Harry J has passed away.
One of reggae's top producers in the 1970s, Harry Johnson (popularly known as Harry J), died Wednesday April 3 at age 68. Johnson, who has battled diabetes for many years, reportedly died at the Savanna-La-Mar Hospital in his native Westmoreland, Jamaica.
After completing his education, Harry Johnson joined a band called The Virtues, playing bass guitar. The group recorded a few tunes, notably a version of "Amen". Intrigued by the business side of music, he became the band's manager until his partners decided to disperse. Following the group's demise he concentrated on a career in insurance but was drawn back into the music business as a producer in 1968.
His first sessions resulted in "No More Heartaches" by The Beltones, which became a big local hit. The song was covered in the '80s by Keble Drummond of The Cables with Harry J producing. His skilful negotiating with Coxsone Dodd won him the use of Studio One's facilities when he recorded Lloyd Robinson performing "Cuss Cuss". He employed some of the island's top session men including Hux Brown, Winston Wright and Boris Gardiner, collectively known as the Harry J Allstars. The studio band enjoyed a UK number 9 crossover hit with "The Liquidator" in October 1969, which re-entered the chart in March 1980. The success of the single led to a compilation of instrumentals taking its title from the hit single. In March 1970 his production of Bob & Marcia's "Young Gifted & Black", one of the first reggae records to use strings, reached the Top 5 in the UK.
In 1972 Harry J sold his record shop and invested the money, and the profits of his UK hits, into his 16-track studio at 10 Roosevelt Avenue in Kingston, Jamaica.He later installed former Studio One engineer Sylvan morris at the controls in place of Sid Bucknor, who moved to England. Harry J's became one of the most popular recording studios on the island, utilized by the likes of Burning Spear, Augustus Pablo, and, prior to the advent of Tuff Gong, Bob Marley. Harry J also produced work by The Cables, The Heptones, Busty Brown, Lloyd Robinson and Lorna Bennett. His production of the latter's "Breakfast In Bed", originally a Nashville country tune, was a financial success but failed to make an impression on the UK chart. The song was also covered by another of Harry J's protégés, Sheila Hylton, who entered the UK chart in 1979, peaking at number 57.
In the late 70s Harry J moved down a gear and produced mainly deejay records for the local market. His studio remained popular, however, and in 1981 he was tempted back into the production seat to achieve another international hit with Sheila Hylton's "The Bed's Too Big Without You", which reached number 35 in the UK chart in February of that year. Another substantial hit was The Heptones' "Book Of Rules", which lost its appeal when Island Records inadvisably added strings.
Over the years, Harry J's studio facilities have been used by some of reggae's finest musicians and artists. Bob Marley & The Wailers' "Catch A Fire", "Burnin'", "Natty Dread" and "Rastaman Vibration", were all recorded there. By the '80s Harry J had set up his own distribution network in Jamaica with Sunset, 10 Roosevelt Avenue, Junjo, and, of course, the Harry J label.
Harry 'Harry J' Johnson is survived by four children and three grandchildren.
Source: The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae.