Fri | Jan 18, 2019

The Music Diaries | Errol Dunkley at it from an early age - Made his first record at 11 years old

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:58 AMRoy Black

When Errol Dunkley made his first record, he was only 11 years old. And it wasn’t an encouraging start for him either because that recording flopped ­ a ska piece done for fledging record producer Prince Buster in 1962 entitled My Queen. It was just about the time when Buster met upon a stumbling block in his quest to buy records abroad to play on his sound system, and alternatively, had to turn to record production, going on to become a recording artiste in his own right.

Dunkley heard about Buster’s new thrust and was introduced to him, along with a guy named Junior English.


Some two and a half years elapsed, and Dunkley, in his youthful exuberance to make a hit record, ventured to producer Joe Gibbs and his Amalgamated record label. There, as a 14 year-old, he did his first hit record ­ You Gonna Need Me ­ a Gloria Lynn original. With help from Slim Smith, a more established star, he was able to arrange the recording to perfection as he sang:

“The whole town’s talking ‘bout you and your new guy
You’re flying high now in your single world
But you’re gonna need me
You’re gonna need me darling
And it wont be long.”

About eight months later, Dunkley co-wrote, along with Jimmy London, another excellent cut ­ Please Stop Your Lying ­ for the same producer in which he chastised a woman for infidelity. Guitarist Lynn Taitt, bassist Jackie Jackson, pianist Gladstone Anderson, and other top-flight musicians were in attendance as Dunkley sang:

“Please stop your lying girl and speak the truth
If you don’t love that guy, Tell him you don’t
Every night you’re on the beach with another guy
And the poor guy work so hard to make you big and strong”.

It went to number one on the Jamaican charts.

According to Dunkley, with whom I spoke in mid-2016 from his business place in Arnett Gardens: “I left Gibbs and began with Coxsone after being introduced to him by Leroy Sibbles of the Heptones, but I didn’t have much success there. Many of my songs were never released. Then I’ve been around working for various producers like Bunny Lee and Rupie Edwards. Then me and Gregory Isaacs formed the African Museum label and I had a big success with Movie Star.” But perhaps Dunkley’s most popular recording at the time was the Jimmy Radway-produced Black Cinderella. It was followed by a few self-produced songs by Dunkley in the early 1970s like Love Is Amazing and You’ll Never Know, which he licensed to female producer Sonia Pottinger and included on his first album.

Among Dunkley’s earliest memories was Pink Lane (downtown Kingston), where he claimed he was “born during Hurricane Charlie time”. Quizzed further, he confirmed that it was February 7, which refutes certain ill-informed sources on the Internet. The young teenager attended Kingston Senior School, Seaward School, and Warren Hall Private Secondary, where at the age of 14, his career took off.

The most lucrative period of Dunkley’s career, however, came when he migrated to England in the mid-1970s. While there, he worked, recorded, licensed his songs, and did several distribution business transactions with various recording entities. OK Fred, a John Holt original, became his biggest hit and his greatest catalyst. In Dunkley’s own words: “After I licensed it to a French company, it took me all over Europe doing promotions. It went into the British charts in 1979 and became one of the first reggae songs to go to number one on Top of The Pops. I’ve also been on BBC TV Top of The Pops over five times, did promotions in Luxemburg and Monte Carlo, and been on national television in Rome. I did the BBC network of Africa, The BBC network of The Caribbean, and The BBC network of the West Indies. Everywhere the BBC went, I did an interview,” Dunkley disclosed. He also did festivals in Europe, Sierra Nevada, Italy, Brazil and Mexico. He has returned home at intervals to do recordings, which he takes back to England for license to various promoters like Trojan records. A shrewd businessman, Dunkley admits he did not have much difficulty obtaining his royalties.

He will celebrate his 67th birthday with an event dubbed ‘Errol Dunkley’s Birthday Bash’ at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre on Tuesday, February 6. It features an awesome line-up that includes Pat Kelly, Pam Hall, Jackie Paris, and Lloyd Parks and the We The People Band.