REGGAE GOT SOUL | THE ORIGINALS PART THREE
Through the 1960s, as US soul began increasingly to reflect the social concerns and political aspirations of the black working class, the same phenomenon began to register in Jamaican music. By the end of the 1960s, Jamaica could boast the presence of several singers who equalled in emotional intensity their US contemporaries, among them singers like Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, John Holt, Slim Smith, Pat Kelly, and Delroy Wilson as well as vocal groups such as The Sensations, The Uniques and The Techniques.
Jamaican artists have continued to cover or transform American r&b and soul tunes up to the present day. In a series of articles, of which this is the third one, we focus on noteworthy cover versions, mostly being the initial ones, recorded by well known and lesser known Jamaican singers and vocal groups.
CORNELL CAMPBELL – I’M THE ONE WHO LOVES YOU
Sublime Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee produced reggae version of the Curtis Mayfield penned “I’m The One Who Loves You”, which was first released by Jerry Butler in 1962, with The Impressions following with their single in the next year. Cornell Campbell’s sweet cover was released on the Jackpot label circa 1975 and was then put out in the UK on the Neville Sounds imprint. Also The Jays did a version of the song. Backed by the Revolutionaries, they recorded their track at the renowned Channel One and saw it released in 1977 on the B-side of a 12″ single. In the UK, the underrated Trevor Hartley recorded a noteworthy rendition of “I’m The One Who Loves You” for Mad Professor in 1993.
DELROY WILSON – THIS OLD HEART OF MINE
Delroy George Wilson was a Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer, regarded as Jamaica’s first child star. The rocksteady version of Delroy Wilson with Bobby Aitken & The Carib Beats was produced by Edward O’Sullivan ‘Bunny’ Lee in 1967 and initially came out as a pre-release on WIRL Blank JA. “This Old Heart Of Mine” aka “This Heart Of Mine” is one of the songs he revisited different times, recording another version for Bunny Lee and also one (“This Whole Heart”) for ‘Gussie’ Clarke in the 1970s. In 1990, also John Holt covered the Isley Brothers’ song. Originally the song, written by Motown’s main songwriting team Holland–Dozier–Holland alongside Sylvia Moy, was intended for The Supremes who later recorded their own version for their 1966 album “The Supremes A’ Go-Go”. “This Old Heart Of Mine” was a hit for the Isley Brothers during their brief tenure on Motown’s Tamla label.
CARL DAWKINS – HARD TO HANDLE
Best known for his 1970 hit “Satisfaction”, Carl ‘Ras’ Dawkins was born in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, before moving to Allman Town in East Kingston. Being the son of local jazz drummer Joseph Dawkins music played a significant role in everyday life. In 1967 he auditioned for Karl ‘J.J.’ Johnson. A session was duly arranged with Bobby Aitken’s Carib Beats supplying musical backing, with “Baby I Love You” and “Hard Time” being issued on Johnson’s JJ label soon after. Unfortunately he was arrested for possession of marijuana, leading to an eight-month prison sentence and a temporary halt to his recording career. Upon his release, he returned to JJ’s to cut a number of tracks in the developing reggae style. Further sessions for the likes of Clancy Eccles, Lee Perry and Leslie Kong resulted a number of fine 45s. One of them was the Lee Perry produced cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle”, released in 1969 on the Upsetter label in Jamaica and on the Camel imprint of Pama Records in the UK. The American soul star’s song was released in 1968 as the B-side to “Amen” (shortly after the singer’s sudden death on December 10, 1967).
WILLIE WILLIAMS – NO ONE CAN STOP US
Without any doubt, the best known song Willie Williams recorded at the legendary Studio One has to be the scorcher “Armagideon Time”. Far lesser known is “No One Can Stop Us”, the singer’s interpretation of McFadden & Whitehead’s signature tune and big hit “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” from 1979, which sold eight million records worldwide and was nominated for a Grammy Award. The duo wrote and produced some of the most popular R&B hits of the 1970s, and were primarily associated with the Gamble and Huff record label, Philadelphia International Records. Songs they penned include The O’Jays’ “For The Love Of Money” and “Back Stabbers”, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ “Bad Luck”, “Where Are All My Friends” and “Wake Up Everybody”, and The Jacksons’ “Show You The Way To Go”. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” is about succeeding despite having faced previous disadvantages (“so many things that held us down”). Despite being seen as social commentary, the duo revealed that the song was actually about their frustration with Philadelphia International Records owners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who for many years preferred that they remain as house songwriters and not performers.
THE HEPTONES – MESSAGE FROM A BLACK MAN
At the end of the 1960s Black Consciousness became an important part of American Soul music. It was the time that many Jamaican artists were starting to look to their roots and became involved in Rastafarianism. The made that the “conscious” lyrics of American Funk and Soul again struck a chord with Jamaican artists. The Temptations’ “Message From A Blackman” and Syl Johnson’s “Is It Because I’m Black” are examples of this. In 1970 the former was covered by reggae vocal trio The Heptones, who then consisted of Leroy Sibbles, Earl Morgan and Barry Llewelyn. The song was recorded at Studio One, their home at Brentford Road in Kingston from 1996 to 1971, where Leroy Sibbles played bass on numerous sessions, auditioned acts, and, along with Jackie Mittoo, was the chief studio arranger. Other reggae covers were done by Prince Buster, Lloyd Charmers, and Derrick Harriott among others.
ALTON ELLIS & THE FLAMES – AIN’T THAT LOVING YOU
Johnnie Harrison Taylor, who was dubbed “The Philosopher of Soul”, was a three-time Grammy Award nominee. The Arkansas soul don’s 1967 debut album “Wanted One Soul Singer” for Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, included a heartfelt bluesy ballad with a sultry swagger and serious yearning on the choruses titled “Ain’t That Loving You”. Alton Ellis cut a cover version for both Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, each time scoring a convincing hit for them. The single on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label was done by Alton and The Flames and backed by Tommy McCook and the Supersonics in 1967. towards to end of that year he recorded a solo version for Studio One, which appeared on 7″ single and on the LP “Sings Rock And Soul”. There’s also a combination tune of Alton Ellis with deejay U Roy on Treasure Isle, while artists like Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, Hortense Ellis, and Al Campbell also recorded noteworthy interpretations.
JUNIOR SOUL – SUPER LOVE
Junior Soul is actually Junior Murvin before he recorded his classic roots piece “Police & Thieves” for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. “Super Love” is a cover of “Give Me Your Love”, which was originally written and performed by Curtis Mayfield for inclusion on the brilliant soundtrack of the 1972 movie Superfly. Junior Soul’s rendition, produced by G. Edwards and arranged by Clive ‘Azul’ Hunt, comes across a mesmerizing riddim adorned with the lovely sounds of hand drums, melodica and flute, mixed and dubbed to perfection by King Tubby himself. The riddim was also used for Super Roy aka I Roy’s deejay version “Flying High”.
KEN PARKER – THE CHOKING KIND
Ken Parker’s penchant for a soul recording takes shape with his reggae take on Joe Simon’s February 1969 released single ‘The Chockin’ Kind”, a minor hit which was put out by Sound Stage Records in the US. The soulful Jamaican artist’s revamp of the Joe Simon piece loses none of its poignancy. Actually the tune, written by Harlan Howard, was a country & western song originally recorded and released by Waylon Jennings & The Waylors in 1967. Reggae renditions of the song were also done by John Holt for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle and in the 1980s by Jimmy Riley for Sly & Robbie’s Taxi label. In 1970, The Upsetters put out an instrumental version (b/w “Penny Wise”, which is erroneously credited to Chuck Joseph. but it’s actually Junior Byles who sings on that tune).
DAVE BARKER – GROOVE ME
Although best known for his deejay talents as half of the chart-topping duo, Dave & Ansel Collins, Dave Barker is in fact one of the most accomplished singers Jamaica has ever produced. marked Dave Barker’s arrival as one of its most promising and versatile talents on the reggae scene. He launched his solo career under the auspices of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, for which he recorded a number of best-selling singles. Lee Perry put out a 7″ single with two versions of Dave Barker’s interpretation of “Groove Me”, a 1971 Top 10 hit by New Orleans soul singer and songwriter King Floyd. A fast version on the A-side and a slower one on the flip side.
BUNNY SCOTT – LET LOVE TOUCH US NOW
William Clarke aka Bunny Scott aka Bunny Rugs recorded with Lee “Scratch” Perry at the legendary Black Ark studio, initially as a backing singer and with Ricky Grant as the duo Bunny & Ricky. His solo album “To Love Somebody” was released in 1975. That LP featured a few covers including his previously released single “Let Love Touch Us Now”. The latter was originally a song recorded in 1971 by American gospel and soul singer Doris Willingham, known for much of her singing career as Doris Duke. The song featured on her LP “A Legend In Her Own Time” was produced by Swamp Dogg and was recorded in the epicentre of southern soul that is the Muscle Shoals area, at the revered Quinvy Studios in Sheffield, Alabama.