Sun | Dec 16, 2018

The Music Diaries | Two contenders for first post-mento song honours

Published:Sunday | December 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Bunny (right) and Skully
Derrick Harriott

One of the most hotly debated topics in music circles concerns the first recording that was ever done in Jamaica's popular music, other than mento. Mento, which some refer to as Jamaican calypso, and which was very popular along with the American Swing and Classics in the early 1950s, was slowly losing ground by 1955, as the American Rhythm and Blues (R&B) gradually began to win the hearts of Jamaican music and dance fans.

Long before ska, rocksteady and reggae became popular in Jamaica, Jamaican dance promoters and sound system operators contemplated making their own records, and out of necessity, they were Rhythm and Blues ones. They had to be, because that was the only way they could keep the fans in the dancehalls and ultimately keep their business afloat. The American Rhythm and Blues music had in fact become the heartbeat of Jamaican music fans and triggered jam-packed dancehalls during the mid-to-late 1950s, until that music began to 'dry up', forcing the action of these businessmen.

The earliest of Jamaican popular music therefore saw it moving in the direction of R&B with several artistes, promoters and producers patterning the works of people like Roscoe Gordon, Margie Day, Fats Domino, Jackie Brenston, Shirley and Lee, Donnie Elbert and Louis Jordan. The earliest of the Jamaican artistes to adopt this style included Lascelles Perkins with Moonlight Cha-Cha; Ruddy and Sketto had Little Schoolgirl; Higgs and Wilson excelled with Oh Mannie Oh; Bonnie and Skitter produced Lonely Nights; Chuck and Dobby serenaded with Sweeter Than Honey; Keith and Enid had perhaps the most popular of such recording, titled Worried Over You; Alton and Eddy had Muriel; The Blues Busters released Pleading For Love and Your Love; Derrick Harriott and The Jiving Juniors produced Lollipop Girl, while Bunny and Skully, aka Simms and Robinson rocked dancehalls with their double-attack -Till The End Of Time and Give Me Another Chance.

Interviews I did with several of these artistes, tip the scale heavily in favour of the last mentioned recording being the first one in Jamaica's popular music history, other than mento or calypso.


Mento not main music


Truth be told, mento, although being very popular in Jamaica, was never on the books as being among Jamaica's main music genres, primarily because it had waned by the time the Jamaica Recording Industry came into being in 1956-1957. Strangely enough though, Give Me Another Chance, cast in the R&B mould, was done during mento's dominance.

In an interview with Noel Simms (Skully), which I had recorded, he said: "I remember clearly, it was Give Me Another Chance, in either 1953 or 1954. Lord Tanamo heard me and Bunny rehearsing the song and took us to a rich Indian man named Baba (Dada) Tewari, who in turn take us to Stanley Mottas Studio at the corner of Laws and Hanover streets the only one in the island at the time, and there we did our first two songs.

Written by the duo, Give Me Another Chance, broke the dominance of the American R&B as the opening lines ran:

"Well my baby has left me and gone away

Yes, my baby has left me and gone astray

Come back baby, don't let me cry every day

Come back baby and give me another chance."

Derrick Harriott, however, refutes Skully's claim, stating that his recording of Lollipop Girl with his group -The Jiving Juniors, was the first recording in Jamaica's popular music history. According to Harriott, who I spoke with in 2006: "Sang and Harriott went to Stanley Motta's at Hanover Street and did a demonstration disc of Lollipop Girl.

"It could be late 1955, but I more think it was early 1956. We had only handclaps, piano by Sang, and vocals. It sounded so good, we gave it to Carlisle from the Thunderbird Sound System at Maxfield Avenue, and that started the craze of recording as the first contemporary record.


Exclusive sound


It was an exclusive on his sound. Duke Reid tried everything in his power to get that dub plate from Carlisle and eventually succeeded by swapping one of his big R&B songs for it. Carlisle will tell you that it was the first Jamaican recording he ever played".

It is worthy of note that the two main contenders for the first song in Jamaica's popular music were products of The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent contests of the late 1950s.

Equally important is the fact that the recordings mentioned in this retrospective, along with others by Laurel Aitken and other artistes of that period, incontrovertibly laid the foundation for the formation of The Jamaica Recording Industry in 1957.