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Where are they now?


Keith Stewart


Claude Wilson, Staff Reporter

WESTERN BUREAU:

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?

Pre-ska era

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.

The Zodiac

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 between 1961-67.

"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.

Duets

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.

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