Doctor Bird | Savage Jaw
Trojan
 
 

If he'd been American, Justin Hinds might have become a country singer, or maybe an evangelist. There's a naturality and lack of guile in his pleasingly rounded tenor voice that smacks of wide open spaces rather than crowded cities; and the declamatory and adamant way in which he delivers his songs, which more often than not contain heartfelt moral messages, would have stood him in good stead in a storefront chapel.

In fact, Justin was a country boy. Born in Steer Town, a quiet village just a few miles from Ocho Rios on Jamaica's North coast, in 1942, he developed an interest in music as a youngster, and soon started writing songs, recruiting his local friends, Dennis Sinclair and Junior Dixon, to help him sing them, dubbing the pair, 'The Dominoes' because he - in common with many Jamaicans in the late 1950s - was a great fan of Fats Domino.

In 1963 the three of them travelled to Kingston to try and make a record. It didn't start very well: they didn't manage to audition for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One and at first they got nowhere with the cities other dominant record man of the time, Duke Reid. But through the intervention of a friend from the Back-O-Wall part of town, who had some influence with the great man, they went back and this time were accepted.

This, as it turned out, was a mutually beneficial arrangement: not only did their debut waxing 'Carry Go Bring Come' sell like hot dominoes and top the Jamaican charts, but the group would stay loyal to Duke Reid and his Treasure Isle and Dutchess [sic] labels for a decade and more, racking up many hits along the way - indeed they were apparently Treasure Isle's top-selling artists for several years, though it's unclear who was counting.

Not everyone got along with the Duke - a man with a ready right fist and a gun at his waist can find it hard to make friends - but Justin's lengthy tenure with the Bond Street-based label suggests that relations between the two were cordial. John Holt, leader of another successful Treasure Isle act, The Paragons, also used to speak of the boss in glowing terms.

Until fairly recently, the Jamaican music market was dominated by singles and, despite Justin and the group's bulging back catalogue, Treasure Isle had fought shy of releasing an LP of their work. This was finally rectified with the issue in the mid-1970s of the album that forms the basis of this set, 'From Jamaica With Reggae', a slightly odd title in that the album was not officially issued outside Jamaica.

The circumstances of its gestation are shrouded in mystery: by 1975 Duke Reid was seriously ill (he would pass away the following year) and became unable to take an active part in recording sessions. So it was not until after he sold the business to rival producer and family friend, Sonia Pottinger that the set finally saw issue. The original 12 tracker consists of roughly half-and-half new tracks an old favourites, so it looks as if whoever selected the material used all the available new recordings and added some greatest hits, making it a set of 'His latest and gratest (sic)', as the label of a Laurel Aitken record once proclaimed.

It kicks off with what many fans consider the, er, gratest of them all: the cautionary tale of a gossipy woman, 'Carry Go Bring Come', in fine ska style with a commanding horns riff (Duke Reid's bands seemed to reserve some of their best riffs for Justin's recordings). This was a big Jamaican hit and also did good business over here, though as Island credited it on the label to 'The Charms' it did little to raise the singer's profile.

The LP then leaps forward eleven years to what was allegedly the last record produced by Duke Reid, 'If It's Love You Need' which, like so many of Justin's songs, advocates peace and unity: 'This world was not made for war, This world was made for us all'. He very rarely sang covers of other people's songs, but an honourable exception is 'Here I Stand', which had been a US hit for Wade Flemons & The Newcomers in 1958. Why he chose to revive it almost 9 years later is anyone's guess, though perhaps he had heard the song played on Jamaica's sound systems - or perhaps he had heard The Rip Chords' more recent American hit version on the radio.

From the stirring late ska of that number, the tempo drops down into what Treasure Isle's session men Tommy McCook & The Supersonics were best at - rock steady - for 'Once A Man', also known as 'Do All The Good', on which Justin warns that as you sow, so shall you reap. It's a consistent theme of his work throughout the years, as we hear on the Sonia Pottinger-produced 'You Don't Know' from 1976, where he tells oppressors that they will receive their come-uppance from God, and 'On The Last Day', which presents the flip side of the story: that righteous people's reward awaits them in Heaven. From the previous year, 'Sinners Where You Gonna Hide' is self-explanatory and was the original A-side of 'If It's Love You Need' on both Ja. Dutchess and UK Pama.

The LP's eighth track is, for this writer, the peak of Justin Hinds' oeuvre. 'Drink Milk' dates from 1969, that seminal year in which reggae first came into its own and was recognised as an exciting new musical style. That excitement is palpable in the urgent, chattering rhythm with its hard-shuffling organ and slurping horn riff, over which the singer warbles a tune based on the old Jamaican proverb 'You come here to drink milk, you no come here to count cows' - in other words, don't be a bystander, get involved in the action.

The next track, 'The  Little That You Have', bears a 1976 P-date but is almost certainly a previously unissued track from some years earlier. The song has Justin adopting the Parable of the Talents from St. Matthew's gospel (chapter 25, verses 14 to 30, pop-pickers) into a compelling rock steady number - 'Hinds provides proof that misery can be danceable', as critic David Colon acerbically observed. The original album is competed by 'Hey Mama', again based on an old proverb, 'Cock mouth kill cock', in other words, watch what you say because your unwise words will come back to haunt you, and 'Teach The Youth', which teaches us that a good moral education is essential if the young generation are going to grow into good citizens.

The dozen bonus tracks kick of with the reggae prayer 'Mighty Redeemer', that beseeches the Lord to punish those who grow rich by exploiting ordinary people, and 1967's 'Save A Bread' in which Justin urges his listeners to live prudently and make provision for the future. The fiery ska of 'Mother Banner' is followed by the bouncy early reggae of 'You Should've Known Better', based on Jesus's teaching, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you', from the sermon on the mount; then a couple of ska sizzlers leap from your speakers: the loping 'The Higher The Monkey Climbs', again based on a Jamaican proverb, warns that the higher you climb the social or economic ladder, the harder your fall may be, while the careering 'Rub Up Push Up' is not, as some febrile observers would have you believe a lewd song: Justin is castigating a lady who had wronged him and who wants him back - but he will reject her advances until she apologises properly.

By the same token, 'On A Saturday Night' is not a hedonistic ode to good times; it is made of more serious stuff, the text 'Whosoever keepeth his mouth, keepeth his life' from the Book Of Proverbs. The next three numbers are, in varying ways,, updates: 1971's 'Botheration' laments the suffering and social depravation rife in Jamaica - unfortunately just as relevant today as it was when Justin recorded his original version in 1965 - while 'Sufferation '69' is a bouncy number along the same lines, perhaps too much along the same lines as Duke Reid never released it and it had to wait until 2012 to make its debut on a limited edition Trojan single. The B-side of that 45, 'Warm Up', is about as close to romantic songs as Justin ever got, though not that close, as he tells his girlfriend either to show him affection or bugger off.

'Say Me Say' brings 'Carry Go Bring Come' up to date in a 1970 reggae style, leaving the ska-gospel, 'Peace And Love' to complete the tally of Treasure Isle productions on the CD. Our two final tracks were recorded by Sonia Pottinger after Reid's death and issued on her High Note label. Try as he may, this writer can't discover what a 'Rig-Ma-Roe Game' is; my best guess is that it's something like the children's chasing game that, during my boyhood in Sheffield, was known as 'tiggy'. It's backs by The Revolutionaries, as is 'Wipe Your Weeping Eyes', which tells us that good behaviour brings happiness and which contains the classic line 'Walk with a fool and you shall be fooler'.

Both during and after making these recordings, Justin Hinds displayed little taste for the hurley-burley of Kingston Town; he'd come to Treasure Isle in Bond Street to record, then head off back to his farming life on the North coast. He did make more records, such as a pair of Jack ruby-produced collections, released by Island in the UK, and the 'Travel with love' LP for the American label Nighthawk.

In the 1990s, Justin finally gained overdue international recognition, touring and playing gigs from Largo, Maryland to the Hackney Empire, but he always went back to Steer Town, where he lived until he passed away in 2005. He left behind a rich legacy of distinctive, melodic, uplifting, beautifully performed music that makes you think and makes you dance - as this album ably demonstrates.

Mike Atherton
October 2017

CARRY GO BRING COME
WHATEVER YOU NEED (AKA IF IT’S LOVE YOU NEED)
HERE I STAND (ALTERNATE VERSION)
DO ALL THE GOOD (AKA ONCE A MAN)
YOU DON’T KNOW
ON THE LAST DAY
SINNERS (WHERE YOU GONNA HIDE)
DRINK MILK (ALTERNATE VERSION)
THE LITTLE YOU HAVE
HEY MAMA (AKA COCK MOUTH KILL COCK)
OH WHAT A FEELINGS (AKA WHOLE LOT OF FEELING)
TEACH THE YOUTH

MIGHTY REDEEMER
SAVE A BREAD
MOTHER BANNER
YOU SHOULD’VE KNOWN BETTER
THE HIGHER THE MONKEY CLIMBS
RUB UP PUSH UP
ON A SATURDAY NIGHT
BOTHERATION
SUFFERATION 1969
SAY ME SAY
PEACE AND LOVE
WARM UP
RIG-MA-ROE GAME
WIPE YOUR WEEPING EYES

Trojan
© Doctor Bird Records