Claude Wilson, Staff Reporter
BY THE turn of the 1960s, while the nation was set
on a course towards self-determination, Jamaican musicians
were well ahead in inaugurating a new music that could harmonise
more with the spirit and character of the Jamaican people.
Out of that new music came a cadre of artistes who went
on to become popular acts both locally and internationally.
Unfortunately, most of those who helped to lay the foundation
of our music, especially during the pre- and post-ska era,
have remained unsung today.
Among them are Cluet Johnson, the Mellow Lark, the Magic
Notes, Bunny (Robinson) and Scully Simms, Keith Stewart and
Enid (Cumberland), Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson, Alton Ellis and
Eddie (Perkins), Theophilus Beckford, Bonnie and Skitter,
Monty and the Cyclones and the Jiving Juniors.
Where are they now?
Arguably one of the biggest groups of the pre-ska era was
the Jiving Juniors, led by Derrick Harriott. Formed while
they were students of Excelsior and Kingston College, the
Jiving Juniors is best remembered for chart-topping hits like
Lollipop Girl, Over The River and the all-time
favourite Sugar Dandy.
While Derrick Harriott went on to become one of reggae's
most consistent hit-makers, topping the charts as late as
1985, and business entrepreneur, the rest of the Jiving Junior
disbanded and dispersed to lead a more quieter lifestyle.
Derrick Harriott is the only member of the Jiving Junior currently
residing in Jamaica. Group members, Eugene Dwyer, Herman Sang
and Maurice Winter live overseas.
"Migration was responsible for the break up of the group
in 1964", says Harriott, the former lead singer and founder
of the group. "Sang, who used to work with the Esso Standard
Oil here in Jamaica went to live in Canada, where he continued
to work with that company, singing part-time at weddings and
other social events. Maurice Winter also resides in Canada,
while Eugene, whom I saw up to last Christmas, lives in Miami",
Mr. Harriott told Showbiz.
Derrick Harriott, who earlier went to live in New York,
founded a New York version of the Jiving Junior consisting
of Claude Sang Jr., Valman Burke - son of cricket umpire Perry
Burke and Winston Service.
Speaking from his home in Miami, Eugene Dwyer told Showbiz,
"after the Jiving Junior disbanded I formed a band called
The Zodiac, which did an album entitled Ernie Ranglin Presents
The Zodiac , which was not a success, so group broke up."
His next band, The Pacesetters, included brothers Conroy
and Grub Cooper. According to Dwyer: "I got fed up with the
direction the music was taking so on Election Day 1980, I
left the island for the United States. Now at 61, I am no
longer active in the music business save to collect CDs (mostly
jazz) in an effort to build up a sizeable music collection.
I am enjoying life as it is."
Cluet Johnson was the premier double-bassist of the late
1950s, who figured prominently on the early Coxsone records
like Easy Snapping. He was leader of the aggregation
Clue J and the Blues Blasters.
Clancy Eccles remembers Clue J as a "nice man" and the earliest
of the Jamaican bass players who had played on a vast number
of early Jamaican hits. Clue J, one of the initiators of the
ska, relocated to Montego Bay where he played with a city
hotel until he died.
Theophilus Beckford was known in the business as Snappin
after his brilliant R&B caricatured Easy Snappin,
which he recorded for Coxsone at Federal Records. As a piano
player, he performed on "hundreds of local records" and his
Easy Snappin was used in a European jeans commercial.
"Things are rough on my side and I am surviving through
the will of God and the love for the music" he said.
Beckford also laid claim to creating and starting the music
that led to ska, the music that emerge from Jamaican R&B
"Today as I listen to music on radio and sound system and
recognise that I created some of these tunes. I feel strongly
that I am not given full recognition for my work", he said.
Beckford ekes out a meagre existence by doing gigs as a
piano player at functions or at Randy's recording studio.
He was honoured along with Prince Buster at a recent 'Tribute
To The Great' show held at Curphey Place, Kingston, for his
contribution to the development of the Jamaican music.
Gospel was a major influence in the development of reggae
and The Mellow Larks was among the first to have a gospel
record on local record charts. Known only by their surnames
Robinson and Gabbidon, their Time To Pray (Allelluia)
was one of the biggest selling records of 1961, topping the
Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) charts for six weeks.
Gabbidon emigrated to England from those early days, while
Robinson is unemployed and often can be seen hanging out in
the vicinity of Sonic Sound recording studio.
Keith and Enid were one of several male-female duets that
dominated the airwaves in the early 1960s. The man and woman
call and answer tunes like Worried Over You, It's
Only A Pity, Send Me reflected the transition from
R&B imitation to the new Jamaican rhythmic approach.
Keith Stewart went on to become an outstanding cabaret performer
on the north coast. Efforts to reach Enid Cumberland, who
resides in Spanish Town proved futile.
The Guinness Book of Who Is Who in reggae, said Alton Ellis
first recorded in the late '50s as one of a duo, with singer
Eddy Perkins for Randy's and Studio One. He also sang with
Enid Perkins. They enjoyed some success in the R&B style
and Muriel was a massive hit for them. Perkins soon
went on to a solo career.
Bunny Goodison, music historian and radio presenter, said
Ellis went on to be one of the musical legends of the Jamaican
idiom and to lead a quiet life in England.
Also in the 1950s when duo singing was popular, Joe Higgs
joined Roy Wilson to form Higgs And Wilson. In 1959 they recorded
their first single, Manny Oh for Edward Seaga, who
was a record producer at that time and it became a massive
hit. They worked for Coxsone in the '60s and had several other
hits, including There's Reward and How Can I Be
Sure. Joe Higgs, now deceased, became an icon in the local
music industry, while Wilson faded into obscurity.
Derrick Harriott spoke of Bunny and Skitter's song Chubby,
which charted around the time when the Folkes Brothers' O
Carolina was the biggest hit in the land. Skitter, a Rastafarian,
became a vocalist with the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari
and was associated with the landmark Grounation album.
He too has died.
Another duo, Bunny (Robinson) and Scully (Simms)performed
under the name Robinson and Simms. They imitated the American
duo Shirley and Lee of Let The Good Times Roll fame.
Unfortunately, Simms has been stricken with blindness while
his counterpart makes a living by selling peanuts at football
matches around Kingston.