In 1968, when the rest of the world were feeling the summer of love, Kingston Jamaica was bubblin’ hot.
The choppy organ sound that had long been a bit-player in the ska and rock steady scenes had taken a new turn to emerge as a central anchor for the emerging reggae music, and leading that change was electricity – specifically electric instruments.
That old ska-style stand up bass was being replaced by the Fender Precision, and pub piano by the Hammond. The brass was fading into the background, replaced by a percussive rhythm guitar; African-style hand drumming, and a more aggressive one-drop drumming style.
This bottom end boosting gave a song gravity, leaving space for invention in the middle of the mix. At first it was the guitar and the brass that handled the bridges, but two players in particular were making their mark on the rock-steady sound and the mighty organ developed a shuffle that would pretty much invent what we now know as reggae.
At Treasure Isle, Duke Reid’s place above the liquor store, it was the Hammond organ of Winston Wright that dominated those rock-steady hits. After Wright left the Duke he would play sessions for all the leading independent producers. His good friend Jackie Mittoo did much the same job over at Studio One, laying down some of the most memorable organ licks of the day, before he emigrated to Canada in ’69.
But first someone had to invent reggae.
So lets start here, because Bunny Lee is a man you don’t argue with.
Stranger Cole and Lester Stirling – Bangarang
Bunny Lee Production
Glen Adams had only arranged songs at the Treasure Isle studio until this game changer hit. Debateable who’s organ-playing made the cut (Lloyd Charmers was there too), but also on this number one were guitarist Alva ‘Reggie’ Lewis and the Barrett brothers Carly and Family Man – later the backbone of The Upsetters and the Wailers.
Glen Adams was back in the studio a few years later with the same cut at Lee’s request, this time to give U-Roy a serious Hammond workout. Check it.
Bangarang is a good old Jamaican word meaning hubbub, uproar, disorder, or disturbance.
Slim Smith – Everybody Need Love
On the face of it ‘Everybody Needs Love’ is a straight-no-chaser soul cover by a young singer who had also been a member of vocal group the Techniques. ( Check It )
The Glenn Adams organ, the famous impossible-to-tune B3 Hammond – at Randy’s studio, is doing a sprightly shuffle.
This song was recorded at the same late 68 Bunny Lee session as ‘Bangarang’. Slim was a much loved singer at the time and died so young, in ’73 lacerating his arm breaking into his mothers house one night.
A very sad loss. His strong falsetto-capable tenor contained shades of both Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield, and as lead spot in the Techniques he cut hits for both of the hit studios of the time, Treasure Isle and Studio One.
Larry Marshall and Alvin Perkins – Nanny Goat
Coxone Dodd Production
Nanny Goat was such a big hit in it’s day, but by all accounts was a bit of a throw away that Sir Coxone wasn’t impressed with. It was made a hit by pulling in the dancehall crowds.
Other songs were credited to have been reggae pioneers but here we have the real deal, shufflin’ boards and all thanks to Jackie Mittoo – who laid down the rhythm track with bassist Boris Gardiner.
But there’s an underdog spirit at the heart of Nanny Goat that rings true. Coxone, Striker and the other big shots all had a need to be seen as the man who made reggae.
Could it be that the underdog triumphed in this case?
Jackie & The Invaders – Love Again
(Studio 1 Production)
The magnificent Jackie Mittoo taking time out to cut one of those seminal Studio One instrumentals. I just love this – it feels central to the post-independence pre-rude-boy euphoria of Jamaica in those days.
Mittoo had been part of Studio One recording life for most of the sixties – as witnessed by this gem from his days recording The Skatalites. Mitto was a key member of Sound Dimension – Studio One’s illustrious house band.
Here’s them covering “Time Is Tight” with Mittoo to the fore.
Mittoo really did lay down the magic carpet. Sure some of the other keyboard wizards gave us some wicked licks and mighty solos, but Jackie was more than that. As Coxone’s arranger and producer he had a hand in virtually all of the Studio One hits, and since JA had a way of re-working its riddims Mittoo’s music reaches into the farthest corners of the genre.
Derrick Morgan – Hold You Jack
Made much more famous in the UK by thanks to a crude and potty-mouthed version called ‘Wet Dream’ Hold You Jack is just one of a stream of Morgan classics, as he and Prince Buster faught it out on vinyl – accusations and innuendo flew and followers of both artists got to be enough of a problem that the goverment had Buster and Morgan pose together as friends to cool down the temper.
In the form of Wet Dream it would go on to be Pama Records biggest selling disc, over 250,000 copies sold. I have one myself from the day.
Max Romeo – a young man at the time – stepped up into the voguish ribaldry of the day, but came to distance himself from this version. In England Prince Buster was pushing into serious innuendo with ‘hits’ like ‘Big Five’ ‘Wreck a Pum Pum’ and the notorious ‘Kinky Griner’. To me The Prince would be far better remembered by his earlier ska classics. Thankfully Derrick kept the moral high ground.
Hold You Jack’s riddim last a long time and into the deepest roots music. Forget the Dream. Rudies don’t fear.
Derrick Morgan – Moon Hop
Bunny Lee Production
An early British skinhead anthem as local band Symarip gave it the big boots and braces treatment. Especially prized by the two-tone revivalists Specials. Here’s their take.
Derrick Morgan by now was the boss, and was enjoying a string of rock-steady hits. To me Morgan remains the finest of Jamaican singers, capeable of humorous radio-friendly caper songs, classic historic performances, r&b, roots… you name it. One of my favorites is an old boogie-woogie tinged song from his earliest days called Fat Man that he revised in the rude boy era as Bad Man.
One of his most famous songs was released in 1962 called Forward March, which celebrated the newly Independent Jamaica. Morgan always put out quality material, from the rude boy classic, “Tougher Than Tough” to a cover of Ben E. King’s soul hit, “Seven Letters” – another song that was held up as the first reggae song.
Night Doctor – The Upsetters
Lee Perry, Producer
This is Ansil Collins in one-finger mode – yet another featuring the creep organ and one of the very first records ever cut by reggae drum legend Sly Dunbar.
The story is that Collins had a dub cut of this for well over a year before Lee Perry got his hands on it, and sneaked it out to Europe where it was a massive hit in the UK.
Perry wasn’t slow to get a follow-up out of Ansel, and soon The Man From MI5 was following it up the charts.
Perry as you should know was the guy who blew smoke through the music, teaching people how to take a marijuana high and reflect this in the sounds. He’s my ultimate hero musically so I won’t go on too much about his genius here 🙂
In Britain instrumental rock steady and reggae were the rage, and none were bigger than…
Dave and Ansel Collins – Double Barrel
Another arrangement by Ansil Collins and Sly Dunbar produced by Winston Riley, who had the bright idea of bringing in Dave Barker to shout it up. By this time there had been a few artists bringing in the vocal styles of Otis Redding and James Brown to the dancehalls to variable effect. Barker was the best of these.
Barker had been shot to fame by Lee Perry who had him shout a wild introduction to his “Shocks of Mighty’. This Is UPSETTING!!!” in the style of an American shock jock announcer. The Upsetter had him do his full James Brown impression on “Prisoner of Love”.
Double Barrel, cut at Joe Gibbs new studio in Duhaney Park was just massive.
“I am the magnificent. Back with the shock of a soul boss…”
Dave and Ansil Collins toured the UK for three months off the back of this huge English hit. The follow up, “Monkey Spanner“ was equally infectious. Ansel Collins would eventually settle down as a key player in The Aggrovators and the band Soul Syndicate, then the legendary Channel One band The Revolutionaries.
Harry J All Stars – Liquidator
By now Jamaican reggae had broken into the mainstream over in Great Britain. As a kid I could catch Desmond Dekker, Dandy Livingstone and Ken Boothe on Top of The Pops and some unlikely hits sneaked in on the coat tails. Some artists, like Prince Buster and Dave Barker would move there permanently, setting up business contacts and making records.
The Liquidator was essentially an instumental take on a song cut for Tony Scott (check it). The rhythm was familiar stuff – one of Jamaica’s biggest rock steady hits,’Girl I’ve Got A Date’ by Alton Ellis. It was made by the same gang who cut Bangarang for Bunny Lee – The core of the Upsetters were there, Carly and Family Man, Alva Lewis and keyboard man Winston Wright.
Wright himself was a former member of Treasure Isle’s house band The Supersonics, and therefore had may well have played keys on the original of “Girl I’ve Got A Date”. He very likely played the solo in Dennis Brown’s beautiful remake recorded by Joe Gibbs a decade later. Ah, the fine web of Jamaican music…
There are some intriguing cuts of this out there including a sax version by Val Bennett, but the Hippy Boys’ original strike was the one that caught fire. It even inspired a wonderful song by one of America’s top gospel soul acts, The Staples Singers (check it)
Bob Marley and the Wailers – Duppy Conqueror
Still at Randy’s studio and this time Lee Perry is at the controls, getting Bob Marley and the Wailin’ Wailers back on track. Glen Adams provides the Hammond touches, but more than anything it’s the sound of the Wailers chilling out, and letting the ganga infect the sounds.
The Wailers had been pretty much panicing musically after drug busts and in Bob’s case a trip to the USA where he worked in a Delaware car plant. His 1976 song, “Night Shift,” was about his time at this BOP (Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Pontiacs) facility. After Bob’s return the guys had gotten pretty damn desperate, with a cover of The Archies cheesy pop hit ‘Sugar Sugar’. A spell managed by the JAD / Johnny Nash team didn’t help any.
Lee Perry grounded them, got them high and got them sorted.
The rest of course is the Wailers legend – The Upsetters joined the Wailers on a huge international adventure while Lee Perry stayed back at his Black Ark Studios to record The Congos, John Holt, Junior Byles and a now very conscious Max Romeo.
Take it away, Bob.
Just missed the cut…
Winston Wright – Top Secret
Creep organ at Randy’s with a little dubwise effects. Commonly marked up as a Tommy McCook number – Adams was keyboard player in McCook’s Supersonics after all. Wright featured on other Harry Johnson hits, including The Beltones’ “No More Heartaches” and on Boris Gardiner’s “Elizabethan Reggae”. This was produced by Winston Riley in the early 70’s. Riley was working for one Harry J at the time, but had serious creed at both Treasure Isle and Studio One as a founder of vocal band The Techniques.
Glenn Adams – Never Had a Dream Come True (version)
Delroy Wilson – Better Must Come
Well known at the time as being the theme tune for Michael Manley’s successful political campaign against Edward Seaga in 1972. Another upsetters backing track and Family Man Barrett laid down the bass. The familier creep organ from Randy’s once more provides the Ham in the sandwich. You’ll hear the same organ – ever so sightly out of tune – on Bob Marley hits Duppy Conqueror and Mr Brown.
Jackie Mittoo – Macka Fat
A seventies version of an original track recorded at Studio One by Dawn Penn back in ’67.
Desmond Dekker and the Aces – Shanty Town
The last great rocksteady hit – and entirely because the British audience still were catching up on the style and the message. No organ here – but the video and the conscious lyrics make up for it big time.
This epic, and quite edgy rude boy eulogy came from a very different Jamaica than the cuts of Stranger Cole and Alton Ellis.
The country was corrupted by political violence as the newly independent Jamaica was beginning to suffer in a harsher economic climate.
Rude boys were taking sides and another darker story was ready to be told. Watch this space…