Every reggae lover knows Studio 1, but who can actually name the musicians that played there and were responsible for creating some of the greatest sounds in music? Bass player Earl ‘Bagga' Walker, now playing bass for The Gladiators, is one of them. I talked with the ever-smiling Bagga at the Reggae Sundance festival.
Bagga, my first question is a logical one. Where did you learn to play the bass?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "In Trenchtown. The man you just saw together on stage with Toots, Radcliff Brian, was the one who got me to buy a guitar. He started to teach me chords when we were little kids. Ernest Ranglin was one of my teachers too. It never cost me any sweat to learn it because it was in me."
Did you go for the bass immediately, because I hear you mentioning the guitar now?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "No, I played the guitar first. One day someone mashed up my guitar and only left four strings on it. I just played it like that, so when my fellow musicians saw that they joked: "Bagga you can play the bass too know you know!" Someone then gave me a Hofner bass, you know those old types of basses like the Beatles used to have, and I kind of learned overnight."
You were there during the high days of Studio 1 as one of the main musicians.
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "Yeah man!"
Tell us a little bit about that period.
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "I loved my boss Downbeat, Coxsone you know, and I loved all the musicians too because each one taught the other, you learned something from everybody. In those days you had to learn and pick up new things fast, not like today when you can dub and mix until it sounds right."
How do you remember Jackie Mittoo?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "He was a very good man. Me and him played on ‘Ironside' and a whole bunch of other tunes. David Madden (famous Studio 1 trumpeter, red.), who is here today too, is a great musician too!"
Is there a particular type of bass that you like to play?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "Fender! I stick strictly to Fender! I play the contrabass too, but most of the time I play a Fender."
From all the bass riddims you played over the years, is there a favorite for you?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "No, I wouldn't know where to start! (laughs) I'm 57 years old now and I've been playing ever since I was 12 years old!"
How did you get together with The Gladiators?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "I've been playing with The Gladiators for so long, ever since they did 'Hello Carol' in Studio 1. I'm an original Gladiator you could say! On the road they used to have their own bass player, but in the studio they played with me since the beginning."
Are you passing on your skills and teaching young musicians?
Earl 'Bagga' Walker: "Yes man! Bagga is my name and I give everything for free! (laughs) Respect man! Rastafari!"