Story of the Song | First Cut at reggae for Myrna Hague
The 2017 Jamaica Ocho Rios International jazz Festival is now on. Myrna Hague, who is central to the festival, told The Sunday Gleaner about her first foray into reggae.
Myrna Hague's Melody Life album is an unusual project for the lady who is much more easily identified with jazz than reggae. Among the tracks on the 1972 Studio One album are Melody Life, First Cut Is The Deepest, Our Day Will Come, How Could I Live, What About Me, Time After Time, and On a Clear Day.
Some of the songs, remakes of already popular R&B numbers, were recorded by other Jamaican artistes, Norma Fraser and Kashief Lindo notably also doing First Cut Is The Deepest and the Dwight Pinkney-penned How Could I Live, is a major hit for Dennis Brown.
Hague tells The Sunday Gleaner that the album was not only her introduction to some of the songs, but also to singing reggae.
She said that after leaving Jamaica and growing up in the United Kingdom (UK), she returned home, and there is a family connection with Studio One boss Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd. "He said, 'Come and let us see what we can do.' He basically introduced me to a lot of these songs," Hague said. So Time After Time, Another Clear Day, and Never Never were already popular, while among those she did not know previously were Best Thing That Ever Happened and First Cut Is The Deepest.
"It was not particularly popular in the UK while I was there," Hague said of the latter.
When she went into the studio to record the songs for the album, she was introduced to keyboard player Jackie Mittoo as her musical director. "Mittoo was a jazz man, so he understood where I was coming from musically. He was the link for me between my jazz orientation and the reggae Dodd was after," she said.
Delving into reggae was not an issue for Hague.
"I like to think of myself as someone who is open and receptive to music of all sorts," she said. "A reggae rhythm does not make anything bad or good." Plus, she said, "I was given good musicians."
Hague says First Cut Is The Deepest was recorded during the day, as were all the other songs. And it did not take long to get the track down as she said "I worked then as I work now. I prepare myself ahead of time. When I go into the studio I am already prepared. When I do it the first time, it is to get a balance. The second time it is done - maybe a third time to see if we can do something better," she said.
Hague can remember when she heard First Cut Is The Deepest on the radio and said, "My voice in my head was different from on the radio. I am accustomed to it now. Those days it was like 'oh dear!' I listen for technicalities. I am listening if it sounded okay, if it sounded right."
Jamaican audiences have not had the chance to listen to the technicalities in the songs from the Melody Life album in performance. Hague said, "The tragedy is that I did not perform many of the songs. It was never a big hit in Jamaica. I have always concentrated more on the concept performances, jazz performances, cabaret."
As for First Cut Is The Deepest, Hague said: "I have never performed it in Jamaica. Nobody in the audience has ever asked about it." However, she said that the Melody Life album has enjoyed a resurgence in the UK over the past eight years or so, "so I have to sing from this album on tour in the UK. The agents say, 'Do not forget to include these songs in the repertoire'. People are asking for them".
Hague also said: "I understand lots of young female singers in the UK are using me as their template. They regard this album as a way for me to identify with the early days of reggae. Reggae was always male-oriented. They feel that if I could do it, they can do it.
"It was not hard reggae. It was very soft, very sentimental, very romantic, as opposed to the hard, political, philosophical stuff the guys would sing," Hague said.