Jiving Juniors unleashes Derrick Harriott on the world
The Jiving Juniors belonged to an exclusive fraternity of 1950s Jamaican groups which set the stage for the emergence of the Jamaican blues, ska, and rocksteady music.
Other groups and bands of that period included Monty and the Cyclones, Aubrey Adams and the Dewdroppers, Bunny and Skitter, Bunny and Skully and Alton and Eddy. The Jiving Juniors, however, were unique in more ways than one.
The group included appropriate clown acts in its presentation, to accentuate the story it presented in a song, and unlike other groups of that era, the Jiving Juniors had two distinct phases to their career.
The harmony, call and answer innuendos, and lyrical interchange, especially between lead vocalist, Derrick Harriott and bassmen, (Eugene Dwyer, from the first set, and Winston Service, from the second set), was most breathtaking.
The genesis of the Jiving Juniors was rooted in the duo, 'Sang and Harriott', (Claude Sang Jr and Derrick Harriott). The two were musically inclined schoolmates at Excelsior High School, where the headmaster, W.A. Powell was Harriott's uncle.
Temporarily capturing a piano in the main Assembly Hall during breaks, the duo would sharpen musical skills, and in the process, create quite a stir.
According to Harriott, "when we were playing, it seemed like the whole school came down, and even at lunchtime, a lot of people quickly bought their lunch so they could hear us".
This lunchtime activity didn't go down well with the headmaster who regularly issued detentions to them for disobedience.
Interestingly, the very headmaster who issued detentions was the first to acknowledge the duo's ability and include them in concerts and fund-raising events for the school. Just as interesting was the fact that one of Harriott's strongest competitors at school concerts was parliamentarian, A.J. Nicholson.
With the overwhelming response from schoolmates, and lots of confidence behind him, young Harriott fancied his chances of entering the popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent show in 1955, with a popular American R&B song, titled, When You Dance.
Although narrowly missing the final round, Harriott was determined, and entered again in 1957 with his classmate Claude Sang Jr., eventually going on to win on several occasions and never finishing less than as a runner up. Sang would play the piano, while both sang.
Harriott recalls being one of the highest-paid performers on some of the shows, but admits that the coins thrown on stage by fans, registering their approval of a solid performance, sometimes exceeded that pay.
It was not the safest practice though, as early Jamaican coins were big and heavy, and hit hard.
Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, Vere Johns Opportunity Knocks (Johns radio show), and Bim and Bam shows around the island, opened several doors for the duo, which soon set its sights on the recording studios.
The two went to Stanley Motta's Studio, which first opened its doors at Hanover Street in Kingston, before moving to other locations.
Sang and Harriott captured their voice at Harbour Street on a demonstration disc, doing the original, Lolipop Girl.
According to Harriott, the recording was the first post-mento recording in Jamaica's popular music history.
As was the custom of the day, the demo disc or dub plate, was given to a Maxfield Avenue-based sound, named Thunderbird Disco, and it became so popular, operators were forced to play it as much as a dozen times before taking it off the turntable.
Although containing only piano, handclaps and vocals, the recording did amazingly well, so much so that it created conflicts among some of the big sound system operators, who jostled to get hold of it.
For about two years, the Lolipop dub ruled on the Thunderbird Disco.
The story goes that 'Sir Coxson Downbeat' sound system visited 'Carlisle' and negotiated a swap of one of his big American R&B hits, for Lolipop Girl, because he wanted it so badly.
The sound system business was hot at the time, with operators priding themselves with the 'toughest' and most exclusive hits of the day.
Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd was thus, having a grand time, 'mashing up the place' with this record, until sound system man, and main rival, Duke Reid, was heard playing the song, during a clash along East Queen Street in Kingston.
It sent shock waves, through Coxson's body and there were reports of gun-drawing and intense animosity.
The mystery is still unresolved, but one authentic source states, that it appeared that one of Coxson's henchmen temporarily snatched the record and gave 'The Duke' a copy.
The duo of Claude Sang Jr and Derrick Harriott separated in 1958, when Sang was sent on an overseas study course with Cable and Wireless.
Harriott, the leader and main songwriter, decided to form a new group in 1958, which he called, The Jiving Juniors.
The quartet consisted of Eugene Dwyer (bass), Maurice Wynter (Tenor/Clown), Claude's younger brother, Herman Sang on piano, and Harriott on lead tenor and falsetto.
The group became one of the best close-harmony groups in Jamaica's music history. Fashioned in the same vein as American group, The Coasters, the group went on to have successful performances on the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. So popular was the quartet that a special guest slot on the Opportunity Hour beckoned.
In 1959 and in the midst of that success, Harriott migrated to the United States. The group seemed dead.
After encountering some rough times with unsettled employment, Harriott rocked back on his first love, music and decided to revive 'The Jiving Juniors', this time with new members.
The story continues next week, with the second set of Jiving Juniors, and the solo career of Derrick Harriott.