Jamaica’s Threat to the Beatles–the Zodiacs?

zodiacs

One of my all-time favorite Jamaican songs, or songs period, is Renegade by The Zodiacs, recorded for Duke Reid in 1965. I could never find too much on this band, whose sound I think is pretty tight and polished, so that surprised me, as I would have thought they’d be destined for greatness. Then I stumbled across this article in a Star Newspaper during my recent lock-up in the National Library of Jamaica. They should have put me in there and thrown away the key! I could have been there for years! Anyway, The Zodiacs, who are Winston Service, Dellie Delpratt, Eugene Dyer, Roy Robinson, and Claud “Junior” Sang, were once considered “Jamaica’s threat to Beatles.” Although that may seem like a surprising claim now, with 20/20 hindsight, it was a claim made by others, like Prince Buster (no surprise there either!) as many musicians tried to take on the big guns!

This article, dated April 17, 1964, reads: The Zodiacs have come a long way in a comparatively short time. Former members of the JIVIN’ JUNIORS, the Zodiacs–five in number–are the only pro-singing quintet in Jamaica. Formed a year ago, the group made its first appearance with Carlos Malcolm and his Afro Jamaican Rhythms and was featured with this band for some time. The Zodiacs got a feature spot on the Chuck Jackson show and were popular with the audience. They have been making an impression on show fans with their antics and clown-singing in their recent performances so much that they are spoken of as Jamaica’s threat to the world popular BEATLES. Although they are keener on stage and night club appearances, the Zodiacs are also interested in the record industry, and have a disc entitled, “Daddy’s Gonna Leave,” backed with “No Greater Love.” –Jackie Estick.

According to the Roots Knotty Roots database, “Daddy’s Gonna Leave” was recorded for producer Winston Sinclair on the Zeeee label, the only song on this label, with the song “If You Need Someone” on the A side. Other songs by the Zodiacs include “Cry No More” for Prince Buster in 1967; “Down in the Boondocks” and “Slow Slow Ska” for Ernest Ranglin, dates unknown; “Little Girl” for Leebert Robinson in 1966; “Pearly Gates” for Prince Buster in 1964; “Who’s Loving You” and “Walk On By (Renegade)” for Sam Mitchell and Keith Scott (Scotty) in 1967; and of course, the classic “Renegade” in 1965 for Duke Reid.

The Zodiacs had been performing live since at least 1963. In May, 1963 the Zodiacs performed with Mighty Samson, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the Blues Busters,  Count Prince Miller, Jimmy Cliff, Tony Gregroy, Keith Lyn, Pluggy and Beryl, and others with Tony Verity as emcee at the Carib Theatre. They continued to perform at various venues throughout Kingston in 1963 and 1964. An advertisement in the Daily Gleaner on December 10, 1965 showed a photo of the Zodiacs and listed one of the members as Gino Dwyer, instead of Eugene Dyer, and John Service instead of Winston Service. Spelling and mistakes in names, and well, almost everything during this era, were common!

From the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1965.

From the Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1965.

 

This album was produced by Ernest Ranglin, and a Daily Gleaner article, January 16, 1966 stated, “A locally-recorded and pressed RCA Victor album
titled RANGLIN PRESENTS THE ZODIACS should also prove popular but more so amongst the younger set. The Zodiacs burst on to the showbiz scene only six months ago and are currently riding high with the song “What Will Your Mama Say” which was written by one of the trio’s brothers. Federal Records’ Musical Director Ernie Ranglin has got a Big Band feeling behind the dozen selections recorded. Three numbers are instrumentals with the James Brown hit “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” giving Organist Leslie Butler an opportunity to exercise his tremendous talent Current standards like “Follow Me” and “She’s Gone Again1′ show that the boys know how to project a distinctive style.

An article in the January 2, 1966 Daily Gleaner featured the Zodiacs in a small article with a photo that talked about their appearance on Teenage Dance Party (TADP). The article states, “TADP HITS THI ROAD WITH FEDERAL RECORDS. Caught in a real holiday mood, is this lively group who took part in one of two special TADP Hit-The-Road programmes from Record Plaza at Tropical Plaza recently. Pictured with “MR. TADP”.JBC announcer Roy Hall, are (from left) Winston Service, one of the Zodiacs singing group, Ernest Raaglin, well-known Jamaican guitarist and Musical Director at Federal Records, Pamela Blyth, one of Federal’s fastest recording stars, Buddy llgner whose, latest LP was featured on the programme and Claud Sang, Jr., another of the Zodiacs. The show was sponsored by Federal Record Mfg Co. TADP is heard over JBC-Radio daily (except Sundays) from 4.00 to 5.00 pm.”

From the Daily Gleaner, January 2, 1966.

From the Daily Gleaner, January 2, 1966.

 

 

They performed in July, 1966 at the National Arena along with Hortense Ellis, the Jamaicans, the Techniques, Derrick Harriott, the Granville Williams Orchestra, Count Ossie and the Maytals in an independence celebration.

A Daily Gleaner article on July 4, 1969 revealed that the band had broken up. In an article on Zodiacs singer Claude Sang, Jr., the journalist stated that Sang had gone on to form a band called the Pace Setters in 1967 which performed soul music. It stated that the Zodiacs continued to perform live at clubs after the Ernest Ranglin recording until they broke up because members of the Zodiacs got married and left. Claude continued with a solo career in London.

Duke Reid Crowned “King” 6th Time

duke reid crowned king

This advertisement from the Star Newspaper in July, 1959, features a photo of the great Duke Reid being crowned “King” by Mrs. Iris King, the mayor of Kingston. Mrs. King was the first female mayor of Kingston and she served from 1958 to 1959. The ad reads, “Duke Reid the Trojan, proprietor of Reid’s Sound System & Liquor Store at 33 Bond Street, was crowned King of Sound and Progressive Jazz for the 6th consecutive time at a Dance held in Honour of Her Worship The Mayor, Mrs. Iris King at Shepherd’s Hall, 68 Hanover Street on Saturday night July 18. Mrs. King expressed her appreciation and admiration of Duke Reid whom she said she had known a very long time as a hardworking . . . conscientious and honest businessman, and deserved the success he has achieved.”

This version of Reid is a very different one than the version painted by David Katz in his book, People Funny Boy which is on the life and career of Lee Scratch Perry and is a fantastic piece of work. Katz’s version, which is undoubtedly more accurate, states, “The Duke, born Arthur Reid, was a flamboyant and intimidating figure who bludgeoned his way to the top of Kingston’s popular music scene. His ten years in the police force had left him with a fondness for firearms, a close association with the Jamaican criminal underclass, and strong links with certain factions of American organised crime.” Katz goes on to talk of Reid’s association with the Whoppi King, who was “Public Enemy Number One.,”

So here we have two versions of Reid, in a country defined by versions, of history and of music. From being crowned King by the mayor, to being associated with the notorious don Whoppi King, Duke Reid is a crucial element of Jamaican music history, for his bravado, his ingenuity and inventive tenacity, and for his ear for classic music that has stood the test of time.

Lloyd Knibb

knibb

Check out this article from the Star Newspaper in September, 1964. Lloyd Knibb is a young 33-year-old master, looking snazzy as always in his sharp threads. The article reveals that he was ranked the top ska drummer in Jamaica. As we all know, he went on to world-wide fame and is a legend. Here he tells how he helped to develop the ska beat–“I was playing at a north coast hotel when I first heard what sounded like a poor example of a new beat. With this I originated the current beat that we are now hearing. I then returned to Kingston and recorded a disc.”

 

Back in 1996 at a Skatalites show at the University of Chicago, Knibb told me this story personally. It is one I will never forget and I feel so honored to have had the opportunity to talk to this lovely man. “I didn’t go to Alpha. I was self taught at my house. I teach myself,” he told me. “I am the original drummer for the Skatalites. I was the original drummer for all recording sessions. Everyone, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Coxsone, Treasure Isle, you name them all. I was the drummer they come to, for everybody. You name them all, Bob Marley, Ken Boothe, Derrick Morgan, Alton Ellis, everybody. Every show they go on are the same tunes we cut for them. I am the originator of the ska beat also. In the studio, me and Coxsone Downbeat try out a beat. My beat sound different, heavier, so my drumming is distinct. So most all the drummers try to play like me. They like the beat but then can’t get it to sound like me. So that is how it started.”

 

Listen to Horsemouth pay respect to the master, Lloyd Knibb, in this fantastic interview HERE

National Ska Day

From the Star Newspaper, September 12, 1964

From the Star Newspaper, September 12, 1964

Did you know that there was a National Ska Day? And it’s not a new creation! I found this advertisement for it in a Star Newspaper from September 12, 1964 which proclaims that National Ska Day is on September 13th, the following day, and it is the fifth birthday of the ska, which is interesting. In 1959, Theo Beckford’s “Easy Snappin'” was released, but not sure which month it came out, and not sure if that is what this anniversary refers to–plus, that song was actually recorded in 1956, so it’s even fuzzier. And then there’s Prince Buster’s mug up there at the top of the ad. But look at the lineup–can you even imagine being there back in the day to hear these guys and gals! To jump on a bus at the Ward Theatre and head to this show to hear the drums of Count Ossie and Drumbago, and the horns of Sterling and Alphonso, and the sweet sounds of Hortense and Doreen Shaffer, here called Madam Dorene, love that! And then Eric Monty Morris, Derrick Morgan, Roy Panton, Toots and his crew, Alton Ellis–and the sound systems of Duke Reid and King Edwards, Prince Buster, and a guy from Spain named Ruddy! Chills. I’ll wait for my time machine and punch in September 13, 1964 first thing!