Mon | May 29, 2017

Dillon's 'pioneer' status warranted

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2011 | 10:00 AM
The cover of one of Leonard Dillon and The Ethiopian's albums done along side The Silvertones. A posterised picture of Dillon is the focus of the cover.- Contributed
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

He may not have made as many hit records as most of his contemporaries, but Leonard Dillon produced enough quality work to earn his title as a reggae pioneer.

Dillon, who died Wednesday morning at his daughter's St Andrew home, was best known as leader of The Ethiopians, the vocal group that had big hits with Train To Skaville and Everything Crash.

He was 68 years old.

Patrice Dillon, the third of Dillon's seven children, told The Sunday Gleaner her father died from cancer. He was diagnosed with two brain tumours in August 2010, and last June it was discovered he had lung and prostate cancer.

After undergoing surgery to remove one of the tumours in February, Patrice Dillon said her father seemed to be making steady progress. But three months ago further tests revealed five more cancerous lumps had developed on his brain.

Leonard Dillon was born in Boundbrook, a district near Port Antonio in Portland. In an interview with American writer David Katz, Dillon said he worked in Florida as an indentured worker during the early 1960s to make enough money to pursue a musical career when he returned to Jamaica.

It did not pan out as planned and it took a chance meeting in 1964 with Peter Tosh - then a member of The Wailers - to get his recording career off the ground.

Dillon's interview with Katz appears in the latter's book, Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae. He said his first songs were done for producer Clement 'Coxson' Dodd at Studio One. They were Woman Wine And Money, Ice Water, What You Get You Must Take and Bull Whip.

The Wailers (Tosh, Bob Marley and Bunny Livingston) did backing vocals on Bull Whip. None of those early songs made any impact.

It was not until Dillon teamed with Stephen Taylor and Aston Morrison to form The Ethiopians that his career gained momentum. They cut Train To Skaville for West Indies Record Limited (WIRL) and Everything For Crash for producer Karl 'Sir JJ' Johnson as Jamaican popular music evolved from ska to rock steady.

The Ethiopians recorded for several leading producers including Lee 'Scratch' Perry, but never scored any more big hits, though they gained a cult following in Europe. In the last 25 years, independent record companies such as Trojan, VP and Heartbeat, have released compilation albums of their best-known songs.

The last of those discs, Train To Skaville: Anthology 1965-1975, was released by Trojan in 2002.

Leonard Dillon is also survived by two brothers, one sister and seven grandchildren.