Pioneer Hedley Jones

hedley photo

Hedley Jones and his twin-neck, five-string guitar he invented and built in 1961. Photo from Caribbean Quarterly.

The renowned historian and musicologist Garth White recently brought to my attention the contributions of Hedley H.G. Jones to the world of Jamaican music. So today Foundation Ska honors this great inventor and musician who was born on November 12, 1917 and is still alive and well in Montego Bay at 97 years young! Hedley changed music forever in Jamaica and throughout the world with his invention in 1940 of an electric guitar with amplifier. Although Rickenbacker and Gibson had been making electric guitars in the 1930s for use in the big bands and orchestras (so they could be heard over the large number of horns), these were not commercially available and certainly not in Jamaica, and Hedley’s was the first with a solid wood body. A photo of Hedley Jones in the Daily Gleaner on September 2, 1940 (seen below) features the caption, “AUTOMATIC GUITAR AND ITS MAKER Mr, H. G. Jones of Kingston who has, after a lot of experimenting, produced the Electric Spanish Guitar he is seen holding in the Picture. The principal feature of the guitar is its electro-magnet pick-up which has been made up from a pair of horse-shoe magnets and a number of stove bolts. The sound reproduction of the instrument is very good, as compared with the commercial types of electric Hawaiian guitars, a few of which are in the island. So far, Mr. Jones’ guitar is the first of its kind here, and should prove a success as the maker promises to go further into that branch of electricity. Says Mr. Jones: ‘It’s a pity that a few of our talented young men have not the ‘push’ to make ourselves of some benefit to this our island, but I hope to pursue the line I have started to a real success, provided I get the necessary encouragement to do so—-that’s in the line of L.S.D as these instruments are very costly ones’ to build.’”

 

hedley 1940

 

Hedley trained as an electronics technician during WWII and he went on to open his own electronics shop which also housed a record store called “Bop City” that sold records largely imported from England. He sold amplifiers, repaired equipment, and built sound systems. Then, in 1947 he built the first sound system, his own, which he used to amplify the sounds of the records he sold at his shop and demonstrate his skills as an electrician. After attracting a crowd, his first customer for one of these new sound systems was Tom “the Great Sebastian” Wong who went on to launch the era of sound systems that continues even today, all over the world.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, February 22, 1948.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, February 22, 1948.

Hedley was also president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians in the 1980s and 1990s. He spoke out against the use of technology in music which he felt replaced musicians with computers and eroded the art. He was outspoken on issues such as copyright infringement and he felt that the Jamaican music industry was rife with violations and any laws or contracts that protected the musician were frequently relegated to the trash can. He battled the hotels to use the musicians of the JFM rather than shirking their fees to obtain musicians who didn’t abide by professional standards. His son, Ron Jones, was also an electronics technician and musician and was blind. Ron died on March 20, 2000 at the age of 45 and his father Hedley performed in a jazz band at a celebration of his son’s life.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, September 19, 1950

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, September 19, 1950

You can hear Hedley Jones himself talk about his guitar here in an interview conducted by the esteemed historian Daniel Neely. The Caribbean Quarterly, December 2010, included a brilliant article entitled “The Jones High Fidelity Audio Power Amplifier of 1947,” written by Hedley Jones himself on how he invented the sound system. Here, the pioneer speaks:
IN THE YEAR 1940, I designed and built a solid Jamaican mahogany-body electric guitar, which required a special type of audio amplifier design that would properly respond to particular guitar sound frequencies generated from a magnetic transducer. The amplifier should be portable, responsive, self-contained with its own speaker and cabinet, and be able to accommodate at least two instruments. It should be equipped with individual volume and tone compensating controls; not the high cut-off tone control commonly used in radio circuits of those days, which served to subdue static noises, but specially designed electronic tone compensating circuits. This type of amplifier required knowledge of sound engineering. There were no amplifiers commercially available at that time for the required purpose. Most superheterodyne radio receivers were equipped with two stages of audio amplification and were totally inadequate and unsuitable for the reproduction of an electric guitar. Although there were some high-quality radio receivers around, owned by people with ample means (the famous Scott thirteen-tube superhet receiver sold by Frank E. Lyons and Company of Lyons’ Wharf in Kingston, for instance, used an output section of six valves in push-pull parallel circuitry, driving a thirty-inch electro-dynamic speaker weighing over eighty pounds, housed in a silverplated steel enclosure set on casters), such luxuries were not available to me for the simple reason that I could not afford them. I probed around for electronic literature, and discovered some audio circuit designs in electronic magazines, such as the British Wireless World, and the USA publications Radio Electronics and Electronics World. Using the information thus derived, I designed and, with some experimentation to avoid electronic feedback howls, produced a reasonable guitar amplifier of good response and fidelity.

I produced an electric guitar and amplifier for Fitz Collash, guitarist and music arranger for the Milton McPherson ten-piece orchestra. I supplied the band of the USA Military Expeditionary Force stationed at Vernamfìeld, Sandy Gully, Clarendon, with a guitar constructed from Jamaican mahoe and satin woods, along with a compensated amplifier using power pentode output tubes. The same was done for Don Hitchman of the Red Gal Ring Sugar Hill Club in St Andrew with the exception of the guitar, which was an American Gibson hollow-body concert model that I converted to electric. As was done for Hitchman, the same was done for Victor Brown, guitarist with the Redver Cooke Red Devils dance band; guitarist Gladstone Taylor of the Roy White dance orchestra; Jellicoe Barker, who led his quartet doing hotel duty on Jamaica’s north coast; and my own guitar-led sextet doing duty at the Silver Lining Club in downtown Kingston. My electric guitar served to bring me a sort of connoisseur status among musicians of the era.

Later, when I volunteered for war service and joined the British Royal Air Force in 1943, my commanding officer would give me the privilege of constructing and using an electric guitar during my war service. On my return from the war in 1946, I did electronic guitar conversions complete with amplifiers for Keith Stoddart of the Sonny Bradshaw Seven, and Ernest Ranglin of the Val Bennett Band. Bennett was a comical tenor-saxophone-playing bandleader – in the tradition of the colourful American Cab Calloway, who visited Jamaica with his band and was featured at the popular Carib Theatre in Cross Roads, Kingston, in or around 1950. Bennett wore colourful five-shilling Jamaica Government Savings Bank notes as lapel bouquets. Ernest Ranglin’s guitar-playing was a feature of the Bennett band as well as of the Colony Club band of 1951 led by Eric Deans (whose real name was Dudley McMillan). The devastating hurricane in August of that year put paid to one of my converted model guitars on loan to Ranglin.

I must note here that there were public address systems commercially available in at least one electronics store in downtown Kingston. These were RCA public address systems suitable for voice only, making use of piezo-electric microphones (crystal types). These systems were unsuitable for amplification of the electric guitar. Designing electronic guitar amplifiers made me acquire sound amplifier techniques, knowledge and experience not then known, nor available in Jamaica, and not practised elsewhere except by specialist electronic sound engineers. I had to design and wind my own power output transformers. This activity was always a very long and tedious process, done entirely by hand. The magnetic pick-ups used in my guitars were also hand-wound; and thanks to my very first apprentice – Duke Lawrence1 – who learnt very quickly to use my coil winding jig, made from a Meccano set and hand drill purchased from Hole In the Wall (a small variety hardware store in downtown Kingston, which also supplied me with appropriate gauges of magnet wire), I was always able to do a fairly good job.

But one day in 1941, something quite inadvertent took place. I received for repair a Marconi six-tube radio, which used an audio coupling transformer as a transducer in its output stage. I discovered the fault as a defective transformer, which I replaced with a new unit before delivering the finished job to its proud owner. The audio quality of the radio was so remarkable that I immediately, out of sheer curiosity, dismantled the discarded unit. The coils of the transformer were wound in four sections on two collapsible forms, the smaller inserted within the larger. I found that each section of the secondary winding had the electrical characteristics and physical proportions necessary to fit into the design of my guitar units. I had quite unexpectedly and ironically made a discovery that solved my guitar unit coil winding problems and freed Duke to concentrate on my guitar amplifier transformer designs. Duke’s obvious relief was my gain in achieving audio output transformer and guitar magnetic pick-up design unit perfection.

I continued to study the subject of sound engineering, eventually becoming quite adept in sound amplifier engineering designs. At this time I was also an electronics practitioner quite adept at radio repairs. The types of radios I was required to repair were: Zenith, Philco, Westinghouse, Marconi, Tesla, General Electric, RCA, His Masters Voice, Philips, Telefunken, Kolster Brandes, Sears, Pilot, Farnsworth, GEC of London, Hallicrafters, Scott, and a host of other makes, all available through Jamaican manufacturer’s representatives, who made a fetish of tying up any importation of foreign electrical home appliances on which they could lay their hands, making it well nigh impossible for anyone with entrepreneurial ability to import name-brand electronic parts or accessories, particularly at that time with a war on. This was an opportunity for introspection and innovation.

By 1943, with World War II having been in progress for over three years, I had made considerable innovative inroads, and my skills at radio repairs, manufacturing electric guitars and electric guitar amplifiers, as well as playing the guitar, had improved tremendously. On 8 May that year I made a decision to volunteer for war service in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). My aim, if I survived the war, was to become an electronic sound engineer of some reckoning; so I applied for the radar engineering category as an optional trade in that organisation, and was promptly told by the recruiting officer that my Third Year Pupil Teachers’ Examination Certificate obtained from the Jamaican school system – although it allowed me access to college training – did not qualify me for that category of electronic engineering. I should have been a matriculant. I was told I did not qualify for radio wireless engineering either, but the categories of wireless operator and electrician were available, either of which I could choose. I chose to be an electrician, and was subsequently called up, given a few weeks of military training at the Palisadoes Military Training Camp situated in Port Royal, and transferred to the Up Park Camp in Kingston for military fieldwork.

One year later, on Sunday 8 May 1944, I, along with two thousand other airmen and two thousand Jamaican farm workers destined for the USA, was put aboard an awful ship in Kingston Harbour – the SS Cuba – awful because it was dirty and unkempt. The ship set sail from the Kingston Harbour for Newport News, Virginia, USA. The ship docked at Newport News the following Thursday morning, 12 May. After undergoing a process called delousing, which entailed being sprayed with an unfamiliar chemical, we were made to pass through an automatic hot and cold shower – like a Jamaican cattle-dip process. The RAF group was subsequently carted off to Camp Patrick David.

After a further two weeks’ sojourn there, we were taken by rail to the city of New York, where we boarded a vessel that was included in a trans-Atlantic convoy. This was D-day six. Approximately nine days out of New York harbour, the convoy was put on U-boat alert. Depth charges were deployed and the convoy, which was scheduled to dock at Southampton, England, was diverted via the Irish Sea, to dock at Liverpool on 18 June. We RAF personnel were taken to Camp Filey in East Yorkshire for further training and orientation under wartime conditions. In August (by then I had gained a point in rank – from A2 to Ai – for aircraft recognition) we were called up for muster (orientation), and I again chose the radar engineering category. Little had I realised that the Jamaican recruiting officer (Mr Ernest Rae, Sr.) had recorded that I had considerable experience in electronic circuitry. The English RAF interviewing officer presented to me the schematic circuit diagram of a complicated superheterodyne radio receiver, then asked me five questions regarding the circuitry. I promptly answered three questions correctly, and another partially, while the answer to the fifth eluded me. The officer commended me with the following remark: “023 Jones, you are the type of man we want.” My RAF service number was 714023 – and he recommended me for training as a radar engineer.

Off to the Royal Technical College of Glasgow, a company of twenty- two, including me, was sent. From September 1944 to January 1945 we were given intense training in electrical theory, radio reception and transmission theory and practice, six days per week, ten hours per day. In February 1945, eighteen of the twenty-two, including myself, graduated from the college with diplomas in radio engineering. After a brief one-day holiday, off to the number 12 radio school in Swindon, Wales, we went for training in basic radar theory and practice. Another six weeks of intensive equipment-training ensued. Then we moved again. After further intensive training and successfully sitting the various written and oral examinations, we graduated from the number 3 radio school in Cosford, Midlands, in June as radar engineers. Fifteen of the original eighteen trainees graduated.

On 8 May 1945, victory in Europe was declared. I would spend another year in Europe doing various technical radar duties and services all over the British war-torn country, the nearby French coastline and Ireland.

On 8 May 1946, two thousand West Indian RAF personnel sailed out of the Scottish harbour of Glasgow City on the Norwegian vessel SS Bergensfjord,2 destined for our separate countries of abode and disbandment. On Sunday 19 May the ship set anchor in Port of Spain, Trinidad. On Monday we set sail for Jamaica; and after what so far had been an uneventful journey, an element of the Jamaican psyche for resisting insulting behaviour took hold when some Norwegian security police pointed a gun and used insulting remarks to a group of Jamaican airmen. The vehement protestations resulted in the military’s declaration of a mutiny at sea, the arrest of a few, and a diversion of the intended dispersion site from Palisadoes to the Mona prisonof-war camp (at the present site of the University of the West Indies). Here we went through the process of disbandment on 24 May.

As an aid to rehabilitation, we were given a choice between obtaining a two-acre plot of land in the parish of Trelawny or a repayable loan of fifty pounds. I selected the latter option, and in collaboration with a close RAF buddy, Altamont Edwards, opened an electronic service facility called “Premier Radio Service” at the odd address of 136 7A King Street in Kingston. The partnership lasted only a short while before Alty decided to do electrical installation and moved on to Montego Bay to ply his trade in the fast-expanding tourist industry. We decided on his keeping the name “Premier” and I moved on with the name “Hedley Jones’ Radio Service”. In December 1946 I took the decision to add a record sales department. It had transpired that as the war progressed, most of the big bands mentioned earlier had disintegrated, some of their personnel going into war service as I had done, while others went into formation of smaller groups serving the musical needs of the then rapidly growing tourist industry on Jamaica’s north coast.

The paucity of live music to which the urban population of Kingston had been accustomed resulted in a turn towards recorded music, which had begun to be supplied by three innovators: Count Goody and Count Nicholas out of western Kingston (Pound Road, now Maxfield Avenue), and Tom Wong, a small hardware store owner operating out of his business place in upper Luke Lane, Kingston. These perspicacious gentlemen had bought into the idea of supplying recorded music for house parties, and used some of the popular dance halls in the heart of downtown Kingston, such as Forrester’s Hall on North Street, Jubilee Tile Gardens on upper King Street, Success Club on Wildman Street, the People’s Onward Relief Association (PORA) on Laws Street and Central Branch School Hall on Church Street, to their advantage.

These popular dance halls that had in the pre-war and early war years accommodated the big bands providing live dance music for common folk, now featured what were commonly called “sound systems”3 – a Tom Wong designation. The sound system operators mentioned above used RCA PA systems with very limited audio range, as they were made for voice reproduction and their output mostly was with steel re-entrant horns as speakers. Where there existed a cone speaker, it was a small unit in a no-vent wooden enclosure hung from any convenient structure. The operators mentioned above depended on me to service their equipment. I made improvements where possible, but was limited by the original purpose of the equipment plus the speaker limitation. Except to point out these drawbacks, I made no attempt to sell to them ideas that perhaps they could ill afford.

I made a decision to sell recorded music, and immediately ran into a brick wall. The recordings used by the existing systems were mostly commercial 78-rpm discs of big band recordings of popular tunes from movie shows available from the four record sales departments downtown, or R&B discs brought back by returning war and farm workers or obtained by other means, fair or foul.

I discovered that it was impossible to import the most popular labels. The brands RCA, His Master’s Voice, Decca, Brunswick, Parlophone, Columbia and Capitol were all tied up by commission agents – mostly lawyers with offices along Kingston’s Tower and Duke Streets; and whatever was available had to be acquired via these commercial agents. Fortunately for me, during my sojourn in England, I had become acquainted with some export sources, which I immediately contacted. I was informed that they could comply with the supply of any label I desired. Thus began my foray into the sale of commercial recordings, which served to break the cartels. My English suppliers added the Savoy label, which covered recordings of all the American and European jazz greats of the era: the MGM label featuring the George Shearing Quartet and the voice of Billy Eckstine, as well as the Mellodisc label which featured the West Indian calypsonian great, Lord Kitchener. These labels with their offerings made a direct and astonishing impact on the record-buying public, as the sales were nothing short of phenomenal. I remember dispensing of a shipment of three hundred Mellodisc recordings of Lord Kitchener’s “Kitch Come Go to Bed” in only two days. The manufacturer’s representatives of the establishment, taken by surprise, did not take this interference very lightly, and I was later to suffer somewhat for my feistiness and effrontery.

For this my record-selling venture, I needed top-class reproduction, so I immediately imported two eighteen-inch English Celestian bass woofers (speakers) and half a dozen of the twelve-inch, heavy-duty variety. These arrived in February 1947. I mounted the woofers in bass reflex cabinets that I had constructed for them and turned to my trusted power amplifier designs to set them alive.

The amplifier I had prepared was of split spectrum design, powered by two RCA 807 power pentodes (designed for the modulation stages of highfrequency radio transmitters) in a 120-watt class ABi push-pull output configuration. The pre-amplifier section was built around active filters designed to split the audio frequency spectrum into three overlapping frequency components, fed into parallel-connected double triode cathode followers, each with their individual volume controls. This approach eliminated the need for the proverbial tone control, and the raucous surface noises that emanated from the old PA systems with their high audio hum, used to play gramophone recordings, were on their way out. The modern split-spectrum active-filter equaliser – although I did not recognise it then – had arrived.4

I had also designed and constructed a pre-amplifier with switch-selectable equalisation compensation for all the record manufacturing companies who provided non-active filter circuitry for their high-fidelity (hi-fi) micro-groove recordings just being put on the open market. The various compensations included Columbia, RCA, Decca, Philips, RIAA, and Orthroscopic circuit legends with claims of electronic compensation for the Fletcher-Munsen effect of the human ear.

My record sales department was given the name “Bop City” with a flashing electric sign espousing my radar technology; and although I sold a variety of recording labels with popular and R&B titles on 78-rpm discs, my accent was on the jazz development taking place and the new technology of hi-fi in stereo. I still have in my possession two such demonstration recordings of the era.

With my record sales department in place, I designed and built a highfidelity audio amplifier using my newly acquired electronic technology. Equipped with what I presumed to the best recorded sound reproducer anywhere, I set out on a Saturday night in mid-1947 to demonstrate my thunder. I started to play some Perez Prado recordings. A crowd gathered, and from the crowd emerged two streetside dancers. They called themselves “Pam-Pam” and “Chicken”. Little did I realise that Tom Wong’s sound was contracted to perform at the Jubilee Tile Gardens, almost opposite my business place. Tom’s puny sound with his re-entrant steel horns was no competition for my bass reflex baffles, mid-range speakers and high-range tweeters. His dance, in Jamaican parlance, flopped.

The following Monday morning, I was in for a surprise, as Tom paid me a visit, complete with cash down for one of my amplifiers. Within two weeks his system was transformed with a Jones amplifier and two bass reflex speaker baffles loaded with twelve-inch heavy-duty Celestian speakers. The true Jamaican sound system was born, and scratchy recorded noises receded into oblivion forever.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I deem it appropriate to end this essay with a few plaudits for some of the individuals who helped me along the way. My sincere thanks to Tom Wong, the first owner of one of my systems; Roy Johnston, salesman of Desnoes and Geddes Red Stripe Beer, and the very first user of my speaker horn-type baffle boxes, which were nicknamed the “House of Joy”; Duke Reid for giving me the opportunity to build his first two systems; Yellow Canary from Seaforth, St Thomas; Clement Dodd (“Coxon” the original until polluted to “Coxsone” by persons unknown); and many others from all over Jamaica, who lent their support. I also thank Mr Bridge of Times Store’s radio department, who recognised my potential for electronics and gave me discarded battery radios that I experimented with, and managed to convert to electric mains operation. Finally, I am grateful to Mr Galbraith, chief engineer of the firm of Wonard’s Radio Engineering in downtown Kingston, and an RAF buddy with like training, for recommending me to the Kingston Technical High School Board as the only one he thought capable of setting up their day-release classes to instruct students in radio technology. This I did for five years, from 1959 to 1964, thereafter pulling up roots and exiting Kingston for the friendly city of Montego Bay.

We thank Hedley Jones for graciously giving us permission to include this essay, an adaptation of a chapter of his forthcoming autobiography, in this publication.

NOTES

1. I originally trained six apprentices. First was Duke Lawrence, who subsequently became chief engineer for the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), London. Second was Arthur Hassan, subsequently employed to the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) studios, Kingston, as operator. Third was Fred Stanford, Duke Reid’s sound engineer for a decade. He migrated with his family to the USA in 1962, taking the Jamaican sound system expertise to the New York Borough of Brooklyn, from where he launched the Jamaican contribution to the world of electronic sound reproduction. Fred was a witty fellow. He found sobriquets for both sound operators Tom Wong and Duke Reid, naming Tom “The Great Sebastian” and Reid “The Trojan”. He also named Roy Johnston’s huge sound baffles “The House of Joy”. Fourth was Jackie Eastwood, who served as the sound engineer of Sir Coxsone Downbeat (Clement Dodd, chief executive officer of Studio One) from 1956 onwards, still operating from his electronic repair establishment in Kingston. Fifth was Neville Cha Fung. He migrated to the USA during the early fifties; there he pursued studies in electronics at the college level, emerging with a degree, before joining the family electronics sales business (KG’s) of Kingston. Sixth was Ucal Gillespie. He joined Fred Stanford in Brooklyn, New York, USA, during the late 1960s.

There were also others who emerged from my electronics classes at the Kingston Technical High School, which (as noted in my acknowledgements) I taught from 1959 to 1964. For example, there was Richards, whose first name eludes me at this juncture; this student migrated to the USA and pursued further studies in electronics, joining the NASA work force, where he was elevated to an electronic design engineer. Last but by no means least is Oval Lue, who emerged from my Kingston Technical High School classes to eventually become the chief engineer of JBC TV studios in Kingston.

2. Two years later, in the late summer of 1948, the British ship SS Windrush docked at the Victoria Pier in Kingston Harbour, discharging its human cargo of the last remnants of RAF service personnel wishing to be back home in Jamaica. The goodly ship then sailed out with the first wave of the mass emigration of Jamaicans to Great Britain that was to follow in subsequent years – and accompanying that emigration would be the initial entry of the Jamaican sound system that was to make a profound change to the music accepted as normal by the British people.

3. The sound system style of recorded music reproduction is a Jamaican phenomenon, of Jamaican originality, conceived on the science of electronic sound reproduction, firstly around my electric guitar amplifier designs of the early World War II years. This original initiative was considerably advanced by the training I received in the Royal Air Force (RAF) of Great Britain as a colonial war service volunteer airman (RAF radar engineer). There have been several claims and counter-claims as to origin, but the foregoing and what follows are the plain unadulterated facts, which may not be successfully refuted anywhere in the world. The identification by sundry writers of the 1960s to 1970s as the beginning of the sound system/dancehall era, is woefully off-base. Those days saw the growth and enhancement of the phenomenon as a result of the proliferation of recorded music and local recording studios, and the rapid expansion of radio and television broadcasting as well as the rise of road bands. Until the publication of Norman Stolzoffs Wake the Town and Tell the People (Durham, NC: Duke, 2000), there had been no proper investigation of the subject. And even Stolzoff was misled in certain aspects, perhaps inadvertently by individuals who were too young to know. I must also emphasise that considerable research was done on early designs of audio power amplifiers; and those who benefited most did not have a clue regarding the design origins.

Persons who wish to call themselves musicologists ought to avail themselves of any opportunity to make a scientific study of the art of music. One typical example of the use of natural resonance can be found in the design of the brass instruments of an orchestra. The instruments are designed using the natural harmonics of any given note or sound so that only three valves are found necessary to produce myriad octaves of musical tones by the application of human choice and ingenuity. This simply means that music is of cosmic origin and retains both beneficial and destructive powers, depending on its use. This comment is not intended as a barb. I do hope my readers consider this sound advice.

4. Two gentlemen – Mr Baldwin Lennon, musicologist, a government civil servant who subsequently became chief accountant for the commercial firm of H. D. Hopwood and Company Ltd., and Mr Oscar Durant, violinist and musicologist, at the time senior shorthand writer of the Supreme Court of Jamaica – bought into my invention. In 1950 I designed and built a three-channel stereo audio amplifier. Each channel – bass, mids and highs – was fed via an active filter into triode cathode followers (in order to minimise audio hum) with individual volume control and a complete amplifier power output stage, each into its own separate speaker system. This surely was a very complex arrangement at that time. These gentlemen each purchased a system complete with a pre-amplifier with equalised compensation (Fletcher-Munsen equalisation) for any recording from any recording company they chose. The reader will recognise, and please pardon, the foregoing as technical jargon. This could hardly have been avoided, considering what is being described.

My own prototype, a bit cumbersome, disintegrated when I moved from the capital city to Montego Bay in 1965, but I produced another three-channel stereo system for Mr Peter Honiball, owner and operator of the famous Club 35 of Montego Bay, in 1966. Most of what I retained, including my very first design of a twin bass guitar (1961), suffered from irretrievable damage in a very devastating flood that damaged my business place in Montego Bay on the night of 12 June 1979. I am still in possession of an amplifier for electronic instruments which I designed and built in 1956, as well as my present 70-watter built in 1986 and still in use. All my amplifiers have been tube (USA)/valve (UK) types.

Author Affiliation

HEDLEY JONES is an historical figure in the development of modern Jamaican music. He is the author of Jamaica electronic sound technology, an important agency in the articulation of the modern global soundscape.

Hedley Jones is also a musician and performed with the Jamaica All-Stars, as noted in this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, April 19, 1964.

Hedley Jones is also a musician and performed with the Jamaica All-Stars, as noted in this advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, April 19, 1964.

 

Here is an article that appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner on August 24, 1987 written by Carmen Patterson with the title, “Hedley Jones, inventor, creating the unusual.”

AS AN inventor, St Catherine-born Hedley Jones, has had no fame, nor has he made a fortune He gets satisfaction from doing and creating things that are different from the usual A radar electronics engineer trained by the RAF in World War II Hedley read of the development of the electric guitar m the United States in 193O s and took nine months of continuous work to create the first solid-body electric guitar in 194O His was an advancement on American guitarist Charlie Christian s electrified standard model, made by Gibson Guitar Company, USA Twenty years later, Hedley built the twin-neck electric five-string bass and guitar, the only one of its kind Over the years he has built several amplifiers, one of which, although 32 years old, is still in use today. As a young musician, who was taught vocals by his parents, Hedley resolved never to play a manufactured instrument and set about building his own Ukelele, tenor banjo and a cello and bow, all of which he played well as a child JFM’s President Hedley Jones is widely known as the decisive president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, who some members consider harsh. His aim is to instil discipline among performers, by dealing with the problems of drug abuse and indecency on stage. To this end, the JFM, through its president, recently suspended Gregory Isaacs from the Federation due to a number of court appearances on charges of cocaine involvement and at the recent Festival Song Finals Lovindeer’s performance, carried live on national television, was chicled by the JFM because of his choice of songs and props. Medley is also concerned about the quality of lyrics that is being unleashed on the public and cites the urgent need for our musicians to be formally trained so that the local product can progress professionally and commercially. He has been involved in the transition of Jamaican music before he built Studio One on Brentford Road, Kingston and worked as recording engineer in the -Coxon Studio for Bob Marley’s classic ‘It hurts to be atone’. As designer he created the early sound systems used by Tom ‘The Great Sebastian’, Coxon, Duke Reid, Mellow Canary and others. He’s also known as guitar teacher and stage performer at such old Kingston favourites as Glass Bucket Club and Carib Theatre with the 20-piece Carlysle Henriques Orchestra of the early 40s featuring Mapletoft Poulle, Joe Harriot and Wilton Gaynier. He’s known at the Cellar Club, Club 35, Breezy Point and Tryall Club in western Jamaica. Astronomy fascinates him But only very close associates know of Hedlev’s fascination for astronomy and his obsession with research in history — whether Black, Indian, Chinese or Mexican — and the scriptures. He has reams of notes from his research that just this month he organised to have typed, for posterity. His love for the outer worlds spurred him to build a telescope 16 years ago, which he used to re-discover Halley’s Comet on the night of November 2, 1985. And every night otter a day’s work as an electronics engineer In Montego Bay, Hedley makes preparation to gaze at the stars from 1O p.m. to 3 a.m. It was in April 1956 while watching the planets Jupiter and Venus in close western coni unction with the new moon, that the inspiration came for the first and only poem he has written. It says in part: I LOOKED: A western planetary conjunction; a wonderous sight; As if to outshine the crescent moon, did Venus and Jupiter shed their light. AND LO! The tri-starred orion with Sirius, Green Dog Star gay, imbued with perspective; exquisite nebulae! An act of nature’s interplay. Amid transcendent, immaculate and resplendent beauty. The cosmic scene stood vigil, sentinel of life’s eternal duty. I WONDERED! How prone was man to spurn his maker. This was the perfect picture God the master painter. “A look into the outer world makes me humble. Sometimes seeing certain aspects of the Heavens for the first strikes a feeling of unbelief for a time, but never to the point where I feel I shouldn’t look. I always want to take a second and third look to make sure that what I saw is really there. But seeing it again and again, does not dispel my awe”, he beamed. Studying the effects of astral travel Hedtev’s Insatiable appetite for knowledge, especial ly of the spiritual world, also led him to study the effects of astral travel. He said those who possess the gift should not be frightened of it, but use It to develop greater knowledge at the time of travel. He disclosed that one night, during man’s first landing on the moon, lust as he was about to fall asleep he found himself looking down at his body lying in the bed. He recalled learning that during such ‘spirit travel’ the traveller could learn any subject he wished. So, because he always wanted to know more about the moon, he said aloud, ‘Moon’. In a flash he found himself landed on the moon. But he didn’t stay long, because shortly after he landed, he woke up. Hedley’s life-long ambition has been to establish a planetarium In Montego Bay and he completed a feasibility study on the project in 1978. However, because of red tape it fell through. But being the patient and determined person he is, Hedley has not given up the Idea and intends to revitalise the project. For him the planetarium would mean ‘that every child in Jamaica would have a chance to look above him, into the vault of the sky — and that’s striving for the highest goal. Isn’t It?”

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, December 15, 1955.

Advertisement from the Daily Gleaner, December 15, 1955.

Charley Organaire–Master of the Harmonica

Charley Organaire, center

Charley Organaire, center

You may know Charley Organaire best from his harmonica solo in Stranger Cole’s classic “Rough and Tough,” (listen to it here: Rough and Tough), or over 1,000 other Jamaican recordings over the years, but did you know that Charley is still going strong, singing and harmonizing all over the world? His song, “I Never Stop Loving You” was featured in the classic movie “Love Jones.” And Charley Organaire is performing tonight in his hometown since the mid-1970s, Chicago, to kick off his European tour with the Prize Fighters, a stellar band from Minneapolis. Charley Organaire, along with Roy Richards, was responsible for pretty much all of the harmonica in ska and rocksteady, even reggae, during the 1960s and 1970s in Jamaica (unless you count Lee Jaffe on Bob Marley’s “Talkin’ Blues,” because we all know, he sure likes to count himself!). The harmonica is an important but overlooked instrument in Jamaican music. But the harmonica not only provides lyrical musical harmonies—it also gives Jamaican music its spine, the essential rhythm that makes ska ska, rocksteady rocksteady, and reggae reggae.

Smoooooth moooooves! Charley Organaire

Smoooooth moooooves! Charley Organaire

Charley not only performed the harmonica back in Jamaica, but he also sang. In fact, in 1967, at a New Year’s Day show, a three-hour show at the Ward Theatre, Organaire was touted for his vocal performance. The Daily Gleaner article on January 3, 1967 stated, “One of the featured singers, Charlie Organaire, brought down the house with such popular hits as ‘Goodnight My Love,’ and ‘Stand’ By Me’ and was called back to give another performance.” As Rico Rodriguez would say, “Nice!”

Charley Organaire

Charley Organaire

According to the Jump Up! Records website, which is the label founded and operated by Chicago ska, rocksteady, and reggae authority Chuck Wren, Charley Organaire has a rich history as a musician and entertainer. The Jump Up! website states, “Charles Cameron was born in Kingston, Jamaica on March 20, 1942. He was inspired by the singing of his mother Louise, and his neighbor Mr. Randolph, a mean harmonica player. From the early age of 5, Charles started performing in neighborhood concerts, churches, and lodge halls – reciting poems, singing and playing his plastic harmonica. At the age of 9, a talent scout named Vere Johns had Charles performing on the “Opportunity Knocks” radio program and at various theatres in Kingston, such as the Palace, Ambassador, Gaity, and Majestic. He performed with all the big singers like Jimmy Tucker, Winston Samuels, and Laurel Aitken, plus was a side-kick to Bim and Bam, Jamaica’s leading comedians at the time. In his teens, Charley “Organaire” Cameron performed with big bands lead by Carlos Malcolm and Sonny Bradshaw. Then Charles teamed up with Bobby Aitken and formed a band called the Carribeats, recording the hit track “Never Never” with Bobby on vocals, Charley on harmonica. Charley “Organaire” was now unstoppable, becoming a well known studio musician performing on sessions with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, The Tenors, Derrick Morgan, Millie Small, Toots and the Maytals, Phyllis Dillon, Stranger Cole, and Lord Creator. The “Organaire” worked for the biggest labels in Jamaica: Prince Buster, Studio 1, Beverly’s, Duke Reed, Treasure Island, Highlights and King Edwards. Charley also started producing hits for his Organaire label, most notibly “Little Village/Little Holiday”, “London Town”, Illusive Baby”, “Sweet Jamaica”, “Your Sweet Love”, and “Let me Go”. Being one of the most popular entertainers in Jamaica, he moved to the north coast and worked in the tourist industry. Playboy, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Yellow Bird, you name it, he played there. Charles moved to Chicago in the late 70’s, eventually forming his own band called “The Charles Cameron & Sunshine Festival”. The “Organaire” band played in various night clubs, for major corporations, and political functions throughout Chicago including events for former Mayors Harold Washington and Jane Burn. Charles also played at Chicago Fest, Festival of Life, Taste of Chicago, and the African Fest. Charley “Organaire” Cameron continues to write and record to this day, the title track from his “Never Stop Loving You” CD appeared in the movie “Love Jones” starring Nia Long and Lorenzo Tate, and his newly released “Friends” CD features collaborations with Charlie Hunt and Steve Bradley. In 2012/2013 Charlie Organaire became a regular fixture at Chicago’s Jamaican Oldies productions at Mayne Stage, performing with Stranger Cole, Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison, Eric Monty Morris, Derrick Morgan, Derrick Harriott and Dennis Alcapone.”

 

Daily Gleaner article from December 24, 1967

Daily Gleaner article from December 24, 1967

My friend Aaron Cohen wrote a fantastic article on Charley Organaire in Thursday’s Chicago Tribune. Here is the text from that article:

“Charley “Organaire” Cameron is a harmonica player and singer, but sitting in the Good To Go Jamaican restaurant in Rogers Park, he is regarded somewhere between a celebrity and favorite uncle. He deserves both roles.
More than 50 years ago, Organaire performed in the instrumental section on a plethora of pivotal early Jamaican ska and rocksteady recordings. Since 1976 he has lived in Chicago, where he’s worked in different musical idioms; until relatively recently only a few fans knew about his historical role. But his upcoming first European tour will focus on the music that he helped originate.
“Charley was the harmonica sound of ska music, as well as an important arranger,” said Chuck Wren of Chicago’s Jump Up Records, which released three new Organaire ska singles this month. “He was on so many sessions; that Wailers tune you hold closest to your heart could have been 90 percent arranged by him.”
All of which began simply enough. Organaire listened to his mother sing and a neighbor play harmonica while he was growing up in 1950s Kingston. He heard different music through Radio Jamaica and from signals farther away.
“That one radio station in Jamaica would play country, blues, jazz and classical music,” Organaire said over glasses of Caribbean ginger beer. “A Cuban station would play Latin music. But where all music came from is basically the R&B from New Orleans.”
When Organaire was a teenager, he picked up a chromatic harmonica, which could play all 12 notes on a scale, as opposed to the more typical diatonic model that covers eight. His colorful tone and dexterity throughout shifting tempos made him valuable on pioneering ska and rocksteady recordings by the Wailers, Prince Buster and Jimmy Cliff. He owned his own record label, also called Organaire, which released his locally popular “Elusive Baby.”
“Back then we’d start every day at 9 in the morning and do no less than eight songs for each session,” Organaire said. “I had a great time working with (saxophonists) Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso. Since they were jazz guys, I learned so much from them.”
Those lessons proved helpful when Organaire got fed up with the Kingston record industry’s often desultory (at best) payment system, and he left to work in hotels and resorts on the country’s north coast. He’s still amazed that tourists preferred hearing him sing jazz standards instead of Jamaica’s own music.
After Organaire accepted an invitation to play in a Greek venue in Chicago in 1976, he stayed here. That gig turned into engagements at the Latin clubs that thrived here decades ago, including El Mirador and Las Vegas in Humboldt Park.
“I would play salsa and a little jazz,” Organaire said. “I’d also sing ‘My Way.’ It didn’t matter if you were from China; everybody knew ‘My Way.'”
A show at the reggae club the Wild Hare led to Organaire’s appearance singing his ballad “I Will Never Stop Loving You” in the 1997 film “Love Jones.” But for the past 27 years, his contributions have not just been musical. He has also worked on behalf of Chicago Concerned Jamaicans, a foundation that raises money to provide scholarships to needy students on the island.
“One student’s mother had six children and couldn’t afford a home,” Organaire said. “We helped her through a scholarship, and now she’s an engineer.”
Organaire’s generosity also emerged two years ago when he began participating in the Jamaican Oldies concerts that Wren has organized at Mayne Stage. Along with performing, Organaire helps the veteran artists feel more at ease working with much younger American backing ensembles. The musicians in one such group, the Minneapolis-based Prizefighters, have been fans of Organaire’s early ’60s sessions and perform on his new recordings. He does not expect this to be the last generation to rediscover his legacy.
“When the right time comes, all you have to do is be ready,” Organaire said. “If you stop, it’s over, and I will keep going on until I drop.”

Read even more about Charley Organaire here: World of Harmonica article

Read an interview with Charley here: Reggae Vibes interview

And visit Charley’s website: Charley’s website

And see Charley with the Prize Fighters on tour: Tour

Here’s a great blog post on the harmonica in Jamaican music: Harmonica

 

Goodbye Mr. Goody

Graeme Goodall at the controls with Coxsone Dodd and Owen Grey.

Graeme Goodall at the controls with Coxsone Dodd and Owen Grey.

It is with heavy heart that I dedicate this week’s Foundation Ska blog post to Graeme Goodall who died this past Wednesday, December 3rd. Graeme was a good friend who had generously provided me with numerous interviews over the years and was always ready to answer any question I had. He had a terrific sense of humor and deeply loved his wife Fay, recalling their days together at dances when she was pregnant, her little bun in the oven jumping to the bass of Downbeat’s sound system. Graeme was crucial to Jamaican music in so many ways it is almost daunting to write a blog post about him—he deserves so much more. But I shall give it a go and hope you will all chime in with your memories and thoughts in the comments section below.

 
Graeme Goodall was known affectionately as Goody. He was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1932 and died at the age of 82, although you’d never guess he was that old. His spirit and lucidity could trick you into thinking he was at least two decades younger, and his memory of minute details was sharp as a tack. He was a studio engineer for Ken Khouri’s Federal Records an in July, 2011 he told me in an exclusive interview how that came to be.

 
“I went from Australia to England in 1932 mainly to study more than anything else. In 1954 I was working for a commercial broadcasting station in Melbourne but I looked around and everybody older than me looked very very healthy, including the chief engineer and I figured, I better do something to leap frog over them. At the time the Australians were very into going overseas because they had been restricted through the Second World War and so I went to England, dead broke. I needed to send enough money for my ticket I suppose so I worked selling appliances that that didn’t last long so I worked my way into a company called IBC-UPC, International Broadcasting Company, Universal Program Corporation, and they did programs for Radio Luxembourg and they also did recordings and were probably the largest independent recording studio in Great Britain and so one way or the other I was trained as an engineer and they got me into doing remote broadcasts, or remote recordings actually, of shows like ‘Shilling A Second,’ ‘People Are Funny,’ ‘Strike It Rich,’ and during the week we had to make recordings of people like Petulla Clark. During that time, one of the girls who worked there in a sort of secretarial position said why don’t you go down there and see R.P. Gabriel who is chief engineer of a company called Rediffiusion, and Rediffusion, of course, had commercial broadcasting stations throughout the British Commonwealth, specifically the British Empire, countries that had not achieved independence. It was sort of funny because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man in king. They had no commercial broadcasting engineers in the U.K., so it was down to the Canadians and the Australians. So I guess I passed with flying colors at the Rediffusion house in London and they said we’ve got two positions going—one in Nigeria, one in Jamaica, and I thought about that for a while and to be honest with you, I’d been so much an engineer that I forgot about geography, so I called an uncle of mine and he said, ‘Come out old chap and have tea with us,’ so I went out to his house and he said, ‘I thought the Goodalls were smart, and they offered you a job in Nigeria and Jamaica? My cousin Tom,’ who was my father, ‘I didn’t think he’d breed an idiot! What are the times?’ and I said, ‘Well, Nigeria is 18 months and Jamaica three years,’ and he said, ‘Well shouldn’t that tell you something?’ I said, ‘Well not really.’ He said, ‘We send British people down to Nigeria,’—he worked for the British government, he said, ‘They’ve had enough after 18 months!’ I said, ‘Oh! Okay, thank you!’ So I went to BOAC and I got a map of the place and it was a tourist brochure that was obviously 30 or 40 years old with voluptuous-looking ladies walking around and I said, ‘Well that sounds good,’ and so I signed up for three years for Radio Jamaica. I was always a studio person, an audio man plain and simple.

 
We designed and put on the island’s first commercial FM service in the British Commonwealth in 1954 in Jamaica, in a time when you couldn’t buy FM transmitters and we put it in basically as a studio transmitter link, and STL from Kingston, which is where the studios were, into Montego Bay. It was a double hop across the island and it just worked out that it was a wonderful system and people started buying FM radios from the United States that were definitely better quality and at the same time, they had a network of amplifiers made by the parent company. So that’s kind of how it all sort of started.

 
This went very well for three years and my three-year contract was up and I had three months of fully-paid vacation and the equivalent of paid airfare back to England, so I said, well that’s good, I’ve got three months paid for, so I cashed in my return ticket to England, flew to Miami, went Greyhound across to San Francisco and got a ship from San Francisco back down to Sydney, a train down to Melbourne and used all of my fare allowance on betting back to Australia. That went very well, everything was fine, but after about two weeks I got bored to tears and I talked my way into working in television in Melbourne. I worked there for about four months and Jamaica started calling me, the government started calling me, saying they were putting in a government broadcasting, not just as a competition, but as an adjunct to Radio Jamaica—we need you back here to put it all in and by the way, there’s a ticket on the way if you need it. I was 25 or 26 and all of my friends were settled down and I was the last person they wanted to see around the house. I’m a single bachelor, making good money, wearing American clothes, and they didn’t want me around, so I was short of friends and all of my other friends were back in Jamaica, so I said okay, back I go! I flew Pan Am back to Jamaica and that was my second stint with RJR, and that time it was for JBC Broadcasting, which was exciting because it was a new approach.

 
Out of the RJR concert studio, which I’d already built, I utilized all sorts of things like outside broadcast equipment to get extra mic input, and the famous story that goes down in history is that I converted the men’s lavatory into an echo chamber, which was quite interesting. So that’s all the original Island Records, the Caribs, Laurel Aitken, Wilfred Edwards, people like that, we recorded them all at Radio Jamaica Studios. I’d go home and relax a bit, maybe go out and dance with the Caribs a bit and we’d all go back into the studios around midnight and record until about four or five o’clock in the morning, go home, get a couple hours sleep, and come back and work at Radio Jamaica all day. How I survived, I don’t know.

 
I built a studio, a very primitive studio up on King Street in the back of Ken Khouri’s furniture store. The only person who was making records at that time was Stanley Motta and you couldn’t really call it making records, although I guess it was making records because he was cutting the record disc, but Ken Khouri wanted to do something a little bit better, so I advised him. He got a mic recorder, a tape recorder, some microphone and I threw a studio together for him and so he started making records. And that was progressing and people don’t realize that Ken Khouri and his wife, Gloria, they were the principal owners of Federal Records. Actually it started off as Records Limited up on King Street and one of the big shareholders in Records Limited was Alec Durie who owned Times Records. And Time Store is probably the biggest retailer of phonograph records, so this is how it all came about. Ken started pressing records. I know he had the Mercury franchise and he started pressing Mercury Records so when he got more into it and it was obviously a money-making venture, he built this studio that became Federal Records, and it was rather primitive and I don’t know how it all came about, but all of us started talking and I said, the hell with Radio Jamaica. I quit Radio Jamaica, went down there and literally took the studio under my wing and also the cutting system and we could do everything when they walked into Federal Records. They make a noise and they would end up with a finished product. And that was the secret. Ken Khouri literally saw it as I saw it. There’s no point in making a disc and sending it away, because it has to go through several processes and then it would come back, you’d have to order the labels and it was restrictive because if it took off you’d have to wait for product to come back from England and it did not make any sense. So Ken had the foresight and I had the technical knowledge and we managed to pull it all together and everybody came to Federal Records.

 
I remember when I said to Ken, we got a problem here. We’ve got to get some echo in here somehow. He said, what does that require? I said, well I could design an echo chamber. I could modify the equipment, which I did. I rebuilt a lot of it to make it a lot more professional and I said I’d design an echo chamber and tag it on the back there. He said, that sounds good. All the walls were a different angle from one another. The Jamaicans that we got to build it refused totally to build it. And I remember one of them talking to Ken and they didn’t figure that I could understand. They said, ‘It’s not right, Mr. Khouri, it’s not right. We cyaan build it because all the walls dem different,’ (laughs). I figured it all out, these guys were used to putting up walls vertical, floors and ceilings horizontal, and everything at 90 degree angles from one another. And Ken said, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing but trust me, you’ve got to do it his way.’ So we built it that way and I think that was one of the primary things because then when we started adding reverb, it brought it into a completely different area. And that was the start of Federal Records.
I went down to this horrible place in Trench Town in my little Mini Minor and I went up to Coxsone’s dance on a Friday night and I went up to the guy at the door and I said, ‘Where’s Downbeat?’ and they all sort of looked at me and said, ‘Just a minute,’ so he said, ‘Come on in,’ and it was amazing, all these people, there was probably a couple hundred people or more, and they all looked at me, ‘Who is this apparition? Did this guy just fall out of the sky? Is this the fifth coming of Christ?’–this gory-looking white guy in the sound system dance in Trench Town, and this little Chinese girl. And then all of a sudden Coxsone appeared and said, ‘Hey Mr. Goody, yuh make it deh, come, lek me buy yuh a drink.’ So I walked through and when Coxsone came it was like the Red Sea parting and he just walked through and I walked through with him and the crowd parted between us, and then it was the funniest thing because a lot of people that I knew, like Bim Bim and people like that that work for Coxsone, it was different. ‘Let me buy you a drink, Mr. Goody,’ ‘What do you want to drink, Mr. Goody,’—all of a sudden we’re exalted and they’ve got to buy me a drink, and my wife was all upset because this bass boominess was upsetting the baby that she was carrying. The baby started moving because the bottom end was so heavy. I could see the look on her face saying, ‘What’s going on here?!’ And I heard exactly what I had to do to make this record for the people. Because now I could see what they wanted. And I could feel what they wanted. So I went back to Federal the next week and I knew exactly what I had to do, I knew exactly how I had to do it and how exactly I had to weigh it down. And this is the problem that all these other people, including, I have to say it, Eddie Seaga, who I would love to be in there, but he never really understood what he had to get out there to influence the people. So that was it.”

 
Over the years, Graeme shared with me stories of the artists themselves, the producers, the wives, and tales of life in Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s which I have included throughout my books. I am forever thankful to Graeme for all he has given me—the history, the music, and most of all, the friendship. We all should be profoundly thankful for all he has given to Jamaican music. You will be deeply missed, my friend. Love to you. To see Graeme Goodall interviewed in the flesh, make sure to catch a screening of Brad Klein’s Legends of Ska film which is now showing at locations all over the globe, including next week in Havana, Cuba!

THE AUSSIE CONNECTION: (From left) Graeme Goodall, who came to Jamaica in 1995 to help set up RJR’s broadcast system; Lloyd ‘Mohair Slim’ Dewar, receiving on behalf of his friend Lowell Morris of the band The Caribs; Dennis Sindrey; and Peter Stoddart of The Caribs. Morris, Sindrey and Stoddart came to Jamaica in 1958 and added a flavour to the music. (Photos: Jermaine Barnaby)

THE AUSSIE CONNECTION: (From left) Graeme Goodall, who came to Jamaica in 1995 to help set up RJR’s broadcast system; Lloyd ‘Mohair Slim’ Dewar, receiving on behalf of his friend Lowell Morris of the band The Caribs; Dennis Sindrey; and Peter Stoddart of The Caribs. Morris, Sindrey and Stoddart came to Jamaica in 1958 and added a flavour to the music. (Photos: Jermaine Barnaby)

Plenty Bottle of Kola Wine

Advertisement for kola wine in the Daily Gleaner in 1901

Advertisement for kola wine in the Daily Gleaner in 1901

The lyrics of the classic song “Sweet and Dandy,” written by Frederick Hibbert, known to us as Toots, tell of a young couple’s wedding day jitters and reassurances from their family, who have spent money on food and refreshments for the assembled guests. As I sing along, I belt out the words, “kola wine,” realizing that I, once again, have no idea what I’m warbling! So I decided to check it out, for those non-Jamaicans like me, so we can know the history of this beverage called kola wine with the hopes that I may someday try a glass and toast to Toots himself.

Advertisements for kola wine first appear in the Daily Gleaner in 1900. One ad describes this new drink:

It is a powerful Stimulant, A Pure Product, Palatable as well as Nourishing, An Agreeable Beverage that is also a Nutritive Tonic. It is tolerated by the weakest stomach and is a substitute for solid food in cases of acute disease and is valuable to digestion in all chronic conditions including mal-assimilation of food. In cases of acute disease in which other nourishment cannot be received, Club Brand Kola Wine is effective and easily bourne. But perhaps its widest usefulness is among chronic invalids, those convalescing from wasting illnesses, those who are constitutionally feeble and those who are temporarily or frequently require a tonic.

Advertisement for kola wine from the Daily Gleaner in 1900

Advertisement for kola wine from the Daily Gleaner in 1900

The advertisement goes on to state that it is good for “various ailments” including dyspepsia, asthma, sea sickness, diarrhea, heart weakness, following fevers, brain and nerve ailments, neuralgia and migraines, and as a general tonic to aid circulation. These advertisements are not unlike those of Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper in the same era in the United States and elsewhere. The “stimulant” found in kola wine is, like Coca-Cola and other popular soft drinks, caffeine, which is found in the cola nut used in production of both Coca-Cola and kola wine. The nuts have been used for centuries as a diuretic, stimulant, cardiac tonic, astringent, and anti-depressive.

Coca-Cola advertisement from 1886

Coca-Cola advertisement from 1886

These sorts of tonics were and are still popular in Jamaica and among Jamaican musicians. Pianist Herman Sang revealed to me that Don Drummond was known to drink a tonic in the studio, although it is unknown exactly what it was. Sang told me, “I noticed that he had this brown bag, a paper bag with something that looked like a one pint little bottle and he would bring it and put it beside the piano, like on the ground where the piano was. And whenever we had a break he would come over and open the bag and nobody really knew what it was. Maybe it was an energy drink! (laughs) But I always remember that.” Kola wine? Perhaps! Drummond’s favorite drink, however, was limeade or a concoction of Ovaltine and clay.

A Jamaica Observer article on September 1, 2003 revealed more information about what is called “root tonics.” Author Gwyneth Harold writes, “There is a variety of roots wines in the supermarkets and on bar shelves. They have names like Zion, Baba, Allman Strength Roots Drink, Lion Brand, Kola Wine, Magnum, Ginger Joy, Ginger Wine with Ginseng, and Pump It Up. They have stiff competition from the ‘small man’ who mixes a batch in his kitchen and sells it unlabelled out of a knapsack under names like Front End Lifter. Some of the roots drinks claim to be specially recommended for those ‘suffering from a run down constitution’ or ‘fatigue.’ Some say that they are number one in their class for enhancing one’s energy level ú taking it to a whole new plateau. The makers of Magnum proudly declare their drink to be with ‘Vigorton 2′ – a popular drink of an earlier time that was immortalised in ska by Lee Scratch Perry and King Stitt. There are also virility claims because some of the natural ingredients contain aphrodisiacs such as peanut root, sarsaparilla and medina. . . . Pump It Up, itself used to be known as Samsons Wine, The modern blend has 27 roots. It is recommended for adults only. A serving size of roots drinks ranges from one to two wine glasses. But while they are a popular part of Jamaican culture, we wondered if there were any standards in place to regulate these beverages. Diane Robertson, registered pharmacist, herbal consultant and author of ‘Live Longer, Look Younger With Herbs’, explained that one of the first distinctions to be made was the difference between roots tonic wine and a roots drink or roots juice. Tonics are for perking up the system, she said, but once the word tonic was on a bottle, it had to be registered by the Ministry of Health (MOH).” The article goes on to advocate regulation and proper labeling.

Below are the lyrics to “Sweet and Dandy” as well as a link to the song. Please post below if you have tried kola wine and share your experiences—for those who are unfamiliar with the beverage, like I am, we’d love to know your thoughts!

Listen to the song here and see Toots & the Maytals perform this classic in the film The Harder They Come: Sweet and Dandy

Sweet and Dandy
By Toots & the Maytals

Etty in the room a cry
Mama say she must wipe her eye
Papa say she no fi foolish
Like she never been to school at all

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

Johnson in the room afret
Uncle say he must hold up him head
Aunty say he no fi foolish
Like a no time fi his wedding day

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

One pound ten for the wedding cake
Plenty bottle of kola wine
All the people them dress up in a white
Fi go eat out Johnson wedding cake

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

Etty in the room a cry
Mama say she must wipe her eye
Papa say she no fi foolish
Like she never been to school at all

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

Johnson in the room afret
Uncle say he must hold up him head
Aunty say he no fi foolish
Like a no time fi his wedding day

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

One pound ten for the wedding cake
Plenty bottle of kola wine
All the people them dress up in a white
Fi go eat out Johnson wedding cake

It is no wonder
It’s a perfect pander
While they were dancing
In that bar room last night

But they were sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy

Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy
Sweet and dandy

They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy
They were sweet and dandy

Remembering Bim Bim

Bim Bim, also known as Allan Scott or James McKenzie, from the Jamaica Observer, 11/20/14

Bim Bim, also known as Allan Scott or James McKenzie, from the Jamaica Observer, 11/20/14

I saw a post by Mark Williams yesterday that Allan “Bim Bim” Scott had just passed away. He died on October 20, 2014 and a service in his honor took place on November 16th. I thought this would be an opportunity to talk about Bim Bim who was Coxsone Dodd’s associate producer, without whom we may not have one of the most impressive set of recordings of Skatalites tunes, for Justin Yap on his Top Deck label.

First, let us read the article that Howard Campbell wrote in the November 20, 2014 edition of the Jamaica Observer on the burial of Bim Bim, whose name was James McKenzie, although most knew him y Allan (sometimes spelled Alan) Scott or Bim Bim:

Dodd’s ally laid to rest

Thursday, November 20, 2014

James ‘Bim Bim’ McKenzie

JAMES ‘Bim Bim’ McKenzie, a close associate of producer Clement Dodd during the 1960s and early 1970s, died on October 20 at the Kingston Public Hospital at age 74.

The St Mary-born McKenzie was also known as Alan Scott. The thanksgiving service for his life took place last Saturday at the Dovecot Chapel in St Catherine.

He was interred at the Dovecot cemetery.

Scott worked with Dodd at his Studio One label when it was transitioning from rocksteady to reggae in the early 1970s. He is said to have been instrumental in introducing singer Winston ‘Burning Spear’ Rodney to Dodd, as well as a group of musicians out of Linstead who ‘changed’ the Studio One sound.

Those musicians were the Soul Defenders band which included percussionist Joseph Hill who later found fame as singer Culture.

McKenzie eventually left the music business and moved to Prospect, St Thomas, where he went into farming.

James ‘Bim Bim’ McKenzie is survived by two children (Anice Scott Mullings-Anderson and Michael Scott), four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

– Howard Campbell

 

In my biography Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, I write a few words about Bim Bim, including the following:

The Skatalites also continued to record for various producers but they sought to get better wages than they earned as solo artists. One of the producers they recorded for, who was known for offering fair wages, was Justin Yap and his brother Duke Yap who ran the Top Deck label. Justin Yap was introduced to the Skatalites by Allan “Bim Bim” Scott, Coxsone’s assistant, who knew the musicians personally and suggested Yap record them. During a now-famous all-night recording session using Studio One in November, 1964, Yap recorded some of the Skatalites’ most classic tunes, all written by Don Drummond. He arrived for the session with five songs already written—Confucius, China Town, The Reburial, Smiling, and Marcus Junior. In the liner notes to Ska-Boo-Da-Ba, the re-release of Top Deck’s Skatalites sessions, Yap recalls his thoughts on Drummond. “I admired Don Drummond. I call him maestro. He takes over. He’s in charge. He knows what he’s doin’, he very professional. And when you hear my recordings with Drummond, you listen, you know that he took charge,” said Yap to Steve Barrow. He says it was a little tough to deal with Drummond at first because of his idiosyncrasies. “I remember when I drove Bim down town . . . we drove to his home. First of all, I didn’t go in—Bim Bim went in and talked to him first. I remember one time he took off! Just went down the road and come back with his answer—it’s ok! Whatever he had to do, you know?” Yap told Barrow.

Sure, one can argue that without Bim Bim these songs would have just been recorded for a different producer, perhaps Coxsone himself, but we all know that each producer has his or her own sound, own take on the music, own production and creative interpretation. Without Bim Bim making this connection, ska history would not have been the same. Thank you Bim Bim for your contributions to Jamaican music.

Enjoy these now-classic ska tunes:

Confucius

China Town

The Reburial

Smiling

Marcus Junior

 

Enid Cumberland

Enid Cumberland, half of the duo Keith and Enid.

Enid Cumberland, half of the duo Keith and Enid.

We may know Enid Cumberland from her duos with Keith Stewart. But few know that Enid was with Studio One for over four decades–not as a performer, but as a studio employee. Of course you can read an entire chapter on Enid Cumberland in my newest book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music which is available through this website, skabook.com, but here are a few excerpts from that chapter, to celebrate Enid’s long career in Jamaican music.

Enid Cumberland lives alone today in Stony Hill and she remembers her childhood with a sense of humor. Born on December 11, 1930, Enid is still whip smart, active, and filled with love. “My mom had eleven of us—can you imagine?” she recalls. “My daddy was a soldier in the army and at that time it was King Edward the eighth. When my mommy used to go out she had to leave some of us with grandma or she had to share us with somebody because we were so plenty. My mother was part African and my daddy was Jamaican and part Jewish and we have a mixture, some darker than some.”

Enid was given special opportunities in school—opportunities like singing for the school choir. She also sang in church—her own and others. “We grow up Roman Catholic but I never understood much of that, to be frank. It was in Latin and there’s a lot of Latin. I always go to all churches because I can sing and my friends would have a concert and ask me if I could come and sing and I say you have to ask my mommy and daddy so they give information and come and take me. And I wasn’t a person that was scared. I show off when I’m singing! (laughs) And they say, ‘Oh this little girl! She can sing like a big woman!” But it wasn’t until after graduation from school that Enid really got her start. It was at Vere John Opportunity Hour, the launchpad for so many careers in Jamaican music, that Enid Cumberland also got her big break into the world of show business. “I sing for Vere Johns when I was 20 or 22, something like that, but I found a partner. His name was Keith Stewart and we did a few hits and we were recognized in Jamaica over time,” she says.

Enid also continued to record, primarily as a duo artist, performing songs with Lord Creator at Studio One. Lord Creator, whose real name was Kentrick Patrick, was a calypsonian made popular by his hit song “Independent Jamaica” in 1962. With Enid he recorded “Simple Things,” “Love Lost (Lost My Love),” “I Cried a Lie (I Cried a Tear),” and “Beyond,” all at Studio One in 1963 and 1964. And she also partnered with other artists over the years as they came into the studio, such as Roy Richards and Larry Marshall, but it was all done at Studio One post Keith & Enid breakup and she explains why. “I wanted to have children. Show business I had to leave because you don’t get much. Whatever we did get, it helped up, but that was years ago and it’s whatever they offer you. You cannot survive on it, you know? And I got married and started to have my children and I didn’t bother with the singing outdoors on stage and so on. I started to work at Studio One for Coxsone. Why I did that was because I was sure of my salary and don’t have to wait until someone call me to come do a job. I did supervision. People would come in and backup artists so I show them where they stand and get the microphones and move them up and down. I did that for Studio One for about 40 years. Everybody come here, and some invite me to England, but I think you’re not really suited to that when you have children,” she says.

Enjoy the Keith & Enid classic, “Worried Over You,” a tune in the traditional American R&B style that Jamaican musicians so loved: Worried Over You

“Send Me” was another huge hit for the duo, listen here: Send Me

And here’s an Enid solo, Town & Country Cafe, recorded at Studio One in 1971: Town & Country Cafe

 

Let me tell you about Sally Brown . . .

Laurel Aitken in Chicago at the Subterranean in 1995. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Laurel Aitken in Chicago at the Subterranean in 1995. Photo by Heather Augustyn

So I love me some Laurel Aitken, and I’m singing along in my car to Sally Brown driving down the highway and my son starts laughing. I’ve belted out these lyrics so many times I don’t hear them anymore, but my son’s fresh ears pick up on perhaps the silliest words to ever grace a ska song–yes, the cukumaka stick. What the heck is a cukumaka stick? I decided I’d find out.

The cukumaka stick is actually a coco macaque stick. It was first used by the Arawaks in battle, even though they were largely a peaceful people. The Arawak, or Taino Indians as they were sometimes called, were one of the native people of the Caribbean. They came to the islands of the Caribbean from Guyana or perhaps from other islands in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. They were still a Stone Age people whose tools were primitive and they were an agricultural and fishing people.

The Arawaks used the coco macaque, a heavy solid strong stick or club, as a tool, but they also used it to bludgeon their victims or enemies in combat. In Haiti, the coco macaque stick was called “the Haitian Peace Keeper.” In Cuba, where Laurel Aitken was born, it was called “the Cuban Death Club.” And in New Orleans, the coco macaque stick is called “the Zombie Staff” or “Spirit Stick.”

Coco Macaque stick from the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti Exhibit, photographed on 11/8/14 by Heather Augustyn.

Coco Macaque stick from the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti Exhibit, photographed on 11/8/14 by Heather Augustyn.

The coco macaque stick was used in Cuba and Haiti as a weapon and became a part of the cultural vernacular after it was used by the dictatorial regimes in Cuba and Haiti against political activists. During the regime of Papa Doc in Haiti, the coco macaque stick became a symbol associated with the “guaperia,” or his military. According to one article, the “Cocomacaco was the main weapon of the notorious tonton macutes, his the personal body guards.”

The Daily Gleaner on March 1, 1915 wrote of  a coco macaque stick when reporting on a corrupt Haitian dictator who stole money from the country’s coffers. It stated, “He could only find a few thousand pounds to seize, though he sent an army to make the levy: an army strongly armed with superdread-nought cocomacaque sticks.”

Aitken is likely informed by many of these interpretations of the coco macaque stick, but perhaps none as much as the one in his own country which saw the coco macaque stick as a weapon associated with slavery. On the Cuban sugar plantations, slave owners beat their slaves with a coco macaque stick. The weapon later became a “tool of correction” used by men on women, and there was a Cuban proverb that said that wives should be “corrected with cocomacaco hard,” which may also shed light on why, when Laurel Aitken was once asked about this lyric, he hinted at a sexual connotation, as was common in the calypso, mento, and subsequent musical traditions–just think of Jackie Opel’s “Push Wood” for an example with a similar object–wood–but there are dozens if not hundreds of others with different objects–shepherd rods, needles, etc.

The coco macaque stick also had a life all its own. The Taino Indians and Haitians who practiced Voodou believed that the coco macaque stick walked by itself. The owner could send the coco macaque stick to run errands or dirty work, and if the coco macaque stick hit someone on the head, they would then be dead by morning.

Coco Macaque stick from the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti Exhibit, photographed on 11/8/14 by Heather Augustyn.

Coco Macaque stick from the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti Exhibit, photographed on 11/8/14 by Heather Augustyn.

Here is some information I found in an article on voodoo: “Coco macaque is what many refer to as a very real magical Haitian vodou implement or black magicians helping tool. Made of Haitian Coco-macaque palm wood or what ever wood one has at hand it is basically just simple thick 1 to 2 inch wooden cane, which is supposed to be possessing one of many magical powers, The strangest one is that to be able to stand up and walk on its own. Though it’s appearance of walking is described more like a hopping or bouncing action. This Voodoo Magic walking stick is not bound by gravity and is said to bounce off of houses and homes and even roofs as it travels to it’s commanded destination. Sometimes many people might refer to them as Voodoo Zombie Canes and swear that by all known accounts and means that they or it is possessed by the spirits of the dead. By all old Haitian accounts many will tell you that it is a simple design or sometimes crudely hand carved by a voodoo black magic priest using what ever found wood is available to them at the time. And it is a cursed or controlled by specific spirit that causes the walking stick to appear to move all by itself.”

Here are the lyrics to that classic Laurel Aitken tune, Sally Brown:

She boogey, she boogey, she boogey down the alley
Let me tell you about Sally Brown
Sally Brown is a girl in town
She don’t mess around
Let me tell you about Sally Brown
Sally Brown is a slick chick.
She hits you with a cukumaka stick
Cukukukukumaka stick
Hits you with a Cukumaka stick

Have a listen to this classic tune: Sally Brown by Laurel Aitken

Eric “Monty” Morris Still Dazzles the Crowds

Eric "Monty" Morris performing in Chicago on October 25, 2014. Photo by Heather Augustyn

Eric “Monty” Morris performing in Chicago on October 25, 2014. Photo by Heather Augustyn

I had the honor of seeing Eric “Monty” Morris perform in Chicago last weekend on October 25 2014 as as he performed one of his many hits, “Sammy Dead,” I got chills realizing I was witnessing history come alive. Here was the same song that Morris sang 50 years ago, backed by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, at the World’s Fair in New York! I couldn’t believe I was hearing it, seeing it, in the flesh, right in front of my eyes! Eric “Monty” Morris is the ultimate performer, giving the crowd all of his hits, dancing like a man half his age, and perhaps even imbibing in a bit of rum off stage, I espied! I thought I would devote today’s Foundation Ska blog post to the legendary Eric “Monty” Morris so we can further appreciate this pioneering vocalist.

Morris was vocal about the World’s Fair and Prince Buster, as I noted in my blog this past January: statement on ska impasse. Morris and Prince Buster must have mended fences, however, because Morris went on to record again for Prince Buster, as he had since 1961. Here is a photo of Eric “Monty” Morris from that article:

eric monty morris

And here are a few more photos I took of Morris really cutting a rug!

Eric "Monty" Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric “Monty” Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric "Monty" Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric “Monty” Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric "Monty" Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric “Monty” Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric "Monty" Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

Eric “Monty” Morris, 10-25-2014 by Heather Augustyn

 

Below are two excellent articles on Eric “Monty” Morris.

From the Jamaica Gleaner, September 12, 1998:
There was one name which stood out when it came to Ska and that name was Eric ‘Monty’ Morris. Like so many of this compatriots however, Monty left Jamaica’s shores at the height of his career to seek greater fortune overseas. But Monty soon dropped out of sight and much to the consternation of his host of fans, the man who had dubbed ‘Mr. Ska,’ was nowhere to be found when the music he had helped to popularise internationally, started its great resurgence. With the revival of Heineken Startime in 1996, the demand for Monty Morris reached heightened proportions and promoters/producers MKB were besieged with requests to bring home the man who had monster hits like Humpty Dumpty, Sammy Dead, Say What You’re Saving, Money Can’t Buy Life, A Little More Oil In My Lamp, Penny Reel, Solomon Gundy, Muma No Fret and Pack Up Your Troubles. MKB exhausted their farflung list of contracts but carne up with few leads. In fact, at one time there were rumours that Monty had gone to the Great Beyond, but the search continued until just three weeks ago when a call from a Miami source came up trumps – Monty Morris had been located.

A frantic call to California confirmed that Monty was alive and well and was more than ready to end his 25-year absence from the local stage. . . . The uninitiated might ask who is this Monty Morris. Monty, like so many of Jamaica’s musical greats grew up ‘downtown’. He recalls the many hours be spent harmonising with his boyhood friend Derrick Morgan, so it was no surprise that Monty, following successful appearances on the famous Vere Johns talent shows, was backed by Derrick on his very first record, This Great Generation, done for Hilite Records.
He later recorded for Prince Buster, a link which resulted in some of his biggest ska hits. Monty’s talent also extended into the reggae idiom and his recordings included his own original Say What You’re Saying which was not only a personal hit, but was later recorded by Dennis Brown whose version also made it big both locally and internationally and Little John in the mid 80s.
Monty was also in great demand as a stage performer and no list of artistes for the many stage shows which were a feature of the day, would be complete without the dynamic ‘Mr. Ska’. His recordings have continued to thrill lovers of Jamaican music over the years.

From the Sunday Gleaner, May 19, 2013, historian and journalist Roy Black writes the following:
Eric “Monty” Morris seems to be the forgotten ska superstar. This perhaps has a lot to do with his disappearance from the Jamaican music scene somewhat early, as he migrated to the United States. In a relatively short period, between 1961-1969, Morris majestically crafted several outstanding hit recordings in the ska and rocksteady mould. Oil in My Lamp, Humpty Dumpty, Money Can’t Buy Life and Sammy Dead were early pieces that set the stage for what was to follow. Drawing on lyrics mainly taken from traditional nursery rhymes and employing a slowed-down ska beat, Morris’ advent was truly significant. He was the first real ska superstar, pre-ceding others like Delroy Wilson, Stranger (now Strangejah) Cole, Lord Creator and Jackie Opel.

Morris arrived on the scene at 15 years old in 1959, singing with Derrick Morgan on the Little Wonder Smith produced recordings Now We Know and Nights are Lonely. In an interview with Derrick Morgan, he told me “I used to live in a big yard named Orange Lane, off Orange Street. Monty lived there too. We became childhood playmates and began singing and knocking old cans and cars until one day when I went to record what would become my first release – Oh My Love is Gone – I took Monty with me. We recorded those two songs”.
Monty Morris was born in Kingston on July 20, 1944, and grew up at Orange Street and in Trench Town, attending Alvernia Primary School. His meeting and close association with Morgan, four years his senior, was extremely crucial to his future career. When their focus shifted to music seriously, entering a talent competition occurred to them. This led them to the very popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour talent competition, at the Palace, Ambassador and Majestic theatres in Kingston during the late 1950s.

Morris didn’t win, but the exposure provided the springboard from which he launched his career and precipitated his first set of hit recordings. His next move, to producer Prince Buster, was another important step. Again taken there by Morgan, who was fulfilling a request by Buster for help in setting up his business, Morris seized the opportunity to record the 1961 nursery rhyme based song, Humpty Dumpty. Backed by the Drumbago All Stars, the slowed-down, ska-tempo song rode the higher echelons of the Jamaican charts for that year and set in motion a ska craze that took deep root in Jamaica’s music history. His follow-up, Money Can’t Buy Life, with emphasis on the off-beat, was equally impressive and somewhat changed the whole nature of Jamaican music up to this point.

Morris, an unsung hero of immense musical talent, wrote almost all the songs he recorded, adding his words to the nursery rhymes where required. Every song seemed to have a message, backed by a traditional nursery rhyme, but he somehow lacked the determination and dedication necessary to make it to the top in a competitive music arena. Morris became the first forgotten ska superstar. His songs show a man in various moods. There is Monty the storyteller, expressed in Sammy Dead, Humpty Dumpty and Solomon a Gundy. There is Monty the lover, with songs like the Clancy Eccles produced Say What You’re Saying and Tears in Your Eyes, in which he declares:
It was the tears in your eyes
That made me realise
That a man like me should never
be in love with you

There is Monty the preacher, who warned about “ungodly people” in the recording of that same name, and reinforced it with a Duke Reid produced track:
What a man doeth this day
Stands in his way
What you sew, that’s what you will reap
What you reap, that’s what you will eat

Morris also warned men against falling prey to the guiles of women. On the recording Temptation Monty claimed:
It’s a thing I don’t like
It’s a thing that always stirs strife
Nature provided everything
For man to live like a king
Don’t tempt me to do the things I
don’t want to do

Strongman Sampson was perhaps one of his best-known recordings during the ska era. In it, he depicted Sampson as being:
The strongest man in the days of olden
Until a woman take it from him.
Solomon was wise, (he claimed),
he had seven wives.
Be careful of her lies
She will also paint her eyes
Just to get you in misery

Morris had several other popular ska recordings during that era, which included Pack Up Your Troubles, In and out the Window, Eena Balena, For Your Love and Into This Beautiful Garden. In 1964 Morris was included in a contingent of singers, musicians and dancers sent to the New York World’s Fair to help promote and expose the new dance craze and music, ska, to the American public. The tour was built around Morris and his two big hits with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Sammy Dead and Oil in my Lamp. Morris’ contribution was enormous, as he spread ska’s popularity while establishing the foundation for the succeeding genres to build on.

As the 1960s wore on he recorded for a number of other producers, including Leslie Kong, Byron Lee, Duke Reid (who did the bulk of his works), and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry in 1969. A year earlier, Morris had adjusted his arrangements to suit the new rocksteady beat to record a popular and frequently covered song in Jamaica’s music history, Say What You’re Saying.

However, Morris didn’t survive the transition to rocksteady and reggae, as he migrated in the early 1970s to the USA, returning occasionally in later years to perform on oldies shows in Jamaica. One of these performances was at the Mas Camp Village, then on Oxford Road, New Kingston, on Saturday, June 11, 2005. He also performed at that venue on Saturday, April 24, 2004.

Eric Morris, the man who entertained thoughts of creating something different from the regular fast ska beat, the man who thought he could use simple nursery rhyme lyrics to disseminate his messages but was somewhat disinterested in reaching the highest level, is still alive and lives abroad. He may be the forgotten ska superstar, but with his string of enduring hits, hopefully someday this anomaly will be addressed and Monty Morris will receive the true recognition he deserves.

 

 

Paying Homage to John Holt

John Holt

John Holt

It is with sadness that Foundation Ska pays homage to John Holt today as he passed away on October 19th. Today’s post is by no means an exhaustive look at the life and career of this legendary vocalist, as that would prove almost impossible since he was a prolific performer, but instead it is a snapshot of a few articles from the archives.

Let us first start with Roy Black, contributor to the Jamaica Gleaner, who wrote the following this week:
Jamaica has lost another stalwart in the field of popular music with the passing of John Holt in England last Sunday, October 19. His passing has left an irreplaceable void in the Jamaican recording industry. Going the full gamut, from rocksteady to reggae and dancehall, Holt proved to be one of the most enduring singers in Jamaican music, packing a voice that has lasted for 51 years.

Taking a different route to success than most of his contemporaries, who began in groups before going solo, Holt did quite the opposite when he recorded for producer Leslie Kong, his debut solo recording, Forever I’ll Stay, on the Beverley’s record label in 1963. Like many others before him, Holt’s earliest exposure came by way of The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour Talent Show, where he won an award in 1962. The win led to an association with record producer Leslie Kong, resulting in his debut recording. Concurrently, Holt recorded for producer, Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin, a cut titled Rum Bumbers.

His next move was perhaps the most important one of his career: That of linking with the Paragons vocal group, which was already in existence. The group actually began with Bob Andy and Tyrone Evans at the back of the Kingston Parish Church, sometime in 1962, before they added a third member, Howard Barrett. In an interview I had with Holt, he explained: “I was on King Street one day with my friend Lloydie Custard, and he told me there were some guys up by the Parish Church doing some singing. So we took a walk there, and that’s where I really got in touch with The Paragons”.

With Holt assuming the role of lead vocalist, the quartet of Andy, Evans, Barrett and Holt, first recorded as The Paragons, for late Studio One owner Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd, debuting with I Was Lonely (Love at Last) and Play Girl in 1963-64. The group soon came to their differences and Andy left, reducing them to a trio. A temporary hiatus followed as the group searched to recapture their ‘quartet sound’.

However, the break seemed to have re-inspired and rejuvenated them, and they re-emerged at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle Studios in 1966, with crisper notes and tighter harmonies, and Holt gradually emerging as the star, with his mellifluous tenor.
Although he had not yet gone solo, many musicologists consider this the brightest period of his career, as he crafted some never-to-be-forgotten gems, beginning with Happy-Go-Lucky Girl, a recording that chided carefree women with the words: “Everyone in town knows about you, happy-go-lucky girl, the life you live isn’t too good, happy-to-lucky girl”

On The Beach, which followed, triggered the ‘hops’ fad, and generated beer sales all over the island. Wear You to the Ball was used to good effect by deejay U-Roy to lay the foundation on which many present-day rappers built. The Tide Is High gained worldwide recognition after a 1980 number one cover by the group Blondie, while Only a Smile, was a big favourite among Jamaicans. All number-one hits, they owed a lot to Holt’s lead vocals. The group tasted further success while working with other producers, including a return to Dodd’s Studio One with several top-class reggae hits.

The departure of Evans and Barrett via the migration route left Holt in limbo, and it is believed that this played a part in his decision to go solo. He was headed in that direction by early 1967 with his solo efforts, Stick By Me, Strange Things and My Heart is Gone, before making his third entry at Studio One with the very successful album Love I can Feel, which contained the hits Fancy Makeup, Do You Love Me, Stranger in Love and the title cut.

Now a solo artiste in his own right, Holt, by the turn of the decade, was one of the biggest reggae stars, making appreciable inroads on overseas charts while continuing to make hits during the 1970s and 1980s. Up to this point, Holt’s voice seemed unscathed by the passage of time. Earlier in 1968, he returned to Treasure Isle Studios with some of his best reggae cuts, which included, Ali Baba, Tonight, I’m Your Man, and the romantically charged ‘I’ll Be Lonely, in duet with Joya Landis.

By the mid-1970s, Holt was in the United Kingdom working with overseas producers who introduced string arrangements to his recordings. Help me make it through the Night, from the cover collection 1000 Volts of Holt, gave him his first UK hit. Returning home, he continued his hit run with Up Park Camp and others while proving his versatility and contemporariness with the dancehall song Fat She Fat. In 1982, he had chart success with If I were a Carpenter and Police Inna Helicopter. Although showing signs of ill health in recent years, Holt continued to compose, record and perform up to the time of his death.

The next interesting bit of John Holt history comes from a Daily Gleaner article, November 21, 1974 with the headline, “John Holt Entrances Cabaret Audiences.” The article reviews his performance at the Top-O-The-Sheraton in Kingston, and the author provides a brief history as well as an interesting projection from Holt on the future of reggae worldwide. The article states:
John started his singing career in the traditional way that so many other Jamaican singers started with the Vere Johns’ Opportunity Show in 1962. Since that John has not looked back but has made hit after hit. Who can forget such memorable songs as On the Beach, Happy Go Lucky Girl, Wear You To The Ball, one that U Roy later did over and many more rockers that placed John Holt in the Hall of Fame of Jamaican Music. . . . John sees Reggae as constantly improving and feels that it will be breaking big internationally any day now. He says Reggae is firmly rooted in England and that the English people as well as Jamaicans are big purchasers of Reggae records. This he feels makes England more encouraging to artistes singing Reggae because there is more, to gain there financially than in Jamaica. To improve the local situation, John suggests that our Radio Stations play more Reggae so that money sent abroad to pay performing rights for foreign artistes could be paid instead to our own local artistes. This, he feels, would allow for a better standard of living for local performers and above all there would be more recognition by foreign stations for our music, especially in the U.S.A. John Holt feels that Bob Marley and the Wailers, Ken Boothe, and Nicky Thomas are making the biggest contribution to our music for they have brought Reggae to the attention of people throughout Europe and the United States and have been constantly bringing about improvement to our music by setting a very high standard, forcing other artistes to do likewise.

The Daily Gleaner on Wednesday, January 28, 1998 stated, “The history of Jamaican music is replete with some fascinating stories of how some artistes came, into the limelight. One such story is that of two of the major players of Jamaican music, U Roy and John Holt. The story is told that it was Holt who heard U Roy ‘kicking up a storm’ at the controls of King Tubby’s Hi Fi and told legendary producer, Duke Reid, about the young ‘toaster’ who was packing in the crowds. The rest is history.”

Add your memories and thoughts about John Holt in the comment section below. Let’s continue the dialogue about this iconic artist whose music will never die.

Here are a few of my favorite John Holt/Paragons tunes:

The Tide is High
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR7n2zILQCA

Ali Baba
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGVLX8GDYA4&list=PLKmYvrDo1_da7SIP3O6vyJVlxazt5NlWj

On the Beach
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDE_O0ZYwok

Stick By Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMVmPqmrCzY

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander from the Daily Gleaner, August 19, 1961

Monty Alexander from the Daily Gleaner, August 19, 1961

Monty Alexander’s recent album, Concierto de Aranjuez, was recently named a finalist for a 2014 Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performance along with Kenny Garrett, Audra McDonald, Wynton Marsalis and Gregory Porter. The Jamaica Gleaner ran an article in Wednesday’s paper on this honor and stated, “It is the first Soul Train nod for 70-year-old Alexander, who has worked with greats such as Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. In recent times, he has worked with contemporary reggae artistes such as Chronixx. . . . The Soul Train Music Awards have been held annually since 1987. It takes place November 7 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada and airs November 30 on Centric and BET.”

Monty Alexander was born in Kingston in 1944 and he was privileged enough to begin taking piano lessons at age six. He and his family left for America at the end of 1961, but not before he had already set foot on stage in Jamaica. Two years later he would be performing with the greats in the U.S., including Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Count Basie as he was hired to perform as a pianist at Jilly’s in New York City.

I went back through the Gleaner archives and found the first mention of Alexander’s performance in the Sunday Gleaner, December 10, 1961 which was a review from a jazz “jam session” upstairs at the Regal Theater, presented by the Skyline Club on the previous Monday. “There were some more top drawer moments. These came when the personnel was augmented with Carlos Malcolm, trombone; Monty Alexander, piano; Jackie Willacy, trumpet; Sonny Bradshaw trumpet; Jasper Adams, alto; Ansel Johnson, bass; Lennie Hibbert, drums; and Karl McLeod, drums. They ran through four numbers which included “Moanin,” “Walking,” and two originals by Malcolm. It was an exhilarating set that offered spirited solos by Alexander, a young pianist with a lot of up and come, Carlos Malcolm and Jackie Willacy.”

To learn a bit more about Monty Alexander, why not hear it from the man himself as fellow skamrade and author Charles Benoit interview him for the blog Reggae Steady Ska a few months ago: reggae-steady-ska.com/monty-alexander-interview/ and have a listen to some of Monty Alexander’s music as well and watch him play in this fine jazz clip: Monty Alexander. This is a favorite of mine: Monty Alexander Africa Unite and here he is with Ernest Ranglin performing the classic Abyssinians song, Satta Massagana: Monty and Ernest–Satta Massagana.