Sun | May 19, 2019

The Music Diaries | Camaraderie of early musicians

Published:Sunday | July 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Bob Andy (left) and Marcia Griffiths.
Mr Rocksteady Ken Boothe.
The King of ska, Derrick Morgan

The camaraderie that existed among veteran entertainers in the very early years of Jamaican popular music seem almost non-existent among the current set of entertainers.

I remember Bob Andy telling me that while he was about to record the 1966 mid-tempo transitional ska song I'm Going Home, he suddenly saw the Heptones turn up to do back-up vocals - although no prior arrangements had been made. They knew it would need that type of complement, and, Andy knew it too - he was most grateful. On another occasion, while he was recording the anthemic repatriation song I've Got To Go Back Home, The Wailers gave the song a similar treatment. The Gaylads backed Ken Boothe on Baby Don't Cry, and Jackie Mittoo, in addition to doing the arrangements for Marcia Griffiths' Feel Like Jumping, added some 'grunting' background vocals.

There were several other instances of this. Making reference to Studio 1 in particular, Marcia Griffiths revealed to me in a 2010 that "all the artistes met there, shared what we had among each other, and we had a happy time. And I believe that's one of the reasons why those songs will last forever - because they were done with such sincerity and purity. We weren't thinking about money. We just wanted to go in and express ourselves," she said. Those with better writing skills would write songs, not only for themselves, but for others. Bob Andy wrote I Don't Want To See You Cry for Ken Boothe and went further by writing all of Marcia Griffiths' early recordings, including her first hit in 1968 - Feel Like Jumping - along with Mark My Word, Melody Life, Truly, and Tell Me Now.

The camaraderie spilt over into other areas such as business and assistance with initiating the careers of fellow entertainers, with the two main ska pioneers - Stranger Cole and Derrick Morgan, being the main protagonists. As early as 1965, Cole introduced the popular Jamaican quartet The Techniques to the Treasure Isle Studios and literally brought them into the music business with the recording Little Did You Know. He had seen them perform earlier at the popular west Kingston entertainment centre - Chocomo Lawn - and was impressed. Cole was also credited with taking The Mighty Diamonds (the premier Jamaican vocal trio of the 1970) into studio. On that maiden trip to Randy's studio in about 1971, they recorded, along with Cole, a song called Oh No Baby. After a few more undistinguished recordings, the group came good in 1976 at the Channel 1 Studios with the massive hit When The Right Time Come followed by a plethora of others.

Claiming that Stranger Cole brought him into the music business, Ken Boothe admitted, "We began rehearsing songs together and I learnt my craft from him." The duo forged a successful partnership that began with the recording Artibella for producer Chief7 in 1963. A year later, Cole took Boothe to Studio 1 and they recorded the big hit duet World's Fair. Although Cole's stay with Studio 1 was ephemeral, Boothe made it his musical home and released a slew of rocksteady hits that earned for him the title Mr Rocksteady. Cole also claims that he took Ijahman Levi into studio for the first time and recorded with him a song titled I'm Living.


Morgan and Kong


Derrick Morgan's efforts in helping other Jamaicans to establish their careers in the entertainment business remains unchallenged. He took the 15-year-old Eric 'Monty' Morris into the studio for the first time to record Now We Know and Nights Are Lonely in 1959. Morris' career literally took off shortly thereafter with a raft of ska-flavored nursery rhyme tunes like Humpty Dumpty, In And Out The Window, Solomon A Gundy, and Sammy Dead in 1961. He then guided Jimmy Cliff with the selection of his first recording - Hurricane Hattie - the following year.

He auditioned and passed Cliff, Bob Marley, and Desmond Dekker, which brought them into the music business under producer Leslie Kong. In the process, he helped Kong - a novice in the business at the time - to set up his record-production business, which worked wonders for the Jamaican recording industry. Kong was on the verge of international recognition after a number of his productions appeared on the soundtrack of the popular Jamaican movie The Harder They Come, but his career came to a screeching halt, following a heart attack in 1971.

Morgan's entrepreneurial skills and musical acumen also assisted his brother-in-law, Bunny Lee, get into music production in the late 1960s. And amazingly, Prince Buster, the man considered Morgan's main rival (after berating Morgan in the recording Blackhead Chineman), owes a lot to Morgan. Morgan told me in a radio interview, "I met Buster, who asked me to help him out by doing some songs and starting a business. I helped him and later went with him to studio. He recorded They Got To Go and I did Shake a Leg, and that's how we became friends."

Morgan's assistance was crucial to Buster's future career as Buster had just been turned down by an immigration officer in his quest to travel overseas in search of records to play on his sound system - a business in which he had invested huge sums.