By the early sixties, the rapidly developing Jamaican recording industry was dominated by a number of major sound system operators whose initial dabblings at producing had been primarily due o the need to create 'exclusive' new music for their sets. But unlike such giants as Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster and King Edwards who had trodden this path to success, the route taken by Leslie Michael Kong was far less conventional. Nevertheless, it did not prevent him from ultimately becoming one of the island's most successful record producers of all time.

Prior to his career in music, Leslie had enjoyed a relatively comfortable upbringing and after finishing his schooling at St. George's College, Kingston, help run the family-owned Beverley Ice Cream Parlour at 135a Orange Street, Kingston. As a side-line to its main source of income, the establishment also sold records, the growing popularity of which increasingly interested the aspiring young entrepreneur. By the early 1960s, Leslie was convinced of the serious commercial potential of locally produced music, although the catalyst for his new business was a young, precocious talent called James Chambers, who had taken it upon himself to compose a song dedicated to the Kong business: 'Dearest Beverley'. After performing the number to the Kong brothers, Leslie directed the youngster to Derrick Morgan, one of the island's leading recording artistes who by this time already had a series of local hits to his name. Impressed by what he saw and heard, Derrick advised that aspiring young singer/songwriter record the track which resulted in a recording session at Federal Records being swiftly arranged.

The recordings cut at that inaugural session launched Leslie, his newly founded Beverley's Records and Chambers (aka Jimmy Cliff) into the big-time almost overnight, with the single becoming a significant local hit. soon after, both Derrick's 'Be Still' c/w 'Sunday Monday' and jimmy's 'Hurricane Hattie' c/w 'Dearest Beverley' were riding high on the national listings, with the success of his new enterprise encouraging Leslie to expand the new business further. Before long, Beverley's roster included another two local young talents, Desmond Dacres (aka Dekker) and Bob Marley, who, like their young label-mate would in time, achieve global stardom.

It was around this time, Leslie, along with Graeme Goodall and Chris Blackwell financed the formation of Island Records, a London-based company that within months of its launch in 1962 became a significant force on the British Afro-Caribbean music scene. While the latter of the co-operative relocated to the UK to manage the operation, his partners set about acquiring the catalogue of recordings for the business from Jamaica's leading producers. The arrangement proved hugely successful and by the mid-sixties, Island competed with Emile Shalit's long-established Melodisc Records to be the country's leading source for Jamaican sounds.

Meanwhile, back in Jamaica, Beverley's also continued to thrive and soon after Leslie had severed ties with Island, he became one of the first Jamaican producers to enjoy international success after Desmond Dekker & The Aces' '007' climbed to number 14 in the UK pop charts in the summer of 1967. The record was also a triumph for Leslie's friend and business partner; Graeme Goodall, who released the single in Britain on the Pyramid label, a subsidiary of his Doctor Bird Records operation that he had launched the previous year.

Leslie's reputation as one of Jamaica's mot successful (and best paying) producers was further reinforced with the acquisition to his roster of one of the island's hottest musical properties: the Maytals. Their enlistment ensured Beverley's prominence on the local music scene for the next year or so, as the label continued to supply record buyers with a steady flow of high quality sounds.

Although successful, its achievements up to this point were overwhelmingly eclipsed in the spring of 1969, as Desmond Dekker & The Aces' (Poor Mi) Israelites' claimed the UK number one spot. The disc subsequently repeated the feat in Canada, West Germany, Sweden, Holland and South Africa and even succeeded in breaking into the US top ten, eventually peaking at number nine. Its popularity propelled the emerging sound of reggae into the international spotlight and in Britain at least, the buying power of the country's newly established skinhead youths, combined with that of the country's growing Afro-Caribbean community, ensured it remained there for the next couple of years. During this time, Leslie achieved further global success on scale previously considered impossible for the Jamaican-based record entrepreneur, with his productions breaking into the British pop listings on no less than 9 occasions between 1969 and 1970.

These hits included further popular 45s from Desmond Dekker in 'It Mek', 'Pickney Gal' and 'You Can Get It It You Really Want' and breakthrough singles for the singer-songwriter who had been integral to the Beverley's Records story, Jimmy Cliff, whose outward looking 'Wonderful World Beautiful People' and 'Vietnam' silenced critics of Jamaican music by masterfully illustrating that Jamaican songwriters were more than capable of effectively articulating a serious political message in their work. Others to experience global success under Leslie's guidance were the Maytals and fellow singing trios, the Pioneers and the Melodians, whose respective 'Monkey Man', 'Long Shot Kick De Bucket', 'Sweet Sensation' all breached the UK charts between the autumn of '69 and the spring of 1970.

By 1971, Leslie's insistence in using only the best performers, musicians, sound engineers and equipment had produced a body of work that few of his peers could ever hope to equal. And as the Beverley's Recording Company dominated the local music scene, his recently launched property business, Leslie's Real Estate Ltd. was also proving exceedingly successful.

But on 9th August 1971, just as a bright and prosperous future seemed ensured, his life was tragically cut short after he suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Norbrook Acres Drive in Kingston. Aged just 39, he left behind his distraught wife, Colleen and two children, and a roster of performers who had regarded Leslie as not only their producer, but also a friend and, in a number of notable cases, their mentor.

His loss proved a massive blow to the Jamaican music industry, but while his life was cut short at such a young age, he had at least, left behind an outstanding body of work that few could ever hope to equal.

The recordings on this long overdue collection provide but a taste of an outstanding talent that was behind many of the most significant recordings in the history of Jamaican music. First issued in 1970, in both Jamaica (as 'Original Reggae Hot Shots') and in the UK, the original LP showcased a dozen of his most popular productions from the preceding few months, with the Maytals, the Pioneers, Ansel Collins, the Gaylads and the Melodians among the impressive roll-call of featured acts.

After almost half a century, the collection is finally made available once again with this release, which features the original 12 tracks supplemented by an equal number of bonus recordings, all of which first saw issue between early 1969 and the start of the following year. the upshot is a stunning set of early reggae sounds, performed and produced by some of Jamaica's greatest talents of the period - music that throughout remains consistently upbeat, bright, positive and, most of all, hugely enjoyable. Exactly how Leslie insisted it should always be.

Laurence Cane-Honeysett

MONKEY MAN – The Maytals
WHY BABY WHY – Ken Boothe
COTTON DANDY – Ansel Collins & The Beverley’s All Stars
SO MUCH LOVE – Joe White
THERE’S A FIRE – The Gaylads
SHOW ME THE WAY – Delroy Wilson
I’M THE ONE – Bruce Ruffin

HIGH VOLTAGE – Ansel Collins
I’LL NEED YOU TOMORROW – The Kingstonians
DOUBLE SHOT – Beverley’s All Stars
LICK IT BACK – The Clarendonians
JAGA JAGA WAR – The Wanderers
NIGHT OF LOVE – Ansel Collins
HOOLA BULLA – The Slickers
WIGGLE WAGGLE – The Wanderers
MOON DUST – Ansel Collins
DRY UP YOUR TEARS – Bruce Ruffin

© Doctor Bird Records