By Drew AIles
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"People used to pass through the bush and hear us singing," he goes on. "They would come over by the bush and they would form a little audience and listen to us, and at the end of each song they would clap us and cheer us and give us encouragement. They say to us, 'Why you guys don't try some recording that you can make some money and come out of the bush and live somewhere and have food and clothes and thing like that?' That's where it really started."
In 1975 the group cut its first single, "Why Worry," at Jamaica's mythical Channel One Studio. But after recording several more songs that they hoped to include on an album, they discovered that Channel One engineers had stripped their voices from the tracks and replaced them with singing by others. According to Apple, "We told them that we not gonna deal with it--that these our original songs and they can't use the songs to put other artists on. So we have them rub off the voice from the tracks, and we take back our sound and leave."
Disheartened but determined, the crooners eventually hooked up with producer Tommy Cowan of the Talent Corporation. Under his auspices, they created the inaugural Israel Vibration long-player, Same Song. Even though the recording was acclaimed in some quarters, it took four more years before the appearance of a followup, the seminal Unconquered People (issued on Bob Marley's Tuff Gong imprint). Despite this new affiliation, though, the musicians' lot had not improved much. "We was getting ripped off; we wasn't getting the money," Apple complains. "Cowan was making like megabucks because album was making a big hit in Europe. He make a lot of money and buy big house and car, and we still living in the bush."
After they left Cowan, the producer retaliated by releasing several unfinished tracks under the appropriate title Why You So Craven. He also used his muscle as an organizer of Sunsplash and other large festivals in an effort to ruin Israel Vibration. Soon, Apple and his friends found themselves persona non grata in their own homeland.
The group subsequently traveled to America, but because of the actions of a shady manager, they came away from their tour with only $300 and a guitar. Recollects Apple, "I said to my two brethren, 'Let us go to Bermuda, because we can't go back to Jamaica when we don't have nothing. Let's go to Bermuda and do some shows and make some money and come back into America and rent a big house where we each have a different section and start from there.'" But when the group tried to leave Bermuda, Apple discovered that his visa had expired. He remained in Bermuda, while Wiss and Skelly returned to America--but with no contacts and nowhere to stay, they soon ran short of cash and reunited with Apple.
A second visit to the U.S. did not reverse the act's fortunes. Things went so badly that Israel Vibration was widely believed to have disbanded, a rumor Apple dispels. "We branch off doing a 45 here and a 45 there trying to survive. But we never split up."
Of the various Vibrations, Apple had the most luck as a soloist. About the songs "Blue Jeans" and "Rock On," he says, "They did good, get a lot of airplay. I had the phone number of Dr. Dread [of Ras Records] in my pocket from a long time ago, so I let him know that I have some music to deal with, and he say I must come to Washington and check him."
A longtime Israel Vibration fan, Dread quickly signed the group to Ras. The result was 1988's Strength of My Life. "They reactions was great" to the platter, Apple asserts. "It was like a sudden shock to the world. The three of us come out again, and everybody glad."
Israel Vibration's career has been on the upswing ever since. The vocalists have produced eight albums in the intervening years, including 1995's stunning On the Rock and the new Free to Move. Apple is optimistic about the latest disc, but he says what makes him happiest is simply making music with his longtime friends from the Mona Polio Rehabilitation Center. "We always together. Every day, same way."