Susan Cadogan: There’s only one chance in life for everything

- Well, that’s life, when you want to record an interview with an artist. You can’t be everywhere – I thought when I was leaving the Soothsayers’ gig at this year's edition of Freedom Sounds Festival. Susan Cadogan, a Jamaican singer who was famous in the '70s with the hit "Hurt So Good" recorded for Lee Perry, was waiting for me at a hotel nearby.

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In the evening, Queen Of Lovers Rock was to perform with The Debonaires. When she recalled the old days and talked about her recent collaboration with the Canadian producer Mitch Girio, I completely forgot that there is a concert going on somewhere.

Magdalena Miszewska: How does it feel to be back on the road?

Susan Cadogan: Oh, well, I’ve been doing a lot of shows in London over the past couple of years but not as rigorously as I have been doing since I came in. I came in Thursday, Thursday night a show, four hours drive, a show, drive, drive, drive, here now – a show. So, haven’t done that for a long time, from 2003, when I did a tour with The Slackers. But it’s exciting, I like it. Tiring, especially as you get older but..

MM: But I guess there are still a lot of people waiting to see your show even after all those years from your first big hit.

SC: Oh, well, it’s been many, many years. 43 years since “Hurt So Good” was on top of BBC Charts. Well, I’m hoping people remember it. When I say: “Don’t you know that it” everybody can say: “hurt so good.” So I’m glad for it and I have some other songs that have been popular through the years.

MM: And now you’re back with new songs and they are probably most important right now. Could you tell me something about working with the producer, Mitch Girio?

SC: Well, there was a producer here in Germany. Olly? I don’t remember his surname, but Olly got in touch with me to record and he introduced me to Mitch. Mitch is a writer and we did the first track “I Don’t Wanna Play Around”. And whatever happened, Olly fell off. He was busy, blah blah blah. And after a couple years Mitch got back in touch and says: ”Susan, I’d really love to work with you, let us work together”. And he started building tracks and sending them to Jamaica. I’d voice them and send them back. And he build up my Bandcamp site. I said: “Mitch, why you’re doing this?”. He says: “Susan, this is so much fun and a dream for me. I love it. Let’s see what happens”. So with that we recorded the first five tracks, “Crazy”, “Leaving”, oh, I can’t remember.. Most of them Mitch and myself wrote and they came out on the little EP “Take Me Back”. And since then we keep recording. When it came out first it had a very good reaction because it’s a real old kind of retro sound with a blend of ska, which is more popular in Europe. In London and Jamaica I sing a lot of lovers rock, the slower kind of reggae. I was even onBBC radio, because they produce their.. Oh, what’s his name? Robert Elms! He has a nice big program. He loves it and he says: “Susan, your album is very nice”. And I have good reviews from over here, from Germany. So, because of that Peter from Freedom Sounds wrote me to say he’d love me to be on the show. So, well, here I am a year later. They took a little time. You know it takes time to coordinate these things. We’re still recording. In fact by June, I think, I’m on a show called This Is Ska with Pressure Tenants [this concert, unfortunately, was canceled for private reasons – MM]. By then hopefully the whole album on vinyl will be out with all those tracks I’ve done with Mitch.

MM: Mitch lives in Toronto. Have you ever met face to face?

SC: No, I’ve never met him. We speak on the phone occasionally but I’ve never met him. He sends the tracks. I voice them. I send them back. Sometime he sends them to Germany and some German musicians put on the brass, send it back. He mixes, sends it. It goes all over (laugh).

MM: It’s a completely different style of work than in old times.

SC: Yes and it’s so.. Well, everything is different these days. Everything is digital and internet. Not like when I went in the studio with Lee Perry, with two tracks. And you’d stand in the studio, and see him in his merino, and this little spliff smoke curling up and he says: “Susan! Roll in!”. And you’d sing it and he wouldn’t stop you. Like these days they stop you and correct you: “Oh, sing that like that”. No, no. Perry just let you sing from your heart and then he let you sing it twice and then he’d mix them together. So he got a very special sound from me, back in ’74 that I don’t think any of my other producers through the years have been able to get. And I’m looking forward to doing some shows with Perry later this year and next year too, in Europe.

MM: He’s one of a kind guy.

SC: Yeah, well, he has his own way and very good at the age of 81 to still have.. I mean, your body wears down, but if your mind stays with you.. Although he goes on nutty sometimes, I know. But I think that’s part of his persona, you know. I spoke to him on the phone last week, he says: “Susan, when you coming?” (laugh). I’m not gonna tell you what else he said, cause he could say some outlandish things. But I’m looking forward to seeing him and working with him again. I think people go and see him because he’s Lee Perry. They go to see Lee Perry. They don’t care what he says or does.

MM: You never know if it will be in a good or slightly worse shape, but he is a performer.

SC: Yeah. It comes from his great love of music. I think I have that love too, because I’ve tried to come out of music quite a few times in my life, but it always takes me back, calls me back – somebody calls or something happens and I keep getting back and back. So, now I have retired from everyday 9 to 5 work. I just sing and be happy. Just liberate yourself with the music, because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring in this life.

MM: Well, I guess it says something about your songs that they are so good that even if your career is off for a bit, people still remember those songs and they want you back on the stage again.

SC: Yeah, it’s true. There are some older songs, they last so long, they last forever. They have some new songs that come out these days and you like it, and it’s nice but in two months you forget it. Sometimes old songs.. I don’t know if it’s the lyrics, the melody, the hook line or what? I mean it’s 43 years and people still remember the song. And what I like too and I’m grateful for that, young people seem to like it. ‘Cause sometimes I do a show and the audience is university age and they just love “Hurt So Good”. I think every artist has a special song that’s theirs. And “Hurt So Good” is mine (laugh).

MM: And I believe you have a good ear for songs because Mitch said in an interview that you paid very much attention to the details when you were working together.

SC: Mhm. Any little thing goes off I hear it or I have an idea. You know, sometimes lyrics – I can change them. And I like good pronunciation. I like to sing with emotion. And I think I get it from my mother. ‘Cause my mother was a trained singer and she was always singing. She taught me a lot. And in the end I turned around and taught her to sing more modern, because she was really kind of classical but yet she could sing “Hurt So Good”. And I said: “Mommy, sing with me. Don’t you know that it” and she said: “Hurt so good” (laugh). She was so nice and I miss her a lot. She just died two years ago. I was telling somebody, from my mother died, it’s like my music career has just taken a turn for the better. Sometimes I wish what is happening to me now, at this age, had happened like 10 years ago when I was fresher. Music keeps me fresh. It’s tiring but when you hear it you just have to go with it. You go on stage and you hear.. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. You just have to give me that drum “too too toom toom toom too toom” and I’m ready (laugh). I just have it in me, honestly. It’s really nice, I love music.

MM: And I’ve read somewhere that before you recorded with Lee Perry you were more into R&B, not reggae.

SC: Yeah, I used to love The Supremes and Motown sound and funky things and I didn’t even hear the radio much unless I was driving. I used to always sing at night, ’cause when I was young I was kind of plump. So at night I’d put on my albums, my Supremes and I’d sing along like I was them, and I was dancing with a little bottle as a mic, and I’d sweat a lot. I lost a lot of weight. My friend used to say: “But Ann you can sing.” You know, Ann is my real name, Allison, Ann. “You can sing, you know?”. Beacuse I used to be able to mime them exactly, you know. (sings) “Baby, baby”, Supremes, Diana Ross, (sings) “Whenever you need me..”. And I used to like Ben E. King and The Platters and all that good stuff. My friend’s friend wanted somebody to make a record for him and she said to him: „Ask Ann, ’cause she can sing”. That’s how I happened to end up at Lee Perry. “Love My Life” is my very first recording [for a DJ, Jerry Lewis – MM], it was the very first time I went into a studio. When I finished singing “Love My Life”, Perry said: “I like you sing, you know. Let out to me now”. And he asked me: “Do you know this song?”. So I said “Yes”, ’cause I knew all the popular songs. ‘Cause in Jamaica they had a whiff of popular song comes along they would lick it back in reggae, have a reggae version. He played this track for “Hurt So Good” and I sang it and he say: “Yeah mon, I like your voice. You have a sexy voice.” That’s what Perry told me.

MM: And you came as Ann and you went out as Susan.

SC: You know the story? When he asked me my name and I said my name is Ann Cadogan, he said: “Ann? Nah mon. You mean Susan! That sounds sexy”. So he dubbed me Susan and he said: “I want you sing some more songs for me”. And he gave me some tips to learn. That’s how it all began. And to me I think life goes in circles. Just the older you get, you meet back upon some people you haven’t seen for a long time. So, I started off with Perry and I’ve gone round so many years, and I’m back at Perry again. He has come back into my life. I just go with the flow and do whatever I can when I can, ’cause in life you get to learn that you have one chance at everything. When the time is gone, it’s gone. It’s like sometimes you do a show and oh, you don’t feel like you got it right but you just have to give it your best each moment you get.

MM: And do you feel it’s any easier right now for women especially in the reggae industry? Because it wasn’t very easy back then and we still don’t have a lot of female vocalists in this kind of music.

SC: I don’t think it’s any easier. I think they’ll always pay you less. You don’t get as much work, because they feel like women give more trouble on the road. Like, I’m here with two big bags. The guys have one little bag (laugh). And women have women problems, they have babies, their families and plus I don’t know why they just pay you less. For true, like, there are hardly any female, Jamaican reggae female artists out there. Marcia Griffiths, you have Dawn Penn. There are a lot of popular oldtime songs and the female artists are not on the road. So, I tend to try and sing them in my set to lively it up a bit, ’cause I sing a lot of lovers and to keep their music alive too, in their honor. I always mention the names like Phyllis Dillon. Anyway, you’ll hear tonight if you’re there. But I do think women have had a hard time in the past and I still think we have a hard time, and the sexual harassment still goes on. A lot of the producers and promoters, if you don’t deal with them right, they don’t give you work or they hold you back. It’s true. I’ve had experience like that. But now I am older and I’m liberated! I just say what I have to say: “No, nothing like that! I don’t need it”. At this stage I do what I want when I want. I think what is to be will be. So if they don’t want to do something for me, because I won’t agree to something.. Now, that I’m older, they don’t want me anyway (laugh). You know, that’s their business. What is to happen for me will still happen. So, I press on. Whether I think it is true that the men have a much easier time.

MM: There’s this expectation that when you have a female singer she has to be really beautiful, she has to dress nicely. It’s hard to go beyond this look. A woman has to work harder to make people not only look at her but listen to what she has to say.

SC: I think that cannot be helped, ’cause if you don’t present yourself to your audience.. First impressions go a long way. You see those American female artists. I don’t believe you have go to the extreme of coming out half naked and whining up yourself and carrying on. But I think you have to make yourself presentable, not only the women, the men too, the bands. There’s nothing nicer than a nicely dressed band on stage, moving in unison, like old days, looks so good. Come out raggedy.. Yeah, sometimes the audience is so blasted already, that they really don’t care. But I do believe it’s harder for a woman to dress, get ready. Especially when you get older. I mean, you don’t wear glasses on stage. You have to put on this (shows contact lenses). You have to try your best. The same way you have to give your best to the singing. There’s nobody who can’t be fixed up to look presentable. So, I don’t believe somebody should just go out. I think he should try. ‘Cause you’re there to entertain not only with your music. I think it’s important not only for the women, but for the men, but it’s harder for the women. Like the band tonight, The Debonaires. Oh, my gosh. They’re all tall and handsome (laugh).

MM: And they can wear suits and they’ll be all nice.

SC: I don’t know because they’re not my personal, I’ve never had a band of my own. But I do like when the band dresses.. You don’t have to wear, like, for the poor drummer to have on a suit. Especially when you have a big show. Sometimes you have a little show. But even then, wherever the show is, I think you should put your best foot forward. So, now I have to go and beautify myself and turn into Susan (laugh). I have double persona. I have Ann, Allison for business, Ann at home and Susan for singing. Susan only sings. But sometimes at home, when I know I have a show I’ll put on my tracks in order and go through and rehearse. ‘Cause, you know, you have to know you have the stamina. And when you do a full set, you’re soaking wet. The lights, the heat, the movement. You have to be fit. So, sometimes at home I’ll become Susan and rehearse. But at home I’m Ann, I look after daddy, do the housework since mommy is gone. I love fixing up my home in Jamaica and I keep it going. Now I’m the only girl left, few brothers. And Allison is only used for business, like my passport, traveling tickets. So I’m really just Susan and Ann.


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