Trojan
 

The Rocksteady era was an age when romantic ballads dominated the Jamaican national charts and sweet sounding harmony trios came into their own. But while songs celebrating the joys of love and the pain of heartache found favour among the majority of the island's listeners during this period, there were those who bucked the trend and by doing so established the foundations of what would become known as 'Roots' music. Among this small, but hugely influential group of artists were such celebrated performers as the Maytals, the Wailers, Justin Hinds & the Dominoes and, of course, the Ethiopians.

Formed around the beginning of 1966, the group came into being when Leonard 'Sparrow' Dillon decided to form a singing trio following encouragement from Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh of the Wailers. Dillon had met the pair shortly after moving from his hometown of Port Antonio to Kingston in 1964 and they had been instrumental in arranging his subsequent audition with Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd. Along with Bob Marley, the third member of their group, the duo also provided vocal accompaniment on Dillon's debut recording session that followed soon, and although the Wailers went unaccredited on the subsequent releases, they were very much in evidence. And it was their contribution to these early discs that prompted Dillon - or 'Jack Sparrow', to give him his stage name - that prompted him to enlist the services of two local singers whose ambitions matched his own: Stephen Taylor and Aston 'Charlie' Morris.

The new group's chosen name gave a clear indication of their spiritual leanings, Ethiopia being the nation Rastafarians believed was the true homeland of the African race. And while the state visit of Emperor Haile Selassie to Jamaica around the time of the group's inception also no doubt influenced their choice of moniker, it none the less gave one of the clearest indications to date of a Jamaican act having connections with the Rasta faith.

Soon after the Ethiopian's formation, Dillon returned to Coxsone Dodd, along with Taylor and Morris and upon hearing the trio, the producer promptly arranged for a recording session at his Jamaican Recording Studio (aka Studio One), situated at 13 Brentford Road, in the Crossroads area of Kingston. The subsequent session resulted in 'Live Good', 'Why You Gonna Leave Me Now' and 'Owe Me No Pay Me', all of which received a favourable response from Jamaican audiences upon issue on the producer's Studio One imprint. But despite this promising start, Aston Morris quit the group, although his departure did little to dent the Ethiopians' growing popularity, with Dillon and Taylor finding further success over the ensuing months with singles such as '(I'm A) Free Man', 'Dun Ded A'Ready' and 'For You'.

While record sales in Jamaica had established the Ethiopians as one of the island's brightest new stars, financial remuneration for their efforts amounted to little more than pocket money and throughout this time Dillon's main source of income was through his building work. It was via this trade he first encountered Leebert Robertson, a contactor who had recently returned to Jamaica after a period in England and was now eager to make his mark in the music industry. The chance meeting resulted in Robertson financing a recording session for Dillon and Taylor at Duke Reid's famed Treasure Isle studio on Bond Street, early in 1967. Among the sides cut that day was 'Train To Skaville', which after being issued in Jamaica on the WIRL imprint became a major Jamaican hit. It's popularity was mirrored in the UK, where upon release on the Rio imprint, it broke into the Pop charts, peaking at number 40 that autumn.

Unfortunately, Robertson's inexperience in the workings of the Jamaican music business resulted in the follow-up 'I Need You' b/w 'Do It Sweet' failing to match the success of the previous disc and somewhat disheartened, Dillon and Taylor turned to Sonia Pottinger, who since the mid-sixties had operated Gay Feet Records. The Ethiopians' initial liaison with Pottinger was the hugely popular 'The Whip', but after the release of 'Stay Loose Mama' b/w 'The World Goes Ska', the duo changed labels once more, recording a number of sides for Ken Khouri's Federal operation.

By this time, the Ethiopians had become a trio once again, with illon and Taylor recruiting Melvin 'Mellow' Reid as the groups baritone, although the range of his rich voice enabled him to double up as a bass singer. Following their stint with Federal, the group cut a slew of sides financed by Garnet Hargreaves that saw issue in Jamaica on the WIRL label and on Graeme Goodhall's Doctor Bird imprint in the UK. These were subsequently gathered for the group's debut album, 'Engine 54', a collection that heralded the Ethiopians as one of the island's most popular musical acts. Later that year, the group cut a handful of excellent sides for Harry Robinson's Carib-Disco label, including 'Fire A Muss Muss Tail', 'I'm Not A King' and a song that marked the arrival of a new musical style, 'Reggae Hit The Town'.

A session for Lee 'Scratch' Perry around the close of 1968 yielded 'Not Me' and 'Cut Down (On Your Speed)', but their sojourn with the 'Upsetter' proved brief and soon after, the trio began what proved to be a hugely productive relationship with Karl 'JJ' Johnson. Their initial collaboration with Johnson was 'Everything Crash', a song that echoed the chaos brought about by the crippling strikes then blighting Jamaica and that were bringing the island's economy to the point of collapse. The records distinctive jerky rhythm, provided by Bobby Aitken & the Carib-Beats, created a blueprint for a style subsequently repeated on a series of popular follow-ups, with 'Hong Kong Flu', 'Woman Capture Man', 'My Testimony' and 'Buss Your Mouth' (aka 'Contention') among the most popular. Many of the group's most popular sides for Johnson from this period were later included on a second album of their work, entitles 'Reggae Power', which was released by Trojan in the autumn of 1969, to coincide with the group's UK tour.

Following a number of well-received performances around Britain, the Ethiopians returned to Jamaica where they picked up where they had left off, recording a series of hits under Johnson's patronage. Like most Jamaican producers', Johnson's contributions to the music making process itself was negligible, his involvement being limited to that of a financier, while Dillon in fact handled the creative aspect of the operation, arranging and supervising the group's recording sessions. This arrangement resulted in further hits for the Ethiopians over the ensuing months, Prompting Trojan to issue a third collection of their work, 'Woman Capture Man' released in September 1970.Over the next couple of years, the group freelanced, recording with varied success for a host of Kingston-based producers, including Johnson, Coxsone Dodd, Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley, Arthur 'Duke' Reid, Sonia Pottinger, Derrick Harriott, Vincent Chin, Rupie Edwards, Martin 'Jimmy' Riley, Alvin 'GG' Ranglin, Prince Buster, Bob Andy, Winston riley, Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Joe Gibbs. During this time Melvin Reid became less involved with the group and as the seventies progressed, his contribution to their recording work diminished accordingly.

By 1973, deejay records had increasingly come to dominate the island's music scene, much to the detriment of those acts who preferred a more melodic method of delivering their message. Dillon and Taylor in particular struggled to adapt to this development and increasingly found their services over-looked by producers seeking to jump on the deejay bandwagon. But while the Ethiopians output during 1974 and the following year was meagre, the quality of the few recordings by the group that did see release was second to none. Unfortunately, superior singles, such as those for Turnel McCormack ('I Want To Be A Better Man'), Pat Cooper 9'Conquering Lion'), Joe Biggs ('Band Yu Belly') and Clive Hunt ('Let The Light Shine' and 'Another Moses'), did little to revive their flagging fortunes. A number of laudable self-produced sides - 'Knowledge Is Power', 'Weekend Cowhead' and 'Them A Wicked' - also failed to hit the mark and both Dillon and Taylor were increasingly forced to seek more mundane ways to make ends meet.

Among Dillon's more illustrious building jobs during this time was his involvement in the construction of Lee Perry's famed Black Ark studio in Cardiff Crescent; his artistic nature finding expression in the creation of patterns in the surrounding compound walls. Taylor, meanwhile, found work at a petrol station in Washington Boulevard and it was while manning the pumps that one fateful day in September 1975, he was tragically killed after being struck by a passing van.

Devastated at the loss of his closest friend, Dillon returned to Port Antonio, where he spent the ensuing months contemplating his future, seeking solace in the Royal Judah Coptic Order. The passing of time gradually eased the pain and he eventually came out of his temporary retirement in 1977, recording a number of songs for Winston 'Niney' Holness that were gathered on the album 'slave Call'. the following year, he cut further material at Channel One for Alvin 'GG' Ranglin that saw issue on his second solo album, 'Open The Gate Of Zion'. In 1980, he re-united with Coxsone Dodd to record a dozen sides for the Studio One LP, 'Everything Crash' and soon after, he was presented with a 'Certificate of Appreciation for Pop Music Development' from the Prime Minister, Edward Seaga for his services to the Jamaican music industry.

A period of inactivity followed, but in 1986 he was back making music, cutting the 'Dread Prophesy' album for Nighthawk Records. Subsequent collections, 'One Step Forward' and 'On The Road Again' have indicated his talents as a songwriter and performer remain undiminished after almost forty years in the music business.

Had fate not played a cruel hand in bringing their work to an end there is little doubt Leonard Dillon and Stephen Taylor would have an even greater role to play in the destiny of Reggae music. This anthology traces their recording career, from their earliest Ska-flavoured hits of the mid-sixties, up until their final recordings together some ten years later and by so doing illustrates why the Ethiopians remain among the best-loved Jamaican vocal groups of all time.

LAURENCE CANE-HONEYSETT

Free Man
Owe Me No Pay Me
Train To Skaville
I Need You
The Whip
Cool It Amigo
Stay Loose Mama
The World Goes Ska
Come On Now
Give Me Your Love
You Got The Dough
Engine 54
Train To Glory
Fire A Muss Muss Tail
Reggae Hit The Town
I'm Not A King
Not Me
Everything Crash
Hong Kong Flu
Feel The Spirit
What A Fire
Gun Man (Aka You)
Everyday Talking
Woman Capture Man
One (Heart, One Love)
Well Red
My Testimony
Buss Your Mouth (Aka Contention)
Things A Get Bad To Worse
Mek You Go On So
Wreck It Up
Hang On (Aka Don't Let It Go)
I'll Never Get Burnt
Drop Him
Mother's Tender Care
Condition A Bad Yard
Praise Far I
No Baptism
Good Ambition
Lot Wife
He's Not A Rebel
The Selah
Sad News
Solid As A Rock
I Need Someone
Pirate
Israel Want To Be Free
Promises
The Ring
The World Is Love
Hail Brother Rasta, Hail
(I Want To Be A) Better Man
Conquering Lion
Band Yu Belly
Knowledge Is Power
Another Moses

Trojan
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