“Press Along Nyah”: Harder the Battle, Sweeter the Victory

Three years ago, someone paid $99 for this great single by Larry (Marshall) & Alvin (Leslie) that was recorded in 1970 at Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s legendary Studio One:

“Press Along Nyah”     Larry & Alvin    1970

Last year The Jamaica Observer checked in with Larry Marshall (now residing in Florida), who feels unappreciated as a musical trailblazer and unhappy about the lack of financial compensation in spite of his popularity in the record shops, as well as dancehalls.  Click here for lengthy interview in which Marshall discusses, among other things, the particulars of his contractual relationship with Studio One’s Coxsone Dodd, as well as the Babylonian workings of the music business (e.g., the 1986 UK release of Marshall’s 1975 album, I Admire You, against his express permission).

Alvin, by the way, is not, as some (including myself) have hypothesized, Alvin “G.G.” Ranglin of GG Records fame.

Dance Crasher UK includes illustrated listing of all 7-inch Supreme Records releases.

“Press Along Nyah” (Version) on the flip side.

Press Along Nyah 45

Parlor Game:  Can You Pinpoint the Moment Rocksteady Became Reggae

Larry Marshall will be forever linked to his landmark 1968 Studio One recording “Nanny Goat,” a song historians have long noted as having helped define the original reggae sound.  As Howard Campbell writes in the Jamaica Observer:

“Others argue that Toots and the Maytals’ ‘Do The Reggay,’ also done in 1968, and ‘Games People Play‘ by Bob Andy the following year, marked the transition from rocksteady to reggae.  But for most, ‘Nanny Goat’ was the game-changer.”

Boris Gardiner, in a 2012 interview in Real Time Magazine, meanwhile, firmly disputes the received wisdom about “Nanny Goat” (calling it a “thorough-bred rocksteady beat”), as well as “Baby Why” by The Cables (another oft-cited contender for “first reggae song“).  Gardiner ultimately agrees with legendary Studio One house drummer, Joe Isaacs‘ assessment that “Ride Your Donkey” by The Tennors (with its one drop supplied by Hugh Malcolm) has the first true reggae beat.

Coxsone Dodd, as quoted in Peter Simon’s Reggae International (1983):

I remember what changed the whole sound from rock steady to reggae.  We did a recording by the name of ‘Nanny Goat‘ by Larry [Marshall] and Alvin [Leslie].  A very popular record.  At that time, I had been in England and came back with quite a few gadgets … like a delay.  After ‘Nanny Goat,’ we had a series of recordings with that sound but it was like the guitar being on the delay meshed with the organ shuffle.  This was coming on as something new, and this is where the change came from rock steady to reggae. And you can listen to the guitar change in ‘Nanny Goat’ and quite a few of the Cables‘ tunes.”

Lloyd Bradley offers another perspective in Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King (2001):

People Funny Boy‘ [Lee Perry] wasn’t, however, the first example of the changeover from rocksteady to reggae.  That distinction would have to be shared between Larry Marshall’s ‘Nanny Goat‘ and ‘No More Heartaches‘ by The Beltones, with both records’ producers — Coxsone Dodd and Harry J (Johnson), respectively — claiming the credit for entirely different reasons.  Dodd has cited his use of a delay echo unit he’d recently imported from the UK, which he hooked up to the guitar to end up with a distinct skanga … skanga … skanga sound on the previously straight-down timekeeping stroke; a state of affairs that naturally served to hurry the music’s pace along.  Johnson, however, maintains that it was the rhythmic combination he created of arched fingers stabbing at an organ chord, a conventional guitar stroke and a far more percussive bass pattern that produced the same effect

In truth, both men have a point, and you’d expect nothing less from how this story’s shaping up.  But if you listen to the overall feel of each record rather than try to isolate particular elements, each one clearly occupies a different notch on reggae’s chronology.  Harry’s horn-laden piece of harmony may demonstrate reggae’s characteristics but it’s essentially a rocksteady record dressed up in some flash new clothes; Dodd’s tune, however, utilizes what was then cutting-edge gadgetry — as well as the delay echo he introduced at the same time — and, almost immediately, so many other studios began to adopt and adapt that sound through the same technology.  ‘Nanny Goat’ would seem to be linking forward, while ‘No More Heartaches’ ties with the past.  Thus, it could be argued that, while each played a significant part, Johnson’s record is, in fact, the primary example.

What they both shared, although ‘Nanny Goat’ showed it off more prominently, is what was known as the ‘shuffle organ’, a bubbling, brisk-paced keyboard style that allowed former pianists to show off on the electric organs that were by now studio staples.  The first two real reggae tunes showed up on the Studio One and Harry J labels, and each set-up employed one of the style leaders along this new ivory way:  respectively, Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright.  Mittoo, once the Skatalites’ keyboardist, was now, at the tender age of twenty, Coxsone’s resident musical arranger/talent scout.  Wright had become acknowledged as Jamaica’s undisputed master of the Hammond when, as one of Tommy McCook’s Supersonics, his lush, infectious tones had been a signficiant factor in Duke Reid’s ruling of the rocksteady roost.  Wright had now gone freelance, and found regular employment with Harry Johnson.  Johnson had no studio of his own at this point, and booked a room at Coxsone’s for those sessions, which meant that both songs were recorded at 13 Brentford Road, with one of the best electric organs on the island.

Chris Salewicz and Adrian Boot add their two pence in Reggae Explosion:  The Story of Jamaican Music (2001):

There were other contenders for the title of first reggae record.  Because of his guitar sound, Alva Lewis claims it for the tune ‘Bangarang‘, a Bunny Lee production recorded in 1969 at Treasure Isle and credited to Stranger Cole and Lester Sterling:  the song was a development of ‘Bongo Chant‘, a British bop tune from a decade before by Kenny Graham and the Afro-Cubists.  Producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee also argues that ‘Bangarang’ was the first reggae song, but not, he insisted, because of the guitar sound but because of novice organ player Glen Adams‘ riffs — Striker was adamant that it was kind of a slurred organ sound, as specialised in by Jackie Mittoo (who was also an arranger and A&R man for Coxsone) that defined the first reggae records.

The 4th edition of All Music Guide – The Definitive Guide to Popular Music (2001) makes a different assertion altogether in its section on Reggae:

In 1966 [Derrick] Morgan issued “Tougher Than Tough,” widely credited as the first record in the rock steady genre.  He continued to innovate in the years to follow — among his most enduring contributions were “Went to the Hop” (the first Jamaican song with an electric bass guitar), “Blazing Fire” (the first song to employ an electric piano), “Love Not to Brag” (the first duet with a female artist, Millicent Patsy Todd) and “Seven Letters” (the first reggae song, produced in collaboration with brother-in-law Bunny Lee).

Patricia Meschino, who authored “As Reggae Celebrates 50 Years, Some of the Genre’s Pioneers Look Back on Its Worldwide Ascent” for Billboard‘s July 1, 2018 edition, identifies a handful of notable candidates for “first reggae song” — including “Long Shot (Bus Me Bet)” by The Pioneers — and also solicits feedback from long-time session bassist, Jackie Jackson, who fingers “Feel the Rhythm” by Clancy Eccles as significant and notes, “Right about there, that was a real reggae song, identifying the heart and soul of reggae and alongside Toots’ ‘Do The Reggay,’ those two songs really helped to put reggae on the map.”