Happy times for The Gaylads
Just the mention of the word 'gay', nowadays, could easily incite a riot. Stage shows are known to have been cancelled, recording artistes' visas suspended and individuals injured, because of some association, connection, support or rejection of the word or name. Singing groups and individuals who bear any semblance of the name 'gay' in their title, although being miles away from any homosexual activities, are now subjected to severe harassment from homophobic groups, who somehow believe that the title identifies the individuals. It is a ridiculous situation, but a real-life one that exists around us.
The very popular Jamaican singing group of the 1960s - The Gaylads - had to change their name at one time during their lifespan, in order to avoid severe repercussions. In fact, during the 1960s, the name 'gay' hardly had anything to do with homosexuality, particularly as it related to the entertainment business. In a 2012 interview I had with Maurice Roberts, one member who continued the group's legacy in Jamaica after a split in 1970, he told me that the trio were a happy bunch of guys who loved to have fun, and that's how they got their name. Expanding on the topic of group title, he continued: "It was Mr Dodd's choice, because in those days, it meant happiness, joyfulness and fun. So it's not what people take it to mean today. It is one of the things that held back our career in later years", Roberts said. He had, in fact, regrouped the trio with the Thaxter brothers and himself as The Gaylads, but later changed their name to 'Psalms'.
The Gaylads, who to my mind, successfully rivalled other contemporaries like The Heptones, The Maytals, The Techniques, The Melodians and the Clarendonians, started as a trio of Harris 'B.B.' Seaton, Winston Delano Stewart and Maurice Roberts in 1964, doing some traditional songs like Brown Skin Gal and Nobody's Business.
Following a two-year hiatus, in which Seaton had a cabaret stint on the north coast, the trio formally regrouped in 1966 and began writing their own songs, with Seaton being the main man. They auditioned for Clement Dodd's Studio 1 with a song called Lady with the Red Dress - which had a ska tempo and was backed by The Sharks and made history at Studio 1 by becoming the first group who sang and played their own instruments. Led by guitarist extraordinaire Dwight Pinkney, they auditioned about the same time as the Gaylads with How Could I Live, which was later made popular by Dennis Brown in the 1970s. Lady with the Red Dress, inspired by a fashion craze at the time, became a big hit in Jamaica, having dance fans moving to its throbbing beat as the Gaylads sang:
'Lady, lady with the red dress on,
believe me, you really look fine, oh lady with the red dress on
Lady you shake that thing alright.
Believe me, you jerking alright, you doing alright;
Lady with the red dress on'.
Other hits followed: You Should Never Do That, Don't Say No, No Good Girl, The Kiss You Gave, Chip Monk Ska, You'll Never Leave Him, and others. In addition, the Gaylads did backing vocals for several top Studio 1 artistes, including Ken Parker, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson. Seaton, in the meantime, worked as an artistes and repertoire (A&R) man for Dodd. He revealed to me in an interview, conducted just prior to him receiving an award from the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) earlier this year, that he "got three salaries, one for being an auditioner, another for doing backing vocals, and a third for just being around Dodd, as he (Dodd) was not in the studio most of the time".
Instead of encountering animosity and ostracism as a result of their name, the Gaylads enjoyed a level of acceptance and success unheard of or experienced by other groups during the mid to late 1960s. Their story would obviously have been different had they been around at this time. The group became the first in the history of Jamaican music to get royalty statements (£427). According to group leader Harris Seaton, "Coxson used to sell instruments, so we bought our instruments from him with the money and practised and learnt the instruments, and then we taught ourselves from the book, The rudiments and theory of music. Their newfound musical knowledge enabled them to embark on recording one of their biggest hits, Love Me With All Your Heart, followed by their exclusive album, Soul Beat. Bass singer Roberts played bass, while Seaton and Stewart were on guitar. Jackie Mittoo and Collins on piano and drums, respectively, completed the lineup. The performance was said to have left producer Dodd in shock. This aggregation is said to have backed several recordings at Studio 1, including Dudley Sibley's Gunman, and Slim Smith's Born to Love You. The group went further by creating the watershed recording You Should Never Do That. According to Seaton, "I put some more notes in the bass line to create the first glimpse of rocksteady. It slowed the music down, because the more notes you put in, is the more you get the music to slow down. It was unique, because, unlike other songs which had a horn solo, in this one, it was the bass that played it".
Moving on to producer Leslie Kong, the group had hits with There's A Fire, Soul Sister and My Jamaican Girl, which, according to Seaton, entered the Guinness Book of Records as the longest resident number-one song on the Jamaican charts, featuring Ken Boothe (organ), Joe White (piano), Hux Brown (guitar), Maurice Roberts (bass), Derrick Stewart (drums) and Derrick Hinds (trombone). History was again created when The Gaylads, for the first time in Jamaica's music history, became part of a conglomerate of artistes who came together to record and produce their own songs in the late 1960s. Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson and The Melodians were the others. With producer Sonia Pottinger, they did Hard to Confess, ABC Rocksteady, Over the Rainbow's End, and others.
With the departure of Seaton and Stewart via the migration route, Roberts continued the legacy in Jamaica while the group forges ahead for a reunion.