Thanks to the local public library, I am no longer the same person I once was after reading Roger Steffens‘ comprehensive and thoughtfully organized oral history of Bob Marley and, by extension, The Wailers, from their earliest days. Halfway through the book I felt compelled to take notes about a number of the more obscure early Wailers tracks.
What got me off the couch was the reminder that Johnny Nash, Arthur Jenkins, and Danny Sims (i.e., the JAD production team, featured late last December) brought in top NYC session players to “sweeten” the tracks for American ears – including Bernard Purdie (subject of a recent King history piece). However, when you check the credits on disc one (1968) of the three-disc JAD box set, it says musicians “probably include” Eric Gale, Bernard Purdie, et al. If not Purdie on tracks 1 through 14, asks Zero to 180, then what other drummer? Check out “Love” – a surprisingly tender ballad from the Wailer with the most militant reputation – and decide whether Bernard Purdie provides the drum part on this JAD production from 1968:
“It Hurts to Be Alone” features vocalist, Junior Braithwaite, another early member. Check out the opening guitar line and instrumental solo break – who else could it be? Answer: Ernest Ranglin.
“It Hurts To Be Alone” The Wailers 1964
Bunny Wailer affirms that “It Hurts to Be Alone” — a “smash” when performed live in the early days – was a song directly inspired by Curtis Mayfield‘s “I’m So Proud,” as recorded by The Impressions:
“I’m So Proud” The Impressions 1964
Beverley Kelso, another member from the earliest days [who can be heard on early hit, “Simmer Down“], tells The Jamaica Observer in 2012 that she provided harmony on the original recording of “It Hurts To Be Alone“. This song, notes Steffens — “the group’s first ballad to make a big impression” (get it?) — was written by “the teenaged Junior Braithwaite and recorded on August 28, 1964, the day before he left the island for Chicago” to join his family in the States.
Originally (but never officially credited on Wailers-related records), it was an adaptation of a song “My Dream Island” by El Tempos on a Vee Jay Records 7-inch (VJ 580, 1963). Composed by Al ‘Bunk‘ Johnson, lead singer of El Tempos.
Wailers in the JA Pop Charts: What Constitutes a “Hit”
Steffens states (on pgs. 56-7) that in 1965, “the Wailers had the number one [“Simmer Down”], two [“It Hurts To Be Alone“], three [“Rude Boy“], five [“Jailhouse“], and seven [“Put It On“] songs in the Top Ten at once.” Earlier in the book, Dodd helps give some context as to what constitutes a “hit”: “When ‘Simmer Down’ come out, in those days, anything from five thousand was a hit. I would say twenty thousand would be a strong hit.” Steffens adds, “At the height of the success of ‘Simmer Down’ it kept four pressing plants going and sold a reported eighty thousand copies on an island with only about two million inhabitants.”
During their early years, The Wailers were a pretty volatile live act, you might be surprised to know, as Bunny Wailer makes clear:
Our first appearance was at the Palace. Wailers were hot. When we hit the stage it was just fire … When we came on, half the people left their seats and were down almost to the edge of the stage, ’cause Wailers were like gymnastics. Flickings and splits and snap falls. All Wailers split. We did stuff where Bob would take me and throw me in the air and we’d split. Bob would kneel down, I would go over his back — splits. Peter would come there and bounce us like rubber balls, just comin’ up and goin’ down like that. I would run to him, he catches me, and as my belly cross his arm he just flicks and split.
Bunny says that at the last show before Bob left for Delaware, it was a first-ever concert in the National Stadium, and the moment that made the crowd lose control happened during one particular Bob ballad, “I’m Still Waiting“:
We had a little plan for “I’m Still Waiting” where when Bob said ‘my feet’, his feet just feel from under him, and we caught him before him hit the ground and just bring him back on mic.
“I’m Still Waiting” The Wailers & Soul Brothers Orchestra 1965
“Freedom Time” – 1966 song of liberation from Dodd, despite being recorded at Studio One with The Soul Brothers is the first Wail‘n’ Soul’m 45 b/w “Bend Down Low” (Bunny says it sold something like 50,000 copies):
Check out the loping rocksteady version of “Stepping Razor” from 1967 — augmented by heavy hand drums (note the flubbedchord by the band just seconds before fading):
More Nyabinghi hand drums on Tosh/Wailers “Burial” (below) the flip side to “Pound Get a Blow,” almost certainly recorded during the time Bob was in Delaware (where part of his time was spent sweeping floors at the opulent Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington) –- great piano on this killer rocksteady Wail’n Soul’m 45 release from 1968:
Hotel Du Pont: Where Jeff Nold once imbibed
Musical blooper: bassist accidentally plays opening note too early (or does he?)
Glad to be reminded that the ill-named Best of the Wailers album that was recorded at Leslie Kong’s studio (and released August, 1971) was intended as reggae’s first “concept” album — a “thematically structured collection of songs,” explain the liner notes to JAD’s 3-disc box set, “geared to the idea of giving themselves a pep talk: we’re back in the business, we’re not afraid, and we’re moving forward to new heights, and the past be damned.”
A more appropriate album title, asserts Bunny Wailer, would’ve been “Cheer Up”:
“Cheer Up” The Wailers 1970
Carlton + Family Man = “Hippy Boys”: Trivia
Bunny Lee produced the first recording session to feature Carlton and Family Man on a song (“Bangarang” by Stranger Cole & Lester Sterling) “that marked the transition from rocksteady to reggae” (see earlier sidebar re: “first reggae song“):
“Bangarang” Lester Sterling & Stranger Cole 1968
Two songs recorded for Catch a Fire that got reissued in recent years as bonus tracks:
“Survival featured a song written by [Anthony] Sangie Davis called ‘Wake Up and Live‘ … Sangie was given credit on the original Survival cover for co-writing ‘Wake Up and Live.’ He received a small payment upon the album’s release in 1979, but nothing since. His name has been removed from the credits on all subsequent pressings.”
“In late summer of 2006, Sangie and reggae great Joseph “Culture” Hill visited the Reggae Archives. Davis, who had been a staff producer at [Bob Marley’s studio] Tuff Gong, revealed that he was the composer of the unreleased gems “Babylon Feel This One,” a dub-plate commissioned for the Twelve Tribes Sound System, and “She Used to Call Me Dada.”
“She Used to Call Me Dada” Bob Marley & the Wailers
“Babylon Feel This One” Bob Marley & the Wailers
Roger Steffens Weighs In on the King Records Legacy!
Zero to 180 is delighted to report that Roger Steffens himself was kind enough to check out this history piece on the early Wailers recordings and respond to my query about Bernard Purdie and the King Records legacy:
“As far as Mr. Purdie’s contributions to the catalog, I don’t think there’s anything I could add to what is in Leroy Pierson and my Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Definitive Discography. (If you don’t have this book, it’s indispensable to your work, and still available on Amazon.) I wouldn’t trust Danny [Sims]’s memory on any specific tracks, but Purdie himself has acknowledged being on several. We acknowledge specifically “Nice Time”; “Soul Almighty” & “Bend Down Low,” and you can check the discog book for many others too.
In 1956, after my graduation from grade school in suburban NJ, my dad was transferred to Cincinnati. We lived in North Norwood and I started high school at Purcell, working six afternoons a week delivering 356 copies of the Post and Times-Star. I went back to Cincy many times in the ’60s and ’70s while reading poetry in the schools. Saw REO Speedwagon in ’70 at the Ludlow Garage. Have very fond memories of the city.
I have dinner every Tuesday night with a bunch of aging musos, and a frequent guest of late has been Seymour Stein. He also moved from NY to Cincy in 1956, and we were born in the same hospital in Brooklyn, three months apart (he’s older). Stein’s autobiography, Siren Song, is a great read, with much about his time as a youth mentored by the King Records head.”
King Records makes an appearance early in the book when the authors recount the rise of Duke Reid, owner of Treasure Isle, one of the top Jamaican labels in the 1960s:
“In the early ’50s, Reid’s wife, Lucille, won a substantial lottery prize, which she invested in their future by buying a business, an off-license called the Treasure Isle Liquor Store, which was located in the same run-down ghetto area that the Duke had patrolled [as a police officer] for a decade. The store was such a success that, in 1958, they relocated to larger premises at 33 Bond Street.
It was normal practice around Kingston for shopkeepers and bar owners to play recorded music to attract customers. Not to be outdone, Reid rigged up a 78 rpm record player in the shop, with a speaker outside the front door, and discovered a formula for increasing his turnover. Nothing drew in the music-hungry local people like a Wynonie Harris record rocking out through the speaker and carrying right across the street.”
The First Trojan Record
The authors identify the very first Trojan 45 release on page 32 — nevertheless, from the comfort of your computer, you can pull up the titles of the A and B sides of TR-001 yourself in three easy steps:
Observe the very first item listed — “Judge Sympathy” by Duke Reid [& His All-Stars] b/w “Never to Be Mine” by Roland Alphonso — with a release date, 28 July 1967, that coincides with the label’s founding by Lee Gopthal and Chris Blackwell.
“Judge Sympathy” Duke Reid All-Stars 1967
“A classic tale of a rude boy getting his comeuppance -or not- in court.”
It is highly improbable, of course, that producer Duke Reid appears on this recording but rather, as YouTube contributor rudeboy6000 states, “Alton Ellis and John Holt are probable guest voices [ref.: Trojan Records].”
< click on all song titles below for streaming audio>
Two years after its founding, the Trojan organization would expand operations in 1969:
“Another significant move in that year was the appointment of St. Kitts-born Joe Sinclair. Joe had been with the Musicland shop at 23 Ridley Road since 1965 … and had elevated the premises to be the number-one retail outlet of the chain. He was rewarded with an appointment as the manager of Trojan Records.
Joe was an accomplished keyboard player and, as well as being responsible for the day-to-day running of the office, moved into playing on and producing records. He founded the Grape label in late 1969 as a ‘take on Apple‘ and started to record UK-based group The Rudies on crunching skinhead-friendly numbers like the revamped ‘Guns of Navarone‘. Some of their records were covers of other artists’ tunes, such as ‘Shanghai‘, which was similar to the Lloyd Charmers original, already released by Pama.
“As reggae gained a firm hold in the charts and minds of Mr. Average Record Buyer, the stars of rock took notice, including The Rolling Stones, who had championed black music since their early days. Under the headline ‘Rudies Play at Mick Jagger‘s Wedding‘, the 10 June 1971 issue of US magazine Rolling Stone reported, ‘At the slightly seedy Cafe des Arts, where the reception was held, a local band opened the show and flopped. Next came The Rudies, a thumping reggae group big in their own scene in Britain. They lifted up plenty of souls ready for a set by Terry Reid and his band.”
Depends What You Mean By “Exclusive”
Part of the UK reggae industry’s colorful history includes a bit of “double dealing”:
“The other problem that confronted [Joe] Sinclair, and that had caused headaches far back for Chris Blackwell, was the [Jamaican] producers’ philosophy of getting as much mileage out of a record as possible. Sometimes Trojan were offered a brand-new recording from Jamaica; they would buy the master tape from the producer and issue it on one of their labels. Pama would have gone through a mirror-image situation with the same producer, who would have two or three copies of his ‘exclusive’, which he would proceed to sell to rival companies before jetting back to the sunshine with a maximum profit.
Sometimes two rival companies’ labels would release a record almost simultaneously — such as Marley‘s “Lively Up Yourself“, which appeared on Trojan’s Green Door imprint and Pama’s Punch label — or, if one unfortunate owner saw it already out on the street, they would just shelve their release. Trojan Records own a considerable number of recordings that they have never released due to this problem, and one can conjecture that the other labels active at the time also had a box of unuseable master tapes.”
This inter-label rivalry (according to Wikipedia – please don’t hit me) “had been fuelled by Bunny Lee’s earlier licensing of Derrick Morgan’s ‘Seven Letters‘ to both Pama and Trojan.”
Sid estimates that, by the end of the decade, his hand was present in around 70 per cent of all the recordings coming from the small island, so great was the demand for his talents as a freelance producer and engineer. He estimates that the average number of recordings he would undertake in a normal day was a staggering 12. He never had to look for work as his reputation preceded him and most producers looked to him to turn a song into a hit.
As a professional engineer and producer at Dynamic Studios (after leaving Studio One and his freelance career), he recorded work for, among others, Bunny Lee, Harry Mudie, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin and Leslie Kong. He was the engineer on Johnny Nash’s smash ‘I Can See Clearly Now‘, engineered the formative DJ work of producer Keith Hudson with Big Youth on ‘Ace 90 Skank‘ and worked on the first three Marley Island albums. He also remixed both Duke Reid’s and Coxson’s work at various times to give ‘a more up-to-date sound’.
Sadly, much of Sid’s work has been unrecognised, and it is only now that account has been taken of his vast input to Jamaican music. He recalls that, in the reggae heyday of the start of the ’70s, ‘I would be asked to do two mixes of a tune, one for Jamaica and a lighter one for the UK as a new burgeoning market for their products and their need to retune the sound accordingly.”
Clyde McPhatter and the Trojan Connection
One original era vocal legend, tragically, was not able to hang on for the roots rock revival scene that began to take shape in the early 1970s — Rob Bell recounts:
‘Here’s one artist probably no one in the world knows had a Trojan connection – Clyde McPhatter, lead singer of the Drifters in the early ’50s, who then branched out to a solo career by around 1955 or ’56. Huge influence on R&B – you can listen to thousands of R&B or doo-wop recordings from the ’50s and hear Clyde’s influence. Enormous.
‘He was in London for awhile around 1971 [the master index shows that Clyde recorded in 1970 for Trojan], down on his luck. I don’t know how he showed up at Trojan, but he did. We cut a session with him and The Rudies, with ex-Pioneer Sydney Crooks as producer. Four tunes, assigned Song Bird matrices. Somewhere around SB 1027 to 1032 A and B, as far as I can recall … For some reason, Graham [Walker] and Lee [Gopthal] hated him, and I remember having to tell Clyde that we had no bread for him on the one occasion that I met him.
‘It is not a moment that I recall with relish. He seemed like a nice man and was certainly a singer for whom I had a very high regard. As far as I know, these titles have never been issued.’
Actually, one single ‘Denver‘ would be issued on the “pop-slanted” B&C label in September of 1969 — a nicely arranged piece of pop soul (penned by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham) that would be one of the last releases from the legendary vocalist, who succumbed to alcoholism in 1972 at the age of 39.
UK release in 1969 + Picture sleeve for Spain – 1970
I Roy vs. U Roy vs. Hugh Roy
Forget what you learned in school: U before I, except after Roy. Rob Bell explains:
“I myself was responsible for one cock-up, and that was calling toaster U Roy on his early UK releases Hugh Roy. As you know, Jamaicans tend to drop Hs, and to add them sometimes, viz Marley’s line in ‘Trench Town Rock‘, ‘an ‘ungry man is a hangry man’.
So little old middle-class Rob Bell, one of whose tasks it was to prepare label copy, very carefully typed ‘Hugh Roy’ on the copy for those releases … As I did all the label copy for at least two years, I am sure I am responsible for many cock-ups! However, in my defence, I took the details from the Jamaican label, or got the info from the producer — both sources being, of course, absolutely infallible!
(If it’s any consolation to Rob, the toaster’s debut LP, Version Galore, was issued by Duke Reid in Jamaica in a sleeve proclaiming the artist to be I-Roy!)”
“Full-price ska/reggae albums sold in minute quantities. The Tighten Up series did sell well, but that was because they consisted of compilations of singles that had already sold very well indeed. Trojan wanted to piggyback other titles … hence the ambitious TTL reissue project.”
Tighten Up‘s first volume featured primarily previously-released Trojan 45s and was given the TTL “budget” designation (“though no one now can recall what these initials stood for”). The authors further explain —
“Priced at just 14/6d – the cost of two singles – this album moved units, and its first pressing on the original all-orange Trojan label sold out quickly. It was repressed with a slightly altered sleeve design using the new orange-and-white label design, which was introduced in 1969 …”
“Tighten Up Volume Two appeared quickly afterwards and was not only much more up to date in its tracks; it was also a sizzling selection of recordings … Tighten Up Volume Two was Trojan’s all-time best-selling album and would remain available for many years, such was its enduring popularity. It even score in the pop album charts, the entry rules for which were promptly revised to exclude budget records!”
“Tighten Up Volume 3, issued in 1970, took the pretty girl off the sleeve and on to the bedroom wall with a splendid double-album-sized poster nestled in a die-cut sleeve. The young lady peeped through the central hole and, when the poster was opened out, revealed the titles of all the album’s tracks painted on her finely toned body. It may have been a gimmick, but because of the poster Tighten Up Volume 3 became legendary in every school classroom and extremely popular on the skinheads’ walls.”
With respect to Pama’s competing series of budget-priced oldies — Straighten Up — Lloyd Bradley, in 2000’s Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King, would simply say that the “sleeves were tacky enough to make Trojan’s lewd efforts look classy.”
Trojan’s reliance on “strings reggae” would hurt the label during the 1970s, as reggae audiences gravitated toward a heavier roots sound as the decade progressed. The label would have liquidity issues in the mid-1970s and find itself under new ownership: Marcel Rodd of Saga/Allied Records. Former Island staffer, Dave Hendley (“with the departure of Tony Cummings”) would be promoted to Artists & Repertoire. The authors take the baton:
“So in the late ’70s, Trojan was drifting, as the only product which producers would offer them was rejects from other deals or substandard work. Due to the company policy of not paying to the same level as their competitors, such as the rapidly expanding Greensleeves Records, Trojan’s reputation in the marketplace had taken a dive. Marcel Rodd was determined to reverse this trend. And so February 1979 saw Dave Hendley, Mo Claridge and fast-rising reggae DJ David Rodigan heading out to Kingston. Dave’s brief was to raise the Trojan flag in Kingston and sign up some acts – although the company had provided no contacts for him to visit.
Due to Dave’s resourcefulness, the outcome was Sugar Minott‘s Ghetto-ology album and The Morwells‘ 12″ disco 45 ‘Kingston 12 Tuffie‘, with a stunning remix by courtesy of Prince Jammy.”
Dave Hendley breaks down the economics for the rest of us:
“Trojan would pay £300 max for a disco 12” single, while the going rate was £400, and they would only pay up to £2,500 for an album, when up to £4,000 was the normal price. I badly wanted a Freddie McGregor album that Niney had and, give him his due, Rodd went to four grand, but Niney wouldn’t let it go for that. Freddie was just so big back then. I tried for the ‘Hard Time Pressure‘ 12″ single from Sugar Minott but couldn’t get it due to the money. In the end I put it out on my own Sufferers’ Heights label.”
“[Page 81] After the departure of Dave Hendley, Trojan began a period of comparative inactivity, seemingly reissuing the same dozen golden oldies in as many permutations as possible, until it was sold to Sharesense Ltd. in 1985…
[Former Chairman, Colin Newman] No matter what some people want to say about the period in which we ran Trojan, we think we acted in manner that was fair and reasonable. We think we gave care and attention to the music, care and attention to the artwork, care and attention to the way the music was presented to the public. We enjoyed doing it and, as you know, we built up other labels which had other genres of music — again, all built up with direct artist relationships. with very few problems. We built up a big chart list of British singles charts, tracks that ha individually been in the charts, and we mixed the benefit of those releases with Trojan’s expertise, in terms of the ability of putting tracks on compilations and things like that. And we had some success with TV ads, probably the most famous was ‘Israelites‘ by Desmond Dekker for a TDK ad [Maxell, actually], with ‘My Ears Are Alight’, which we thought was great and very funny.”
Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” = Maxell Cassettes
Lord Tanamo’s “I’m In the Mood for Ska” = Paxo Stuffing
Toots & the Maytals’ “Broadway Jungle” = Adidas Footware
Mastered From Vinyl: Superior to Master Tapes?
Those of you who wondered if Trojan’s often murky mixes were somehow caused by limitations in your sound system, you can now rest assured that neither your ears nor playback equipment were at fault:
“Many high-street retailers disliked stocking reggae singles due to their poor sound quality. Joe Sinclair explains the reason:
‘Apart from the big producers like Leslie Kong and Byron Lee, who provided us with master tapes, we always had to dub off a record for our releases.’
In other words, a normal Jamaican-pressed record would be used as the master copy for the Trojan release. All the inherent faults of the none-too-special JA pressing would thereby be transferred to the UK issue, along with a second step away from master-tape sound quality.”
All playlists below in order by catalog #
All dates indicate year of release in the UK — not Jamaica
Amalgamated: According to Discogs —
Founded in 1966 by Joel Gibson (a.k.a. Joe Gibbs) at his radio and TV repair shop on Beeston Street in Kingston, Jamaica, Amalgamated became one of the fastest-rising labels in correlation with the uprising of Rocksteady music. Though the credits almost always read “Produced By Joel Gibson”, production was actually handled by Lee ‘Scratch‘ Perry for the first two years, followed by Winston ‘Niney‘ Holness who took over for the following six years after the fact.
Says the book: “Some of the best sides from 1968 and 1969 were collected on Amalgamated’s Jackpot of Hits compilation.” Also of note to historians: “… the sides by The Cobbs are believed to be Ken Jones‘s productions.” Worth pointing out that obscure early reggae track ‘Red Red Wine‘ by The Immortals – flipside of AMG 869 – “has nothing to do with its more famous namesake.”
Reggae label based on Bunny Lee productions. This label contains releases on multinational markets [from multiple producers, actually].
This UK label were originally started in 1969 as a subsidiary of [Grame Goodall‘s] Doctor Bird Records. Trojan Records took over in 1970, and the label lasted until around 1980. Attack was briefly revived in 1988 until about 1991, issuing compilations of classic Jamaican music from the sixties and seventies.
Zero to 180 emphasizes the array of producers issued on Attack besides Bunny Lee, including (but not limited to) Tony Brevitt, ‘Prince’ Tony Robinson, Warwick Lyn, Winston Riley, Phil Pratt, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Lloyd Coxson, Lee Perry, Pat Rhoden, Sidney Crooks, Ernie Smith, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Eric Donaldson, Linval Thompson, and Harry J.
Originally a subsidiary of Island Records in 1968, Big Shot was absorbed into the Trojan Records group when it spun off from Island that same year, and became one of Trojan’s top secondary subsidiary labels, particularly thanks to its consistent output of material from controversial artist Judge Dread.
Zero to 180 notes the variety of producers whose recordings were issued on Big Shot: George ‘Clive’ Tennors, Ken Khouri, Paul Khouri, Derrick Harriott, Bunny Lee, Niney, Sonia Pottinger, Herman Chin-Loy, Eric Barnett, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Des and Webster, Les Foster, Winston Riley, Rad Bryan, Lloyd Daley, Hugh Madden, Glen Brown, Lloyd’s TV & Radio, Lloyd Charmers, and Lloyd & Glen, among others.
Blue Cat Records (UK) was a subsidiary label of Trojan Records. Around 70 records were released on the label between 1968 and 1969, with a variety of early reggae and rocksteady releases from artists such as The Pioneers, The Untouchables, and The Maytones.
Zero to 180 notes the various producers who were represented on Blue Cat, including Dermot Lynch, Joe Gibbs, Charles Reid, Coxson Dodd, Clancy Collins, Charles Ross, Enos McLeod, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Nehemiah Reid, and others.
UK reggae label launched by Trojan in 1970 as a subsidiary label for Jackie Edwards and his productions. Almost halfway through Bread’s 20-issue existence, Jackie’s output seemed have been switched to Trojan Records and Horse, with other producers taking over the Bread label [such as Lee Perry, Clancy Eccles, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, and Bunny Lee].
Clancy Eccles label. Established by Trojan Records in 1969 as the UK counterpart to Clancy Eccles back-a-yard operation in Jamaica.
Clandisc ground to a halt early in 1972, and Clancy Eccles seemed to disappear from the recording scene.
Zero to 180 notes that by 1972, Downtown would showcase the work of other producers, including Kenneth Wilson, Derrick Harriott, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee, ‘Prince’ Tony Robinson, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Gussie Clarke, Glen Brown, Clancy Eccles, and Byron Lee, among others.
UK reggae / ska label, active from 1968 until late in 1973 when Trojan Records didn’t need the label any longer. Originally initiated to handle output from Arthur “Duke” Reid. Also, label issued Joe Mansano production with ‘blue’ Joe labels and ‘DU’ catalog numbers. Later, label got separate catalog numbers with ‘JRS’ prefix and brown/yellow design.
Zero to 180 adds this observation:
Plenty of producers showcased on this imprint besides Duke Reid: JJ Johnson, Harry J, Joe Gibbs, Lynford Anderson, Hot Rod, Winston Lowe, Clancy Eccles, George ‘Clive’ Tennors, Byron Lee, Bart Sanfilipo, Herman Chin-Loy, Sir Collins, Maurice ‘Blacka Morwell’ Wellington, Rupie Edwards, Lloyd Charmers, Bruce Anthony, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Lee Perry, Keith Hudson, Pat Rhoden, Glen Brown, Neville Willoughby, Phil Pratt, Lloyd Daley, Sonia Pottinger, Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin, Hugh Madden, Dennis Bovell, Gussie Clarke, Bunny Lee, and Whistling Willie, among others.
This Trojan subsidiary dealt with releases from Byron Lee‘s Dynamic Studio (formerly WIRL, or West Indies Records Limited) and spanned some 55 releases between 1970 and 1972. Aside from Lee’s productions, Dynamic also put out material from a variety of other producers recording at Dynamic at the time, most notably Syd Bucknor, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee, and Tommy Cowan.
Adds Zero to 180:
Other producers include Max Romeo, Barry Biggs, S. Francisco, J. Franscique, Eric Donaldson, Neville Willoughby, Neville Hinds, Comic Strip, Winston Wallace, Jimmy Sinclair, C. Wilks, and Geoffrey Chung, among others.
British reggae label started in 1969 and released about 90 vinyl 7″ singles until it’s end in 1974.
Zero to 180 adds this note:
A multitude of producers spinning the dials on these 45 tracks: ,Lloyd Charmers, Derrick Harriott, Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin, Rupie Edwards, Keith Hudson, Laurel Aitken, Nat Cole, Harry Mudie, Neville Willoughby, La-Fud-Del, Herman Chin-Loy, Sir JJ, Vincent Chin, Lloyd Daley, Lloyd’s Radio & TV, Bunny Lee, Pat Rhoden, Federal, Bush, Sonny Roberts, Lee Perry, Harry J, Duke Reid, and Randy’s, et al.
I’m a little surprised more ink has not been expended on a snappy early reggae 45 from 1970 on the Doctor Bird label that can command up to £200 [i.e., $300ish] at auction:
“Rum Bum a Loo” The Message 1970
“Rum Bum a Loo” was produced for the UK market by an entity named Philligree, which Discogs informs us, is the production team of Graeme Goodall and/or Phil Chen:. Meanwhile, the “reggae formation” known as The Message would release no fewer than four singles in 1970.
Desmond Dekker fans will recognize “Rum Bum a Loo” as a near-instrumental version of Dekker’s 1st place winner of the 1968 Jamaica Independence Festival Song Competition, “Music Like Dirt (Festival ‘68).” That same year the song would also be issued in the UK, though with the B-side (“Coconut Water”) imaginatively re-titled as “Coconut Woman”!
“Initially a ska label, Doctor Bird was started in 1965 by Graeme Goodall; it issued its first single in 1966 and put out around two hundred more before expiring in 1969. It qualifies for a mention in this list because Trojan revived it briefly in the early 1970s, for a handful of reggae singles.”
Will Ferrell’s inspired sketch idea as a cowbell-wielding member of Blue Oyster Cult named Gene Frenkle may have lost some of its freshness, however Ferrell deserves credit for galvanizing interest in this long-neglected member of the percussion family. Five years after that Saturday Night Live sketch originally aired, Paul Farhi would reveal in The Washington Post’s January 29, 2005 edition that Frenkle was, indeed, a fiction. Furthermore —
“According to former BOC bassist Joe Bouchard, an unnamed producer asked his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, to play the cowbell after the fact. ‘Albert thought he was crazy,’ Bouchard told the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press in 2000. ‘But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together.'”
How interesting, then, to discover the existence of a cowbell Golden Age just eight years before the release of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in a parallel musical universe located within the Western Hemisphere – and yet not actually of it. That’s right, 1968 was a peak moment for the cowbell on Jamaica’s radio airwaves and in their dancehalls — but for most of us here in the States, that fact would only come to light 3 decades after the fact, when CD reissues of reggae and its predecessor, rocksteady, began to appear here.
Today’s piece, therefore, salutes the cowbell in rocksteady’s magical-but-oh-so-brief moment in history. Zero to 180 welcomes your suggestions to this (incomplete) list:
R o c k s t e a d y & E a r l y R e g g a e C o w b e l l C l a s s i c s
At one point in its week-long tribute to master percussionists, Noel ‘Scully‘ Simms and Uzziah ‘Sticky‘ Thompson, Zero to 180 quoted Discogs.com’s bold claim that Simms is “arguably the first Jamaican artist to release a record single” — but then played the indignant card by loudly noting Discogs’ failure to identify the title of this historic recording.
“The duo of Noel ‘Zoot’ Sims and Arthur ‘Bunny’ Robinson–known first as Sims and Robinson and later as Bunny and Skully–were the first Jamaican artists to record blues ballads and home-grown R&B, initially for exclusive sound system acetates. ‘We started off the first recording in Jamaica on soft wax, for Dada Tewari,’ the now partially sighted Skully wistfully recalls, perched on the kerb outside Kington’s Sonic Sounds. ‘We did the first recordings in 1953 in a little demo studio at the corner of Hanover Street and Lawes Street — he had a little matches box with quarter-inch tape, but he used to do calypso recording in there with Count Lasher [Terence Perkins], Lord Flea [Norman Thomas], Count Owen [Owen Emanuel] and Lord Tanamo’ [Joseph Gordon].
“Skully remembers cutting only two songs at this initial session: ‘End of Time’ and ‘Give Me Another Chance.’ That was the first tunes made apart from Calaypsonians,’ he recalls proudly. ‘That was the first R&B.’ According to Skully, Tewari was not present during the session, which was arranged by the resident pianist. ‘He really wasn’t so much of a producer,’ says Skully of Tewari. ‘It was an Indian who owned the theatre that they call Tivoli. Williams played keyboard, and you had Lloyd Brevett’s father playing bass, a drummer by the name of Percy, and Val Bennett played the saxophone. I don’t know if him release them, but we got £37 — ‘nough money for me and Bunny.”
My favorite ‘Scully’ Simms song is one of his last as vocalist-bandleader — “Small Garden” from 1972:
“Small Garden” Noel ‘Zoot’ Simms 1972
Fascinating moment when I it suddenly occurred to me why the “walking razor” lyric you hear in the first verse, with a chorus that threatens, “Don’t you watch them size, them little but they’re dangerous” sounds so familiar: Peter Tosh sang something very similar for 1967‘s (& 1977‘s) “Stepping Razor” (written by Joe Higgs). Also, with respect to the song’s spoken-word intro, David Katz also points out in Solid Foundation that Simms is “one of the first Jamaican musicians to use Amharic phrases in songs after learning them from Rasta leader, Mortimer Planno.”
“Sublime, rootical, elliptical warning about a variety of blistering, dangerous pest all of us have to cross vines with. The small garden that gathers the bitter weed. Enid on backing vocals. Lovely and profound.”
This “Bunny & Skully” message thread on the Blood & Fire chatboard includes a very helpful discography of Noel ‘Scully” Simms that comes directly from Roger Dalke’s A Scorcha from Studio One discography.
‘Sticky‘ & ‘Scully‘: Analog Percussionists in a Digital Age
It is sad to read a 2003 Jamaica Observer interview with Uzziah ‘Sticky‘ Thompson in which he bemoans the decreasing opportunities for hand percussionists in the new century. Jamaica Observer’s ‘Chordially Speaking’ writes in the introduction about “the death of the reggae percussionist” and that “demand for the [hand percussion] sound has fallen out of favour with contemporary acts.” By way of contrast, this same writer notes the plum work assignments ‘Sticky’ enjoyed going back to the 1960s:
“It was at Reid’s studio that he started playing percussion, rocking on ‘Little Did You Know’ before heading off to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s rising Upsetters label.
Thompson stayed with Perry for five years, playing on outstanding sides such as The Wailers’ Soul Rebel and Duppy Conqueror and Junior Byles’ Beat Down Babylon. In the mid 1970s, he was a regular session player at Channel One where his sound can be heard on The Mighty Diamonds’ Roof Over My Head and John Holt’s Up Park Camp.
Scan the musician credits on classic Jamaican popular music from the 1960s and 70s (i.e., ska, rocksteady, reggae & dub), and odds are in your favor that you will see the name of at least one of these two percussionists: Noel ‘Scully’Simms & Uzziah ‘Sticky’Thompson.
Scully & Sticky
Uzziah, the elder of the two drummers by one year, left us in 2014 at the age of 78, I’m very sorry to report. Scully, who is still with us fortunately, is (I recently discovered) another distinguished graduate of the Alpha Boys School. And although Thompson has served as vocalist/DJ on a handful of songs over the years (including “Guns of Navarone” by The Skatalites), Simms – I’m only just starting to discover – has been both a sideman and solo artist to a much greater degree than I initially thought.
Simms also clearly has a bit of the trickster in him, as evidenced by the nearly endless number of variant names (a cataloger’s nightmare) formally noted on the Discogs.com website, including one amusing alter ego – Mr. Foundation – that was used on at least six Studio One singles for the UK market, including this chugging groove – “Timo Oh” – that instantly grabs the listener with the distinctive opening crack of the snare drum:
“Timo Oh” Mr. Foundation (i.e., Noel ‘Scully’ Simms) 1968
Late rocksteady or early reggae? Stylistically, the song adroitly seems beholden to neither and both at the same time. 45Cat says this disc was released September, 1968 in the UK.
Reassuring to know I’m not the only one who finds this track compelling — in 2012, someone paid the equivalent of $344 (US) for this 2-minute recording, according to Popsike.
A Selected Discography: Recordings That Include ‘Scully’ & ‘Sticky’
According to Doctors Across Borders, “when compared to every other natural remedy for auto-immune disorders,” black cumin (also known as black onion seed) “is the most effective” and “has the power to restore harmony.”
Keyboardist, songwriter, and musical director, Jackie Mittoo, gets an organ workout, thanks to his musical compatriots (i.e., The Sound Dimension), on the instrumental “Black Onion” — released on Studio One imprint, Bamboo:
“Black Onion” Jackie Mittoo & the Sound Dimension 1969
According to the vinyl vendor who sold a copy of this single on Ebay in 2010:
“1969 release ‘Black Onion’ by organist Jackie Mittoo was produced by Clement Coxsone Dodd on his Coxsone label. Recorded at Studio One, the studio band is Sound Dimension featuring Leroy Sibbles on bass, Fil Callender on drums, Jackie Mittoo on organ, and Eric Frater on guitar, among others. This instrumental is cut to the 1968 riddim of ‘Things A Come Up To Bump‘ by the Bassies (a.k.a. the Victors). The B-side is ‘Hokey Jokey’ credited to Larry [Marshall] & Alvin [Leslie], but it seems Alvin is now within earshot on this one from 1969, backed by The Sound Dimension, including Vin Gordon on trombone and Deadly Headley Bennett on alto sax.”
Some enterprising soul (the aptly-named “DJ Algoriddim”) has put together an extended 10-minute mix that stitches together pieces from 11 different versions (!) based on the original riddim “Things a Come Up to Bump” — with ear-tickling stereo panning effects that can only be found here:
“Things a Come Up to Bump” Special Mix by DJ Algoriddim
01. “Things a Come Up to Bump”: The Bassies
02. “Things A Come Up To Version”: The Bassies
03. “Things A Come Up To Dub”: The Soul Vendors
04. “Bumpy Stomp”: The Sound Dimension
05. “Dubbing The Bump”: Big Joe & Scorcher
06. “More Scorcha”: Count Machuki
07. “Whey No Dead”: Glen Miller
08. “Whey No Dead Version”: Sound Dimension
09. “Plant Up A Vineyard”: Lone Ranger
10. “Black Onion”: The Sound Dimension
11. “More Scorcher”: Jackie Mittoo
Trailblazing, by definition, can be a lonely enterprise – but someone has to move civilization forward. Therefore, hats off to Jamaica’s first woman music producer, Sonia Pottinger, who managed to navigate a path through a field that is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and left future generations a legacy of classic recordings.
“Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl” – one of the few photos of Sonia Pottinger
Upon her passing, Howard Campbell in the November 7, 2010 edition of The Gleaner would pronounce her “Jamaica’s most successful women producer” although, curiously, neglect to point out she was the first. Campbell would also write:
“Born in St Thomas, Pottinger was introduced to the music business by her husband L.O. Pottinger, an engineer who had relative success as a producer in the mid-1960s. She went on her own during that period, scoring a massive hit with ‘Every Night‘, a ballad by singer Joe White. Pottinger had considerable success in the late 1960s with her Tip Top, High Note and Gay Feet labels. She produced Errol Dunkley’s debut album, Presenting Errol Dunkley, and hit songs by vocal groups like The Melodians (‘Swing and Dine’), The Gaylads (‘Hard to Confess’) and ‘Guns Fever’ by The Silvertones.”
I was also intrigued to learn that, as Campbell notes, Pottinger bought the catalogue and operations of the esteemed Treasure Isle label after the passing of its founder/owner, Duke Reid (but only after first doing battle in Jamaica’s Supreme Court with Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, as well as Duke Reid’s son and Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee’; sadly, she would die the very next year after winning her case). Incredibly, this same publication – just 16 months later – would publish a piece entitled, “Women Who Shaped Jamaican Music” … and fail to even mention her! Is my indignation righteous enough? Today’s piece, consequently, is my attempt to bring about some measure of pop music social justice.
Sonia Pottinger, who would go on to receive Jamaica’s Order of Distinction
As pointed out in yesterday’s piece, Sonia Pottinger issued two singles by pioneering reggae vibraphonist, Lennie Hibbert. Additionally, Pottinger would be among the first of the producers in Prince Buster’s wake to incorporate the traditional and deep Nyabinghi hand drum rhythms into rocksteady and reggae music, as evidenced on Patsy Todd’s uniquely Jamaican interpretation of Miriam Makeba‘s big hit, “Pata Pata” (with backing by Count Ossie’s mighty band) – both versions released in 1967:
“Pata Pata Rocksteady” Patsy Todd with the Count Ossie Band 1967
Every Culture album that bears the Pottinger production mark is top-notch and a must-own. Other crucial Pottinger productions worthy of your time include this short list:
Reggae is another realm of popular music where the vibraphone so rarely makes a foray. As a result, Jamaican vibraphonist, Lennie Hibbert, pretty much has the field all to himself, as the intersection of reggae and the vibes essentially begins and ends with this one soul. Hibbert’s theme song – if one were to exist – would most definitely be “Village Soul,” easily his best known composition, but 1974’s tuneful instrumental “Ital Vibes” is another great starting point for vibraphone-infused reggae:
“Ital Vibes” – Lennie Hibbert – Produced by Harry Mudie
The bulk of Hibbert’s early work appears to be with Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label, where he recorded as part of Coxsone’s house band, The Sound Dimension, and also released a few singles under his own name.
Hibbert would record two long-playing releases as a solo artist on Studio One — 1969’s Creation and 1971’s More Creation — before moving on to Harry Mudie‘s label for at least one single, 1974’s wonderfully understated slice of ‘strings reggae’ – “Ital Vibes” b/w version mix “Vibes Skank” (billed as Mudies All Stars).
Lennie Hibbert enthusiasts may want to seek out his exceptionally rare debut album, Moon-Light Party at the Myrtle Bank Hotel, although be prepared to pay through the nose: one copy sold in 2006 for $760. Be advised, however, this is actually a studio album and not a live recording as the title would seem to suggest.