Red Bumb Ball
Red Bumb Ball - Lloyd & Devon
I'm In A Rocking Mood - Austin Faithful
The Story (I Wish I Was An Apple) - Derrick Morgan
Give It To Him - The Viceroys as The Hot Tops
I've Been Searching - Eric & The Loveletts
Hop Special (Whiter Shade Of Pale) - Roland Alphonso
I'm The Ruler - Derrick Morgan
Cry No More For Me - Austin Faithful
Food Of Love - The Inventors
Lonely World - The Black Brothers
Give Me A Chance - Pauline Morgan & The Consummates
Do It Now - The Consummates
Give Me Loving - The Black Brothers
Father Killam - Derrick Morgan
The More They Get - The Consummates
Tears On My Pillow - Derrick Morgan
Every Day - The Viceroys as The Brothers
Bad Luck On Me - Derrick Morgan
Walkie Talkie - The Viceroys
Do You Love Me? - Derrick Morgan & Pauline
Prisoner In Love - Derrick Morgan
Let Him Go (Wrap Up) - The Viceroys
|"I am the ruler. Always
the ruler. Right here on Orange Street. I am the ruler."
I'm The Ruler - Derrick Morgan
History is usually an exercise in revisionism as the past is subtly rewritten to fit the present as the importance and significance of people and events is elevated to suit their current standing. The reverse is also true and people and events that were important in their time have now been airbrushed out of the picture because they are no longer deemed worthy of consideration. It is usually due to little more than fashion and not even meant to be deliberately denigrating but cultural values alter with the passing of time and, if the past is judged by current standards, then the picture can become verily easily distorted.
A very select few in the story of reggae music can come anywhere near to matching the popularity of the producer of this set (who also is the singer of a number of the songs) throughout the sixties and the early seventies for he is, without doubt, one of the most important figures in Jamaican music from the very beginning of the Kingston recording business yet, outside of the 'revival' circuit, his name is now relatively, some would say criminally, unknown. Derrick Morgan both personified and epitomised Jamaican musical and sartorial cool and his story provides fascinating insights into the growth of the music the phenomenon that took the world by storm in the mid-seventies. By the time this finally happened the groundbreaking work of so many of its pioneers had been forgotten. They are not bitter, fully aware that when the right time comes then their time will come, and in the meantime compilations of this nature will hopefully serve to remind the public of their importance. There is always more to this music than meets the eye - and the ear.
Derrick Morgan was born in the 'country' parish of Clarendon on 27th March 1940 and he moved to Kingston at the age of five where he grew up in Vineyard Town and attended Allman Town Primary, Kingston Senior Grantham and Model Private schools. He used to sing every Friday in the school concerts where "he come over very good" but "never think of recording" and on leaving school he went to work for Kingston's Welfare Department "doing accounts". Derrick had been born with retinus pigmentosa, a chronic hereditary eye disease characterised by a gradual degeneration of the retina, and his eyesight would grow increasingly weaker as he grew older. His failing eyesight soon forced him to give up his office job and so "I turned to singing".
His debut was at Vere Johns Junior's Opportunity Hour in 1957 where Derrick "came first" with his Little Richard impressions singing 'Long Tall Sally' and 'Jenny Jenny'. Jamaica's top comedy duo Bim and Bam recruited Derrick soon after as their singer and renamed him Little Richie. He toured "all the theatres in Jamaica" doing stage shows and "when Bim and Bam fell out I used to act as Bam". No-one it seems was ever any the wiser. Derrick stayed with Bim and Bam until 1959 when "I hear Duke Reid was taking auditions so I went to him to do some recording". Duke Reid did not release Derrick's songs 'Oh My' and 'Lover Boy' but kept them as exclusives and played them on acetate (or reference disc as they were known at the time) on his Treasure Isle Time radio show and Sound System. "He wouldn't release them until I recorded for Little Wonder. My first actual release was 'Fat Man' on their Smith's label". This samba based song was a huge hit and after "I record about six songs Duke demand me back so I started recording for him with Millicent Todd as Derrick & Patsy".
"Then I met Prince Buster and we get together and I started to record for Buster" and their work together would consolidate Derrick Morgan's reputation as Jamaica's most popular performer. "Prince Buster and I were good friends until I left him for Beverley's" (owned by Chinese-Jamaican Leslie Kong) "and after 'Forward March' in 1962 he write a song about me called 'Black Head China Man'". It was not just Derrick alone who came in for Buster's merciless invective as Derrick explained that the 'belongings' that Buster accused Derrick of taking from him in the song were actually the horn players 'Deadly' Headley Bennett and Lester Sterling who had blown the solos in 'Forward March' which Buster claimed had been stolen from him. "That's what caused the disruption".
In 1963 brought Emil Shallit to Jamaica. Shallit owned the London-based Blue Beat label that, along with Chris Blackwell's Island label, had done much to popularise Jamaican music outside of its expatriate audience by licensing the latest and greatest Jamaican records for release in the UK. When Emil returned to the UK Derrick went with him but "I didn't like the weather" and he returned home after six months and immediately recorded a song called 'Poison Ivy' for Prince Buster. In Derrick's absence Stranger Cole had "stolen Patsy" so Derrick worked with his cousin Yvonne and recorded 'Meekly Wait' as Derrick & Yvonne for The President label.
Derrick had signed a contract with Emil Shallit to work only with producers who had contracts with his Blue Beat label and because of this Leslie Kong would not work with him. It was only after the intervention in 1965 of then Minister for Finance, Edward Seaga, who wrote to Emil Shallit in London and asked for Derrick to be released from the contract that Derrick was able to work with Beverley's again. Derrick had been recording for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd at Studio One as Derrick Morgan And The Blues Blenders but "all the time I wanted to go back to Leslie Kong because he was the best payer". Derrick not only sang but also arranged and produced for Beverley's and in 1966 as Jamaican music moved towards Rocksteady Derrick started his own Hop label "because everybody want to try and push out for themselves" and the Leslie Kong financed Beverley's sessions had helped to establish Derrick Morgan as a producer in his own right. "Rocksteady was a great change from the Ska" and although it was one of the most important and influential styles of Jamaican music it still remains relatively unknown and unrecognised outside of a committed coterie of musical historians.
Derrick's Hop label always used the musical services of the legendary Lynn Taitt & The Jets whose wholly original sound had helped to define Rocksteady music yet Lynn Taitt is still one of the most under-rated musicians in the entire history of Jamaican music. Derrick was quick to acknowledge this formidable musicians contribution "He's the man who changed Jamaican music right round from Ska to Rocksteady". Lynn Taitt was born in San Fernando, Trinidad in 1934 where he started off his musical career as a steel pan player and arranger. When Lynn was fifteen he acquired a guitar from a friend for twenty Trinidadian dollars and became a guitarist. He was offered a job in a group The Dutch Brothers but after two years Lynn formed his own group who secured a contract with Byron Lee to go to Jamaica for the Jamaican Independence celebrations in 1962. Lynn liked Jamaica so much that he decided to stay and he joined The Sheiks and The Cavaliers who played out at school dances and functions. He then formed Lynn Taitt & The Comets who started to do some recording as well as live dates. Lynn had already recorded as a guitarist with The Skatalites and when he formed Lynn Taitt & The Jets in 1966 he was contracted to Federal Records. He recalled:
"Hopeton Lewis came to the Federal Recording Studio with a song called 'Take It Easy' and I find the ska was too fast. So I told them let's do this one slow. Very slow. And as the music got slower it had spaces. The slower the music it have more spaces to do something with so I put a bass line and I play in unison with the bass and I get a bass line. And the piano, sometimes I strum, sometimes I play a bass line with the bass. That was the first slow song... nothing else was slow at that time. Everything had been Ska". Hopeton Lewis' 'Take It Easy' is often cited as the first Rocksteady record and Lynn Taitt did much, much more than simply slow the beat down. "The guitarists at that time used to strum up first for the beat but I turned it to strum down for the first beat. But before everybody they used to pull the strings up and the music is written in common time. Not in cut time because Calypso is written in cut time but Reggae and Rocksteady is written in common time music. It is a simpler form because the phrases are not very fast. Slow phrases".
Piano player, Gladstone 'Gladdy' Anderson, played a vital role in The Jets not only as a musical arranger, but also as a translator for Lynn's Trinidadian accent. "I had a really strong Trinidadian accent... the Jamaicans didn't really understand it fully so Gladdy used to look after all of that. Talk to the singers and get everything clear". The band was in constant demand playing almost continual sessions for a variety of producers "They may call me for a session at nine in the morning till twelve noon and another session would start at one and finish at four with another one five till eight that night. So maybe four sessions a day, fives sessions a day for different promoters".
Of course there were other Rocksteady bands notably Tommy McCook & The Supersonics who worked down on Bond Street for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle, The Soul Brothers (who according to Derrick would often feature an uncredited Lynn Taitt) for Coxsone Dodd's Brentford Road Studio One and Bobby Aitken & The Carib Beats all had their moments but Lynn Taitt & The Jets' solid consistency and unparalleled creativity remains unmatched in the history of Jamaican music. The lessons that they taught formed the basis for all that was to follow and each successive 'new' musical movement has its roots deep in Rocksteady. Lynn Taitt still seems unaware of the lasting power of the music that he created and remains a modest, diffident figure "It was a pleasure to get up and get an idea and put your idea on to a record and to have the public like what you do is a great gift. At the time we were not thinking of it from a business aspect. We were just interested in creating beautiful music".
Derrick and Lynn worked closely together on all the Hop recordings "Most time Lynn Taitt set the bass line but the break in the singing I'd be arranging it" and the initial release on the Hop label (also released on the Derrick Morgan label) was a massive hit "The first song I released was 'Red Bumb Ball' by Lloyd & Devon. It was a big seller and it encouraged me to go on and do more" and it would go on to become one of reggae music's most versioned bass lines. Derrick explained what a 'bumb ball' actually was: "A red bomb ball was a ball, like a playing ball, a ball that can bomb up in the air".
In 1969 Derrick moved to England to join the Palmer Brothers and he started to produce records for them. "I used to control their label called Crab. They get a lot of hit songs off of me and 'Moon Hop' and 'seven Letters' even got into the UK National Chart but I'm not recognised as a producer. I did a lot of productions for Bunny lee but ,y name is not mentioned. 'Wet Dream' used my 'Hold You Jack' rhythm but that's nothing. The talent is always with me! Even with Duke Reid a lot of the times I used to guide the artists and musicians how to go into it". derrick returned to Jamaica in 1970 where his update of 'Fat Man' for Lynford 'Andy Capp' Anderson was to form the basis of the dub music revolution and he recorded some heavyweight hits for Hop that reflected the direction that the music was now taking such as 'Let The Power Fall' by Max Romeo and he "used to come and go right up until 1975" when he moved to Canada where he did "some recording". He then moved to the USA in 1979 where he remained for ten years. Derrick did not return to the UK until 1989 and his next musical move was when he decided to "go back to the vintage thing" and his first appearance as a veteran was at London's Shady Grove club where "the man decide to give me a show" and the club was "rammed by nine o'clock! I'm proud to say that I started getting oldies shows going and now everyone's doing it! Even people with walking sticks" and Derrick has established himself as a very popular performer on the 'revival' circuit.
The history of reggae music is littered with the corpses of former stars (both metaphorically and literally) who were hugely popular in their own time and in their own way but, because of its insular nature in the early years, never consolidated their reputations outside the confines of the music when it finally gained international recognition in the mid-seventies. Many pivotal performers were overlooked because they did not match the expectations of the newly found audience whose attraction to the music was often based on a romanticised ideal of Rastafarian mysticism. it was unfortunately due to little more than the artists failing to have the necessary image as genuine talent was overlooked in favour of the 'correct' cultural credentials. The real tragedy was for the many artists and musicians who had shaped the direction and mood of Jamaican music who were now ignored, sidelined and ultimately cosigned to oblivion. The famously fickle reggae audience were probably as much to blame, always on the lookout for this week's sensation, but the real reasons are as complex and contradictory as the history of the music itself.
Ska represented the first flowering of a particularly Jamaican musical form that still relied heavily on its Rhythm & Blues and Jazz roots but Rocksteady was the first truly original Jamaican music and it was to be the basis for all that followed; its structures, songs, bass lines, melodies, musical motifs and lyrical pre-occupations have been recycled time after time after time. Languid and seductive yet simultaneously urgent and driving its songs of love mingled and mixed with songs of reality and protest to form everlasting works of heart aching and heart braking beauty. listen and enjoy the music of Lynn Taitt and Derrick Morgan. These men truly are the rulers.
Harry Hawke - August 2003
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