|Trojan Presents: The Producers - 40 Jamaican Classics|
Mash It, Part 1 - Owen Gray
Million Dollar Baby - Chenley & Annette
No More Wine From The Glass - Higgs & Wilson
Up And Down - Winston Samuels
The Chase - Yvonne Harrison
Stepping Razor - Peter Tosh & The Wailers
Put Down Your Fire - The Kingstonians
Chain Gang - Winston Francis
Easy Come, Easy Go - The Pioneers
Reggae Girl - The Tennors with Karl Bryan
Action Line - The Versatiles
Musical Beat - Roy Samuels
Fatty Fatty - Clancy Eccles
Cool Down - Winston Hinds
Who Cause It (aka Why Everything Crash) - The Lyrics
How Can I Love You - Ken Lazarus
Cry A Little Cry - Dobby Dobson
I Am In Love Again - Claude Sang
Work It - The Mellotones
Lollipop Girl - Derrick Harriott
Teacher Teacher - Dennis Alcapone
Dunce Cap - Herman The Teacher
All That We Need Is Love - Alton Ellis & Big Youth
I'd Love You To Want Me - Horace Andy
Concrete Rock - Ansel Collins
Swept For You Baby - The Heptones & U Roy
Let Locks Grow - Barrington Spence
I'm Your Puppet - Jimmy London & Skin. Flesh & Bones
Jah Fire - Niney (as George Boswell)
Too Good To Be Forgotten - John Holt
Run Joe - Lloyd Charmers
Feel Like Jumping - Marcia Griffiths
Black Beauty - The Mindbenders
Only Jah Love For I - Mystic Eyes
I'm Not A Queen / Duck Boy - Marcia Aitken & Trinity
The Same Song - Israel Vibration
You'll Never Know (12" mix) - Gregory Isaacs
It's A Good Day - Pat Kelly
Reggae On Broadway - Johnny Osbourne
Principle - Charlie Chaplin
|Who makes the hits? Who
decides who is admitted to the studio and who stays outside to try their
luck in next week's audition queue? Who gets the ideas, finds the
artist, puts up the money, hires the musicians, presses the tunes,
hustles them to the radio and the sound systems, distributes them out of
the back of their tumbledown Ford and flogs them from their shop on
Orange Street? Who can do everything the artist can, and do it better
and cheaper? Who is the bad, bad hush-you-mouth, cooler than Shaft and
tougher than Van Cleef? Only one person, brother: the producer. The
person who rules Reggae... Or so the image would have it.
There's no doubt that some Jamaican music business personalities do fit that outlandish description to some extent. They certainly wield huge power in the Reggae business. Some do come up with the majority of the ideas. Some can sing like a bird or chat as expertly as most MCs. Certainly a queue to audition with the producer or his right-hand man is the way many Jamaican singers got their break in the late '60s and early '70s. Some producers were bigger showmen than their artists, drove flashier cars, wore bigger hats and sharper suits. And they definitely put up the money for a session and pressing their product, and drove the marketing of their tunes, such as it was. But the producer is a many-faceted man - and sometimes one of those facets is not even being a man at all (come in, Sonia Pottinger). There is more to being a Reggae producer than being a big figure. you have to know how to compete in a (sometimes literally) cut-throat business, and you have to be able to do it in subtler ways than just being the biggest, loudest, flashiest fish in what is really quite a small pool. Being a successful producer is a matter of arranging endlessly shifting alliances, juggling your assets, ditching your liabilities, uniting with those who just hours ago were your deadly rivals to exploit shared interests, and competing with those who were not only previously allies, but also who may be better resourced than you. In different circumstances, the Reggae producer may have become a noted psychologist, a priest, a pimp, a policeman, a PR man or a politician (some producers were at least some of these things too). But instead, for whatever reason, they are using their talents for those professions and many more in carving a name for themselves in the toughest music industry on the planet. Without them, no Reggae business, no music, and no career for all those hopefuls who broke out of the ghetto to become a Reggae star against enormous odds. The producer makes it all happen.
So who is the producer? The easy answer is the tenement hustler who sees a way to turn a buck or two. but in a lot of cases, that description is well wide of the mark. Many Reggae producers did indeed come from the tenement yard, but some are just businessmen who seek to diversify or who simply love the music. For instance, you would never mistake Chris Blackwell, represented her by Owen Gray's 1961 R&B gem, 'Mash It', for a ghetto hustler. Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, comes from a moneyed background; he is a relative of the Blackwell's who owned the Crosse & Blackwell food company. He got into the music in the 1950s because he loved it and he was as tempted as the next Jamaican by the allure of the island's first attempts at finding a signature sound of its own. Blackwell's early rivals were mostly sound men, such as Simeon Smith, who cut some of the best Jamaican ballads and R&B of the start of the '60s for his own Smiths label, many of which saw release in the UK on Blue Beat. Duke Reid was another sound system operator, but he was also an example of a producer who moved into the music business after making his money in a different trade. In Reid's case, he ran the Treasure Isle Liquor Store on Bond Street, Kingston, but his love of music not only made him the dominant sound man of his era, but also one of the most successful producers for a decade. Reid, a former cop, was one of the big men of the Reggae game, known for having a gun on his desk during business negotiations, and sometimes firing it into the air to 'encourage' his musicians to lock into a groove he approved of. if that sounds terrifying, bear in mind that he was also by all accounts charming when necessary and there was never any shortage of artists and band members willing to work with him; Reid's store kept the studio stocked with drinks for the players, and singers knew that his arrangers, Lynn Taitt and Tommy McCook, would provide the ideal setting for their songs, meaning that they'd never sound better.
Reid may have cut an overbearing figure at times, but that didn't deter other would-be producers from entering the fray during the Ska era. Lindon Pottinger's Gay Disc label scored plenty of hits although his name would carry more weight when his wife Sonia took up the baton in 1966. The Rock Steady period, which opened that year, saw a selection of producers who were suited to the mellow tones of this new style of music. Ken Lack, aka Blondel Calneck, made the most of his short career in the business by putting out some of the most elegant tunes of the 1960s and giving early breaks to the likes of Hortense Ellis, Max Romeo, and the Heptones. While Yvonne Harrison may not have become as famous as that trio of names, her single, 'The Chase', cut at Treasure Isle in 1967, displays the lightness of touch that Lack's Caltone label, underrated until comparatively recently, was eventually recognised for.
As if it wasn't enough for the producers to be competing with each other, they also had the musicians to contend with. Many of Jamaica's artists decided that the producers were receiving all the benefit from their efforts, and the only way to improve the situation was to go into this production palaver themselves. Among the first to try were the Wailers. Their Wail 'N' Soul M label, which, for a couple of years from 1966, released a sporadic series of singles that were among the best artistic successes of their day. Artistic successes maybe, but in the business sense that was not the case. The Wailers did not yet have the necessary muscle and know-how to turn their talent into hits, and Peter Tosh's excellent 'Stepping Razor' from 1967 was just one of their great records that Jamaica's public at large did not get to hear. Their time would come...
Other musicians who took on the producers at their own game included Linval Thompson, Clancy Eccles, Derrick Harriott and Lloyd Charmers. The latter trio were among the most successful producers of the early Reggae period, and Harriott and Charmers in particular made a point of creating beautiful soulful arrangements, as if to point out that to get the most from the music, you had to be able to play it yourself. But there is more than one way to skin a Skank and other producers specialised in a bludgeoning and simple rhythm that was nigh-on irresistible on the dancefloor. Karl 'Sir JJ' Johnson was one, scoring hit after hit between 1966 and 1970 with records by the Ethiopians, Kingstonians and Carl Dawkins that preferred impact to subtlety.
One production house that did have the ability to turn out hits in any style was WIRL, the company run by Edward Seaga, Bunny Rae and George Benson, and later, the leader of its house band, Byron lee. Seaga certainly had the means to operate at all levels of society and the power to drive success: he later became Jamaica's Prime Minister. When his political career took precedence, Seaga sold the company to Rae and Benson, who in following the destruction of the studio by fire late in 1968, sold it to Lee, who renamed it Dynamic Sounds. The shrewd owners of WIRL/Dynamic employed young and hungry producers to work for them, notably Lee Perry and Bunny lee, who both went on to become among the most important figures in the Jamaican music business of the 1970s and beyond.
Byron Lee was of Chinese-Jamaican heritage and he wasn't the only member of that community to make his mark on the music business. With two brothers, Leslie Kong ran the Beverley's ice cream parlour in Orange Street, which was Kingston's music street. Seeing the money generated by the growing number of neighbourhood record shops, Kong fancied a piece of the action and began recording unknown talent - giving debuts to a number of important figures, including Bob Marley, John Holt, Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker. Kong had real flair himself, and without compromising their local appeal, his productions offered a certain musicality and lightness of touch that found mass success. By 1967 he was enjoying UK hits with Desmond Dekker, and he also charted with Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, the Melodians and the Pioneers, whose 'Easy Come Easy Go' is presented here in an alternate version. Perhaps unfairly, Kong was regarded as a 'mainstream' producer rather than a Roots one, although he never was able to disprove that during a rootsier era for Reggae: he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1971, aged just 38.
While some Reggae producers, such as Reid or Perry, cultivated an image for themselves, others were willing to work in the background and score hit after hit with some anonymity. Alvin 'GG' Ranglin specialised in a straightforward, sometimes countryish Reggae that found favour with more mature music lovers, although he also put out some Rasta tunes that were way ahead of their time. His 'Musical Beat' credited to Roy Samuel, is a fine early Reggae instrumental that still carries more than a trace of Rock Steady. His competitors back then would have included the likes of Deltone, Albert George Murphy (whose production of the Tenners' 'Reggae Girl' is presented here in extended form with Karl Bryan's horns cut), and many others, although few aspired to the lasting career that GG achieved.
The arrival of Reggae in 1968 saw the emergence or establishment of many of Reggae's better-known producers; Mr Winston Riley enjoyed one of the longest tenures in the Jamaican music biz; issuing hits from Johnny Osbourne, Tenor Saw and Riley's own group, the Techniques, whose name he also used for his showcase label.
In 1971, Riley won major UK chart glory via Dave & Ansell Collins, the latter of whom delivers the distinctive melodica in 'Concrete Jungle'. Rupie Edwards was another producer who made his first lasting mark during the early Reggae years; he too went on to chart success with his own 'Ire Feelings', although he was every bit as adept when directing other talent, as Dobby Dobson's 'Cry A Little Cry' makes clear. From a similar era we also offer Vincent Chin's 'Who Cause It', sung by the Lyrics for Randy's Records, and Richard Khouri's production for Federal, 'How Can I Love You' by Ken Lazarus. Both came from major mainstream production houses that owned their own studios and had strong distribution. Mr Chin's business developed into VP Records, now the main distributor for modern Reggae. Charles Ross was a more obscure figure although his works are now highly sought after, thanks to his late sixties productions that saw issue on B&C/Trojan's the Blue Cat label. his later records, such as 'I Am In Love Again' by former Jiving junior Claude Sang, were issued on the Sugar imprint in the UK, and often reveal the distinctive sound of more celebrated production houses where he recorded, such as Studio 1.
As the '60s became the '70s, many producers became more like artists in their own right and the likes of Keith Hudson, Lee Perry and Herman Chin-Loy left audible birthmarks on their records even when producing other acts. Niney The Observer was another whose productions could usually be divined by the trained ear. Yet other, equally musically distinctive producers were not regarded as such, perhaps because a lack of flamboyance didn't push their names to the fore. Phil Pratt was one such; he began producing in the mid-'60s and made great records right into the '80s, but his determination to avoid false image-making meant that his records stood or fell on their own merits. Luckily, they were more than capable of cutting through the hype, as the Heptones' stunning version of Smokey Robinsons' 'Swept For You Baby' makes clear. We offer it here with its U-Roy DJ cut in close attendance. If the early Reggae era brought young producers to the fore, then so did the mature form of the music in the early '70s, with Gussie Clarke an outstanding example. He was responsible for some of the greatest DJ records ever made in 1972/73, and helped make stars of the likes of Augustus Pablo and Horace Andy - outstanding work for a lad of 18.
Further new faces of the period included Jo Jo Hookim, whose Channel 1 studio in Kingston's bustling ghetto thoroughfare Maxfield Avenue rose to rule Reggae during the late to mid-'70s; Lloyd Campbell, who cut a stream of fine records without drawing unnecessary attention to himself; and Tommy Cowan, the former lead singer of the Jamaicans vocal group and perhaps the most underrated producer of all, with a deep musicality and a respect for the roots that informed all his work on his Top Ranking, Top Cat and Talent Corporation labels, among others.
'Prince' Tony Robinson was another figure with a finger in several pies; his High School and TR Groovemaster labels were a reliable source of good music in the first half of the '70s and he later turned up supervising excellent albums for the Gladiators, Big youth and U-Roy during their period of being signed to Virgin. Another character with an international reputation was Joel Augustus Gibson - better known as Joe Gibbs, who cut serious hits with the Pioneers, Nicky Thomas, Dennis Brown and others before a legal wrangle took him out of his trade in the early '80s. Tip Top record shop owner, Sonia Pottinger, who had been cutting sides alongside her husband way back into the mid-'60s, remained active for at least two decades and throughout that period was the only female producer of consistent significance.
As the '70s moved on, with subtle and not-so-subtle developments in Reggae's sound aplenty, producers arrived with each new stage; Phil Mathias cut many great sides during the Rockers era, including strong releases from the Majestarians, In Crowd, and the Mindbenders; drum and bass team Sly & Robbie took dominance in studio sessions up one level with a move into production that did not even stutter with the arrival of the drum machine and computerised instruments; Ossie Hibbert was a constant figure in the music as a producer and keyboard player from the mid-'70s to his death in the summer of 2012, one of those numerous operatives who was vita l to the industry who did not receive the full recognition he was due. This album closes with the work of two producers who were vital figures in driving the music forward into the '80s: Lloyd 'Prince Jammy' James and Henry 'Junjo' Lawes, pioneers in, and masters of, the emergent Dancehall style.
Who makes the hits? The producers. But not all of them fit the stereotype of the 'big man in the business'. Musicians, sound engineers, ideas men or simply money merchants, they come in all personality types, from the hard man with guns to the singer who is simply trying to earn a bread out of his or her work. But no matter how they may differ, there's no doubt that without their enterprise and energy, their drive and sheer determination, Reggae music would not have made such a vast impact on the world. For that, Jamaica, and the rest of us, have plenty to be thankful for.
Ian McCann is the editor of Record Collector magazine
|All material © Trojan Records|