A “Rocky Story” of a young upstart Irish boy growing up in the projects; going to jail for a crime he didn’t commit but ending up as the #1 reggae singer and artist in the world.
Cashbox had the opportunity to “Shovel the Snow” with Darrin Kenneth O’Brien on this exclusive Q and A.
Cashbox: When you say the name Snow in the musical circles, so many different stories. almost urban legends surface, one of course being how you became Snow and when you wrote the song “Informer”.
The most popular story being that while you were incarcerated you learned the Jamaican slang patois and wrote the song “Informer”. What music were you listening to before that time?
Snow: No, that’s not quite right, I didn’t learn reggae in jail, and I had always been into the music in my ‘hood as my neighbours were from Jamaica and they were always playing reggae music. When I was like 11 years old and my brother was 14, he used to put on Kiss concerts and he had a hook-up with a ticket agency already at that age. So he would get blank tickets and write on them Kiss concert with like Max Webster opening up. Our nanny made us the costumes with all the makeup and I had long hair and the blood, the whole thing and we had like 120 people show up. We had a stage and everything; it was amazing.
We liked rock ‘n’ roll then and in those days everyone in the projects (where I lived Allenbury Gardens) were Irish, the ‘hood was all Irish families. We listened to Kiss, Rush, Max Webster and had a lot of fun doing these shows. Then when I was around 14 years old and Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister, he changed the immigration policies and that’s when all the Chinese came in and in my neighbourhood, the Jamaicans.
Cashbox: That’s right, Trudeau did loosen up the immigration policies, around what year are we talking about?
Snow: I would say around 1983; I grew up with reggae around my whole life from then on. So right next door where I lived was this Jamaican family, named The Browns and they had the reggae, reggae, reggae going all day and like my mum was into R&B and that’s all she would listen to, no rock, no country just R&anp;B. She had like 20 crates of music and I would take them out back and play them outside and sing along with them; she used to get pissed as the sun would warp some of them.
Anyways, one day my neighbour came over and said “hey let me cut your hair” I had like really long hair, you know Kiss, Max, Rush and I said, okay why not. So he cut it real short and gave me these round glasses and I started goofing around, (imitating a reggae singer) and he’s laughing and going “Yeah Snow white, Snow white man and it kind of stuck from there.” But before that I was like rock ‘n’ roll.
Cashbox: That is too funny so, I hate to ask but … what about the jail time, you were incarcerated for assault.
Snow: That one there was two attempts murders.
Cashbox: Whoa! That’s quite the charge!
Snow: It’s alright, I don’t shy away from my criminal past cause that’s what made me and now I can talk about it, right so I was going to jail so that’s when I went there. The police had framed me, my best friend did it, Terry, they knew he did it but they framed me because they didn’t like me and my family so they put me in jail to ruin my life but not knowing, they thought they were ruining my life but look what happened. I wrote the song “Informer”.
Cashbox: That’s right, 8 million reggae records sold by a young Irish boy from North York, go figure?
Snow: If they didn’t frame me and I didn’t get charged with that I wouldn’t have done it, like written that song and look what happened by them framing me, but not knowing I didn’t want to be a singer , I wrote that song “Informer”.
Cashbox: So what about the story that Marvin Prince co wrote the song with you?
Snow: No certainly he did not.
Cashbox: There are some different stories on line about the song.
Snow: He could have put that in there like Wikipedia, he came around, but Marvin did not write it. Now MC Shan, now he did something (laughing.)
Cashbox: What’s the relationship with him?
Snow: That’s my brother, here it is, when I got charged with 2 attempts, I wrote that song “Informer” then … I didn’t want to be a singer I kind of wanted to be a criminal like a good criminal.
Cashbox: Like a Robin Hood?
Snow: (Laughing), yeah exactly like a Robin Hood, I was brought up with a lot of morals like you know my mum would say around the house “don’t sell drugs, don’t break into people’s houses, don’t steal the rings you know my neighborhood was strong and tuff but you know if a lady was crossing the street with a bunch of bags we would be the first to run over there and help her with her bags.
Cashbox: Bronx style?
Snow: Yeah, exactly that’s how we were, so I didn’t think I was going to be a singer, especially a reggae singer. At that time reggae music was no big thing, if I wanted to sell music I could have gone into country and maybe sold 18 million.
Cashbox: Yeah, maybe.
Snow: So after they let me out of jail when they gave me $60,000.00 bail, I did a year in there waiting, so when they let me out after a week and I got charged again for a crowbar assault, that one I did but they said I hit him with a crowbar, I kicked him once. Boom, but he lied and said I hit him with a crowbar and I thought “oh! now here we go again.”
Cashbox: So they believed him because of your criminal past?
Snow: Yeah so here I am again 2 attempt murder charges and assault to cause bodily harm, so I go to trial for the 2 attempts and I beat it with a jury.
Cashbox: Oh, how did that happen?
Snow: My best friend took the stand and said he did it, my best friend Terry.
Cashbox: So your best friend says he did it but doesn’t get charged?
Snow: That’s right under the “Canadian Evidence Act” he said he did it and can’t get charged and they have to let me out. He looks like me, he was there that night and we had been best friends since grade two, it was a mistake and he took the stand and the jury found me not guilty, so I’m off that charge but I still have the other charge.
Cashbox: So how long did you get for that?
Snow: I didn’t go up yet I went down to New York with Marvin while I’m waiting for the next charges and he says “let’s go down to NYC and see his girlfriend and just hang out, so we head down. Now I meet MC Shan and he says so you are a singer and I go that’s right and I start singing the reggae (fast auctioneer style) MC Shan goes wow, you got to come to my house ,I said alright I got nothing else to do.
So we go to his place and like he’s with Marley Mall and all these biggies from Queens bridge this is hip hop back than so I’m like digging this and then we get to his house and like everybody’s hungry, his dog’s hungry, his wife’s hungry so I head out to the market and I do Snow’s style of shopping no money needed if you know what I mean, and I bring back burritos, steaks and things and the dogs eating burritos, his wife gets food and everybody’s full and happy.
So we start making this record for fun in his studio, I’d never been in a studio so me and MC Shan are making this record and Marvin is hanging around, I really wanted him to be involved but he really didn’t do anything.
Cashbox: Well he did get some credit and made some money from it.
Snow: Yeah, he did, he got a lot more than he should have.
Cashbox: Are you still in contact with him?
Snow: Not really. I saw him the other day downtown and he’s like “Yo, there you are, I miss you so much”, it was like all confusion you know. I don’t really know what’s going on with him.
Cashbox: Now what about MC Shan?
Snow: (softly) yeah that’s my brother.
Cashbox: Is he involved in your new recording?
Snow: No, but he’ll be around, a part of DKO, I want a lot of good people around me so he’ll be there.
Cashbox: Now who came up with the name “Super Notorious Outrageous White Boy” – Snow. There are all kinds of stories related to how you got that name.
Snow: Marvin, yeah Marvin did that; he named me notorious even before Mr. Big, but I never said that to nobody that I’m super notorious, I don’t know how he got it.
Cashbox: Now after Marvin left in 95 and you did the album “Murder Love,” you had a lot of guests on that record, did they come to you or …
Snow: No. I picked them, yeah, Bujo, Beanie Man., that’s after I got kicked out of America in 93.
Cashbox: Why, because of your past?
Snow: Yeah what happened I met up with MC Shan and we are doing all these songs and taking pictures like in a photo booth and he’s running around to all these different labels and he introduces me to my manager Steve Salem and Dave Eng so they came and heard me and go wow and take me to a big studio and introduce me to Atlantic records and they want to sign me.
We go down to 75 Rockefeller Atlantic records in this board room and they say yeah we want to do this and were going to take this song “Informer” and I go okay but I have this other charge. I may get 6 months and be out in 2 or I may get a year.
Cashbox: So they were okay with that?
Snow: Yeah, I go back and I get a year, I did 8 months.
Cashbox: Where were you sent?
Snow: On the first one I was in the East Detention Centre in Toronto, that’s where I wrote the song, and for the second charges I was put in Maplehurst Detention Centre.
Cashbox: Maplehurst doesn’t have a bad reputation.
Snow: It wasn’t too bad, so here I was in jail, I didn’t get a chance to hear the finished album or see the video as they were going into editing when I had to go in. So around month 7 a friend calls me (left a message in the bubble) and said he saw the video on T.V. I am going are you sure? He said yes, on Much Music (City TV) they played it, now word is getting around the jail. I’m thinking okay Friday night is movie night and the guards are going to let everyone stay up late and watch for the video in the cafeteria.
Cashbox: That was cool!
Snow: Nooo not cool, I’m worried that it’s not me, maybe its Marky Mark or Vanilla Ice and I’m going to be the laughing stock of the jail.
Cashbox: No more picking up the soap?
Snow: No more showers, the guards are going to let everyone stay up late and see the video in the cafeteria. We are all there and I’m real nervous, the movie ends we are watching Much Music and then I hear the dadadatada, the intro to “Informer,” and there I am on the T.V. behind bars singing and here I am in jail behind bars watching (laughing) and everyone’s yelling “Snow, Snow you are a star!”.
It was crazy, the whites, blacks, Chinese and bikers all yelling and laughing, it was unreal. Then this big biker comes up to me and asks for my autograph. I was so nervous I didn’t know how to write Snow. Can you believe it? My first autograph was to a biker in jail.
Cashbox: That is great – what a picture that must have been?
Snow: Yeah and then on the next Friday I get a pass to go down to City T.V. for the Electric Circus/Much Music interview. So I get back on the Monday and there is the warden standing in the hallway. He comes up to me and says “I watched your interview with my daughter and we saw you perform there on T.V.” I was listening when he changed his tone and said “my daughter said you aren’t really that good and also there were beer and liquor bottles in the background at Electric Circus.” I was shocked and said “I wasn’t drinking, Sir.” The warden said “you know part of the condition on your pass was that you don’t go near alcohol. I’m sorry, but that is a breach of your conditional pass.” I was sick with fear, what was going happen.
Cashbox: That is a real problem, what happened?
Snow: He started to laugh and said he was joking that his daughter thought I was great. (Laughing) We were all laughing and now I am “Snow.”
Cashbox: Unbelievable … but cool.
Snow: Later I got into it with 2 guys and we are put down in the hole. So I get there and the guard says “hey Snow, anything you need?” and I say “yeah, can I get some cookies?” Then I hear this voice from the other hole, some guy been in there for awhile say,” Don’t hold your breath you aren’t getting anything”.
Well a few minutes later here comes the guard, (crash,) the little door opens and in comes a big plate of cookies. I said give some to the guy in the next hole …
Cashbox: Now you know you’ve made it.
Snow: Right I got to tell you this is true, about a month or so before I got out I had this dream that I was flying over the city with my mother and picking out a house with her and this is like before I knew if the record was any good or going to sell.
Cashbox: Donna, your mother talked about that. She said you came home and handed her a cheque for $450,000.00 and told her “Mum go by yourself a house but give me back $50K so I can buy a car.” Your sister Ashley confirmed that as well. What kind of car did you buy and what about the house?
Snow: A pathfinder. I bought a pathfinder and her house out in Meadowvale and Sheppard area (Toronto) with a pool, jacuzzi, big deck the works. Then I moved in with her and I had a $70,000.00 studio built in the garage. She finally kicked me out and moved to Keswick where she is today. I moved down to New York.
Cashbox: How long did you live there?
Snow: Well I was there for awhile but I had the North American tour to do in support of my record. So I went to the islands and Japan, USA and I was up in Canada in Montreal doing a show when I got served my papers that I was banned from the States due to my criminal past and I couldn’t go back. Not too long later I got the same from Japan.
Cashbox: Have you tried to ask for a pardon?
Snow: They don’t look at the pardon … It is a pardon by the Queen, it means nothing to them and I am not ashamed of my crimes. I like my record; I tried for 12 years to get back in. Once I went through Niagara Falls, I told the customs I just wanted to go to the American (Niagara) Falls and they let me through.
Cashbox: So that must have hurt your tour and your sales?
Snow: Yes, the fans in the States probably thought I just disappeared as I couldn’t promote my new stuff or do a tour. When I released the single “Girl I’ve Been Hurt” in 1994, I was scheduled for Letterman and a tour but couldn’t go.
Cashbox: A pardon shouldn’t be too difficult for you?
Snow: Well now I get a waiver to go into the States, so I will have to see what we can do when my next album is done. I think Japan may be okay.
Cashbox: At your event one of your dancers, Teria was there, and she used to be in one of the productions from Cuba we represented. What was your show all about band and stage wise?
Snow: Yeah Teria came on board a bit later and she and the 2 other girls were great; we had the full band with the guitars and drums and then the turntables; a full show. But I couldn’t go back to the States.
I don’t carry I.D. For example once I was driving in my old ‘hood and the police pulled me over and the policeman said “Hey, Snow what are you doing?” I said nothing Officer and he said okay you can go. He walked back to his cruiser and suddenly came back and said “Snow you got any I.D.?”. I said no Officer I don’t and he walked back to the car and we heard him say “See! I told you Snow don’t carry any I.D.”
The boys in 51 Division all know me. Like once I was down by George’s Chicken and the cruiser comes flying up (they’re looking for stolen cars) and they are going Hey! Snow running with his arms open, it’s like all the young police listen to my music and the old ones are all gone now. They wanted some CD’s and stuff. This is when I was kicked out of the States and came home.
Cashbox: Didn’t you live in Jamaica for awhile?
Snow: Yes I was down there and recorded the songs with Beanie man and Buju and had a club hit, but the States don’t know, they‘re probably thinking what happened to Snow, they don’t know I done all this stuff and probably think I faded away. I just have to get a waiver and get down there.
Cashbox: So in 1997 you brought out your Greatest Hits album, so what is up with Snow today, are you working on a new album?
Snow: Yes I’m working with the Marlies, Wycliffe I have Commissioner Gordon on Board, he won some Grammys for Santana and the Fugis so Commissioner and his partner Rich Nice are working with me now.
Cashbox: Any songs you think might be a single?
Snow: “Fallin” or “Walkin In My Shoes” or even “I Adore You”. These tunes are all good ones, this is going to be a great album and the fans that missed my other tunes will get a chance to see Snow again.
Cashbox: Maybe you have a Juno hit in this one, you were nominated for one in the past.
Snow: Yes, I won the first Reggae Juno in 1999, oops 3, 9’s. I have a thing for the Number 9. That same year I was drinking in this basement bar and a dread came up to me and said “snow man you be in the Guinness book of records, respect.” I go out and they have this first time hard cover Guinness book and there I was in the Guinness book for best reggae song and don’t forget they’re Irish like me. I had a couple of albums with Virgin, but the radio didn’t play me in the States as I couldn’t go down and support the songs. I couldn’t do radio interviews and on top of it I was Canadian.
Cashbox: That’s great, now last month on 9.9.9. You launched DKO productions, there was a young 11 year old girl accompanied by an acoustic guitar, hard rock band, electro beat band and an afro songstress. Are they signed to your company and what’s the goal of DKO?
Snow: I am crazy with the number 9 by the way. So that is why we prepared for the launch on that date. In 2000 I released “Everybody Wants To Be Like You” and it was a bit different than the “Informer” album. I never know what I am going to do when I get in the studio. So with DKO I can produce a record for $100,000.00 and I have Commissioner Gordon and Wycliffe, everybody supporting me so with the talent we pick we can then produce the record and look for a distribution deal.
We have different music on Volume #1 to #3 right now and we even had one of our acts from the DKO volumes on American Idol, they trashed her, she sang country and Shania was a judge she was a mess afterwards and I got her signed with Motown. Leeann Ackers, she is still signed but has been shelved for a bit due to budgeting.
Volume #1 and #2 were artists picked by me and the others were picked by the staff and friends.
Cashbox: So you have a whole package for artists from management to legal services?
Snow: Right, when I started it was a lot harder than if you have someone like DKO and a team behind you. Just when the record is dying out we can come back with something different.
Cashbox: Now what about the 5 senses thing?
Snow: My team has this whole marketing thing behind it. The senses, for example: Sight: Video, movies, pictures whatever.
Sound: the songs and CD. Touch: Clothing, men’s hoodies and stuff and a lingerie angle for the girls all using my logos. Smell: Colognes and perfumes and maybe even a bit of incense. Taste: I can’t tell you too much but it is patented and will be a sure hit in the vitamin and energy drink marketplace.
Also we are going to plaster the logo everywhere and when it starts to snow outside watch out for our flash point logos, they will snow too.
Cashbox: That sounds great can’t wait to see how it develops. Now what about your charity Puresnow NGO?
Snow: I grew up in the projects and I believe if my family could have got help and we didn’t have to steal to survive, my mum’s life would have been easier. I want to get bikes for the kids that don’t have ‘em. I like to give them new backpacks, but the idea is it is not government funded so I can make sure the money that comes in goes to the right places. We want to hear from the people on what their needs are so we can be a direct impact on helping them change their own lives.
Cashbox: I noticed that you have a partner who is a Canadian author and a BMO Technology Manager, Claudette McGowan.
Snow: Yes Claudette knows the impact financial hardships can have on families, having spent three years on researching and writing her book ”Da Ultimate Hook-up – Free things for all Canadians. The book profiles how Canadians can access free things such as baby food, scholarships, dinners, contact lenses, business training and even computers as well as all things that are needed by people living in low income housing.
She also tells you how to earn extra money by profiling online job opportunities, mystery shopping gigs, $100 hookups (a weekly draw on www.daultimatehookup.com) and $500 grants for single mothers.
Cashbox: You and your partners went door to door almost to help the needy, when did that happen and what were your goals?
Snow: On Sunday September 6th 2009 I went out with my crew and handed out backpacks full of school supplies in my old ‘hood (Allenbury) at the Allenbury pool parking lot for all those youths like me, whose family didn’t have the money to buy their own school supplies and things. The backpacks have the DKO logo on it and it was funny when all the kids figured it out they started singing “PURESNONGO, PURESNONGO, and PURESNONGO… SNOW was his name O, like the Bingo kids song.”
Cashbox: That is too cute, good for you.
Snow: Now my goal is to help residents improve their neighborhoods and their lives by helping families socially and economically. As a former resident of Allenbury, I remember the real needs that exist in housing communities. I would have been happy with a backpack and school supplies, or at least the resources that told my family how we could get free things that we needed. Pure Snow is focused on providing REAL assistance to communities in need. Pure Snow aims to help residents of public housing realize their full potential and achieve success.
Cashbox: That’s a good cause, how can people donate?
Snow: we have PayPal on our homepage and we plan to have some special events and concerts as well to raise money. To learn more or participate in the project visit the organization on line.
Cashbox: So, you have had quite the ride in your life, now what do you do in your spare time and what do you listen to when you are not making music?
Snow: My music and projects are my life, with the new album I hope to be back in America to tour this time for all those fans that thought I faded away when I was banned and can see that Snow hasn’t forgotten them. I hope they will remember me and appreciate my new music as it is stories from the heart. As far as what I listen to? “Q107” an oldies rock station in Toronto.
Cashbox: We are posting your photos from the launch in our photo gallery for everyone to see.
Snow: Thanks Cashbox and you will be the first to get my new music for your fans to hear before any one else.
Cashbox: We will look forward to that.