Sun | May 19, 2019

Gardiner - The man behind the music

Published:Sunday | March 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Singer/songwriter and musician, Boris Gardiner

Boris Gardiner, who was mentioned in last week's article as being one of the Jamaican recording artistes who had the distinction of making it to the No.1 position on the United Kingdom (UK) charts, is known to his many fans as the effortless smooth-voiced singer whose enunciation evokes memories of Nat King Cole and Johnny Ace, two of the greatest baritone singers of all time.

But what is not so well known about Gardiner is his bass-playing skills, which have graced many Jamaican hits and have placed him in an exclusive fraternity of performers in Jamaican popular music history.

That fraternity stretches way back to the mid-1950s when bass players like Cluet Johnson displayed that skill using a standing bass while leading Studio One's first studio band - Clue Jay and the Blues Blasters.

The fraternity of Jamaican bassists continued with Lloyd Brivett (Skatalites band), Frankie Campbell (Fab5), Lloyd Parkes (We The People) and others.

Interestingly, most, including Gardiner (Brivett being the only exception), were band leaders.

Gardiner was a man from the east, having been born in Rollington Town. His earliest schooling was at the Franklin Town Government School before attending St Monica's College along South Camp Road.

A heart condition (tachycardia), which he developed at about age 17, and which he was told he has had to live with all his life, caused him to drop out of school.

In a 2005 interview with me, Gardiner expressed pleasure in seeing the condition improve as he gets older.


Musically inclined from his pre-teens, Gardiner surprisingly also saw his voice changing at that age.

"As time went by, my voice changed and I got pretty baritonish. I lost my tenor, and with my limited range, I could do so much on high notes, so I had to find my style," he explained.

Seventeen must have been one of Gardiner's most treasured numbers, as it was at that age that he got his first musical exposure.

"Around 1960, Richard Ace contacted me, asking if I was interested in coming into a group he was forming - The Rhythm Aces, which I joined. We started doing some gigs at clubs like The Penguins on Deanery Road, and Vere Johns as guest artistes. Our first real exposure was on a 1960-61 Ben E. King show. The headlines read , 'Rhythm Aces all but stole the show'."

Gardiner went into the recording studios to do his first set of recordings with the group in 1960.

The Rhythm Aces quartet of Richard Ace, Dennis Moss, Delano Stewart (later to become a member of The Gaylads), Gardiner as lead vocalist, and the incomparable Caribs band with three Australians on board, recorded the undistinguished Angella.

Its follow-up, A Thousand Teardrops, a never-to-be-forgotten tear-jerker, rode the charts for weeks and was on the lips of almost every Jamaican.

"A thousand teardrops, each day I shed over you,

I toss and turn each night in my bed, dreaming over you

Could this be love? This must be love, true love."

He had fans hypnotised as he took them to the bridge with:

With every breath I take

With every sigh I make

Your face appears before me.

Financial constraints, however, precipitated the group's disintegration, and by 1963, Gardiner joined Kes Chin and The Souvenirs band as vocalist and began teaching himself to play the rhythm guitar.

Gardiner was recording his self-penned latin-tempo hit, Don't Speak to Me of Love while the guitar and chord construction were becoming his main obsession.

"You see, I sing, so I just wanted to back up myself," he said.

Leaving Kes Chin's band, Gardiner next joined the leading band of the day, Carlos Malcolm's Afro-Jamaican Rhythms.

It was while with Malcolm's band that Gardiner became proficient with the bass guitar after fortuitously being given the job of playing it by Malcolm when the original bassist left.

It was perhaps the area in which he excelled most up to that point in his career, mastering the art as he toured extensively with Malcolm's band to Guyana, New York and Miami between 1965 and 1967.


Shortly after, Malcolm's band folded and Gardiner started one of his own, The Broncos, taking their name from Club Bronco in Union Square, where they had landed a residency. Soon to be renamed 'The Boris Gardiner Happening', they also had memorable performances at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel and several North Coast locations.

Gardiner was now completely at ease in his dual role of vocalist and bassist.

Back in the recording studio, the new group crafted the unforgettable gems, Jean, Paradise for Fools and Don't Take Away, which urges the gods to:

"Take away everything,

but don't take away the memories,

Memories of her, so divine

A love no longer mine."

The songs were included in the classy 1970 album, Soulful Experience.

In 1968, Gardiner eased out of the shadow of being an unsung hero during a short stay at Studio One.

According to him, while there, he played on some 100 songs, mainly hits. They included one of the biggest-selling albums out of that institution - The Heptones' On Top; Larry and Alvin's Nanny Goat; and Marcia Griffiths first hit, Feel Like Jumping.

Down by Treasure Isle studios, Gardiner did the trendsetting bass lines on the Techniques' You Don't Care for Me.

Elsewhere, there were Junior Marvin's Police and Thieves, Bob (Andy) and Marcia's (Griffiths) Young, Gifted and Black, Derrick Harriott's entire first studio session that included The Loser, and some of Lee 'Scratch' Perry's early productions.

In 1969, Gardiner scored his first UK hit, Elizabethan Serenade. The song peaked at No.15.

Gardiner achieved another milestone when he, along with his brother, Barrington, wrote the tracks for the very popular movie, Every Nigger Is a Star, in 1975.

But perhaps his crowning achievement was placing the Ben Peters composition, I Wanna Wake up with You, at the top of the UK charts in 1986.