Legs, otherwise known as The Giant, a name that immediately implies a certain stature, and eludes to the notoriety that he has earned amongst soundmen. This master of amplification knew how to push the limits. As proof, the incredible stories about him are legion. This conversation takes us in the footsteps of the Giant !
Cutting Edge – Can you introduce yourself ?
Legs The Giant – My name is Carl but they call me Legs. I was born in Jamaica in 1940. I went to England in 1960 and started making amplifiers. I was already doing it in Jamaica.
Cutting Edge –Were you based in Kingston ?
Legs The Giant – Yes, I was in Kingston.
Cutting Edge – How did you come to build equipment for sound systems ?
Legs The Giant – I learned from Freddy, one of the guys who made amplifiers for a big company called Duke Reid. But let me tell you how it all started. I was working with someone doing filing and learning how to built amplifiers. So one day, a friend came from the country and told me that he was coming to get an amplifier built. So I told him that another guy here was doing it.
He said to me, “ But you’re here, can you do it ? ”
“ Yeah, I can do it but I’m not expert. ”
“ Alright, alright, go ahead ! How much do you charge ? ”, he said.
I said, “ £40 ! I want £20 to buy the parts and £20 when you pick up the amplifier. ”
So I made the amplifier and the guy came to collect it. When I tried to switch it on, it blew up ! So I had to take him to the person I was working with, so to speak, to ask for his help.
He turned to me and said to me, “ So, you are making amplifiers now ? I didn’t know you could make them. ”
I said, “ I don’t know, I’m just trying. ”
So he said to me, “ Ok, you want to fix it ? ”
I said, “ Yeah ! ”
He said, “ How much do you charge to make the amplifier ? ”
I said, “ £40 ! ”
He said, “ How much did you get ? ”
I said, “ I got £20 and I’m going to have the remaining £20 when he collects the amplifier. ”
He said, “ I’m gonna tell you something. I want £40 to fix it ! ”
I said, “ How could you want £40 to fix it, when I charged £40 and bought the parts, this and that ? ”
He said, “ Well, if you know you couldn’t make it, you shouldn’t have taken the money from the man ! I want £40 to fix it ! ”
So I said, “ In England, it’s not £40 ! And he’s giving me only £20 ! ”
He said, “ I’ll take it ! And I’ll tell you what. You’ll work for me for free until the £20 done ! ”
I said, “ Alright ! ”
So he fixed the amplifier. It took him two minutes. He went to the back while me and the guy were waiting in the shop. And all of a sudden, I heard music ! And when he came out, he said to me, “ It’s fixed ! ”
I answered, “ Yeah, we could hear it ! ” And so he received the money from the guy !
Cutting Edge – When did you arrive in England ?
Legs The Giant – About six months later, I went to England. When I was there, I lived on Shepherd’s Bush. I lived above an electronic shop. The owner’s name was Mason and his store was called Mason & Sons. I became friends with his son. His father, who used to sell televisions, wanted his son to also learn the trade to help him make repairs. So he said to him, “ You have to go to school, this is where you learn ! ”
Then, he said to me, “ Carl, I’m gonna give you a choice ! Since you are such good friends, I think he will follow you to school if you go there. I’ll pay the fees if you go. ”
I replied immediately, “ Sure, I get this opportunity, I’m gonna take it ! ”
His son was a white kid and I was a black kid. At that time in England, we didn’t see much black people then. But he was a friend of mine and spent most of his time with me upstairs.
So, we went to school, both of us went. That is how I learned about amplifiers.
And then, I made my first amplifier. I went to Leak to buy some condensers because I didn’t know how to get them.
And the guy said to me, “ What are you doing ? ”
I said, “ I’m trying to make an amplifier. But I need condensers. Is it possible to buy some ? ”
He said, “ Yes, sure ! Can I see what you’re doing ? ”
I said, “ Sure ! ”
So I took the amplifier there. He looked at it and said, “ Yeah, it’s good ! ”
So, getting this kind of feedback from a professional company that manufactures amplifiers has been very encouraging to me. I started off from there. The first amplifier I made delivered 100 Watts. I used to play upstairs and that was alright as it was an electronics store. So I could make a little noise. But I started making noise late at night and the police came. And they gave me a ticket for noise disturbance. I went to court and the judge charged me two and six [Two Shillings and Sixpence] at the time for making noise. The last time I went to court, they said to me, “ Charging him two and six doesn’t work. The next time the police come, I will ask them to take the equipment, so that will prevent you for making noise nuisance. ” So I slowed down a little bit and then I moved away from there. Afterwards, I was able to buy my own place and we started doing parties. This is the origin of the Blues Dances. It started with birthday parties, then wedding parties. That’s how it came out !
Cutting Edge – Did you used to attend sound system dances at the time ?
Legs The Giant – Yes !
Cutting Edge – Did you follow a particular sound system ?
Legs The Giant – No, not really. They used to follow me ! [laugh]
Cutting Edge – Was it in the 60’s ?
Legs The Giant – In the 60’s, yes !
Cutting Edge – Did you already play under the name ‘Legs the Giant’?
Legs The Giant – Legs the Giant, yeah ! Anybody will tell you that was the heaviest sound. I put what I want to put in it, you know !
Cutting Edge – So you only had one amp playing full range ?
Legs The Giant – At that time, yes !
Cutting Edge – No two-ways or three-ways ?
Legs The Giant – No, this is something that came up in the 80’s. They started making two-ways, three-ways. We used to called it Top and Bottom.
Cutting Edge – Did you use a pre-amp in the 60’s ?
Legs The Giant – Yes !
Cutting Edge – What turntable did you had at that time ?
Legs The Giant – Garrard, the old white one called 4HF. It was clumsy but it was good. Not like the new turntables they are making now. Garrard is a German company. It might be build in UK but the company was in Germany. After the 4HF, I bought another model in a junk shop but I can’t remember the name. It was a direct-drive turntable. You had a quarter of horsepower on it. The minute you let it go, it reaches full speed. I remember that the arm was massive. They said to me that this turntable came out of the BBC studios.
Cutting Edge – Someone wrote on the social media that you had an important position in electronics for an airline company. This was the working status of Errol Prettyger that I previously interviewed. Is this a confusion with him or is it true ?
Legs The Giant – No, they are wrong. It’s Errol who worked for an airline, not me. I’m an electrician. It was the first job I did in London. I used to work for a company. We called the boss Rudy, he was in Germany.
Cutting Edge – Did you collaborate with other builders like ‘Carlton The Matador’? A book has recently been published about the Birmingham scene and his name is mentioned in it as one of the most influential builders.
Legs The Giant – He is a friend of mine. His business was television, he is very good on television. But Carl knows nothing about amplifiers, really ! I made an amplifier for him and he started telling people that he built it. I don’t know what he tried to do on the amplifier but he spoiled it. When he went to play in Wolverhampton, the dance didn’t come off due to the interference with the amplifier. It never sounded good ! As I said, he is a television guy, not an amplifier man.
Cutting Edge – Have you crossed paths with other builders like Percival Miller (better known as ‘Metro’)?
Legs The Giant – I teached Metro ! I’m the one that made Metro’s sound ! If you find out, if you see Metro, ask him ! Just ask about Legs and see what he’s going to tell you.
Cutting Edge – Did you know Keith Gooden who founded Link Audio Systems, a builder from Birmingham ?
Legs The Giant – If I know Keith ? I started him ! Originally, his skill area was alarms, not amplifiers. I got him involved in amplifiers. He unfortunately passed away. We used to walk from each others house to each others house. He used to work at Lucas. This company manufactured car parts and mainly batteries. I brought Keith in because he couldn’t get the parts.
Cutting Edge – How long were you active with your sound ?
Legs The Giant – It starts in the 60’s. I arrived in the United States in 1983. So I would say that the sound stopped in the early 80’s.
Cutting Edge – Did you leave your equipment in England after you left for the US ?
Legs The Giant – No, I didn’t bring anything. Because if necessary, I was able to rebuild here.
Cutting Edge – Did you also leave your record collection there ?
Legs The Giant – No ! [laugh] The records were actually stolen. I wouldn’t say stolen … When I came to America, I left my records box with the guy that used to play the sound. We called him Al Capone, he was a Deejay. When I came back to England in the 2000s, I asked him if he still had the records. He said to me, “ I got rid of them ! ” He sold them ! It’s stupid because some were very valuable.
Cutting Edge – I’ve heard countless stories about your sound system. A story that comes up most often is about the dance at ‘Winson Green Community Centre’. Apparently you had two amplifiers with the ‘V1505’ valves (also know as the Rocket Valve). When you dropped the bass, it would have blown the fuses of the club, leaving the place in darkness. Is that really how it happened ?
Legs The Giant – Yes, that’s a true story and the tiles used to come down off the top. You know the ceiling ? The ceiling tiles used to come down. That’s true ! [laugh]
Cutting Edge – What was the wattage of these amplifiers ?
Legs The Giant – The power of the amplifiers was supposed to be 1100 Watts, and that’s straight. Not 100 Watts and 100 Watts and 100 Watts … That was straight !
Cutting Edge – Did you draw the circuit diagram ?
Legs The Giant – No, I did not draw it myself. They did it for me where I used to work in England. It was a company called Delta, manufacturer of extruded metals.
Cutting Edge – Have you built similar amplifiers for other sound systems ?
Legs The Giant – I built five of them. I got one. I built one for a guy from London called Horace. I think he went back to Jamaica and took it with him.
I did one for David who was also from London. One for Chin and one for Stan from Birmingham. These amps were something else ! No one else did it ! Because this amp frightened by its voltage of 3000 Volts. I mean, it’s more than what they’re using here to kill people ! [laugh]
Cutting Edge – I also heard about a dance in ‘Mount Pleasant’, Birmingham. When you touched the needle, the quad and double boxes started walking !
Legs The Giant – They told you the truth ! Everyone ran out of the place when Teddy [member of the sound] touched the needle ! They thought the building was going to collapse. And the speaker boxes walked ! Yes, they walked ! [laugh]
Cutting Edge – That night, I heard you burned up a dozen of speakers at one time.
Legs The Giant – Yeah ! The speakers were overpowered. They didn’t burn up. The speaker cone itself forced against the mesh. It blew them out. The incoming signal tells the cone to move too far forward.
Cutting Edge – What model of speakers were you using at that time ?
Legs The Giant – I was using Goodmans speakers, strictly Goodmans. It was my favorites !
Cutting Edge – What was their power ? 200 Watts ?
Legs The Giant – Yes, at that time the speakers were only 200 Watts. Nowadays, they’re talking about 1200 Watts speakers, but that’s garbage ! Back then, when we put the bass, if you only knew the number of people who dropped down in the dance. If we had used speakers of over 1000 Watts, we would have killed someone !
Cutting Edge – Nowadays, many sound systems play in 4 or 5 ways ? What do you think ?
Legs The Giant – That’s garbage ! [laugh] Three ways is enough, not even four.
Cutting Edge – I think you built for ‘Jungle Man’ from Birmingham. Is it true ?
Legs The Giant – Yes ! Jungle Man was a free sound. I built Jungle Man for nothing. There was a little kid named Clive who used to hang out around me. He was part of a group of about thirty Rastafarians. They often had problems with the police. Then one day, Clive came to ask me if I could do him a favour.
I said, “ What favor ? ”
He said, “ Could you build a sound system for the guys ? ”
So I said, “ Yeah, but somebody’s gonna have to come with some kind of money ! ”
And Clive replied, “ They don’t have any money. ”
I said, “ Sure, I don’t mind ! ”
So, I made them two amps, two 600 Watts tube amps. They called themselves Jungle Man, rough truck sound ! And they were good ! My wife used to tell me, “ Why are you going to listen to these guys ? ” At the time, they were playing very good music. The kind of music that I like. So I used to go and see them play. But they were kids, you know !
After they found out that the sound starts to keep them in line as the police would say. They then went to the Houses of Parliament. The Houses of Parliament gave them a brand new truck and also some money. Pharaoh, who is the head of the group, came to me and tell me, “ Legs, I got money from the government to make the sound. ”
I said, “ Yeah ? ”
He said, “ Yeah, do you want to build me a sound ? ”
I replied, “ Yes, what do you need ? ”
Pharaoh then started telling me what he wanted and I told him what it would cost him. And he said to me, “ No man, that’s too much ! ”
I said, “ Pharaoh, I tell you something, go somewhere else man ! ”
So they turned to another builder called Mackie based in Derby. So he made them a set and I went to listen to it. I didn’t say nothing. Because I am not going to run down another man’s job. If they are satisfied with it, who am I to say something ?
They didn’t last, they just went after. They start complaining that I was the one that turned them off actually. Because some other kids came to me and I built them the same sound system that I would have made to Jungle Man if I had worked for them. And the other kids took over ! Actually, took them down. That is the story !
When I built Jungle Man’s first sound, I live in a neighborhood where the residents were predominantly white. The members of Jungle Man used to visit me at home when they come back from playing at night around two or three o’clock in the morning. They showed up with their noisy diesel truck, “ Broom, Broom, Broom ! ” [Legs mimics the sound of the truck]
And one of my neighbors started to complain, “ Why do these people come to you at such late hours and make a hell of a noise with their truck ? I can not sleep ! ” So I talked to them and I said, “ Pharaoh, you can’t keep coming here ! ” He said, “ I’m bringing your money, man ! ” Because after playing, they would pass by my house on the way home and drop-off some money. They told me they wanted to show me their gratitude for what I had done for them. So I told to Pharaoh, “ If money is the reason for your visit, don’t bother with it, I prefer to preserve the peace of my neighborhood ! ”
That’s how we kind of drift away. But I am the one who allowed them to emerge on the scene. They never used to do nothing besides make trouble.
I remember one night when Jungle Man was playing with a sound system from Coventry. One of Jungle Man’s amplifiers went down and they brought it to me to fix it. I checked and repaired the amplifier and the person who came to pick it up said to me, “ Legs, I ain’t leaving you ! ”
I said, “ What do you mean ? ”
He replied, “ Since the amplifier has broken down, I want you to come to the dance venue to make sure it will work. ”
So I said, “ Alright ! ”
When I got there, the sound system from Coventry strung up, then started playing and dissing the Deejay for Jungle Man whom I nicknamed Phee. His name was not Phee but he spoke all the time about Phee which was actually his daughter’s name. And when I walk in, I heard the guy was calling him all kind of names and things like that. So I passed by and I said to him, “ Play the music man, stop the mouth thing, you know ! ”
He exclaimed, “ They are playing 600 Watts and I’m playing 600 Watts. So I can what they want to say ! ”
I said, “ Yeah, they are going to kill you ! ”
Jungle Man had installed four speaker boxes behind him as he was on the stage. These were Quad boxes each loaded with four 18″ loudspeakers.
When I walked into the venue and saw the speaker boxes layout, I knew Jungle Man was going to kill this guy.
Because the bass that came out of them was heavy ! Each box had a name. There was Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, … They were monstrous boxes, hence the fact that they gave them these names.
The soundman from Coventry said they are playing 600 Watts but he didn’t know that they came with an additional 600 Watts amplifier. Especially since it was intended to amplify the speakers that were behind him. Having seen the speaker layout and knowing the setup very well, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Jungle Man then set up the amplifiers and started playing. I walked over to the guy from Coventry and stood by his side because I knew they were going to kill him. And I heard Jungle Man say, “ Test one, Bassline ! ” And when they dropped the bass, he almost fell. I grabbed him and pulled it out of the wake. I said, “ Don’t go over there because if you go back, they will kill you ! They set you up ! ”
Before I left the party, the guy from Coventry came to me and said, “ Thank you very much ! My friends also warned me. ” His pals knew Jungle Man was going to stop him. After that, they didn’t let him play a single record for the night.
Cutting Edge – Did you also use this tactic ?
Legs The Giant – Yes, I used to do that. I’m the one that started it off. How you making a lot of noise, I don’t say nothing until I come on. After I play four or five records, I say, “ You play ! ” But you can’t, because you don’t have the sound to match what I just finished playing. You can’t match it. No way ! Neither the quality nor the force, so just don’t play for the night. I played in Manchester and used that tactic with Quaker City. It was a very good sound ! And Quaker found this funny and so did I. [laugh]
Cutting Edge – Did you clash with a lot of sound systems ?
Legs The Giant – Yes, I played with Duke Reid and Coxsone from Brixton. I also competed alongside a sound from Manchester called Lord Cass. You can ask him, I let him run leave the sound, actually run leave it. When I got there and started setting up the speakers, Cass was strutting around with his “ Lord this ” and “ Lord that ”. I remained impassive. I’m Legs The Giant and I was going to prove it to him. I had the necessary reserve of power to silence him. I wasn’t going to play like this all night, but I was going to let him know. Cass came to me and said, “ I will never play the same dance for you anymore ! ” [laugh]
Cutting Edge – Did you use Dubplates as weapons ?
Legs The Giant – Yes ! [laugh] This is precisely what allowed me to kill Lord Cass. I have a cousin of mine who is an excellent singer. His name is Owen Gray and he was recording specials with my name.
I also used pre-releases. I remember one night playing with Duke Vin from London. I got a song straight from Jamaica that no one had at the time. I knew the producer and a friend sent it to me. It was an instrumental called Eastern Standard Time. Vin was playing some great records that night. But when I put on this track, the dance was done ! I am particularly fond of instrumentals.
Cutting Edge – Was there a DeeJay accompanying you with the sound system ?
Legs The Giant – Yes ! Sadly he passed away. We used to call him Teddy. I didn’t really go into the sound. It wasn’t the sound I went into. I built the sound system and gave it to Teddy.
Cutting Edge – You have never operated the sound ?
Legs The Giant – No ! I made the sound system and put it out there for “ who make that ? ” And they say, “ Legs, tomorrow morning I’m gonna see somebody ! ” You know ! [laugh]
That’s how I used to actually make a little money off building the sound. Most of the builders don’t really mess with the actual sound.
Cutting Edge – Did you have a partnership with Bujum from Duke Alloy ? He seemed to benefit from your latest equipment developments.
Legs The Giant – I was close to him. Some would say maliciously that I had a romance with his sister and that was why Bujum’s sound was so good. But that’s a lie ! He’s a friend and he’s always been there when I ask for help. Whatever I had to do in the house, I would just tell him. I said, “ Bujum, I’m gonna do so and so ! ” He answered me every time, “ Yeah man ! ” and he was there. It was not like some people that you never see again because they are perpetually held back by family commitments. The sound system that I built for him, I made it wholeheartedly. And Bujum always did these things in a selfless way like a real friend.
Cutting Edge – It seems that Carl (from Quaker) used to sabotage the boxes of Duke Alloy. People pushing a small nail in Alloy’s speaker wire at the back of the boxes to short circuit the cable.
Legs The Giant – Yeah ! The competition was tough and a lot of sly tricks used to go on back in the day. Penny Lane ! [laugh]
I discovered this for long time and I worked it out. A simple nail in the wire could silence your sound. To remedy this situation, instead of wiring all the speakers in series, I wired them in series / parallel. So if you pin the wire, you bypassed only one speaker and it does not affect the rest. So the rival couldn’t stop you ! They were taken aback when they saw that their ruse no longer worked ! [laugh]
Cutting Edge – I heard that you can hold live mains.
Legs The Giant – Yes, I hold live mains. But you know, for that you need a certain type of shoe. If you wear leather bottom shoes, you will be killed ! You must have insulating shoes with this kind of sponge sole. I used to test the electric on the side besides holding the wires.
Cutting Edge – True or false ? During a dance with Sir Jessus and Massigan at Winson Green, a soundman says he was hiding on one side of the club because you used a stick to switch on your amp uncased with water dripping from the ceiling.
Legs The Giant – Me ? It’s a lie ! This is absolutely not true ! This was however the case with another builder from Birmingham who is now deceased. To switch on his amplifiers, it was necessary to use a broomstick.
There was a sound system I made in England in 1962. The owner was named Tom. They also used to have a sound system in Jamaica called Tom The Great Sebastian. It was one of the earliest sound system and he played mainly for weddings. Jessus used to play for Tom, until I put them in their place.
One day, Tom was forced to go to Jamaica. He was supposed to play at a dance and he asked me to replace him. So I said, “ Sure, I don’t mind ! ”
So we went there to play, we strung up and and everyone was having a good time. And suddenly Jessus came in ! And I heard, “ Boom, Boom, Boom ! ” He was moving in the equipment. So I told him, “ Jessus, Tom asked me to play for him. If I had known you were coming, I could have played somewhere else. What are you doing ? ”
He exclaimed, “ Tom just returned from Jamaica with a whole heap of new records, man ! ”
I said, “ Alright, come in ! ”
But Tom knew he was going to kill himself because he knows the sound system I’ve got. Even though I was building for others, my own sound system was above the rest. So they started playing and I saw that the guy who played the sound for me was getting upset. So I said, “ Lloyd, what are you upset about ? ”
He answered, “ Jessus shouldn’t have been here ! ”
I just said, “ It’s alright, there is no problem with that. When it’s your time to play, we’re going to turn him off. That’s easy ! ”
After Jessus came on, I said to Lloyd, “ Your time now ! ” And I went into the record box to pick up one record. I gave it to Lloyd who shouted, “ No, no, no, don’t play that ! ” I then insisted, “ Play that record, man ! ”
When he put the record, the whole dancehall went berserk ! The record was You’re Wondering Now by Andy & Joey.
Tom who had just returned from Jamaica had never heard of it ! He had brought back a box full of records but he did not know this one. When he was in Jamaica, a friend of mine sent me a carton of records. We used to learn trade at the same place in Jamaica and he knew I had a sound, and he used to send me some records. His name was Soris. At the time in England, the only way to get records was to have them sent from Jamaica. Soris knew exactly what I already had and what I needed. He sent me a box, I mean a box like that [Legs made a hand gesture indicating large size], of records. It’s one of his records that allowed me to kill Tom. After that dance, Tom came to me and apologized. He said, “ I never knew Jessus was going to do that. But I knew you were gonna fix his business. ”
I answered, “ I didn’t fix his business, I fixed your business too ! ” [laugh]
But those days were fun. We weren’t arguing or swearing at each other. The sound system was something different.
Cutting Edge – What do you think of the current sound systems scene ?
Legs The Giant – Current sound systems no longer look like sound systems but are rather PA [Public Address] system. I try to explain it to a lot of people but they don’t understand. People tell me it’s easy now to go to a store and get amplifiers. I tell them, “ Go ahead ! ” They often come back to me to repair their recent purchase. Because people cannot get what we design, a thoughtful equipment dedicated to this kind of music and to the sound system.
Here is a comprehensive list of sound systems who used equipment built by Legs The Giant :
- Count Fire (Birmingham),
- Dreadnought (Birmingham),
- Duke Alloy (Birmingham),
- Duke Neville (Birmingham),
- Gaffa David (London),
- Jungle Man (Birmingham),
- Lord David (London),
- Quaker City (Birmingham),
- Rosko The Musical Rocket (Birmingham),
- V‑Rocket (Nottingham),
And many more …
Special thanks to Tony ‘English’ Welch and Rangan Momen