The history of popular music is littered with long lost heroes and forgotten tales, with even those that succeed in making a significant mark upon their given field often disregarded over the course of time. such is the case with the Kingstonians. Between the years bridging the onset of rock steady and the roots era of the seventies, this distinctive sounding vocal trio not only enjoyed success on a regular basis, but also helped influence the direction of Jamaica's music industry as a whole. But after each of the group's increasingly fell upon hard times, they gradually faded from the nation's consciousness, so much so that today a search for information on their career produces precious little in way of hard information, with details sketchy at best. what follows is to date the most comprehensive summation of their career; it's brevity a sad reflection of how quickly and easily even the most accomplished of talents can, in the course of time, be discarded.

The Kingstonians' beginnings can be traced back to the early sixties when by Cebert Jackie Bernard, his older brother Lloyd aka 'Footy', cousin Radcliffe Kerr and their friend, Seaford Campbell formed a singing quartet.

Hailing from Montego Bay in the Jamaican parish of St. James, the group's initial breakthrough came with a winning performance at a Pop & Mento competition, where they appeared as Jack Lord & The Apostles. The victory led to a session with celebrated Kingston-based Studio One producer, Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, with two singles for the famed producer seeing issue soon after.

Unfortunately neither disc succeeded in eliciting much interest, but despite the relative failure, Jackie, the group's lead singer and chief songwriter, remained positive, as he related to Jamaican Gleaner journalist Claude Mills in 1998:

"Nothing happened and me start to think things through, but me never have no doubts still, something did bound fe just hit... but still nothing never g'waan 'til 1967."

It was that year when the group, now a trio, with Campbell having left for the US, returned to the studio, cutting sides for two of Kingston's leading record producers, Derrick Harriott and Sonia Pottinger.

Unfortunately, the group's offerings for both promptly sank without a trace and soon after the trio found themselves auditioning for the relatively inexperienced Karl 'JJ' jhnson.

Thankfully, Johnson succeeded where all else had failed and in the summer of '67, the newly named Kingstonians enjoyed their first significant Jamaican hit, 'Winey winey'. Released on the island on the producer's eponymously titled JJ label and on Rio in the UK, the record became one of the biggest rock steady hits of the year, remaining on the island's chart for nine weeks.

Unfortunately further successes with Johnson proved initially elusive and it was not until the development of reggae during the latter months of 1968 that they finally returned to the Jamaican best-sellers listings. Impressive singles for Coxsone Dodd and Blondel Calnek (aka Ken Lack) demonstrated how their new, up-tempo rhythms suited the trio's raw delivery, but it was the driving JJ Johnson-produced 'Mix It Up' that put them back into the spotlight. A hit both sides of the Atlantic, the record was promptly licked up for release in the UK by the recently launched Trojan Records, which also included the track on the company's initial 'Tighten Up' LP collection.

Successful though the 7" was, it's popularity was eclipsed by the stunning 'Sufferer', recorded for Derrick Harriott as the year drew to its close. The songs powerful lyric resonated strongly with young, disaffected and downtrodden peoples everywhere, while its catchy hook and irresistible production ensured its popularity on the dancehalls both in Jamaica and the UK, where it was issued on Trojan's recently created Big Shot imprint.

Subsequent sessions with Harriott produced a series of superior boss reggae sides that firmly established the Kingstonians as one of Jamaica's hottest acts. Meanwhile, they continued to freelance, cutting further material for Albert George Murphy, Coxsone Dodd and Leslie Kong, although it was back with Harriott that they were to enjoy their next big hit.

Released in the spring of 1970, the ebullient 'Singer Man' provided the trio with another major success; its popularity leading to the release of their 'Sufferer' album later that year. By this time, they had enjoyed another big seller with the Rupie Edwards-produced 'You Can't Wine', although their hit making days were sadly coming to an end.

Over the next few years, Jackie, both with and without the Kingstonians, recorded for a variety of producers with varying degrees of success. Among those with whom he worked during this time were Coxsone Dodd, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, and both JJ and Harry Johnson, while around 1973, he also found time to launch his own Stun King label on which he released a number of well-received self-produced 45s.

But as the 70s drew to a close, Jackie and the group had virtually ceased recording together. In 1978, the Kingstonians formally split up when 'Footy' and Kerr finally returned to Montego Bay after becoming frustrated with the music industry and life in Kingston.

Jackie meanwhile remained in the island's capital and over the next few years or so continued to freelance, occasionally producing records for his Tuff Jack Records label. But he was unsuited to the harsh sound of dancehall and by the dawn of the digital reggae era in the mid-80s, had ceased recording altogether, spending most of his time making tams and belts to earn a living.

Finally, in 1998, he decided to step back into the limelight, relating the following in an interview with Jamaican Gleaner journalist, Claude Mills:

"I feel I can make a comeback because of the fight that I have inside of me. I know that I've still got it."

Sadly, the comeback failed to materialise for the once celebrated singer-songwriter and a few years later, it was reported in the same paper that Jackie had returned to the streets of Kingston, seeking help from anyone willing to give it. The piece also stated that tragically his brother had fared no better, describing the former singer as a 'street person', who had become unemployable and was spending his days in Mount Salem, St. James. Meanwhile, the third member of the once famous group, Lloyd Kerr had been incarcerated in one of the island's proson.

The years that immediately followed proved no kinder to the three former singing colleagues and on the 15th September 2014, the Kingstonians' story finally came to a tragic end when, a week after being admitted to Kingston Public Hospital due to chest pains, Jackie sadly passed away at the age of 66. Having spent the last decade barely surviving, he had caught pneumonia and had been too frail to fight its devastating effects. Since his passing, the fate of his brother and Lloyd Kerr has remained unknown.

That all three members of what was once such a dynamic and forceful group fell upon hard times is difficult to understand. In the late 60s and early 70s, the Kingstonians enjoyed some of the biggest hits of the period and were widely regarded as one of Jamaica's finest and most original vocal trios. This expanded version of the group's sole long player is proof of the enduring talents. Collected here is their complete reggae output for Derrick Harriott, with the original 12 tracks from the 'sufferer' LP bolstered by an equal number of bonus tracks, comprising both additional recordings by the trio as well as instrumentals performed over rhythms originally created for some of Jackie's finest songs.

While Jackie has gone, we can at least still appreciate his wonderful legacy, which will forever ensure that he and his fellow sufferers are never completely forgotten.

Laurence Cane-Honeysett



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