Remembering singer Pat Kelly
The Jamaican music industry has again suffered a big loss. On July 16, Pat Kelly, perhaps the most distinctive falsetto voice in Jamaican popular music, and more specifically in the rocksteady era of the 1960s, passed away.
Kelly came to prominence in 1967 when he took over the lead singing role for the popular rocksteady trio, The Techniques, following the migration of Junior Menz. It was under Kelly’s watch that the group had its most successful stint with number one hits like There’ll Come A Time, I’m In The Mood For Love, A Man Of My Word, The Time Has Come and You Don’t Care, between 1967 and 1968.
The last-mentioned recording, a remake of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions’ Y ou Will Want Me Back, was his first hit with the group. And, quite significantly, it was Mayfield’s and Sam Cooke’s voice that inspired Kelly’s style, as he sang in the company of Bruce Ruffin and Winston Riley. One of the most commonly accepted inaccuracies, however, is the acceptance by some folk that Kelly sang lead on Queen Majesty, Love Is Not A Gamble, My Girl and Travelling Man. The first three were, in fact, led by Junior Menz, while Travelling Man was led by Johnny Johnson.
Kelly went solo towards the end of 1968 and the hits continued to flow unabated. He recorded Talk About Love and Soulful Love for producer Phil Pratt, while his association with producer Bunny Lee skyrocketed his career after he was taken to England by Lee in 1969 and signed to the English recording entity, Pama Records. The Bunny Lee-produced Pat Kelly recordings How Long, Try To Remember, If It Don’t Work Out, Little Boy Blue, Give Love A Try and Somebody’s Baby, which were distributed through Pama, became big hits in England and helped in no small way to popularise Jamaica’s reggae music throughout Europe.
Minister of Culture and Entertainment Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, in a statement, noted that she felt a deep sense of personal loss at the passing of Pat Kelly. “He and I go back a long way to our days at Chocomo Lawn, a place where so many of our artistes and musicians got their start, thanks to Edward Seaga. I was the president of the Victor’s Youth Club at Chocomo Lawn and Pat was a member. It was there that he began developing his talent, which has seen him become a great Jamaican singer and outstanding audio engineer. I have been very proud of his success with The Techniques and in his solo career, and satisfied with his contribution to our music. I offer sincerest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues at this time.”
Producer Bunny Lee was full of praise for Kelly, when The Gleaner spoke to him. “I was the first to take him to England. He did over four albums for me. In addition, he was a good studio engineer who worked for Joe Gibbs, King Tubby’s and Channel One,” Lee asserted.
Anthony ‘Chips’ Richards, a pioneer reggae promoter based in the UK, and who was also a close friend of Kelly, added to the accolades. “He was a well-mannered, disciplined and honest individual who inspired me to come to the industry. He was always well received in England and one of the gentlemen of reggae,” was how Richards described the music icon.
Michael Barnett, legendary Heineken Startime promoter, recalled that Pat Kelly lived his private life away from the glitter of the stage. “In 1990, I was doing the Get Ready Rocksteady series and I wanted Pat Kelly for the event. I searched out the whole of England and New York for him and couldn’t locate him. Then a friend in New York gave me a number. As it turned out, I found Pat Kelly living right here in Jamaica, in Meadowbrook Estate. I asked him how he was here in the island and so low-key and he said that was the way he wanted it,” Barnett told The Gleaner.
Kelly, who was 70 years old, succumbed to complications associated with a kidney problem which he had been battling for some time.