Few men had more impact on the musical scene in Jamaica than Arthur 'Duke' Reid. From the early 1950s until his death in 1976 he was active as  a top sound system operator, a recording studio and record label owner, a record producer and a radio DJ, and still found time to help his wife run their off-licence at 33 Bond Street in Kingston - on whose roof the wooden Treasure Isle studio was built. The hundreds of ska, rock steady and reggae recordings which he supervised stand as the legacy of his energy, taste and vision. This collection is a testimony to the quality of the music issued on his Treasure Isle and Duke Reid labels throughout 1968.

This compilation's starting point - the first twelve tracks on disc 1 - is the LP first issued as 'Come Rock With Me In Jamaica' on Treasure Isle LP 101/4 in Jamaica, but retitled as 'Soul Of Jamaica' for its UK release on Trojan TRLS-3 in 1968. Most of the tracks had originally been released as singles earlier that year, a period when the Duke's rock steady sound reached its full maturity, and all its hallmarks were plain to hear: the airy vocal harmonies, the beat that just wouldn't be hurried, the top-flight arrangements and musicianship of Reid's studio band Tommy McCook & The Supersonics. The album's British title is highly appropriate: soul was the dominant music of black America at that time, and the singers and musicians of the Isle Of Springs paid close attention to the latest sounds emanating from the States, as well as having a comprehensive knowledge of stateside sounds from years gone by, as is apparent on much of the album.

The opening track is a case in point. 'Angel Of The Morning' started life as a pop hit for Merrilee Rush, but the British hit version had a whole lot more soul as it was sung by former Ikette Pat 'PP' Arnold. In this case the original certainly wasn't the greatest, as Joya Landis' seductive and melodic singing is the definitive reading of the number. The mysterious Joya is reputed to have been an American who recorded for Treasure Isle while staying in Jamaica; at least one US single, apart from American releases of her Reid productions, bears her name, but her brief stardom in Jamaica is in stark contrast with her utter obscurity in (what we assume was) her native land.

There's less mystery about 'Willow Tree', though it does show how exhaustively the musicians of Jamaica investigated the music of the USA. Originally a B-side of a non-hit single recorded by Chuck Jackson in 1962, at the very birth of the soul era. Alton Ellis' arresting treatment of the song shows why he was often called 'Mr Soul Of Jamaica', as he sings with feeling and authority over a solid rhythmic foundation with colourful flourishes of organ. Tommy McCook's instrumental 'Heat Wave' also betrays an American influence, as it's a brass and organ number reminiscent of the Mar-Keys, with a trenchant tenor sax solo from the leader.

The sleeve of the original LP tells us that it's Phyllis Dillon, but in fact it's Joya Landis again on 'Put The Light', a song whose saccharined kiddy-loves-mommy lyrics are spared excessive cutesiness by Joya's tongue-in-cheek delivery. popular as Joys was, it was vocal trio the Paragons who were top of the Treasure Isle tree during the rock steady years. The trio of John Holt, Howard Barrett and Tyrone Evans epitomised the cool breeziness of the sound, as they do on 'My Best Girl', with Holt's warm vibrato well to the fore.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 'What The World Needs Now Is Love' was originally a US hit for Jackie de Shannon in 1965 and soon attracted cover versions by just about everyone from Cilla Black to the Sweet Inspirations, but instrumental versions of the tune are less common. Tommy McCook's effervescent version shows how it should be done. Alton Ellis' 'I Can't Stand It' comes from a darker place: it's a disturbing record, its lyrics about fussing and fighting accentuated by the heavy rhythm, thunderous drum fills and a n-n-nervous alto sax riff. Jamaican deep soul with a rock steady beat.

The real Phyllis Dillon steps forward on 'Long Time', which is the Wailers' song 'Nice Time' set to a zestful mento rhythm, which suggests that they're going to have a nice time very soon, despite the lyrics. Phyllis is, needless to say, vocally immaculate. The McCook band then takes a breather and drops back to a rock steady version of the tune which Jamaicans went barmy over in 1968, 'Ride Your Donkey', a simple but irresistibly catchy song originally recorded by its composers the Tennors. It attracted numerous cover versions, of which Tommy's with a fuller arrangement and the assistance of some unnamed singers, is one of the best.

Perhaps the Duke's two biggest solo stars, Alton Ellis and Phyllis Dillon, combine to give us a sweet ballad, 'Love Letters'. The song goes way back, being a hit for Dick Haymes in 1945, though Ketty Lester's 1962 hit version was probably more familiar to Jamaicans. The producer really pulls out all the stops on this one, with what sounds like the Treasure Isle Strings & Chorus in the background. The Jamaicans' 'Woman Go Home' is either very funny or very sick depending on your point of view: despite reports of her husband's serious illness, the woman insists on staying for just one more dance, then another... until she gets word the he'd died and the will is about to be read, at which point she dutifully scuttles off home. Tommy McCook & the Supersonics take it home with 'Flying Home', a venerable tune which goes right back to the dawn of rhythm & blues; Lionel Hampton's Orchestra scored a big US hit with it in 1943. It had been covered before in Jamaica, by Rico Rodriguez as 'Omara Special', and in tommy's hands it becomes an invigorating rock steady performance.

The 'Soul Of Jamaica' album has been on CD before, as long ago as 1997, but that reissue had just the twelve original tracks Now, Doctor Bird brings you no fewer than 14 bonus tracks, all issued on either Treasure Isle or (original) Doctor Bird over here at the time. As you'd expect, the McCook band provides the musical backbone of most of the tracks, and they get a couple of featured spots, notably on 'Our Man Flint' which does that peculiar Jamaican thing of taking the title of a currently popular film or TV programme - in this case the James-Bond-spoof spy thriller starring James Coburn - and playing a completely irrelevant tune. Here it's Dean Martin's 1954 smash 'Sway' in a jaunty rock steady groove.

The musicians down on Bond Street were never afraid to take golden oldies and give them an authentic Jamaican flavour. Perhaps the hoariest chestnut here is 'Old Man River', made famous by Paul Robeson in the show 'Showboat' prior to World War II, though later a feature of the Temptations' stage act; Delroy Denton leads his most capable group the Silvertones on their version. speaking of capable vocal groups brings us to the Techniques, whose line-up included future solo stars Pat kelly and Bruce Ruffin. Their 'It's You I Love' has such a strong Impressions influence that it sounds as if it must be a Curtis Mayfield composition, but as far as this writer can discover, it's not.

Lloyd Williams' 'Wonderful World' on the cusp of rock steady and reggae, is huskily sung, though not as huskily as its originator Louis Armstrong! The Soul Tops place Chuck Jackson's 'good Things' firmly in the rock steady mold and, bringing matters up to date, Phyllis Dillon sings the mighty Solomon King's big 1968 hit 'She Wears My Ring' as 'I Wear His Ring' in typically accomplished fashion.

The second disc of this laudable collection brings together two of Treasure Isle's lesser-known late-60s LPs. 'Here Comes The Duke' doesn't appear to have been released in Jamaica at the time of the music's creation, but did come out in Britain on Trojan (TRL 6) in 1968. It was subsequently issued in Jamaica as a Disc Pressers' series of Treasure Isle albums in the 1970s. 'Soul Music For Sale' was issued in Jamaica in 1969 and, with a revised track listing, appeared on Trojan too (TTL 31) - except that its title had been changed to 'Moonlight Groover' and the original cover of a sax and a drum kit had been replaced by a far more eye-catching snap of Trojan employee, Tilly Vidal (the girl from the cover of the 'Liquidator' LP) grooving to the beat. Just to ensure that this release offers the best possible value, Doctor Bird have added a batch of classic Treasure Isle singles from the same era for good measure.

'Here Comes The Duke' leads off with a current hit by one of Jamaica's most consistent singers, Ken Parker, who began recording in the mid-60s and has been successful in both the reggae and gospel fields(well, he is the son of a preacher man). Tenor-toned Ken is in exultant mood, a mood which continues with the Techniques' 'Run Come Celebrate', an exuberant song led by the distinctive voice of Pat Kelly, which would have been a worthy winner of the 1968 Jamaican Song Festival. Pat is also out front on the airily tuneful 'I'm In The Mood For Love'. The Gladiators would go on to be noted for their roots reggae music, but here they offer a celebration of 'Sweet Soul Music', set to a rhythm whose syncopation points towards the reggae beat which was beginning to take over from rock steady as the island's favourite sound. The mysterious Joya Landis is also sweetly soulful on her revival of Wilbert Harrison's 1959 US smash 'Kansa City', propelled by a deliciously plopping organ.

Wentworth Vernal, one half of vocal duo the Termites, would also fade from view after only a few years, unlike his singing partner Lloyd Parks whose career as a bass player, singer and producer continues to this day. As well as Duke Reid, for whom they cut 'Love Up Kiss Up' included here, they made sides for Studio One and for the enigmatic 'Dampy'. Vernal would cut a few 45s for Studio One, including a pleasing revival of Gene Chandler's 'Rainbow', while Lloyd's bass would anchor myriad sessions, many as the leader of the We The People band. The Soul Lads may not be a familiar name to you; but in fact it's Ernest Wilson, Peter Austin and Freddie McGregor, alias the prolific Clarendonians, harmonising smoothly on 'Funny' and getting soulful on 'I'm Yours Forever', their only recordings under this name.

Treasure Isle's clean, fluent backing rhythms were of course largely thanks to sax player/flautist/arranger Tommy McCook, whose band the Supersonics can be heard on every track on this CD. They have four instrumentals to themselves on the LP. 'Regay', named in honour of a beat still in search of a standardised spelling, is in fact 'The Lonely goatherd' from the film 'The Sound Of Music'; Jamaican music's influences are indeed many and varied, as we hear on 'Second Fiddle' which doesn't have any violin, but which blends organ, trombone and sax on a lively version of... the theme from the cartoon series 'Popeye The Sailor Man'!

Tracks 13 to 20 are from the 'Soul For Sale' album - not that it was a short LP, but some of the tracks are duplicated from 'Here Comes The Duke' and, good though they are, we didn't think that you'd want to hear them twice. John Holt was a mainstay of Treasure Isle Records for years, both as a member of harmony group the Paragons and as a solo artist. His yearning tones were ideally suited to romantic songs, especially ones tinged with sadness, like 'Tonight'. In a similar vein, he takes part of the lyrics of that song for 'I'll Be Lonely', sung with the abovementioned Joya Landis. Ever since the 1950s heyday of Shirley & Lee, Jamaicans had always had a soft spot for male/female duets, and this appealing number makes one wonder why John & Joya didn't record more numbers together. The Paragons' 'Maybe Someday' isn't as well-known as some of their rock steady hits but it's a good example of their mellifluous, classy style.

Alton Ellis, born in Kingston in 1944, was already a youthful veteran of the music business by the time he cut the immensely popular 'Breaking Up', sung with anguish and aplomb, and a fine example of his vocal style. Phyllis Dillon, Treasure Isle's first lady of song from the moment that she first stepped into the Bond Street studio to cut the sweet melodic 'Don't Stay Away' in 1966, remained loyal to the Duke for some six years, cutting dozens of quality numbers of which 'Love Is All I Had' and its B-side 'Boys And Girls Reggae' are as appealing as most of her output.

Once again, the sure-footed Tommy McCook & the Supersonics provide the backing for all the singers, and on this LP they step into the limelight on three numbers. 'Get Me To The Church On Time' is the Lerner and Loewe song from 'My Fair Lady', but its own best man wouldn't recognise this scintillating calypso treatment with its zestful brass arrangement. 'Soul For Sale' is a seriously grooving organ-led piece based on Eric 'Monty' Morris' 'Sammy Dead', and on his version of Bobbie Gentry's worldwide hit 'Ode To Billy Joe' Tommy's sax delivers a performance which is at once sturdy and sensitive.

After those two entire LPs the disc closes with half a dozen more significant sides from that golden era of Treasure Isle Records. Joya Landis offers her sweet concoction of rock steady and soul 'Moonlight Lover', whose organ shuffle shows that if reggae hadn't quite arrived yet, it was coming on down the track. But the remaining trio of tracks are more significant, for they include both sides of the first two singles issued on the UK Duke label in 1968. While the Sensations' sides are eminently listenable and enjoyed great popularity ('Those Guys' did a lot of business on its original release), pride of place must go to the Techniques' take on the Temptations then-recent US smash hit 'I Wish It Would Rain', which in the hands of Pat Kelly and co. is much more than just a cover version - it's a masterpiece in its own right.

The 52 exceptional rock steady tracks on this collection add up to a generous helping of top sounds from what many people consider the top studio in Jamaica at that time, Treasure Isle. If you've enjoyed them - as you surely will have - then seek out Doctor Bird's other great releases from the vaults of Duke Reid.

Mike Atherton - (Echoes/Record Collector) April 2018

MY WILLOW TREE – Alton Ellis
HEATWAVE – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
OUT DE LIGHT – Joya Landis
MY BEST GIRL – The Paragons
THE WORLD NEEDS LOVE – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
I CAN’T STAND IT – Alton Ellis
LONG TIME – Phyllis Dillon
RIDE ME DONKEY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
LOVE LETTERS – Alton Ellis & Phyllis Dillon
WOMAN GO HOME – The Jamaicans
FLYING HOME – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics

TRAVELLING MAN – The Techniques
GOOD THINGS – The Soul Tops
WONDERFUL WORLD – Lloyd Williams
IT’S YOU I LOVE – The Techniques
OUR MAN FLINT – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
PEACE AND LOVE – The Jamaicans
OLD MAN RIVER – The Silvertones
I WEAR HIS RING – Phyllis Dillon
DEVOTED TO YOU – The Sensations
KEEP ON MOVING – The Soul Tops
MAD, MAD, MAD – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
DON’T SAY NO – The Silvertones
I CAN’T STOP NOW – Alton Ellis
BLESS YOU – The Sensations

SWEET SOUL MUSIC – The Gladiators
KANSAS CITY – Joya Landis
LOVE UP, KISS UP – The Termites
FUNNY – The Soul Lads
REGAY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
SECOND FIDDLE – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
MARY POPPINS – Danny Simpson
SOUL REMEDY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE – The Techniques

TONIGHT – John Holt
GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
I’LL BE LONELY – John & Joya
SOUL FOR SALE – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
BREAKING UP – Alton Ellis & The Flames
LOVE IS ALL I HAD – Phyllis Dillon
MAYBE SOMEDAY – The Paragons
ODE TO BILLY JOE – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
I WISH IT WOULD RAIN – The Techniques
I’LL NEVER FALL IN LOVE – The Sensations
BOYS AND GIRLS REGGAE – Phyllis Dillon & Hopeton Lewis
THERE COMES A TIME – The Techniques
THOSE GUYS – The Sensations

© Doctor Bird Records