The Music Diaries | Careers not planned
Entertainers ending up in careers they never intended is quite widespread in early Jamaican popular music. Cecil Bustamante Campbell, better known as Prince Buster, dreamt of being the greatest sound system operator in the land. That dream ended when he was unceremoniously stopped by immigration at a checkpoint. It was the custom, then, of sound system operators to venture abroad via the farm work programme to buy the most exclusive records to challenge their opponents. Buster was on such a mission. "I pass every test and is go wey mi a go wey the morning, yuno, and the man (immigration officer) jus come and say, 'Mek mi see yu hand middle. This hand can't cut cane!' That cause me now to turn to Drumbago and his band at Baby Grand to explain mi problem, rehearse, the band, and give him mi style," Buster told me during a conversation before his shop at 127 Orange Street in downtown Kingston some years ago.
As it turned out, Buster became one of the top record producers of the 1960s and a very affluent businessman. As a vocalist, he had several No. 1 hits, including; Wash Wash, Hard Man Fi Dead, One Hand Wash The Other, Judge Dread, and many more.
Ernie Smith and Jimmy James
Ernie Smith and Jimmy James followed similar paths en route to becoming great singers. But neither entertained such thoughts when they first went to Federal Records, seeking someone to sing songs they had written. Their sole intention was to become songwriters. "I came to Kingston to do a radio interview, which was over in 20 minutes. I had a whole day off from work, and so I decided to take this song that I had written to Federal Records to find someone to sing it. Conroy Cooper, (who became a member of the Fab 5 Band) got the chords from me and played it on the piano as Richard and Paul Khouri listened. The response from the Khouris, was 'there's a band coming here at 2'oclock, why don't you just stay and sing it?' So that's how I got into the music business," Smith told me in an interview. That recording was a slow piece titled I Can't Take It in 1967.
Armed with his bluesy composition Bewildered And Blue, James approached producer Lyndon Pottinger in 1958 with the proviso, "Don't think sey me is any singer I just write the song for someone to sing it." He was, however, lured into the studio just to do a demo but later discovered that he had been tricked into recording the song. But he never regretted it. The song became his first big hit, the lyrics of which even Shakespeare would be proud:
"I don't know just why I miss you, maybe it's the gypsy tune
With its wordless, wistful embers, as it left me reaching for the moon
It could be the wayward echoes in your laughter gay and warm
As it filled your mouth with dearness and created a tender storm"
James' best-known hit was Come To Me Softly at the turn of the decade.
Winston Riley started out as the leader of the popular 1960s vocal quartet The Techniques, and though the leader, took a back seat in the harmony section. By May 1971, he had moved away almost entirely from vocalising into the field of producing. He rewrote the history books that year by producing and pushing Dave Barker and Ansel Collins' Double Barrel to No. 1 on the British charts - the second Jamaican recording to have done so. He was responsible for Tenor Saw's Ring The Alarm, Super Cat's Boops, Sanchez's Loneliness, Red Dragon's Hold A Fresh and Agony, and Johnny P and Thriller U's Young and She Green. According to Riley: The 1980s was the biggest time of my life. I ruled the dancehall as a producer, with several hits."
Following a similar path, Clancy Eccles adopted the role of record producer in 1967, debuting with Eric Monty Morris' rocksteady classic Say What You're Saying. He followed up with Morris's Tears In Your Eyes, and Larry Marshall's Please Stay. He also produced Holly Holy and Growing Up for The Fabulous Flames; Kingston Town for Lord Creator; Fatty Fatty, Two Of A Kind, What Will Your Mama Say for himself; and a slew of instrumentals, including Mr Midnight, Phantom, Herbsman and I Did It by his session musicians - The Dynamites.
One of the most loved and respected Jamaican producers, Eccles had under his fold stars such as Joe Higgs, Lee Perry, Carl Dawkins, Busty Brown, Cynthia Richards, The Beltones, The Fabulous Flames, along with top-flight musicians Jackie Jackson, Hux Brown, Aubrey Adams, Ernie Ranglin, Winston Wright, Gladstone Anderson, and Joe Isaacs. He was also the first to record Deejay King Stitt.
These were giant steps into areas that Eccles did not envisage when he entered the gates of Federal Records in 1959 to do his first recording - Freedom - for producer Clement Dodd. Dodd had not yet built Studio 1. Eccles followed up with Glory Hallelujah, I Live And I Love, and River Jordan before becoming disillusioned with his remuneration and drifted into record producing.