King Records Goes Ska

Previous Zero to 180 posts have highlighted the strong cultural connections between Kingston Jamaica and Cincinnati, Ohio, as evidenced by (a) the radical rocksteady funk of Prince Buster‘s 1966 tip of the hat to “The Cincinnati Kid” himself, James Brown, as well as (b) the Jamaican LP from eight years prior – The Wrigglers Sing Calypso at the Arawak Hotel – in which the band (led by Ernest Ranglin) covers groundbreaking King Records composition, “Bloodshot Eyes,” a Top 10 hit for both Hank Penny (C&W chart) and Wynonie Harris (R&B chart) in the early 1950s and thus an “early landmark in racial integration” (Wiki).

But then I learned of an even more direct connection between these two unlikely cities:  Prince Buster‘s 1967 single on King Records:

“Ten Commandments (from Woman to Man)”    Princess Buster & Her Jamaicans

In 1967, Prince Buster was touring the UK (where “Al Capone” was a Top 20 hit), as well as the US to promote his RCA Victor LP Sings His Hit Song Ten CommandmentsHow fascinating then to discover that the “Cincinnati Kid” singer himself would end up seeing one of his productions being released on James Brown‘s label, ultimately.  

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Issued as a split single, with “Papa Jack” by Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires on the reverse:

“Papa Jack”     Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires

These two songs, of course, were not recorded in Cincinnati’s King studios but leased from at least one other label.  This 45, as far as I can tell, was King‘s sole venture into Jamaican pop music.  However, this one-off release obscures a much deeper narrative taking place behind the scenes, as Lloyd Bradley reveals in Bass Culture:  When Reggae Was King, his indispensible history of Jamaican popular music:

In America, almost perversely, the best chance ska had to succeed was scuppered by the Jamaican government.  In the mid-1960s, probably around the same time that “Ten Commandments” was an American hit, King Records, a label that had been very successful with R&B and soul, wanted the American rights to Buster’s whole catalogue.  Syd Nathan, the company’s no-nonsense owner, was making moves to acquire it on the recommendation of soul legend James Brown, far and away King’s star act, who been turned on to Buster during a visit to Jamaica.  As King had good relations with both black and mainstream radio stations, they were the most likely candidates to make it happen, and there’s a good chance that the sheer effervescence of Buster’s music would have opened door.  However, King and United Artists (who were handling things for the Jamaican Social Development Commission) couldn’t agree on the publishing.  Buster, by then an outspoken minister for Islam and a perpetual thorn in the authorities’ side, remains convinced this was no accident.

Record World‘s Feb. 18, 1967 issue lists the Philips “import” 45 of “Ten Commandments” — a “Regional Breakout” hit in New York City, Nashville, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland (et al.), according to Philips’ full-page promotional ad in Billboard‘s Jan. 28, 1967 edition — at the #50 position on their 100 Top Pops chart, up four spots from the previous week.  Page three of that same edition includes a news item – “Royal Ruckus” – about the brewing donnybrook over “the two versions of ‘The Ten Commandments From Woman to Man‘ on RCA Victor and King [Records].”

Royal Ruckus
Record World — Feb. 18, 1967

Some sort of set-to seemed to be forming at the end of last week in regards to the two versions of ‘The Ten Commandments From Woman to Man‘ on RCA Victor and King.  

Both are by songstresses [sic] calling themselves Princess Buster, and although the official comment from RCA was “no comment,” it was rumored around that RCA was going to try to enjoin the King version.

Actually the RCA tune, according to the label copy, is sung by Prince and Princess Buster.  The King version is by Princess Buster and her Jamaicans.  

Both disks are answer records to the Philips disk of “The Ten Commandments” by Prince Buster — the same Prince on RCA’s slice, according to an RCA source.

RCA Promo ad in Cash Box – Feb. 1967 (courtesy of 45Cat)

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Truth & Accuracy Dept.

Funny how one additional letter added to a song’s title can so profoundly impact the meaning of the song itself.  Imagine Spain‘s citizenry in 1968, for instance, trying to make sense of Prince Buster’s 7-inch release “Madness” with its flip “Cincinnati Kids!

Cincinnnati Kids [sic] - Prince Buster 45

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