A Legend Called Mouse
Reggae hero didn't set out to invent a style
By Marisa Demarco
Eek-A-Mouse is still in Ketchum, Idaho, when we speak. It's hard to imagine what the 3,000 or so people who live in Ketchum think of the Mouse, a six-and-a-half foot Jamaican reggae legend. But Eek-A-Mouse loves the West. He declared himself a cowboy in the mid-’90s and has donned a cowboy hat ever since. He's been on tour for about three weeks now, though really, he says, the road has been his home for the last 30 years or so. "That's how it goes," he says. "It's my life."
When he does take a break from touring he returns to Kingston, Jamaica, where he was born Ripton Joseph Hylton: That was 50 years and some 19 albums ago, in the infamous Trench Town ghetto. "I was born a singer," he says, but he didn’t take his stage name until he lost all his money on a favorite racehorse. The one time Eek-A-Mouse (the horse) won big at the track; of course, Hylton hadn't backed it. Hylton's friends awarded him the moniker. "How do you like them friends?" he laughs.
Though he's toured the globe and spent plenty of time in the United States, his Kingston patois remains thick. That accent, combined with his infamous rethinking of the rules of language, makes it easy for a Mouse novice to get lost in translation. But no worries—the Mouse is patient, repeating himself and laughing at blunders amiably.
He's used to it. After all, Eek-A-Mouse is one of the original singjays—a combination of singer and DJ that uses a springy scat to create crazy rhythms. Some have gone so far as to call him the founder. "They say I invented something. I didn't know I was inventing something." He was just making up lyrics, he says, doing what felt right. "I've got a lot of sounds. It's natural."
He's had a slew of hits over the course of his career, starting with "Wah Do Dem” in the ’80s, the dancy single from his album Bubble Up Yu Hip. But he's released plenty of political tracks, too. Whether he’s performing dance-based numbers or socially conscious songs or both, he never sets out with his career in mind. "I don't write to get a hit or a charge, you know? I just do what feels good to me."
Three decades later, what keeps him on the road? "The people. The vibe. I got a love. It's cool. It's OK. Even when I'm gone, I'm going to still make music in heaven." He's not sure when it’ll be time for the Mouse cowboy to hang up his spurs. Every now and again, he thinks about retirement. "I keep going. It's cool for me.
"I'm just mousing around, you know?"
Jill Cohn • indie, singer-