Winston 'Merritone' Blake Remembered
Jamaica has lost another stalwart in the music business. This time it's the sound system operator/recording artiste/record producer, Winston 'Merritone' Blake O.D. He died at the University Hospital last Saturday from what his brother Monty described as asthmatic complications.
Winston ought to be celebrated as a music icon who helped to propagate Jamaica's music to various corners of the globe. This he did through visits to overseas venues, to which he was frequently invited to showcase his unique style of music - the merritone style. Winston has been known to travel to the U.S,, Canada, England, France, Cuba, Barbados, Trinidad and other places with his vinyl records and sometimes with his music equipment, to entertain crowds who savour the taste of the merritone style of music. It was a style that he inherited from his father, Winston St. Valentine Blake (affectionately called Val), who started the sound in Morant Bay St Thomas in 1950. Val emphasised sound quality as his main asset.
According to Monty, the youngest in a quartet of Blake brothers that included Trevor - the eldest, and Tyrone, the third sibling, "We didn't really have the heavybeat sound like the others. Ours were more refined, more like middle-weights, as we concentrated on quality and variety of music".
Born in Morant Bay on November 19, 1940, Winston was just a 10 year-old attending Morris Knibbs Prep school when his father started the sound in 1950. Six years later when Val died, Winston was still attending Kingston College and Trevor had just left. Trevor then duly took up the mantle and proceeded to carry on the merritone legacy, while Winston, upon leaving Kingston College, worked with Metal Box, until he finally decided to go full time into the Sound System.
His first exposure to a Kingston crowd was at the Wembley Club in east Kingston in 1962, now the home of Dunoon Technical High School. The response was of such, that it led to several job offers. As the Merritone fan base grew, so did Winston in stature as a record selector with style, grace and the ability to select, based on his assessment of his audience. The brothers ensured that quality music was upheld by spinning the discs themselves, thereby instilling their own personality into the music, unlike others who employed disc jocks.
In the 1970s, the Turntable Club along Red Hills Road in St Andrew, became their home and remained so for 28 years. It felt the full brunt of Merritone's musical magic until they removed to their present location at Waterfalls in Liguanea, St Andrew.
Reliving the good times, fans will remember, Baby bunny, sugar Honey and Run Run by Jerry Williams, It won't be this way Always by the King Pins, The Gardener by The Staple Singers, Consider Me by Eddie Floyd and Rain from the Skies by Adam Wade, as staples in the Winston 'Merritone' Blake's presentations. On the Jamaican side, the classic Studio1 recording, The song my enemies Sing by Joe Higgs (coach of the Wailers), was one of his favourites. He insisted that he had to play me a few lines on a visit to his home in the early 2000s. After hearing the song for the first time, I was convinced that this man's musical taste was beyond the ordinary.
Winston's musical exploits in the diaspora attracted thousands of visitors to Jamaica each year for the annual Merritone Reunion celebrations, which was his brainchild. The rationale behind the concept was his idea of capturing these overseas fans in a Jamaican hotel setting, so they could experience the real Jamaican vibe. The celebrations have been a resounding success each year since its inauguration in 1990 at the Tropical Beach Hotel in Montego Bay.
Again, Winston ought to be commended for his efforts, as the event has brought well earned foreign exchange to the island, thereby enhancing the tourism product.