Sun | May 28, 2023

New CD highlights Byron Lee's contribution to Caribbean music

Published:Thursday | February 18, 2010 | 12:00 AM
The Mighty Sparrow (right) performing alongside Byron Lee at 'An Evening with The Dragon', a post-National Honours Awards Celebration, held at the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel, Waterloo Road on November 28, 2007. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
Byron Lee
'The Dragon' Byron Lee, led the charge and his band, The Dragonaires, at the Jamaica Carnival's New Kingston Street Dance, held on Knutsford Boulevard, New Kingston on Sunday, March 9, 2008. -Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

He may never be listed among Jamaica's most influential musicians, but Byron Lee certainly had one of the most enduring careers in the history of the country's popular music.

Lee died from cancer in November 2008 at age 73. His appreciation for Caribbean music, whether it was ska and dancehall or calypso and soca, is highlighted on
Byron Lee: The Man And his Music
which was released Tuesday by VP Records.

The set is a double CD with 47 songs recorded by Lee's Dragonaires band dating back to 1959 when it announced itself with the hit song

It also includes a DVD looking at the group's history.

Big hits

was the band's first hit, which was produced by former Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga. Other early Dragonaires hits, such as
Jamaica Ska
Empty Chair
are also featured on
The Man And his Music
, so too
Tiney Winey
Dancehall Soca
(with Admiral Bailey), big hits for the band during the 1980s.

Lee's collaboration with acts such as the Blues Busters and Eric 'Monty' Morris is also revisited. The soulful sound of the 'Busters' are heard on
Wings Of a Dove
Soon You'll Be Gone
while Morris' contributions are the ska staples,
Oil In My Lamp
Sammy Dead

Most of these songs were done at Lee's Dynamic Sounds studio in Kingston.

Lee recorded frequently in Trinidad with his close friend, the Trinidadian calypso legend, The Mighty Sparrow. These sessions yielded Sparrow favourites like
No Love No Money
which are also included on the VP set.

The Manchester-born Lee formed the Dragonaires in the early 1950s while he was a student at St George's College. Singer Keith Lyn joined the band in 1963 and wrote
Empty Chair
Jamaica Ska
, two of the band's most popular songs.

He told
The Gleaner
that Lee and the Dragonaires have never been truly recognised for their contribution to ska.

"I wrote
Jamaica Ska
because we were going on tour of the United States and Canada and wanted to introduce the music (ska) to a new audience," Lyn recalled. "We were always seen as an uptown band, people thought we played ska too too clean"

Lee was one of several Chinese-Jamaicans who made a mark in the formative stages of Jamaica's popular music business, others being producers Vincent Chin and Leslie Kong, the first person to record Bob Marley.

The Dragonaires sound went calypso during the 1970s, but Lee continued to work with contemporary Jamaican performers like Admiral Bailey, Sean Paul and Shaggy to build the fan base of Jamaica Carnival, the week-long festival he started in 1990.