The Music Diaries | Bass-playing heroics immortalised on Treasure Isle hits
When Alton Ellis recorded Girl I've Got a Date at The Treasure Isle Studios in the mid-1960s, it may very well have been the inspiration behind at least two other recordings that made musical history in popular music. The recording was also one of the first that signalLed a shift in the beat of the Jamaican music from ska to rocksteady.
If the terms 'rhythmically pleasing' and 'melodically sweet' could be used to describe a recording, then this must be it. But perhaps the most significant characteristic of the song was its introductory bass line throughout the rhythm.
Created by bass extraordinaire Jackie Jackson and played in unison with the guitar genius Lyn Taitt, the bass line was a pioneering effort as far as Jamaican rhythms were concerned. Jackson's bass-playing heroics have been immortalised on almost every hit recording that came out of Treasure Isle Studios at 33 Bond Street in downtown Kingston during the 1960s, but he claims that Girl I've Got a Date - a number one on the Jamaican charts for weeks - was particularly dear to him. And come to think of it, it was Jackson's first recording as well.
In an interview I had with Jackson, he said: "When the Duke recorded these songs, almost immediately after, he would play them from dub plates on his set at dances, and I can remember one night at Chocomo Lawn, Cuttings - the sound system operator, after coming under pressure from patrons, had to repeat the song 13 times."
The quintet of musicians that provided the musical backing for Girl I've Got a Date included Gladstone Anderson on piano, Paul Douglas on drums, Hux Brown on rhythm guitar, in addition to Jackson and Taitt. They were the nucleus of what would later become, with a few adjustments, Tommy McCook and The Supersonics - the reputable house band of Duke Reid's Treasure Isle Studios that backed big rocksteady hits by Alton Ellis, John Holt, Phyllis Dillon, The Paragons, The Techniques, The Melodians, and others during the 1960s.
The bass line of the 1969 Harry J-produced Jamaican instrumental recording Liquidator, by the Harry J All Stars, certainly bore a stark resemblance to that contained in Girl I've Got a Date. It has sparked some amount of discussion, with the producer, Harry Zephaniah Johnson, better known as Harry J, claiming that he wrote it. But barring a strange coincidence, it is difficult for one, after close scrutiny, not to believe that the bass line, played by Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, was copied from the Alton Ellis recording.
In response to a question on the topic that I posed to Jackson from his home in Reading, St Elizabeth, he humbly responded: "I have always thought so, but I don't want to blow my own trumpet."
Alton Ellis is also adamant that the bass line was lifted from his recording.
But perhaps the biggest twist to the whole scenario, came when the American group, The Staple Singers, recorded the 1971 gospel-tinged hit I'll Take You There, which contained the identical introductory bass line as the one in Winston Wright's organ-dominated piece, Liquidator.
The Staple Singer's recording, depicting a distinct reggae feel, soared to the top of the US Billboard charts in February 1972 and nested there for 15 weeks. The song from which its introductory bass line was allegedly lifted - Liquidator - was itself a massive smash as well, sitting at number one on the Jamaican charts within weeks of its release in 1969. Built around Family Man's bass lines and some warm solos by organist Winston Wright, Liquidator, after being released in London by Trojan Records, climbed to number nine on the British charts, where it spent more than 40 weeks. The success of Liquidator gave producer Johnson his second UK hit to go along with Bob and Marcia's Young Gifted And Black.
Johnson had reason to believe that the introductory bass line in I'll Take You There was copied from him: Al Jackson Jr, the drummer who played on the song with the band - Booker T and The MGs - and who has always been fascinated by Caribbean music, on one of his visits to Harry J's studio, heard Liquidator, liked it, and requested a copy from Johnson. Shortly after, I'll Take You There was recorded. According to Johnson, at the time, he had no idea why Jackson wanted the song or what would be the likely outcome. He said that from the moment he heard The Staple Singers song, he was convinced that Al Jackson had something to do with it and immediately called him on the matter, but he (Jackson) denied having any knowledge of Liquidator. Johnson then put some lawyers on the case, but lamented that he had not made much progress.
It is worthy of note that pianist Gladstone Anderson and guitarist Hux Brown played on both Liquidator and the foundation recording, Girl I've Got a Date. Also, Liquidator was originally recorded as the vocal What Am I To Do, by Tony Scott. In offering an explanation as to how he came up with the idea for Liquidator, Johnson said he got the inspiration after hearing a song at a party one night, which leaves one to wonder if that was the song he was referring to.