Before Millie Small hit the UK big with her hit “My Boy Lollipop,” Ezz Reco (birth name was Ezzard Reid but could there be a cooler showbiz name than Ezz Reco?!), Boysie Grant, and a woman named Beverly along with a band called The Launchers broke into the British market with Jimmy Cliff’s tune, “King of Kings.” Cliff had recorded his iconic song in 1963 and Ezz Reco did it in the UK in 1964. The B side of Ezz Reco’s version was a song called “Bluebeat Dance” to try to capitalize on the blue beat trend, and they also recorded “The Bluest Beat,” “Please Come Back,” “Little Girl,” all in 1964 for Columbia, and then in 1968 recorded “Return of the Bullet” and “ZZ Beat” on Blue Cat.
Ezz Reco & The Launchers, as they were billed, toured with Roy Orbison and were joined by Jamaican saxophonist Johnny Hope. Reco was a drummer and both Boysie Grant and Beverly Mills were vocalists. On Ezz Reco’s page of the playbill for the tour it reads, “What does Blue Beat sound like? It’s a lazy, medium-tempo sound, with a slight blues inflection. Front-line instruments, playing behind the vocal, stab out riffs on the beat with the insistent thump of a locomotive tackling a gradient. How did Blue Beat happen? Explains Boysie, “Back home in Jamaica we were dancing the Twist long before Chubby Checker was leaping about. By the time it became popular all over the world it was stale for us and we started looking around for something else. We have a gathering called pokamania [sic]—a revival dance—where the congregation shuffle their feet and shout eh-eh-eh-eh on the beat behind the preacher’s sermon. It’s a movement we have been doing for generations and from this grew the Blue Beat dance and the music to fit it.”
Kind of an interesting history, don’t you think?! Talk to 100 people and you will get 100 versions as to how it all started, but there is something behind the history—the connection to folk music is critical, and the connection to American rhythm & blues, so it definitely has some validity.
Boysie Grant also chimed in on blue beat’s popularity in the Daily Gleaner on March 17, 1964, the first article that the newspaper had published about ska despite the fact that it had existed for some time. But ska, you see, was a “downtown music,” until Byron Lee and the Dragonaires bridged the class divide. In the article entitled, “The Ska Hits London—but they call it blue beat,” (the text of which can be read here: http://skabook.com/foundationska/2013/12/origins-word-ska/) Boysie Grant appears with Ezz Reco in a photograph that is not preserved well enough to reproduce here, but the caption reads, “Here are the two men in the hit parade, Boysie Grant with the small moustache and brown hat and Ezz Reco with the big moustache and black hat. Boysie does the lion’s roar at the beginning of ‘King of Kings.’ Ezz has lots of gaps and bits of gold in his smile. He used to be a boxer, is a very cheerful man and laughs the whole time. Boysie is delighted that his native Jamaica is producing something other than rum. ‘Ezz and I,’ he says, ‘Ezz and I are the greatest and the prettiest and the most authentic.’ They will soon be joined in the hit parade by a girl called Millie. She sings ‘My Boy Lollipop.’”
I am wondering if the Beverly who sings with this group, Beverly Mills, is the same Beverly that Kenroy Fyffe told me sang with him in the Spanishtonians on “Rudie Get Plenty” and others (not “Stop That Train” which is misappropriated to them but is actually the Webber Sisters). Kenroy couldn’t remember anything else about Beverly including her last name and didn’t know of any other recording she did, so if anyone knows anything about Beverly Mills, please contact me.
I wanted to also include an article in the Daily Gleaner that appeared on August 16, 1971 with the headline “Boysie Grant is Alive!” as an example of early death hoaxes, just when you though the internet was the culprit!! Kidding, but the article is interesting. It states, “Boysie Grant, rumoured to have died in 1958, breezed into the GLEANER, offices on Tuesday, ‘large as life and very much alive and kicking.’ Some old timers on the entertainment scene may remember Boysie from back in the 50’s when he played the stage shows night club circuit, and held a 15-minute slot on radio as leader of the vocal group the ‘Four Keys.’ He was also a member of the “’Ivy Graydon’s Orchestra.’ He left Jamaica in 1955 for Connecticut, USA to check out what opportunities the States had to offer. He remained there for only a year before going on to England, and a tour of the Continent with the Perez Prado Show. Returning to London after three months, he played the hotel and night club circuit. In 1963, Boysie did his first recording on a 45 rpm — “King of Kings/Blue Beat Dance” with another Jamaican vocalist Beverley Mills, and backed by Ezz Reco and the Launchers. Ezz Reco, leader of this group, then exponents of the “Blue Beat,” is Jamaican ex-boxer Ezzard Reid, who migrated to the UK more than 20 years ago. Boysie is said to have been one of the first promoters of Jamaican music in England — the Blue Beat is an adaptation of the Ska. He now does solo night club performances, singing mainly ballads, blues and soul numbers. With regard to the rumour about his alleged death, Boysie says that he has no idea how this began. By now, he says, most of his friends must at least be convinced that he is very much alive —“they took a lot of convincing though,” he said with a smile. He was accompanied here by his wife, the former Mary Lundy a Jamaican nurse residing in England. Boysie says they plan to remain in the island for an indefinite period.”
Here’s a link to that tune, “King of Kings” so you can hear Boysie do the lion roar, look out Katy Perry! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6_IbY4cLLU