After being formed in the mid-1960s by Leonard Dillon, Stephen Taylor and Aston 'Charlie' Morrison, the Ethiopians swiftly became established as one of Jamaica's best-loved harmony groups, enjoying significant local success from the close of the ska era through to the roots years of the late '70s.

Dillon, the group's lynchpin, was born on 9th December 1942 in Boundbrook, Port Antonio, Jamaica. His affinity with music was demonstrated at an early age when, while still at school, he performed with an act known as The Playboys. Around 1964, Dillon settled in Trench Town, Kingston, where he was trained as a stonemason/builder, working under foreman and future record producer, Leebert Robinson (more about him later) and befriended three young performers, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Bunny Livingston, who as The Wailers would become the most celebrated of all Jamaican vocal trios.

Through the group, Dillon auditioned for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, Brentford Road; the quality of his performance prompting the producer to have the young singer cut four songs, three of which would also feature The Wailers on backing vocals. Most notable of the recordings cut that day was the popular 'Beggars Have No Choice', which, along with the other tracks from the session, credited Dillon as 'Jack Sparrow', a nickname acquired due to the tone of his singing voice.

After his brief spell as a recording artist, Dillon, who by now had embraced Rastafari, decided to form a harmony group of his own. After recruiting Taylor, Morrison, and a fourth member recalled only as 'Foresight', the quartet returned to Dodd as The Ethiopians - a name Dillon chose either as a paean to his faith or a tribute to the homeland of Emperor Haile Selassie, who visited Jamaica in 1966. At Studio One, the group recorded 'Live Good', 'Dun Dead A Ready' and the significantly popular 'Owe Me No Pay Me', with the latter two recordings seeing issue in the UK on William Rickard's Rio imprint.

By this time, Foresight had departed and Morrison followed soon after, leaving Dillon and Taylor to continue as a duo, with the pair returning to Studio One later that year to record some new material that included 'I'm Gonna Take Over Now' and 'Free Man' (aka 'I Am Free'), which saw release in the UK on Rio and Island, respectively. A further two Ethiopians' recordings saw issue in Britain early in '67 on B&C's newly formed Coxsone and Studio 1 imprints: 'Let's Get Together' and 'Leave My Business Alone' - although both of these were consigned to B-sides as 45s.

Despite the popularity of their recordings, the duo benefitted little financially from their success with Dodd, prompting Dillon to seek financial backing from his building contractor boss, Leebert Robinson, so as to pay for the next 45. Recorded at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle recording studios, 'Train To Skaville', was issued in Jamaica or the WIRL label and in the UK n Rio, where, in September 1967, it surprisingly managed to creep into the 'official' pop charts. spending six weeks on the listings, during which time it peaked at number 40.

The next recording, 'The Whip' and 'Cool It Amigo' (erroneously credited as 'Omega' on the Jamaican release) were recorded at the West Indie Records Limited studios, backed by Jamaica's leading instrumentalists, Lyn Taitt & The Jets. Both sides were subsequently licensed to Sonia Pottinger, who issued them in Jamaica, back-to-back, on her Gay Feet label, with the same combination, this time correctly spelt, featured on Graeme Goodall's much loved Doctor Bird label in the UK.

The three aforementioned recordings were all sizable hits in Jamaica, as well as being very popular in Britain, with their healthy sales prompting a three month tour of the country in 1968. They returned to Britain the following year, spending two months on a tour organised by Commercial Entertainments Management, an organisation formed and managed by former pop musicians, Bruce White and Tony Cousins, (jointly known as Bruce Anthony).

Upon their return to Jamaica after their first UK trip, Dillon and Taylor recruited Melvin Reid, and the new line-up wasted little time in cutting a number of sides at Kingston's famed Federal Recording studio, although within months of their release, the group were back to being a duo once more.

A session supervised by Garnet Hargreaves at WIRL studios resulted in the hugely popular 'Engine 54' (a song about an old steam engine that once ran countryside excursions across Jamaica), with the popularity of the track resulting in their debut album of the same name. Released on the WIRL label in Jamaica, and Doctor Bird in Britain, the album featured a dozen rock steady and soul numbers by the group, including the sublime 'Train To Glory'.

As rock steady morphed into the new reggae style, the duo cut the classics 'Fire A Muss Muss Tail' and 'Reggae Hit The Town', both if which were issued locally by Jamaican producer Harry Robinson, who in turn licensed them to the Palmer Brothers in London, who released the tracks on the Pama subsidiary label, Crab. Other material recorded by the pair around this time included 'Cut Down On Your Speed', issued in Jamaica by Lee Perry and in the UK by Goodall's Doctor Bird concern.

The release of these tracks, late in 1968, coincided with the commencement of their relationship with producer Karl Johnson, with whom, over the next few years, they would record over 30 tracks that saw issue on 7" singles and two long players. Their initial collaboration, 'Everything Crash', has long since become widely regarded as a classic, while follow-ups 'What A Fire', 'Feel The Spirit', 'Hong Kong Flu' and 'Woman Capture Man' are all also revered by collectors and fans alike.

Alongside the extensive portfolio of work with Johnson, Dillon and Taylor also recorded for almost every Jamaican producer of note throughout this time, their number including Coxsone Dodd ('Walkie Talkie' and 'You'll Want To Come Back'), Lloyd Daley 9'Satan Gal'), Duke Reid ('Mother's Tender Care' and 'Pirate'), Derrick Harriott ('No Baptism' and 'Good Ambition'), Alvin Ranglin ('Israel Want To Ne Free', 'Sound Of Our Forefathers' and 'Love Bug'), Winston Riley ('Promises'), Rupie Edwards ('Solid As A Rock'), Vincent Chin ('Free Man' and 'Rim Bam Bam'), Sonia Pottinger ('Praise Far I'), Prince Buster ('Playboy' and 'You Are For Me'), Lee Perry ('Life Is A Funny Thing') and Joe Gibbs ('Ring A Bun Finger').

Aside from Dillon's work in the studio, he also put his masonry skills to good use as he helped build producer Lee Perry's famous Black Ark Studios. This work, between '73 and '74, naturally coincided with a downturn in the Ethiopians output, although the quality of their less frequent releases remained of the highest standard, as demonstrated by such 45s as 'Conquering Lion', Better Man', 'Another Moses' and 'Knowledge Is Power'. While much of the Ethiopians recordings from this period saw release in Jamaica on labels owned by others, Dillon was certainly the producer for most, if not all of the material.

The releases came to an abrupt end in September 1975 when Stephen Taylor was tragically killed in a traffic accident, but after a period of mourning the loss of his great friend, Dillon eventually re-formed the Ethiopians, enlisting former group member, Melvin Reid, with whom he subsequently recorded a handful of singles for a number of Kingston-based producers, including Alvin Ranglin and Joe Gibbs. In 1977, the pair recorded their classic roots album 'Slave Call', under the auspices of noted Winston Holness (aka Niney), but soon after, Dillon concentrated on his solo work and as 'The Ethiopian' recorded the 'Open The Gate Of Zion' album for Alvin Ranglin and in 1980, the Coxsone Dodd-produced LP, 'Everything Crash'.

Six years passed before he combined with the Gladiators for the 'Dread Prophecy' album for Nighthawk Records, while his next collection, 'One Step Forward', was not released until 1992. A further two years elapsed before Dillon returned to Studio One to cut the 'Owner Fe De Yard' LP, with the next album, 'Tougher Than Stone', issued shortly before the century came to a close.

The new millennium brought two further Coxsone Dodd collaborations, 'Mystic Man', in 2002, and 'Leonard Dillon The Ethiopian', released a decade later, although sadly the latter was issued posthumously, Dillon having succumbed to the devastating effects of cancer on 28th September 2011, aged 68.

Andy Lambourn (aka Charlie Chalk)
Marc Griffiths (Bosssounds)


Producer, Karl Johnson (aka JJ and Sir JJ) remains one of the most enigmatic figures from Jamaican music history, with surprisingly little widely known about his life. Born around the late 1930s/early 1940s, he was the son of a bus pioneer, Bromley Johnson, founder of the Magnet Bus Company, one of the first bus providers serving rural Jamaica, while his brother Copely founded and managed Johnson's Drive-In Restaurant an Maxfield Avenue, Kingston.

Like his father and brother, JJ was business-minded and in the mid-sixties chose to direct his attention to the burgeoning Jamaican music industry. His interests began as a distributor of jukeboxes, but before long he decided to open his own record shop, located at 133 Orange Street, Kingston, next door to Leslie Kong's Beverley's Records at number 135. His move into record production commenced around 1966, with his releases issued on his own JJ and sir JJ record labels.

for his recording sessions, Johnson employed the services of top instrumental outfit, Bobby Aitken & The Carib-Beats, who, in line with common practice among Jamaican producers at the time, he renamed in his honour, with the group appearing on the majority of his releases as The JJ All Stars. The line-up of this highly respected combo featured Aitken on guitar, alongside Winston Richards aka Grennan (drums), Vincent White (bass), Bobby Kalphat (keyboards) and 'Iron Sprat' (bongos), and hornsmen, Alphonso Henry (alto sax), Val Bennett (tenor sax), Dave Parks (trombone) and mark Lewis (trumpet).

Between 1966 and 1972, Johnson released at least 160 tracks on 7" vinyl, with many of his productions also issued in the UK; initially by Rio and Doctor Bird, and from mid-1969 onwards, by Trojan. Like many of his most successful rivals, his productions developed a clearly distinguishable sound and as rock steady evolved into reggae, the slow, distinctive jerky rhythm style of his work resulted in his releases becoming clearly distinguishable from that of his peers. From late 1968 onwards, he used variations of this rhythm on tracks by most of his artists, with the two albums that comprise this CD providing a number of classic examples of this unique sound.

Prior to working with The Ethiopians, Johnson enjoyed significant success with The Rulers ('Copasetic'), Carl Dawkins ('Baby I Love You'), The Kingstonians ('Winey Winey'), Eric Donaldson & The West Indians/The Kilowatts ('Right On Time', 'Bring It On Home To Me') and Roy Shirley (' Dancing Reggae'). Later major releases included instrumental tracks, either credited simply to the JJ All Stars or showcasing the talents of keyboard maestros, Winston Wright ('Five Miles High'), Ansel Collins ('Bigger Boss') and Aston 'Family Man' Barrett ('Instalment Plan').

Other notable singles from this time included the popular DJ 45s, 'Soup' by Lloyd Young and 'Number One Version' by Tony (thought by some to be Michael Rose), although it was long-term collaborators, The Ethiopians and Carl Dawkins, who provided the greatest successes with 'The Selah' and 'Satisfaction', respectively.

That Johnson, who according to the notes on the back cover of the 'Reggae Power' LP, was 'a tall slim young man' and 'of very few words', is not now heralded as one of Jamaica's great music makers, is due to his brutal murder, the producer having been shot dead in his record shop in 1972, with the precise circumstances surrounding his tragic death still a mystery.

This CD, showcases the very best of Johnson's collaborations with the Ethiopians between 1968 and 1970, coupling the tw popular Trojan LPs 'Reggae Power' and 'Woman Capture Man' plus seven of the group's recordings for the producer from the corresponding years. As you hear from the music featured herein, it was a relationship that brought out the very best in both parties.

(Trojan LP, TTL-10) 1969

Originally issued by Trojan Records to coincide with The Ethiopians' UK tour in the autumn of 1969, 'Reggae Power' was presented on the company's budget 'TTL' range, which gave reggae fans the opportunity to acquire a selection of new and re-presented albums in exchange for just '14/6', or around 73p in today's money.

The LP was in fact an amended version of the Jamaican album of the same title, with the three tracks by popular vocalist Roy Shirley that featured on the Sir JJ issue, replaced by an equal number of those by The Ethiopians. One of the replacement tracks selected by Trojan was the Coxsone Dodd-produced 'Free' (aka 'Free Man'), which for contractual reasons had been omitted from this collection, but the other additions were, thankfully, Johnson productions, and as such are retained for this reissue. The remainder of the material on the long player all saw issue in the UK on Trojan and Doctor Bird 7" singles, with the exception of 'One Dollar Of Soul', which featured on Pama's Nu Beat subsidiary, albeit credited to 'The Johnson Boys'.

The album kicks off with the extremely popular 'Woman Capture Man', closely followed by the hugely successful 'Everything Crash', the theme of which highlighted the widespread civil unrest and strikes that gripped Jamaica during 1968 At the time, amenities such as water and power had been cut, leading to street demonstrations, including an incident in Kingston in which the police shot 31 people. The song certainly struck a chord with many Jamaican, with it's popularity also resulting in a reworking by Prince Buster, who retitled the song 'Pharaoh House Crash'.

The equally popular 'Hong Kong Flu' was another topical number that sold strongly in Jamaica and the UK, with the song focusing on the worldwide flu pandemic of 1968/1969 that was believed to have originated within the Chinese peninsula. The album is chock full of tracks featuring Johnson's 'choppy' rhythms and like many other Trojan TTL '14/6'ers, such as 'The Upsetter', 'Seven Letters' and 'Red Red Wine'. seemed to be found in almost every West Indian home at the time.

In addition to the vocal tracks by The Ethiopians, the album also contained two instrumental tracks, 'Robert F. Kennedy' (named after the recently murdered US presidential candidate), and the aforementioned 'One Dollar Of Soul', credited on the Trojan LP as The JJ All Stars and as 'The Kingston Tops' on the original Jamaican issue.

Finally, for anyone who's ever wondered, the attractive lass with the headband on the front cover of the album is an actress and model, Pauline Peart, who later featured in the 1973 British films, 'Carry On Girls' and 'The Satanic Rites Of Dracula' - as one of four vampire girls!

(Trojan LP, TBL-112) 1970

Originally issued by Trojan Records in September 1970 on the company's slightly more expensive 'TBL' budget range, the price of which at the time was, in old money, 19/11 - almost £1 - which was boldly emblazoned on the obligatory, circular blue sticker adhered to all long players in the series, and that became so difficult to remove it could almost be considered part of the artwork!

The LP shared three recordings with 'Reggae Power', namely 'Woman Capture Man', 'Everything Crash' and 'Hong Kong Flu', while of the remaining tracks, four were also released in the UK as singles and the other five exclusive to the album. As the collection only saw issue in the UK, it is likely that it was compiled by Trojan Records, who presented it in another typically bold sleeve, which this time featured a stunning close-up photograph of Trojan regular, model/actress Lucienne Camille (aka Sylvia Bayo).

Aside from the three duplicated tracks, the set features a number of other significant recordings, most notably 'Things A Get Bad To Worse' and 'Hang On (Don't Let Me Go)' (aka 'Don't Go'), both of which sold strongly in both Jamaica and in the UK. Whether it was cost, the fact that three tracks were replicated on the preceding 'Reggae Power' LP, or that the set was issued towards the end of the Skinhead era, copies of 'Woman Capture Man' are comparatively sparse these days, which makes this CD reissue all the more welcome.


The two LPs are supplemented by a further seven JJ Johnson-produced bonus tracks from the same period, all of which were issued in the UK on the Doctor Bird, Nu Beat and various Trojan labels. Those wishing to collect The Ethiopians' original singles should be aware that many were issued with slight variations in the title, or indeed, completely new ones, while others credited the wrong artist. Not ideal, perhaps, although to many this element of uncertainty only adds to the excitement of buying the vintage Jamaican music!

The high quality of Leonard Dillon's work rarely disappointed and The Ethiopians' output remains highly regarded by connoisseurs of classic rock steady and early reggae music. The 26 classic tracks collection on this release demonstrate just why this is the case, and should be for many years to come. Enjoy!

Andy Lambourn (aka Charlie Chalk)
Marc Griffiths (Bosssounds)




© Doctor Bird Records