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Youth drives Jamaican popular music

Published:Sunday | November 11, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Freddie McGregor

It's youth month in Jamaica, and as we continue to celebrate 50 years as an independent nation and reflect on our musical achievements, it conjures up memories of the youthful exuberance that permeated Jamaica's music at the birth of the nation in 1962.

Jamaica's music was, in fact, packed with child prodigies at the time.

Errol Dunkley, for instance, was barely into his teens when he recorded his first big hit, You Gonna Need Me, for producer Jo Gibbs on his Amalgamated record label.

Dunkley followed up with a few others, including the equally popular, Please Stop Your Lying, on the same label, before moving to Bunny Lee and other producers.

The late Jacob Miller was just 13 years old in 1968, when he had an electrifying start at Studio One, with a powerful rocksteady piece titled Love Is A Message.

Dennis Brown, who was later dubbed 'The Crown Prince of Reggae', entered the arena, also at age 13. He did so in majestic fashion, with perhaps the most popular early reggae recording of the period - No Man Is An Island. Before he was 15, he had won the hearts of many with the Studio One gems, If I Follow My Heart and Going To A Ball. He had also done Created By The Father, What About The Half for producer Phil Pratt; Lips Of Wine for Derrick Harriott and Cheater for Randy's.

Ernest Wilson, the younger of the Clarendonians duo, had also just entered his teens, when he, along with Peter Austin created history by having five number-one songs on the Jamaican hit parade - You Won't See Me, You Can't Be Happy, Rudie Bam Bam, Rude Boy Gone A Jail and Sho-Be-Do I Love You.

McGregor's Journey

Freddy McGregor had connections with this dynamic duo, when Clement 'Coxson' Dodd, Studio One head honcho, in one of his magical moves, teamed him with Ernest as 'Fitzy and Freddy', on the recording Why Did You Do It.

According to Kenneth 'Drumbeat' Wilson, brother of Ernest and producer of many early Clarendonians' recordings, Ernest was 13 years old at the time and Freddy was some four years younger.

Do the math, and you'll realise that McGregor was perhaps the youngest youth sensation to have entered popular music in Jamaica.

But before them all, there was a youth named Delroy Wilson, who stood 'tallest' among the lot, and who they all tried to emulate.

Dennis Brown called him teacher, while others at Studio One considered him the guiding star who illuminated the pathway which led to their success.

Thirteen, considered an unlucky number by many, seemed to be the lucky age for these youngsters, and Delroy was no exception.

He was barely out of short pants and still attending Boys Town Primary School when he did his debut recording for Coxson, titled Emmy Lou.

The single enjoyed limited success and was followed by a string of others in the ska mould, mainly written by Wilson.

The first of the batch came in 1962, titled Joe Liges, the lines of which ran:

Don't you criticise,

your name is Joe Liges,

one hand wash the other,

but you don't remember your brother.

It was an emphatic answer to Prince Buster's One Hand Wash The Other. Wilson reinforced his answer in the recording Remember Your Nest, with the warning:

Don't you forget that nest where you used to rest.

For you, the Sir has done his very best.

You are ungrateful to call him a fool.

During this period, Wilson recorded several other popular ska songs on the same topic - Prince Pharaoh Go Down, I Shall Not Remove and The Lion Of Judah.

Having a remarkable talent for singing, dancing and writing, belying his age, Wilson was easily Jamaica's first child sensation, delivering some stunning performances on stage and in the recording studios, while still in his teens.

He was indeed one of the chief cornerstones of Studio One music. Epitomising the true essence of Jamaican music with a melodious voice that resounded with youthful optimism, Wilson added to his repertoire such romantic love songs as Why Do Lovers, Can't You See That I Love You, Here Comes The Heartaches, All I Need Is Loving and Somebody Has Stolen My Girl, which rode high on the charts, and sent dance halls rocking with hysteria.

No comparison

Wilson had written so many songs by the time he was 15, that there can be no comparison with any other child sensation. He has remained to this day, at the top of the game in that respect.

Before he even began recording, Wilson created pandemonium during a Christmas morning concert at the Carib Theatre when, as a 12-year-old, he drew thunderous applause for his performance. He was so small, he had to stand on a beer crate to reach the microphone.