Producer Bunny Lee a top 'Striker' in scoring hits
The English language is such a strange thing: In the workplace, a 'striker' is a person who stops working, while in a football game, for example, the word means quite the opposite. The striker now becomes the player who works incessantly, trying to score goals. In the music business, Bunny 'Striker' Lee, undoubtedly fell into the latter category. As a record producer of the 1960s and 1970s, Lee worked incessantly and struck gold from the very beginning with massive hits like Music Field by Roy Shirley, and Let Me Go Girl and My Conversation by Slim Smith and the Uniques, the latter being perhaps the most popular version in Jamaica's music history.
Striker - the name by which he was best known - interestingly, began his career as a record plugger for top producers, Duke Reid, Coxson, Beverley's and Prince Buster. He would, however, soon get into the company of Derrick Morgan, the Ska King, who later became his brother-in-law, and Slim Smith, the singing sensation, all this while being employed to Uni-Motors.
According to Striker Lee, it was while moving around with the singers that he got to like the music business. His obsession, however, cost him his job at Uni-Motors, but the Striker was unruffled, perhaps because he thought that it would give him more time to dedicate to what he loved most.
On his first outing as a record producer, the strapped-for-cash Striker, with only £20 to pay the musicians, was luckily given the first studio time free by Duke Reid. Assisted by Derrick Morgan, whom he called his teacher, he made good use of the opportunity with four recordings, which included Do it to me Baby by Lloyd and the Groovers, and Music Field by Roy Shirley. Music Field was Striker's first hit, featuring only four musicians, Lyn Taitt - guitar, Joe Isaacs - drums, Brian Atkinson - bass, and Gladstone Anderson - piano. Distributed by West Indies Records Limited, it became a big hit in 1967. His next move was to put a group together, which later became known as The Uniques. In its embryonic stage, the group, consisting of Slim Smith, Derrick Morgan and Ken Boothe, performed the unheralded gem People get ready to do Rocksteady in 1967. Producer Bunny 'Striker' Lee, declared it the first rocksteady recording,
"It was done before even Alton's songs at Studio 1. Is really a rudeboy dancer named Buzz B - him and a guy named Zackie the High Priest, used to come inna the dance and just rock steady to the beat - and so the name was born", he told me in an interview.
A later lineup, consisting of Harris 'Bibi' Seaton of The Gaylads fame, Lloyd Charmers and Slim Smith, with producer Striker Lee again directing operations from the producer's chair, performed the biggest Jamaican hit of 1967, the Harris Seaton-penned Let Me Go Girl. The recording was literally unstoppable, as the lyrics rang out:
Girl you hold me trying to control me.
Let me go girl, let me go tour the world,
I want to be free from all misery.
Being with you is like being with the bee.
Girl go your way and let me go my way.
I want to be somebody else's fool.
The achievements or story of Bunny 'Striker' Lee is an almost unending one, and so is his music catalog. His standing in the Jamaican recording business is second to none as it relates to his total number of productions. Striker has produced, with distinction, almost every early, successful Jamaican recording star. The list, which runs like an unending roll call, includes luminaries like Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, John Holt, Derrick Morgan, Stranger Cole, Slim Smith, Cornel Campbell, Horace Andy, Dennis Alcapone, Tappa Zukie, Lee Scratch Perry, Dillinger, Jah Stitch, Max Romeo, Roy Shirley, Roland Alphonso, Pat Kelly, Ken Parker, Augustus Pablo, Johnny Clarke, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Ernest Wilson, Owen Gray, Leroy Smart, Jackie Edwards, Errol Dunkley, Hortense Ellis, Judy Mowatt, Dawn Penn, Sugar Minott, The Mighty Diamonds, I-Roy, U-Roy - and, amazingly, the list goes on.
SETON PATH TOSUCCESS
Striker set U-Roy on the road to success before his exploits at producer Duke Reid, with his twin recordings, Agarang and King of the Road, in 1967. Somewhere in the mix, The Uniques, who had gone through a couple metamorphoses, returned in that same year with a lineup of Slim Smith, Jimmy Riley and Lloyd Charmers, to register perhaps Striker's best known production, My Conversation, which placed him one notch closer to the pinnacle of the record production business in Jamaica. Characterised by Winston Granum's tinkling piano that runs throughout the entire recording, My Conversation, written by Lloyd Charmers and Slim Smith, was unique in the annals of Jamaican music, becoming a perennial favourite right across the length and breath of the island.
Apart from its unusual rocksteady beat, many found the lyrics inspiring:
All I need from you is a good conversation,
cause it gives me sweet inspiration.
And to tell you, I never felt this way before,
I know there is some way today.
Love your brothers, love your sisters.
I must admit, you have me thinking.
There were times I thought that I was sinking.
But I'll always want to be in that position where I can see more clearly.
Striker was again on the ball when he produced Delroy Wilson's larger- than-life recording, Better Must Come, which helped the People's National Party win the 1972 general election. He went further, by producing the biggest hit of 1971-72 - John Holt's Stick by Me. In 1971, he guided Eric Donaldson to the Jamaica Independence Festival Song title, with Cherry Oh Baby. With one shot, Striker transformed Derrick Morgan into a DJ and created Roland Alphonso's biggest hit, in the recording 1,000 tons of Megaton.
Striker's overseas exploits and his book - Reggae Going International 1967-1976, The Bunny 'Striker' Lee Story - are episodes all by themselves, which we will explore in a future article.