In Britain, the 'Greater Jamaica' LP came out in 1970, as Trojan TBL-111, with a sleeve design depicting palm trees. The original Jamaican sleeve of Treasure Isle LP 101/7, however, was dominated by the Ace of Bass, Clifton 'Jackie' Jackson, standing tall and proud with his Fender instrument - a photo symbolic of the direction which Jamaican music was taking as the '60s met the '70s. In the era of ska, acoustic instruments had dominated the sound, with particular emphasis on blasting brass sections. During the brief heyday of rock steady from 1966 to 1968, studio bands increasingly favoured electric guitar rather than acoustic bass; brass sections, where used, stepped back a couple of paces, allowing the piano, often previously buried in the mix, to assert itself. By 1969-'70, when most of the tracks on 'Greater Jamaica' were recorded, the new sound of reggae had gone electric and the most prominent instruments were the bass and the organ, to the extent that sax and trumpet players had a hard time finding studio work.

This was far from being the case, though, at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio in Kingston's Bond Street, where saxophonist / flautist Tommy McCook led the regular session band The Supersonics. He usually got a name check on the labels of Treasure Isle 45s even if the record didn't include a horn section. But the musician whose stamp is most apparent on the original 'Greater Jamaica' LP (the first 12 tracks of this selection) is organist Winston Wright, whose distinctive flourishes and shadings made him an in-demand player around Kingston.

Of the remaining artists to appear on the set, John Holt is perhaps best known. The singer established his reputation at Treasure Isle with a series of rock steady hits featuring the cool harmonies of his group, The Paragons. On his cover of Percy Sledge's 'Thief In The Night', retitled 'Stealing Stealing', he adapts his appealing tenor voice effortlessly to the new reggae rhythm with its chattering beat and lilting horns. 'Stealing Volume 2' really was credited that way, instead of the more usual 'Version 2', and finds organist Winston Wright transforming the number into an invigorating instrumental.

'Lock Jaw', though credited to Tommy McCook, whose sax can be heard in the background, is a feature for Dave Barker who was equally at home singing a soulful song or, as he does here, indulging in excitable, yelping toasting. The number closely resembles his 'Shocks Of Mighty', cut for the Upsetter, Lee Perry, around the same time; intriguingly, some issues of this single credit The Upsetters. Dave' also featured on 'Funkey Funkey Reggae' commanding 'Don't watch that, watch this!' as funky guitar, tricky bass and insistent, plopping organ wring the last drops of soul juice out of the track. Talented US chanteuse Wanda Vann, known professionally as Joya Landis, recorded 'Moonlight Lover' during her brief sojourn on the Isle of Springs; here, Winston Wright creates a whole new melody on the rhythm, as 'Moonlight Groover'.

Vocal duo The Ethiopians, Leonard Dillon and Stephen Taylor, cut some of the heaviest early reggae music, notably for producer JJ Johnson, 'Quando Mi Amor' is one of the few sides recorded for Duke Reid, and it almost defies description; starting out in a merry mento mode, it metamorphoses into a reggae beat with a pop-a-top organ, over which the pair sing in Spanish. 'My girl' by Hippy Boys keyboard player, Glen Adams, harks back to the era of rock steady which Duke Reid's productions dominated, as it's the backing track to one of The Techniques' classic songs, with organ taking a soothing, summery lead.

Why did Justin Hinds never become world famous? His long line of distinctive, high-grade recordings from the mid-'60s onwards should have catapulted him to international stardom. Perhaps Justin's relaxed way of life had something to do with it: he preferred country living to the rat race of showbiz, and came to Kingston only to make music. 'Drink Milk', like so many of his songs, has intriguing lyrics: 'Me come here fe drink milk, me no come here fe count cows', in other words, I want to join in the action and not be just a bystander. With his fervent tenor backed by The Dominoes' close harmonies and a pumping, clattering rhythm, it's a tune for days and extra days, like so many of his numbers.

'Only A Smile' once again finds Glen Adams taking a cool rock steady stroll, this time through The Paragons' former hit, while 'You Were To Be' gives an insight into the early style of Albert Griffiths, Clinton Fearon and David Webber, who as The Gladiators would go on to make a long line of fine roots records. 'Moon Invader' is The Meters' 1970 US hit 'Look-A-Py Py' transformed into a skin-tight reggae instrumental, and the LP's closing track 'Moon Walk' re-licks the rhythm of The Sensations', 1968 Jamaican hit 'Those Guys'.

The second LP featured on this set is a much rarer bird. 'Reggay At Its Best' [sic] was released in Canada, on the Lanarc label which issued a number of West Indian-related albums and singles around 1970, but what makes this one unusual is that, although recorded at Treasure Isle, it was not released in Jamaica or anywhere else for that matter, not as an entire album anyway. Two of the album's tracks - John Holt's 'Tonight' and 'Breaking Up' by Alton Ellis - have already been included on a Doctor Bird CD, so here we present the other ten, which consist largely of instrumental versions of recent Jamaican hits - of which few were bigger than the Harry J All Stars' world-wide smash 'The Liquidator', here enhanced by riffing horns and a bit of chat by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics. Lanarc also issued this as a single (LS 1003) which, strangely, was picked up for 45 release by small New York label Yew Records, who perhaps had a bit of cash to invest following their unexpected hit with 'In A Moment' by The Intrigues. 'Live Injection', also with organ, as was the driving 'Dr No Go' for the same group, albeit under their original name, The Hippy Boys.

'Tribute To Don' is doubtless in honour of Tommy's former band mate, trombonist Don Drummond, who passed away in 1969, though the tune doesn't seem to bear much relation to anything which Don had recorded. In fact, when the recording was released by Trojan as a 7" single, it paid tribute to a far less likely Jamaican hero, 'Rameses', a prize racehorse that had collapsed and died at Caymanas Park racecourse, where poor Long Shot had kicked the bucket just days before.

'The Saint' certainly bears no relation to the then-popular TV series starring Roger Moore, it's a rousing hors-led, boss-reggae romp through 'When The Saints Go Marching In'. 'Bongo Nyah' is The Supersonics' interpretation, aided by an anonymous vocal group, of the big 1969 hit which catapulted the teenage Earl Lowe alias Little Roy to fame. 'African Melody', first made popular by Alvin Ranglin's GG All Stars, careers along at a breakneck pace, and 'Zylon' revives the zestful Lloyd Charmers instrumental, but 'Joy Ride' is not the Doc Bagby tune that had been covered in Jamaica by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, but rather a sweeping horns instrumental with a compelling organ shuffle, which when issued on 45 credited alto sax player Karl 'Cannonball' Bryan and entitled 'Red Ash'. You'll be relieved to know that there's nothing prog about 'Progressive Reggay': it's horns-led boss reggae instrumental with a trenchant McCook solo midway.

The bumper bundle of bonus tracks on both CDs does its best to present Duke Reid productions of the period which do not feature on existing or forthcoming Doctor Bird releases. There's a feast of early style reggae here, and some tracks will be familiar to you, such as The Sensations' 'Every Day Is Just A Holiday' which made up a good-value 45 when it was coupled with the abovementioned 'Moonlight Groover', tenor-toned Ken Parker's classic 'I Can't Hide', The Melodians' hard-hitting sufferer's anthem 'Everybody Bawling', and, oh my goodness!, Tommy McCook's catchy, chattering instrumental 'Black Coffee'. But Doctor Bird have dug deep to find scarcer tracks for this album. The Ethiopians' stirring slice of gospel reggae 'Allelujah' was never issued in Britain, and only on a blank-label 45 (as the B-side of 'Quando Mi Amor') in Jamaica. 'On The Bank' by The Coolers didn't make it to a UK release either; possibly the same group who recorded 'Birds Of The Air' for Clancy Eccles around the same time, they remain a biographical blank. Even the far better known Melodians' brisk, distinctively harmonised 'What More Can I Say' didn't come out here - and indeed seems first to have appeared on a US reissue of their hit 'You Have Caught Me'. Add pricey rarities such as The Gold Tones' (alias Silvertones) 'Come Look Here' and Vin Gordon's trombone cut to 'Everybody Bawling', once issued here almost secretly as the two sides of a Duke label single, and you have a fascinating compendium of the first days of reggae down on Bond Street. Oh, and just in case you think that we've slipped up and included 'Moon Invader' twice on disc one, no, they're two totally different tunes. That must have caused a little confusion in the Treasure Isle in 1970 - but it's a fair bet that no customer ever dared to complain to big Duke Reid behind the counter.

Mike Atherton - Echoes & Record Collector - July 2018

LOCK JAW – Dave Barker
QUANDO MI AMOR – The Ethiopians
MY GIRL – Glen Adams
DRINK MILK – Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
ONLY A SMILE – Glen Adams
YOU WERE TO BE – The Gladiators
LAST LICK – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
BLACK COFFEE – Winston Wright
MY DESIRE – The Yard Brooms
OPEN JAW – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
I LOVE YOU, MY BABY – The Versatiles
THE ROOSTER – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
YOU GOT TO LOVE ME – Radcliffe Ruffin
KANSAS CITY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
MARIE – The Silvertones
GIVE IT TO ME – Dorothy Reid
I CAN’T HIDE – Ken Parker
EVERYWHERE I GO – Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
ALLELUJAH – The Ethiopians
ON THE BANK – The Coolers
MOON INVADER – Winston Wright
WHAT MORE CAN I SAY – The Melodians

LIQUIDATOR – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
LIVE INJECTION – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
DOCTOR NO GO – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
TRIBUTE TO DON – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
THE SAINT – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
BONGO NYAH – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
AFRICAN MELODY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
JOY RIDE – Karl Bryan
ZYLON – Winston Wright
PROGRESSIVE REGGAY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
THIRD FIGURE – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
MOON SHOT – Karl Bryan
DOLLARS AND CENTS – Gladstone Adams
LONELY DAYS – The Melodians
KILOWATT – Winston Wright
YOU DONE ME WRONG – Tyrone Evans
OUT OF SIGHT – Danny Simpson
EASE ME UP OFFICER – The Righteous Flames
DAPHNEY WALKING – Karl Bryan & The Melodians
POPCORN REGGAY – Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
MEMORY OF DON – Vincent Gordon
HEY GIRL – The Melodians
TAKE YOU FOR A RIDE – Girl Satchmo
I’LL TAKE YOU IN MY ARMS – Errol Dunkley
EVERYBODY BAWLIN’ – Vincent Gordon

© Doctor Bird Records