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Derrick Morgan Jump-Starts Careers of Cliff, Buster And Others

Published:Friday | April 1, 2016 | 12:27 PMRoy Black
Jimmy Cliff
Derrick Morgan
Prince Buster

Apart from being one of the longest serving entertainers in the Jamaica music business, Derrick Morgan has the distinction of jump-starting the careers of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and others through his auditioning skills.

Now visually impaired, but still going strong, Morgan celebrated his 76th birthday last Sunday, and that makes it quite opportune for us to reminisce on the enormous contribution he made to Jamaica's popular music during its embryonic stage.

When Cliff, an aspiring 14 year-old singer, came to Kingston in 1961/1962 in search of a recording contract and was having difficulties, it was Morgan - a more experienced campaigner, who came to his rescue with sound advice on how to proceed with a recording he (Cliff) wanted to do. Cliff first took the recording to the Chinese-Jamaican, Leslie Kong, a restaurateur, seeking his sponsorship. Kong was willing but was a novice to the music business and so referred Cliff to Morgan for assistance. On the advice of Morgan, Cliff swopped the recording for another he had, then underwent a successful audition by Morgan and released his first recording and first hit, titled, Hurricane Hattie, in 1962. The recording placed Cliff irreversibly on the road to success. Without Morgan's intervention, Cliff perhaps might never have made it.

But that heroic deed is just a small fraction of the multitude of acts performed by Morgan during a 57-year music career, which began in 1959 with two recordings for record producer Duke Reid. By helping Cliff to get into the music business, Morgan, by extension, was also taking Kong into the business as a record producer. Morgan had previously gone to see Kong and agreed to help him start a career in that field by recording two songs for him - Be Still and She's Gone. They were the first to be released on Kong's Beverley's label and their subsequent success launched Kong's producing career. Apart from recording for Kong, Morgan also helped him to recruit new acts. Kong went on to become one of Jamaica's most prolific and successful producers, perhaps the best known one outside our shores.

Another well known businessman/record producer and recording artiste, Prince Buster, was also helped into the music business by Morgan. In an interview with me for radio some years ago, Morgan recalled that: "One day, on my way home, I met Buster, who asked me to help him out by doing some songs and starting a business. I helped him and later went with him to studio. He recorded, They Got To Go and Shake A Leg, and then I took Monty Morris with me and he did Humpty Dumpty, and that's how we became friends in the music".

That friendship wasn't to last for long though, as Morgan soon heard about Kong who was starting-up in the business as well, and offering twice as much per recording as Buster. The bigger offer pulled Morgan into Kong's 'stables' and triggered the infamous 'musical war'.

The respect, popularity and high regard in which Morgan was held by those around him, began shortly after he did the two recordings, Oh my love is Gone and Lover Boy, for Reid in 1959. Somewhat peeved by Reid's refusal to release the songs to the public and the airwaves (they were played on his sound system only), Morgan collaborated with and recorded for producer 'Little Wonder' Smith, a recording titled, Fat Man, that same year, with the hope that it would be released to the public. Upon its release, it became an instant number one hit - Morgan's first in a long line of such hits. Nearly 10 years later, Fat Man, was responsible for the hugely successful pop-a-top series of songs, when the rhythm of Morgan's re-recorded version was extensively used.

The success of Fat Man, spurred producer Reid into action and after some insistent urgings, he managed to get Morgan back into his stables. A copious array of hits by Morgan followed for producers Reid, President Bells, Prince Buster and Leslie Kong, some in duet with the charming and vivacious female singer, Millicent Todd, better known as Patsy. Morgan brought her into the music business by way of a duet with her on his 1963 composition, Love not to Brag, in which he warned against the practise of boasting, as they both sang:

"Love not to brag, love not to boast

My son, grief comes to those who always like to brag the most".

He followed up with her on Don't You Worry, Look before you Leap and You don't know how much I love You, better known as 'Housewives Choice'.

As a solo artiste, performing in the ska mould, Morgan had big hits like, In My Heart, Forward March, The Hop, You should be Ashamed, Be Still and I Found A Queen. Morgan became so popular in these early stages that he once held seven positions in the top 10 charts, all at the same time, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken. The feat earned for him the title, 'The King of Ska'.

Eric 'Monty' Morris', Morgan's best friend during his childhood days, was perhaps the first to have benefited from Morgan's heroics, when he was taken into studio by the Ska King to record the songs, - Now We Know and Nights Are Lonely in 1959 for producer 'Little Wonder' Smith.

In 1967 Morgan was at it again, helping his would-be brother-in-law Bunny Lee into the production business. Lee was grateful.

"When I was doing my first production with Lloyd and the Groovers, Derrick helped me run the sessions and got me into the business", Lee said.

A year later, Morgan himself ventured into the music production business on his own Hop Record Label, that saw the release of the big rocksteady hit, Red Bumb Ball, by Lloyd and Devon. His production of Max Romeo's, Let the power fall on I, and his penning of three festival song winners between 1998 and 2002, seem to have defied the laws of logic when one considers that the achievements were attained while Morgan was visually impaired.