For those Mento mad amongst you here are some details that I hope you will find of interest. Click on the images for larger versions of the files, and in the case of the rear cover, readable text, though I will include that text here for all to see. The sleeve notes are unusually well written and include descriptions of the songs and their background history in some cases.
LP MRS VARIOUS ARTISTES CALYPSO DATE LOML 503 SMOL 105 1B STANLEY MOTTA JAMAICA 1950s
(anyone out there have a date of release, if so please contact me here at Musical Traces)
The most remarkable feature of this album is its variety. Here is represented the whole broad gamut of Jamaica’s music, the sly, ironic humour, the warm spontaneity, the carefree and gay attitude towards life that is so much part of Jamaica. This music is bred of the brilliant colour and contrasts that inspire the Jamaican troubadour; and out of it flows the endless, subdued excitement that life in one of the world’s most beautiful islands inspires.
In this album are Calypsos and Mentos. The Calypso is the generic ballad of the Caribbean, the song that is inspired by the life of the community – the young girl who lives gaily but not wisely; the house with the leaking roof. These are the creations of Calypsonians who vie with each other to create songs of humour, of double meaning, of perceptive wit. The Mento is the music of Jamaica, the solid, thumping rhythm of music that in its beat and texture is subtly Jamaican, as distinguishable to the tuned ear as is the difference between the Merengue of Haiti and the Samba of Brazil. And there are the other ageless songs, those that are chanted by workmen as they bend their muscles to rhythmic work saved from monotony by song, or the gay song of welcome when the pretty young girl comes to visit.
These are the songs and the sounds of Jamaica, ever exciting and interesting, that will become familiar and beloved as you listen to them. This is the music of a beautiful land, inspired by its ageless hills and white sand beaches, its gay, laughing people and the rhythm of its sun-bright days. This is the music for you on your Jamaican date.
Linstead Market – The ackee is an attractive fruit of red, yellow and black, and when combined with salted cod makes one of the most popular native dishes. This song tells the sad tale of a higgler in the famous market of Linstead, on the road to Ocho Rios, who fails to find customers to buy her ackees at Saturday market.
The Naughty Little Flea – The humble flea occurs in the songs of many countries. If you listen carefully to the lyrics you’ll chuckle at the rather unique situation in which the little insect found itself.
Hill and Gully Ride – A rousing shout song that is used by Jamaican workmen. It follows the pattern of many rhythmic work songs in its responsive form, and is a folk song of rather more antiquity than the calypso which has been popular recently.
Matilda (and) Gal-A-Gully – The first is a Jamaican adaptation of a Trinidad song, one in which a hardworking young man is deceived by a scheming young miss who lifts his money and takes off for Venezuela. The second is Jamaican, the plaintive comment of a granny who asks her grandaughter just why she is going to the gully…’A Whey you-a go a-gully fa’.
This Long Time Gal A Never See You – A happy song of welcome, the lyrics of which are self-explanatory.
The Little Fly – Anyone who has had to clean a mirror can appreciate some of the more irritating habits of the fly. This song is one man’s comment.
Take Her To Jamaica – This song has become a standard in Jamaica. It is sung by calypsonians on all occasions and gives very good advice indeed.
Kitch – Lord Kitchener is one of the finest of the Trinidad calypsonians, and this song recounts his experiences with a rather insistent young lady.
Dry Weather House – It seldom rains heavily in Jamaica, but when it does all the defects of a house that is suited to dry weather show up.
Healin’ In De Balm Yard – The balm yard in Jamaica is the gathering place of members of a primitive evangelical sect. To balm yard gatherings they bring their troubles and woes where these can be banished.
Limbo – One of the most exciting dances, the limbo is done to a repetitious song that is almost hypnotic in its appeal. Some of the excitement and verve of this African ritual is caught in this song.
Brown Skin Gal – A young lady is told to take life more seriously. Rather than spend so much time living the high life, she is told to ‘Stay home and mind baby’.
I’m unsure if the sleeve notes were written earlier and are from a vinyl Lp release, but nevertheless they make for typical Studio One sleeve note reading.
Make no mistake about it, Jackie Opel’s voice and singing style admit of no time restrictions. These attributes of Jackie’s combine dashes of the past and the present with a good helping of futurity tossed in for good measure.
Don’t be surprised in ten years hence you find this marathon singer as refreshingly stimulating as he has always been.
This album ‘Cry Me A River’ portrays in sharp relief, Jackie’s varied capabilities as a singer. His interpretative phrasing and lyric reading plus his inimitable diction are cognent indices of Jackie Opel’s genius.
Don’t allow yourself to be embarrassed by not having one of Jackie’s first album when your friends visit you and request the playing of this entire album. It does not look good to cry, cry, cry them a river by way of an apology. Play it safe and make this multi-dimensional singer’s album a must for you.
You will forever laud yourself for having made such a wise, worthy investment. Have a good time with Jackie.
Thanks to Pete Holdworth for the promo copy, here are details of the forthcoming re-release of Pressure Sounds, Harder Shade Of Black
Harder Shade Of Black
Pressure Sounds PSCD 66
“Today the type of sound which the younger generation digs is the rebel rock music which is here now…” ‘This Is Augustus Pablo’
“This album is produced by one of Jamaica’s youngest producers on the musical reggae scene today. A young man who undoubtedly has the ambition to produce some of the best style of reggae in the near future. As you may know his name is Leonard Chin better known by many others only as Santic. This I must say is this young man’s first album. We must also agree with him for giving the album the title Harder Shade Of Black.” ‘Harder Shade Of Black’
I was always a humble youth… just a youth who did his own thing. My first recording in Jamaica I sung it, I wrote it but… I’m really very nervous and, because I love it, I want to be there. Deep inside I’m very nervous. You might not believe me but I know that I am and I don’t really like being up front too much… even though I think it’s nice if you’re doing something and you achieve something. When I let go the singing and became a producer people don’t really have to know me or see me… it’s just what people hear. Let them think “Who is this person?” That’s what I always used to think in those times and my part was just putting out tunes.
When I came in the business men like Bunny Lee and them were much older people than me, that’s what I thought, he was a bigger man in the business. I was just a youth getting in there. It’s not really about everybody liking you but, with most of them, I was alright… they’d let me feel like I belonged. Maybe, as a youth, I was likeable. At the time I was the youngest producer coming out of Jamaica after Gussie Clarke. The other day Bunny was saying to me “Santic you’re a legend, you know!” and I said “Come on Bunny! What are you talking about?” He said “Within that short space of time you were producing records in Jamaica you produced more hits than most of us! And you never had no big company like Dynamics behind you to help you either. One youth man making hit after hit! ‘Pablo In Dub’, ‘Children Of Israel’, ‘Lovers Mood’, ‘Problems’ ‘Late Hour’ with I Roy, ‘I’m A Free Man’ with Freddie McKay…”
Before even ‘Pablo In Dub’ I was recording a deejay named Jah Mojo. The first track I did with him was a tune named ‘Nitty Gritty’ and Bongo Herman was playing the drums. After that one I did a next tune with him named ‘Yankee Conkee’ and then I made this rhythm that I later used for ‘Pablo In Dub’, ‘Children Of Israel’ and ‘Down Santic Way’. Jah Mojo did a thing on it called ‘Jacamma Rock’ and it sold about a thousand and fifty copies. The rhythm was good… ‘Family Man’ played the bass on it and his brother Carlton played the drums and there was a guy named ‘Snapping’ who played the piano…
Theophilus Beckford was named ‘Snapping’ after his massive early sixties r&b into ska breakthrough record ‘Easy Snapping’ released on Worldisc in Jamaica and Blue Beat in England.
Like I said when I went in the studio how old was I? Sixteen? So I was just working with those guys but I didn’t know their history… as the years went by I got to understand more and, being in the business, I learnt more and more. A lot of people my age in Jamaica wouldn’t know those things so that’s how I get to know. Anyway, he played the piano. The organ player was Ossie Hibbert. I did a mix for the Jah Mojo record and everybody loved the rhythm. One time Leroy Sibbles and some other people were standing up in Randy’s and Leroy said “This rhythm a bad! It’s like the bass carry the melody by itself” and then I decided to do a next mix of it.
Eventually… things just happen sometimes when they’re supposed to happen. I went up to Randy’s and mixed the tune… and for some reason Pablo just walked into the studio that evening and said “That rhythm there sound good!” So I said “Blow a thing on it now then, man!” I was into Pablo from ‘Java’ and was always asking him to do a tune for me and he used to smile and say I couldn’t afford to pay him and all those things there. He said “You’ll have to ask my manager Paul” and his manager said “Alright… do you have any weed?” My brethren, Carl Prehay, was there and he said “Yeah man… we have the boom!” And we bought a few Red Stripe beers, took the next two hours in the studio, set up the tape and he just blew through the tune a couple of times. The next one was a take and I said “This is ‘Pablo In Dub’”.
After ‘Pablo In Dub’ got on the Top Five it went to Number One for a week and then dropped back to Number Two and I asked Horace Andy if he could sing a tune on it for me. He loved the rhythm from time too… the Pablo version was so popular! Horace just came in the studio… it was a Friday morning. The day before I’d got Leroy Sibbles to put in the rhythm guitar because ‘Pablo In Dub’ never had a rhythm guitar in it. So it was Leroy Sibbles who actually chopped the rhythm guitar in it and then, the following day, I got Horace to sing on the rhythm. We played the rhythm track and Horace ad libbed and said “Errol!’ Rewind back the tape there” and he sang ‘Children of Israel…’ and went through it once, wrote some more lyrics, went through it again and half way through he said “Now run the tape Errol. And take it too!” We did ‘Children Of Israel’ and ‘Problems’ both at the same time. We didn’t spend two hours to do all that! The lyrics were written and voiced at that moment. There and then.
Looking back now I’m thinking, in the eighties and nineties, people would spend these relentless hours voicing, dropping in, voicing, dropping in. And nobody’s happy! Doing that you have no soul! You’re just like a mechanical thing. When you hear sweet things and think it can be sweeter… but it’s sweet enough already! You become over technical and everybody wants to be greater than they really can be. It doesn’t really happen like that. You can only be the best you can be…
The melody of ‘Children Of Israel’ was based around ‘Sleepy Ludy’ by Lynn Taitt & The Jets a steel pan rocksteady record produced by Joe Gibbs in 1968. There were no copyright problems but Leonard nearly ran into trouble with Augustus Pablo’s Santic release that he had entitled ‘Harder Shade Of Black’. It was a version to The Soul Vendors’ ‘Darker Shade Of Black’ an instrumental variation of Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ (‘This Bird Has Flown’) from The Beatles’ 1965 ‘Rubber Soul’ album. The tune had been versioned at Brentford Road three years later and credited to ‘Scorcher’ when released on the Studio One label but it was not Brian Epstein who came looking for Leonard…
After ‘Harder Shade Of Black’ Mr Dodd come look for me! He wanted to thump me in the head because I’d done over his tune so I had to hold off out of Randy’s for a few days! I didn’t know it was a Beatles tune then because his name was on the label as the writer! It was Leroy Sibbles that played the bass on it (Leroy had also played bass on the Soul Vendors cut) and ‘Peace In The Valley’ and the Gregory Isaacs ‘I’ll Be Around’ with ‘Tin Leg’, Lloyd Adams, on drums. But after all that when I saw Mr Dodd he was alright. I think he was surprised to see me being so young: “That youth doesn’t carry on like the rest of them rude boys! So just ‘low him…”
At those times there were very few people making instrumentals. It was always vocals or deejays but for me, even Pablo, people would just put Pablo blowing but I loved the clavinet sound. The sound had a little coarseness but it had a little sweetness about it at the same time. That’s how ‘Peace In The Valley’, ‘Columbo’, ‘Hap Ki Do’, ‘One Thousand Swords’ the version of the Gregory Isaacs tune, the ‘Darker Shade Of Black’ version or whatsoever came about. ‘Cause to me whether Pablo was blowing or playing the clavinet he just had that in his bones: if he liked it he’d play on it but he’s not going to play on any rhythm he doesn’t like. To me it was always new things.
Rhythm without vocals is a different feeling… that’s how ‘Up Wareika Hill’ came about….just like ‘Pablo In Dub’. It was instant and ‘Lovers Mood’ was the same thing. I named all those tunes. Me and Pablo were talking and he’d just played some tunes in Randy’s and I said “What’s that one named?” and then said “Yeah man! This tune is named ‘Up Wareika Hill’” and I named the tune! It was just that sound and what was going on up Wareika Hill. A bad boy kind of tune but sweet within overall… like a militant tune. The feeling that I got from it and the environment… just like the other tunes I named from watching movies like ‘One Thousand Swords’ and ‘Columbo’. When the name comes you know it’s the right name for it.
But I made a lot of mistakes as well. I’ve lost certain things because I didn’t know anything about mechanical rights and those things. That wasn’t part of what we were doing. I didn’t think “I need to do this because later on something might happen”. You never thought money might be there later on… that many years from now these tunes would still be circulating. So mainly in those times I never was a business man! I just wanted to be in the studio making music; everything else was pressing, getting artists their money at a certain time but my head wasn’t really in that… I felt I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s not really what I’m in it for. I needed to be in it for that as well but I paid the price. You know what I mean?
When I first came to London (10th February 1974) I had a jacket with short sleeves and a jumper… bell foot pants… I thought I was criss! I didn’t feel the cold so much at first. I was told it was cold but maybe it’s the shock of it! I wasn’t thinking of it. I spent three months here. London was strange but it was nice… I was staying with Bert from Ital Records. I’d met Bert in Jamaica. At the time he’d asked me for some tunes to release in England… he used to have a sound named Sir Nation that played at a place called St Andrews Hall and the first night I came, it was a Sunday, we all went to The Swan in Stockwell. I think Lord David was playing there.
When you went to a club or a dance to me it was quite peaceful. You’d go to a club, wherever the venue was, and it would be packed and maybe you would brush against someone and say ‘Sorry!’ and that was it. God help you if it had happened at home in Kingston! So to me it was really peaceful… me and my girl could be walking on the street maybe three or four o’clock in the morning. The only thing that crossed my mind was I used to hear them talking about these Teddy Boys… but they had well faded out by then. It was a nice place to be apart from the cold. By then I’d started to realise that it was cold! And I thought to myself I would like to live somewhere like this.
London was more forward as well because music that was recorded back home… some of them were reaching here long before they were released in Kingston. I put together the ‘Harder Shade Of Black’ album in London from the singles and put it out with Bert… I never knew I was going to release an album! The lady on the cover is my first wife. She’s the mother of three of my kids. I actually took the photograph myself. It’s Downs Park in East London…
Leonard then returned to Jamaica to do more recording and to promote Santic Records from his office in downtown Kingston.
At the time I had a little office upstairs on the corner of Beeston Street… you have King Street then Chancery Lane. Keith Hudson had an office up there, Wailers had their Tuff Gong Record Shop and Bill Hutchinson had an office. On Wednesdays all of us would meet up after the movies, Gussie Clarke, Pablo, Jacob Miller and we’d go wherever the best movie was playing whether it was Regal or Carib Theatre. The Kung Fu movies were strong at the time.
In Jamaica if I was using four men. Drums, bass, rhythm and keyboards and one hundred and twenty dollars could have given you three good rhythms with the best musicians! It was ten dollars a track… ten dollars for each man. At the time even making the rhythms would be good enough ‘cause when you had the rhythms then you could look for artists to put some lyrics on things. Most of the artists were around and if I had the finances… Winston Rodney, the Burning Spear, actually came and checked me but I said “I have to go to England again” and when I came back… There were quite a few people I would have liked to work with and there were people I had the chance to work with. So I could have worked with Winston Rodney… and Dennis Brown. Dennis said he’d do a tune for me “One of these days” but we never got round to it.
I didn’t know anything about abroad but one day I’d be out of Jamaica and shown somewhere else and then you’ll learn things somewhere. That’s the way it goes. But when you’re not foreseeing… we can always look back on things but we can’t change the past.
“This album contains various artists and I would like you to spend thirty relaxing minutes and listen to it and you will know what I say is true. This album contains the sounds of Santic All Stars, also some of Jamaica’s best reggae singers: cooler than ever Gregory Isaacs, one of the youngest members on the scene, Mr Roman Stewart and Horace Andy. Let’s not forget the music man in fine style Mr Augustus Pablo. I am sure this one will be among your selections. Let’s not forget the name Santic.”
‘Harder Shade Of Black’
Interviews with Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin, London, UK
29th December 2004, 29th October 2009 & 16th November 2009
Liner Notes: ‘This Is Augustus Pablo’ Kaya Records LP ST11213/ST11214 1973
Liner Notes: ‘Harder Shade Of Black’ Santic LP SAN 001 1974
Liner Notes: Steve Barker ‘An Even Harder Shade Of Black’
Pressure Sounds LP/CD PS 1 1995
Liner Notes: Harry Hawke ‘Down Santic Way’ Pressure Sounds LP/CD PS 46 2005
Produced & Arranged by: Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin
Drums: Lloyd ‘Tin Leg’ Adams, Carlton ‘Carlie’ Barrett & Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis
Bass: Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, Alva ‘Reggie’ Lewis & Leroy Sibbles
Guitar: Alva ‘Reggie’ Lewis & Leroy Sibbles
Organ: Ossie Hibbert & Augustus Pablo
Piano: Theophilus ‘Easy Snapping’ Beckford & Augustus Pablo
Melodica: Augustus Pablo
Clavinet: Augustus Pablo
Harry J Recording Studio, 10 Roosevelt Avenue, Kingston 6, Jamaica
Engineer: Sid Bucknor
Joe Gibbs Recording Studio, 24 Retirement Crescent, Kingston 5, Jamaica
Engineer: Errol ‘Errol T’ Thompson
Randy’s Studio 17, 17 North Parade, Kingston, Jamaica
Engineer: Errol ‘Errol T’ Thompson
Assistant Engineer: Dennis Thompson
King Tubby’s Recording Studio, 18 Dromilly Avenue, Waterhouse, Kingston 11, Jamaica
Engineer: Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock
Dynamic Sounds Recording Studio, 15 Bell Road, Kingston 11, Jamaica
Engineer: Carlton Lee
Federal Recording Studios, 220 Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston 11, Jamaica
Engineer: Ainsley Folder
Randy’s Studio 17, 17 North Parade, Kingston, Jamaica
Engineer: Dennis Thompson
Transferred from disc at: CEDAR Audio Ltd., Cambridge, England
Engineer: Paul Alexander
Re-Mastered at: Hiltongrove Mastering, London, England
Engineer: David Blackman
Original Cover Design: F & H Campbell
Photography: Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin
Artwork & Design: Ben Bailey Bubble Design
Archive Material: Courtesy of Leonard Chin
Project Co-ordination: Pete Holdsworth
With special thanks to: Steve Barker, Paul Coote, Manny Hawks, Dave Home, Chris Lane, Ian McCann, Carl Prehay, Jim Silles & Harry Wise
Released under Licence from: Leonard ‘Santic’ Chin
NB Some original records have been used for mastering this album where the engineer has created the mixes as the master acetate was being cut and no tapes exist. Every attempt has been made to ensure the best sound reproduction but where this is less than perfect we believe the quality of the music itself shines through.
I’ll Be Around – Gregory Isaacs (3.12)
One Thousand Swords – Augustus Pablo (2.05)
Harder Shade Of Black – Augustus Pablo (3.15)
Better Shade Of Dub – Dirty Harry & Santic All Stars (2.51)
Peace In The Valley – Roman Stewart (2.43)
Columbo – Augustus Pablo (3.13)
Special Branch – Leonard Santic All Stars (3.15)
Pablo In Dub – Augustus Pablo (3.00)
Hell Boat – Santic All Stars (3.03)
Children Of Israel – Horace Andy (3.06)
Problems – Horace Andy (2.50)
Lovers Mood – Augustus Pablo (3.13)
Jah Guide – Big Joe (3.12)
Palace Of Peace – Santic All Stars (2.51)
Chalice Blaze – Jah Woosh (2.13)
One Heavy Duba – King Tubbys & Santic All Stars (2.30)
Yamaha Ride – I Roy (2.45)
Mexican Rocking – Santic All Stars (2.34)
I Don’t Want To Lose You – Paul Whiteman (3.05)
Shouldn’t Say No – Jah Woosh (3.13)
Santic Meet King Tubby – King Tubby & The Santic All Stars (2.47)
Hord Core Dub – Sly, Robbie and the Revolutionaries (the title is meant to be Hard Core Dub!)
Notes read –
This is Hard Core Dub from the world’s No1 Drummer, Sly Dunbar and the Revolutionaries. Listening to these tracks, one will find that these musicians were way ahead of their time both spiritually and mentally. There imaginations and vibes had lead the music world of Reggae to invent computer music, but until this day no computer could not compare these great musicians talent, vibes and skills. Anyway have a listen to thse human drum and bass and you will aknowledge Reggae at it’s best.
Boogu Yagga Gal – Jamaican Mento (Heritage HT CD 45) – Liner Notes. This cd is no longer in ‘print’ but is readily available if you look for it, particularly online.
Notes – Richard Noblett, supplemented by Daniel Neely, Herbie Millar and Ron Geesin.
Re-printed here by permission of Ron Geesin. Transcribed by Mike Murphy September, 2009
Although Jamaica is usually associated with Reggae, visitors’ first experience of live music will probably be of a Mento band, either at the airport or by their hotel’s pool or bar, or at one of the Government sponsored festivals found throughout the island. Mento is commonly refereed to as Jamaican Calypso but, although containing certain elements of Trinidad’s music, it is a distinct musical form which was the first commercially recorded Jamaican popular music.
Mento is a traditional secular dance style and genre of music typically played by small rural groups of musicians playing fife, banjo, guitar, maracas, a bass lamellophone called a rumba box and less often, violin, piano, clarinet, and PVC pipes as bass.
Its origins are somewhat obscure. Although clearly of African descent, it has obvious European influences. Cultural historians see Mento as deriving from an African-Jamaican adoption and adaptation of the popular European dance, the Quadrille, which arrived in Jamaica via the slave owners. Performed by slave musicians, generally on fiddles and fifes, it gradually spread throughout the Island. After emancipation in 1838, the Quadrille in Jamaica was danced in two ways: the Ballroom and Camp styles. Jamaican high society danced the Ballroom style to the formal choreography but the Camp style could be considered more rural with a looser choreography, broadly seen as incorporating African elements.
The Quadrille consists of five figures gradually accelerating in rhythm but, by 1900, Walter Jekyll reported that the popular dances of Jamaica were ‘the Valse, Polka, Schottische and the Quadrilles in five figures’. This fifth figure, see as the origin of Mento, is also reported by Jekyll as the most popular, or as they would say ‘sweet than most’. Although writer Ivy Baxter says the word Mento was known at least as early as 1800, Jekyll never used the word but most of the examples he gives of the fifth figure are well known Mentos and a part of every band’s repertoire. Thus a distinctly Jamaican element was added to a European form, as a means of self-expression and local social and cultural identity.
TRADITION AND MODERNITY
The use of the Banjo in many of these recordings is significant , bridging the gap between the early North American finger-styles and the later, more rudimentary, jazz plectrum styles. Here, the rhythmically complex single line work with plectrum sometimes reminds one of an extra tuneful W.African ‘Kalengo’ (hourglass/talking drum).
By the time these 1950s recordings were made, Jamaican musicians had incorporated a wide variety of music. Groups that reflected and older performance tradition, characterised by home-made musical instruments and exclusively local repertoire and dance, were no longer the only ones playing Mento.
A coexistent ‘dance band’ style had emerged that incorporated new, foreign repertoire and instruments (like Clarinets, Saxophones, trap drums, and Piano) to supplement the older tradition. These dance bands seemed to have greater aspirations: many of the bands in higher demand traveled throughout the island and later, as they grew in size, throughout the Caribbean.
There were many reasons for this development. In addition to the increased American military presence in the Caribbean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the expansion of shipping routes throughout the area, an important reason was the introduction and spread of radio, which quickly became a disseminator of musical taste. Another reason was the increased local availability of imported foreign recordings. Both American Jazz and Trinidadian Calypso were popular in Jamaica, largely because both were recorded, distributed and marketed throughout the British Empire and United States.
Other styles from around the Caribbean were also influential: labour migration between Jamaica and Cuba’s eastern provinces brought son to the island which had a significant impact on Jamaican music as did Rumba, for example; migration to Panama and Nicaragua resulted in the exchange of repertoire and tradition, an influence still to be seen today in these regions.
in addition, by the time these recordings were made, tourism had become a cornerstone of Jamaica’s economy. Following World War II, tourists looked away from Europe for holidays and as the 1950s approached, tourism exploded. Famous people and commerce were attracted to Jamaica and when the Jamaica Tourist Board was established in 1954, it became clear that the government had made a commitment to the tourist industry. Jamaica was marketed as a destination both exotic and familiar.
Local entrepreneurs followed suit. In fact, many of the recordings made in the emergent recording industry weren’t marketed as Mentos at all, especially those produced for tourists. By the 1950s Calypso was a style more familiar to holiday makers. Consequently, recordings were often labeled Jamaican Calypsos, mainly to capitalise on the international popularity of Trinidad’s national music. Most, if not all, of the musicians on this CD made a significant portion of their individual livings working in tourist entertainment.
THE EARLY JAMAICAN RECORDING INDUSTRY
Although recording in Jamaica started later than other Caribbean Islands, its recorded music history starts much earlier, certainly pre-dating the Ska era when it is popularly believed to have commenced. Jamaican repertoire had been recorded in 1918 by the Trinidadian musician Lionel Belasco. A Jamaican artist had probably been recorded as early as 1924 in New York and a group of Caribbean artists, which probably included Jamaicans, had recorded for Victor in 1927. However, the first mention of Mento on records is found on the recordings of the Trinidadian, Sam Manning, who recorded ‘Mentors’ between 1925 and 1933 for various recording companies in the U.S. Therefore, by the time Mento came to be recorded in Jamaica in the early 1950’s it had a long history and, indeed, was about to be superceded by a new form of Jamaican popular music.
The beginning of the Jamaican recording industry resulted from the pioneering efforts of entrepreneurs Ken Khouri, Stanley Motta, and Stanley Chin, all of whom were associated with local stores. It was Stanley Motta, founder of a chain of electrical appliance stores on the Island, who started recording local artists in Jamaica. Born October 5, 1915, Motta began his working life as an apprentice at his uncle’s garage. At the age of 16 he opened his first radio-parts shop at 10C East Street, Kingston. Three years later, in 1934, he became a pioneer in his field by introducing the popular Sylvania lighting systems to the island, and subsequently established a successful electrical appliance shop at 109 Harbour Street. Motta’s first recordings featured Lord Fly (Bertie Lyons) and it is believed that this is the first Jamaican recording although the guitarist Ernest Ranglin claims to have recorded Hawaiian guitar music on wax cylinders for another entrepreneur before the Motta 78s. Motta’s first recordings were probably made straight to disc. Since no processing facilities were then available in Jamaica, all acetates or soft waxes were sent to the UK where the recordings were mastered and pressed. The finished shellac 78s were then sent back to the island.
For later sessions Motta probably switched to tape recording as a first stage and used connections made through the Jamaican Jazz musician Bertie King, resident in London since 1935, to get his records manufactured. When King returned to Jamaica in late 1951 to lead a band at the Hotel Casablanca in Montego Bay, he recorded the Ticklers in Motta’s small Hanover Street studio. The recordings were then sent to London to be processed and pressed by UK major Decca, through the auspices of Emil Shalit’s London based Melodisc company, which had previously issued Jamaican music recorded in London. Released in Jamaica in summer 1952, the Tickler’s record ‘Healing In The Balm Yard’ became one of the first really big Jamaican hits and the MRS (Motta’s Recording Studio) label went on to become the major recorder of Mento. Motta devoted considerable time and effort to the marketing of Mento abroad and for the tourist trade, producing records for local hotels as well as for his own label.
Motta’s great rival in recording Mento was Ken Khouri but although he was not as dedicated to Mento as Motta and only issued a few sides, his long career with Federal Records means he has a far greater significance to the rise of the later generation of Jamaican recording artists. Khouri had become involved in recording almost by accident when he bought a disc recorder around 1949. He used this home-based system to record people’s voices for 30 shillings and soon found the demand for music so great he started that as well. He moved out of his home to a club at Red Gal Ring in St. Andrew and made an agreement with Decca in London to make records from the discs. He recalls that, ‘The first song I did was Lord Flea’s ‘Naughty Little Flea’. I contacted Alec Durie of Times Store to help me distribute records and we started Times Record Label. Durie advertised the records in the Saturday newspapers. This first attempt was a real gamble. But when I got to King Street the Saturday, I saw a line two blocks long.. We sold out in less than two weeks. I ordered 5,000 more records and we sold them for between four and five shillings.’
Khouri’s memory is faulty here unless he is referring to an earlier recording not issued on Times. The first record on the label is credited to the jamaican Calypsonians with Lord Flea (Norman Thomas) on vocal ‘Time So Hard Old Lady’ / ‘Solas Market Water Come From Me Eye’ which was recorded early in 1954. this success encouraged Khouri to start manufacturing records himself. He contacted a factory in California which sold him two presses and sent an expert to teach him about the record business. In late 1954 he started Records Ltd. at 129 King Street. By November of that year he had available the first locally pressed records on the Island. These were not local recordings but records manufactured under franchise from Mercury Records in the US. He then acquired a mono recording machine and, with Grahame Goodal’s help, converted a ‘maids quarter’s’ into Jamaica’s first recording studio. The small wooden building with a zinc roof was right beside the pressing plant. Recordings were mainly done at night. In 1957 Records Limited moved to 220 Marcus Garvey Drive and became Federal Records Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Khouri probably had the proposed but ill fated Federation of the West indies in mind and saw wider Caribbean possibilities. Soon he purchased some old Ampex equipment which had a new feature of reverberation. It was still monaural format and everything had to be done in one take. If a singer was recording and an instrumental solo was needed, the singer had to get out the way quickly and smoothly to allow for the solo.
With the exception of Count Lasher’s all the recordings on this cd were originally recorded and pressed by Records Ltd., the majority for the third pioneer in this era, Stanley Ivan Chin. Owner of Chin’s Services, he is less well known, and issued his recordings on the Chin’s label which were probably mastered in England and pressed in Jamaica. Many of these records were also issued on a Melodisc subsidiary called Kalypso where they appear to have been pressed by Levy’s a pressing plant associated with the English Oriole label. The English Kalypso label is not to be confused with the Khouri label, Kalypso which issued recordings of Count Owen in Jamaica. Kalypso is a label name with a complex history, the details of which are still being worked out.
The Jamaican recording industry changed for good when Dada Tawari (spelt a number of different ways) opened Caribbean Recording Company (CRC) around 1957 as this operation had mastering facilities. The price of producing a record fell and the whole process became local. The stage was set for the massive explosion in Jamaican music which characterised the following decades. Mento continued to be recorded and CRC issued many on it’s Caribou label, most notably by Count Lasher (featured on this cd) and, of course, the great Laurel Aitken whose career encompasses the history of Jamaican music.
If the early history of Jamaican recordings is a tortuous story most of the artists who recorded at this time are shrouded in mystery.
Along with Lord Flea and Lord Fly, Count Lasher is one of the best known artists with a long recording career that started with MRS and stretched into the early Ska period. Suprisingly little is known about him but it is suspected that his real name is Terence Perkins. Nothing yet is known about the accompaniment leader Charlie Binger.
Lord Lebby is known for his cover of Louis Jordan’s ‘Caladonia’, a seminal Jamaican R&B recording released in the UK.
Chin’s Calypso Sextet gives the appearance of being the most rural of the groups. The vocalist is variously credited as A. or E. Bedasse about whom nothing is known*. It’s almost certainly true that there is only one vocalist , possibly using a pseudonym. He is identified as ‘Alert’ Bedasse in ‘Calypso Pepperpot’. Significantly, the composer credits on all Bedasse recordings here are E. or E.F. Williams. He is also credited on the Ticklers MRS recordings, reputed to the the first Jamaican hit records, and on other MRS recordings. This is almost certainly Everart Williams who was recorded by the BBC in November 1953 singing ‘Greetings to the Queen’ during her tour. His compositions whilst not conforming to current notions of political correctness, are sophisticated and show a degree of self-conciousness artistry. these are not simple dirty songs but contain complex imagery reflecting the concerns of a society in transition.
* Much more, since the original release of this Cd and accompanying notes, is now known about Alerth Bedasse.
These cd notes were transcribed October 6, 2009 by Mike Murphy – Thanks to Ron Geesin.