A tune has been intriguing me for some time now, it’s called ‘Me A No Gunman’ on the B-side of a Jimpy’s International Records 12″, which features Yellowman on the A-side. The lyrics form a tough street anthem by Midnight Riders.
It is a tune that has very little information available about it, all I could find was that it was recorded in Jamaica around the mid-80s by Errol ‘ET’ Thompson. It is a deadly discomix that is a classic example of the early-to-mid 80s roots and rub-a-dub period.
I listened to the tune repeatedly, almost daily online. Knowing I had to have it, I found a copy on Discogs and bought it with the hope that somehow that would give me more information.
It came from New York within 8 days of ordering, an ‘old stock copy’, unsealed, in its Jimpy’s International Records sleeve. Without much more information on the record and repeated failed quests online, I decided to go straight to the source and call Midnight Riders in Jamaica to find out more.
Winston ‘Midnight Riders’ Powell answers the phone from working a warm evening in his mini-mart shop in the Kingston 9 district of Jamaica’s capital city. “It’s hot here” he insists, “everyone wants a cool drink right about now”.
Winston is a very welcoming character and likes to chat openly about Midnight Riders history. He begins to open up about the life of this tune, a song he says he voiced during his student years in Joe Gibbs Studio with ET as the producer, and didn’t even find out it was ever released until about 4 years ago!
“Well this tune Me A No Gunman, I didn’t even know it was ever released until 4 years ago! A guy named Rob from New York (Rob a.k.a Deeper Knowledge/DigiKiller label) called me and said he was tracking down producers of my songs and loves the Midnight Rider’s sound and wants to re-release some tunes.
Me? I got a fright when he said he wanted to reissue ‘Me A No Gunman’ because all I knew was I recorded it one day back in 80s and that was the end of it. Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson have since passed, so as the last surviving producer he sent me some royalties he had recovered for the reissue and so I was happy to hear from him“.
Winston pauses the call momentarily to serve a customer in his busy shop while still holding down the phone conversation, I ask him in which year did he voice the tune and what motivated the content?
“Well let me see, it was in 1985 I think… we used to go around the studios you know, like artists did back in dem days, and we arrived at Jo Gibbs Studio. It was a hot day like today and he said he had the riddim of the day but didn’t think I could handle it. I just wrote it then and there on the spot and then voiced it, harmonies and everything“.
Like a lot of his songs, Midnight Rider touches on street themes that cut straight to the bone of mid-80s Jamaica, this time delving straight into the situation of police frisking down and arresting people all over the island. As Winston explains “..too many Rastas were being hassled in everyday life. For example you see them at the airport. In that time every Rasta man was being stopped and searched for ganja, the police and customs thinking that they were responsible for its trafficking, but when they found nothing on them and it was still leaving the island, you knew it was the people with suit and tie organizing all of this.
Same in the streets, they (the police) thought we all were carrying guns and would stop us and arrest too many innocent people. For what? For nothing! So on this day in Channel 1 Studio I wanted to sing about that. When you hear “hey, hey, oh gosh, see them a come a come, me na run, me na run, me a no gunman…please Mr Officer…I’m a law abiding citizen.. don’t judge me, don’t judge me, don’t judge me, noooo“, that was me saying to people you have to stand up and say something.”