Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Merritone celebrating two major milestones

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Winston Blake
Monty Blake

The name Merritone has become synonymous with vintage-music lovers, not only in Jamaica, but across the diaspora. The year 2015 is an important one for the organisation, as it celebrates two important milestones - the 65th anniversary of Merritone music and the 25th anniversary of the Merritone Family Reunion Homecoming.

It promises to be a week of fun-filled activities, encompassing the music that has made Merritone popular, along with live entertainment, beach parties and church services.

In an interview, Monty Blake, the youngest in a quartet of 'Merritone' brothers who perpetuate the legacy and includes Trevor, Winston and the late Tyrone, said, "This year will be special and there will never be a dull moment as we try to maintain the Merritone tradition".

That tradition began in 1950 in Morant Bay, St Thomas, when their father, Winston St Valentine Blake (Val), bought a little 20-watt Phillips battery/electric amplifier, to which he attached a speaker box, mounted atop his motor car, and entertained country folk in surrounding communities. His music became very popular with them. In almost no time, the name Merritone was coined, as someone was heard to remark, "This tone ya sound merry", and, somehow, the name stuck.

Different sound

As the years went by, The Merritone Sound System became the first one in Morant Bay and its environs, taking on to itself a style of its own.

According to Monty, "We didn't really have the heavy-beat sound like the others. Ours were more refined, more like middle-weights, as we concentrated on quality and variety of music. Our father died in 1956 when the legacy was becoming popular, Winston was still in Kingston College and Trevor just left. After school, Winston quit his job at Metal Box and went full time into the sound system, he said.

By 1962, the sound made its first appearance in Kingston at the Wembley Club, now the home of Dunoon Park Technical High School. The response was overwhelming, resulting in several job offers. It was indeed the turning point for the sound and the brothers.

As their popularity grew, they ensured that quality music was upheld by spinning the discs themselves, thereby instilling their own personality in the presentations, unlike others who employed disc jocks or rented their sound system.

Places like The Copa, The Wheel, The Acara, VIP, Sombrero, Peyton Place and Love Turntable at 118 Red Hills Road, where they stayed for a record 28 years, felt the full brunt of Merritone's musical magic, before they moved to their present location at Waterfalls in Liguanea, St Andrew.

Expanding on the impact of the Merritone magic, Monty Blake said, "Red Hills Road was graced with regular visits by former prime minister, Michael Manley, superstars Bob Marley, Bunny Sigler, Patti LaBelle and footballer Alan 'Skill' Cole".

"The sound played for Fidel Castro at a reception at Vale Royal, during his state visit to Jamaica in 1977 and, several times, all over the north eastern seaboard, London, Paris, Trinidad and Barbados," Blake said.

The annual Merritone Family Reunion Homecoming, which began in 1990 at The Tropical Beach Hotel in Montego Bay, was the brainchild of Winston Blake. Having played all over the world and attracted a myriad of fans, Winston thought it would be a good idea to capture them in a Jamaican hotel setting, so they could experience the real Jamaican vibe.

The 2015 version will see that leg of the celebration being held at the all-inclusive Sea Garden Beach Resort in Montego Bay, October 16-18, culminating with Last Lick' at The Deck, Trafalgar Road, Heroes' Day.

The events actually kick-off with a church service at Webster Memorial United Church, 53 Half-Way Tree Road, Sunday, October 11, beginning at 9:45 a.m.

The next major event, 'Meet and Greet', takes place on Wednesday, October 14, at The Deck. The following night, 'Traditional Thursday Night', at Waterfalls.

The launch is set to take place at Waterfalls, tomorrow, 7 to 9 p.m.