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The Techniques brings a difference to rocksteady

Published:Sunday | October 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM
The Techniques perform 'Run Come Celebrate' at the National Aren, a song which earned them a third-place finish in the Festival Song finals of 1968. - File

Any ardent dance or party fan of the late 1960s will tell you that whenever they attended one of these sessions, they would, almost invariably, be dancing to the music of a Jamaican singing group. Groups, whatever they be - duos, trios or quartets - even in the midst of the day.

It was a time in Jamaican music, when the accelerated pace of the ska beat was giving way to the slower, more placid, and I dare say, melodious rocksteady format, but still before the rise of reggae.

Parties and dance venues at the time, rocked to the sweet, throbbing rocksteady beat of groups like the Wailers (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer), The Maytals ('Toots' Hibbert, Jerry Mathias, Raleigh Gordon), The Gaylads (Horace Seaton, Winston Stewart, Maurice Roberts), The Melodians (Brent Dowe, Tony Brivett, Trevor McNaughton), The Jamaicans (Tommy Cowan, Norris Weir, Martin Williams), and The Techniques, whose members were multitudinous.

These were indeed the groups that ruled the roost of harmony singing and whet the appetite of dance fans and Jamaican music lovers during the rocksteady era, which incidentally represented the shortest period of a genre's dominance in Jamaica. Rocksteady was the music of choice from late 1966 to approximately the middle of 1968.

In terms of composition, the top groups followed a similar pattern: They performed as trios and almost invariably had one lead singer throughout the lifespan of the group. The Techniques, however took a different route to success. Although conforming to the standard trio composition, the members were never constant, as they witnessed no less than a dozen members participating during the approximately ten years of the group's existence

In addition, The Techniques, which had its genesis in 1965, boasted some half a dozen lead singers, moving in and out of the group like a procession.

Their leader, Winston Riley, who passed away on January 19 this year, was the only member who stayed with the group throughout. When I asked him in a radio interview to explain this phenomenon Riley's answer was, "Whilst I'm around the group is always alive, because I am the sound and the sound is me".

And the Techniques did, in fact, maintain a unique falsetto sound, which was amazing, given the many line-up changes.

Different sound

Riley was determined to create a different sound from all the other groups. He claimed that he had to maintain the sound, in order to maintain the group, and he did so with distinction.

The Techniques first came together in 1962, as schoolmates at Kingston Senior School, located at the northernmost end of King Street in Kingston, and began by performing there at school concerts.

Staying together after leaving school, they continued to perform at concerts and places like the Chocomo Lawn in west Kingston.

In 1965, ska singer Stranger Cole introduced them to producer Duke Reid, and they got the opportunity to record their first set of songs in the ska mould.

Their distinctive styling and rich vocal blend, featuring Keith 'Slim' Smith's crystalline lead vocal delivery, earned for them the ska hits, What You Gonna Do, Telling Lies, You Don't Know, I'm In Love, When You Are Wrong, and their first and most popular early hit - Little Did You Know.

The original line-up for those early sessions, resembled nothing that party and dance fans became familiar with during the rocksteady era of the mid to late 1960s. It consisted of the ever-present Winston Riley, uniquely positioned as the leader who did not sing lead, Slim Smith on lead vocal, a man who, to this day, is considered the most talented singer this nation has produced, with Frederick Waite and Franklin White completing the quartet.

The Baba Brooks band was in attendance at the Federal Recording Studios.

Their stay with Reid was ephemeral as Waite soon left via the migration route, and Smith joined Jimmy Riley and Lloyd Charmers to form the Uniques, while Winston Riley and Franklin White went their separate ways. Riley was, however, determined to keep the group alive and reformed them in 1967 with new members, Junior Menz as lead vocalist, who had served a short stint with the Paragons, Bruce Ruffin and himself. This line-up gave Jamaica and dancehall fans a number of resounding hits, including Queen Majesty, an adaptation of one previously done by the Impressions titled, Minstrel And Queen, and had follow-ups, My Girl and Love Is Not A Gamble, written by Riley and based on an experience he had.

Junior Menz soon migrated as well, and was temporarily replaced in a very strange way by a banker named Johnny Johnson, who fooled many into thinking that he was Pat Kelly, who would be Menz's more permanent replacement.


Riley told me Johnson was just 'travelling through' Reid's studio that day and he asked him to accompany Ruffin and himself on the recording Travelling Man. Written by Riley, Johnson's lead vocals made him into the travelling man who 'wanted to stop roaming around, searching to find a love, and hoping some day she will come along to this travelling man'.

It became a masterpiece which took Jamaica by storm in 1968.

Pat Kelly joined Riley and Ruffin in 1968 and placed third in the Festival Song competition that year with Run Come Celebrate. It was the most successful period of the group's ten-year history.

Hits like There Comes A Time, The Time Has Come, Man Of My Word, and You Don't Care, an adaptation of the Impressions You'll Want Me Back, led by Kelly and produced by Riley, came pouring out of Reid's studio.

As a group, the Techniques were almost unequalled in the area of vocal harmony. Sticking to the theme of romantic love, unlike many other groups who focussed on protest songs, the group's falsetto sound kept them different.

Other members of the group at one time or another included Tyrone Evens, Jack Paris, Marvin Brooks, Lloyd Parks, and Winston Francis who had a stimulating piece on Go Find Yourself A Fool. All went on to be successful solo artistes, which bears testimony to the quality of the group.