of Mr Dodd's rhythms, and that cause him to want to fight Jo Jo, y'know?" laughs Mikey. "But he was doing good things for Coxsone, because the Channel One sound was taking those rhythms to a different level. I do about eight songs with Mr Dodd, but him never put them out because he say I sing over his tunes to Jo Jo so 'im can lick them over. I Roy, 'im speak up fi me, but then after a while, some of the guys from Maxfield Avenue go take it up fi the Chineyman, and fling some bottle, me tell you!"
A man named Ruddy from Rockfort had been the first producer to voice Mikey as a solo artist, although none of the two dozen or so tracks from those sessions have ever been released. Mikey also voiced unreleased tracks for a man called Duke at Channel One, after the success of Teems' productions like 'Rum Drinker', 'What A Gathering' and 'Love Won't Come Easy', which found the reluctant singer performing on stage shows in places like Montego Bay, and even appearing on local television. None of the Duke material has resurfaced, although Harvest issued an album by Mikey called 'True Love' in 1977, and then Burning Sounds released a collection of tracks recorded at Channel One two years later as 'What A Gathering', from which a number of tracks on Disc 1 of this double album are taken. All were recorded between 1973 and 1975. The title track of 'What A Gathering' shared the same rhythm as Leroy Smart's 'Ballistic Affair', whilst Earth And Stone later sang their own cut of 'Living In My Culture'. Jacob Miller and Mighty Diamonds also sang on cuts of 'Money Is Not All', the rhythm of which had been produced by Bunny Lee at Channel One. It was Ken 'Fat Man' Gordon who'd taken Mikey to King Tubby's studio to voice it, along with a couple of other tracks that later appeared on the album 'Raving Tonight', mixed by Pat Kelly. The latter mixed a lot of hits produced by Bunny Lee, and also mixed 'Oh Natty Dread' when he was engineering at Randy's, although he's better known a singer of peerless love songs, as evidenced by hits with the Techniques and timeless solo tracks like 'How Long Will It Take'. 'Fighting Your Brethren' meanwhile, is a cover of a song Dennis Brown had voiced for Coxsone, and which Mikey deliberately changed so as not to cause any confusion with the original.
His next album, 'One Love', wasn't issued by Vista Sounds until 1983, and instead of the Revolutionaries, it's the Roots Radics plying most of the rhythms. Certain of the tracks date from the seventies however, and thus form an excellent companion to the 'What A Gathering' material. 'Sensi Man' and 'Lovers Street' were two of the album's biggest hits. Other highlights include 'Love On The Highway', 'A Man Is King', 'No War Over Woman', and 'Grooving', which reprises the Wailers' 'Keep On Moving' and according to Mikey, even won approval from Bob Marley himself. Mikey's old friend from Arrows, 'Crutches', also sang a version of 'Grooving', whilst that's the late Bim Sherman lending ethereal vocals to 'Down In The Jamdown', recorded shortly before he migrated to England. The other guest singer on Disc 1 is Blacka Morwell, whose 'In God We Trust' is a gospel-infused rockers' track, and another sterling example of the high standards Mikey and Jah Lloyd set for themselves during their sessions at Channel One, Joe Gibbs, and occasionally Harry J's during the mid-to-late seventies. An album of productions entitled 'Classics Of 1975 Vol. 1' was released by Rhino during the early nineties, featuring contributions from Sydney Butler, Hortense Ellis ('Born For A Purpose'), Bobby Melody, pianist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson, and Wesley Tinglin, among others. By this time, Mikey had relocated to London, and was furthering the career of UK singer Wayne Marshall, who would make his breakthrough on the strength of homegrown r&b hits such as 'G-Spot'. Mikey's also worked with former David Bowie and Eternal guitarist/producer Kevin Armstrong, and Italian MCs DJ Crack and Latin Lover since moving to England, and also recorded a string of notable vocal sets under his own name, including 'They Trying To Conquer' and 'Need Love', which he released under the name of Prince Michael. His latest album is 'Rise Up', comprised of mainly original songs, plus covers of two Alton Ellis hits, 'Breaking Up' and 'Can I Change My Mind', along with Curtis Mayfield's 'Keep On Pushing' and 'Gypsy Woman'.
In addition to recording contemporary material, this under-rated singer has also voiced over vintage rhythms from time to time. An album called 'The Good Old Days Of The 70s', shared with Joseph Cotton, is the most well known, and helped reacquaint fans with some classic Teems' productions from the past. Most interesting of all, however, is an album of material (sometimes referred to as 'Solid Ground') that originally appeared on French label Tabou 1 as Mikey Brooks & Upsetters 1976, but was then promptly withdrawn just before the label went out of business. It's therefore been unavailable for some time, and was recorded under the auspices of the Heptones' Earl Morgan, who together with the other members of the group, originally sang over some of these same rhythms for Lee 'Scratch' Perry at Black Ark.
"The rhythm tracks to the Solid Ground album, there were recorded at Black Ark before it burn up, but the vocals were done later," recalls Mikey of the material. "Some of the tracks were recorded at Randy's too, but they were taken back to Lee Perry's and given that special sound, because Upsetter, he's the man, and he do enough great tunes at Studio One as well that people don't know about. I remember when I was recording that song, 'Woman Of Asylum'. Scratch said he was going to mix the tune like I was kicking a woman, and that's just the way the version sound if you listen. Ronnie Davis sang a version of it too, but Scratch, he was different, me tell you! He'd sometimes turn someone away, saying they weren't clean enough to come into the Ark, but there was a special vibes about the place before 'im burn it down, and you could feel it as soon as you walk in. Even Bob Marley go there nuff times to record, 'cause I hear him and Scratch do about sixteen, seventeen tracks together, but Scratch burn up all those tapes man. I even lose a couple of me and Jah Lloyd's tapes in there too."
Fortunately for us, there's still enough great music to remember the Teems' partnership by, and also from Mikey Brooks himself, whose unique talents have remained all but hidden for far too long.