REGGAE GOT SOUL | THE ORIGINALS PART FIVE
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 fifth one, we focus on noteworthy cover versions, mostly being the initial ones, recorded by well known and lesser known Jamaican singers and vocal groups.
DENNIS BROWN – HOW COULD I LET YOU GET AWAY
Dennis Brown’s recordings with Derrick Harriott showcase him as a great soul singer. In the early 1979s the producer Derrick Harriott was having great success with reggae covers of soul songs like “Shaft” and “World Go Round”, often record by the Chosen Few. With Dennis Brown he recorded similar material, the best remembered probably being “Silhouettes”. Another worthwhile tune was “How Could I Let You Get Away” with its clever arrangement and delirious harmonies. The original version of “How Could I Let You Get Away”, a song recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios by the American vocal group The Spinners (known as Detroit Spinners in the UK), was produced by Thom Bell with the lush, string-augmented production of the song drawing comparisons to another Bell produced group, The Stylistics. The song was actually the A-side of the group’s first single release on Atlantic in July 1972.
SOUND DIMENSION – TIME’S TIGHT
In 1969, Studio One’s in-house band Soul Dimension – named after a piece of studio equipment – interpreted the soul classic “Time Is Tight” by Booker T & The M.G.’s, the famed Stax Records house band. Soul Dimension turned it into killer soul to reggae instrumental monster to skank on with keyboardist, songwriter and musical director Jackie Mittoo, one of the most important musicians in history of Jamaica’s popular music, fully matching Booker T Jones’ great organ play. After The Skatalites, The Sound Dimension were perhaps the most important instrumental group in the history of reggae music. That they remained relatively unknown is explained by the fact that they mostly performed anonymously behind the stars of the day, the reggae equivalent of Motown’s Funk Brothers.
DERRICK HARRIOTT – THE GIRL’S ALRIGHT WITH ME
Derrick Harriott has covered several songs of US soul group The Temptations, and the latter’s 1964 tune “The Girl’s Alright With Me” was another one he gave his own interpretation. It was covered by the Jamaican producer/singer in 1969 for his self-produced album “Derrick Harriott Sings Jamaica Reggae”, which came out on his own Crystal Records imprint in Jamaica. It was also released on Pama Records’ parent label Economy in the UK. “The Girl’s Alright With Me” re-appeared on Jamaica Gold’s 1993 compilation set “The Sensational Derrick Harriott Sings Jamaican Rock Steady Reggae”. The Temptations recorded the song, written by Eddie Kendricks, Norman Whitfield, and Eddie Holland. for the Gordy (Motown) label. Although it was the B-side to their Top 40 hit “I’ll Be In Trouble”, the song was also able to chart on its own, peaking at number 102 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under the Hot 100 and at number 39 on the Cash Box R&B Singles Chart.
KEN BOOTHE – NATURE PLANNED IT
Ken Boothe, the Jamaican vocalist known for his distinctive vibrato and timbre, achieved an international reputation as one of Jamaica’s finest vocalists through a series of crossover hits that appealed to both reggae fans and mainstream audiences. The singer’s soulful powerful delivery along with the perfect harmonies is displayed on an excellent interpretation of The Four Tops’ 1972 song “(It’s The Way) Nature Planned It”, which was produced by Lloyd Charmers. In 1972 the vocal group was getting ready to leave Motown, as the record company were about to move their business from Detroit, Michigan to Los Angeles, California. After years of being less successful, their Motown swansong, “(It’s The Way) Nature Planned It”, was a rebirth for this immensely talented quartet.
BOB & MARCIA – YOUNG GIFTED AND BLACK
Jamaican vocal duo Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths, two great voices which naturally complemented each other, saw their Harry Johnson produced version of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young Gifted And Black” initially released on the Harry J label in Jamaica in early 1970, before it got released on the Pama label with the addition of strings. Of interest is the fact that the duo’s reggae version was released in the US on the Tamla label in July 1970. Although this single, and several others, became a hit in the UK, they discontinued their partnership in the mid-1970s, both feeling that it was not bringing them adequate financial reward. The Heptones also recorded a version for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label in 1970. “To Be Young Gifted And Black”, with lyrics by Weldon Irvine, was originally recorded and released by Nina Simone in 1969. The song was also featured on her 1970 album “Black Gold” and was considered an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Released as a single, it peaked at number 8 on the R&B chart and number 76 on the Hot 100.
DELROY WILSON – PUT YOURSELF IN MY PLACE
Delroy Wilson, the young Jamaican superstar, did a superbly cover of The Elgins’ soul tune “Put Yourself In My Place”. The song, produced by Sonia Pottinger with Lyn Taitt & The Jets providing the backing, was released in Jamaica on the Gay Feet label and on the High Note label in the UK in 1968. Also Ken Lazerus recorded a reggae version of the song in 1971. The original song was written by the Motown team of Holland–Dozier–Holland and recorded by at least four Motown recording acts during the 1960s. The first appeared as a 1965 released single credited to The Elgins, a quartet with Saundra Mallett Edwards on lead vocals and Johnny Dawson, Cleo “Duke” Miller, and Norman McLean on backing vocals. The Elgins actually didn’t arrive out of nowhere as they came from the pairing of two previously-signed unsuccessful Motown acts, the vocal trio The Downbeats and singer Saundra Mallett Edwards. Although The Elgins’ “Put Yourself In My Place” flopped, it was a really good record, even if there was better to come when later on The Supremes, Chris Clark, and The Isley Brothers recorded the song.
- Tony Tribe – I’m Gonna Give You All The Love I’ve Got
- Jimmy Ruffin – Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got
TONY TRIBE – I’M GONNA GIVE YOU ALL THE LOVE I’VE GOT
Jimmy Ruffin’s 1967 hit song “Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got” has not only been covered in reggae by Tony Tribe, but also by John Holt and Pat Kelly. Both versions were released on Pama Supreme in 1972, while Dandy Livingston did a version that is featured on his 1969 album “Your Musical Doctor”. Jamaica born Tony Tribe (real name Anthony Mossop) moved to the UK with his family in 1956 and died in a car accident in Canada in 1970. His interpretation of “Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got” was released on the Down Town label in 1969. The song has a social context. It depicts a man anticipating his release from prison on the morrow, when he’ll return home on a train to “the girl that I left behind,” promising himself that he will reward her steadfast love for him by “giving her all the love he’s got.
ALTON ELLIS & THE FLAMES – LA LA MEANS I LOVE YOU
Recorded in 1968 at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle Studio in Kingston, Alton Ellis – with harmonies by The Flames – did a masterful rocksteady version of The Delfonics’ soul tune “La La Means I Love You”. The single was released in Jamaica on the Supersonics label. It wasn’t the only version Alton Ellis did, as he also recorded one for producer Castro Brown that came out on the DEB label in 1980. In 2001 he recorded the tune again, now in collaboration with Lorraine Scott, and put it out on his own All Tone label. The marvelous love song is one of The Delfonics’ most enduring recordings and perhaps their best loved, seeing a number of cover versions as well. Released on January 26, 1968 by Philly Groove Records, the original song was written by Thom Bell and William Hart, and produced by Bell and Stan Watson. It was a number 4 on the US Billboard pop chart and number 2 on the R&B chart.
ERROL DUNKLEY – YOU’RE GONNA NEED ME
Errol Dunkley was in his teens when he came up with a great take on a Barbara Lynn’s “You’re Gonna Need Me” for then new producer Joe Gibbs, who released it in Jamaica on his Amalgamated Records imprint in 1967. The song, recorded at Dynamic Studios in an afternoon session, was his debut for Joe Gibbs, who had bought out the young singer’s contract with Prince Buster for whom he started singing at 11 years old. In 1972, Errol Dunkley recorded a new version of “You’re Gonna Need Me” for Sonia Pottinger, followed by a next version for producer Harry Mudie in 1978. Singer/guitarist Barbara Lynn was a rare commodity during her heyday. Not only was she a female instrumentalist, but she also played left-handed – quite well at that – and even wrote some of her own material including her R&B hit “You’re Gonna Need Me”, which was released on Jamie Records in November 1962.
THE SILVERTONES – MIDNIGHT HOUR
The Silvertones began as the singing duo of Gilmore Grant and Keith Coley, teenaged friends who came to know each other in eastern Kingston shortly after Jamaica achieved its independence from Britain in 1962. Nothing much happened for the group until they chanced upon Delroy Denton, a tall, striking lad with a distinctive baritone and good command of the guitar, all of which made him a natural front man. Their debut recording, a ska re-casting of Brook Benton’s “True Confession”, leapt to the top of the Jamaican charts in 1966 and was followed swiftly by a more languorous take on Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour”, refashioned in the emerging rock steady style. The original song was composed by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper at the historic Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Martin Luther King, Jr. would later be assassinated in April 1968. It became the singer’s first hit on Atlantic Records reaching number 1 on the R&B charts and peaking at number 21 on the pop charts after it was released in June 1965.