REGGAE GOT SOUL | THE ORIGINALS PART FOUR
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 fourth one, we focus on noteworthy cover versions, mostly being the initial ones, recorded by well known and lesser known Jamaican singers and vocal groups.
CHOSEN FEW – AM I BLACK ENOUGH
Soon after forming in the late 1960s, the Chosen Few, a quartet comprising Franklyn Spence aka A.J. Franklin and the three Browns – Busty, Noel and Errol – became widely regarded as one the most accomplished harmony groups on the Jamaican music scene, as demonstrated by a series of hits for local producers, Derrick Harriott and Prince Tony Robinson. For the former they recorded an amazing cover of Billy Paul’s “Am I Black Enough For You?”. The original was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and released as a single in April 1973, but it failed to replicate the chart success of Billy Paul’s previous number 1 smash “Me And Mrs. Jones”. Another reggae version of the Billy Paul song was featured on Steel Pulse’s 1997 album “Rage And Fury”.
ALTON ELLIS – LET HIM TRY
In the ’50s and early ’60s, New Orleans’ blues singer, pianist, and songwriter Rosco Gordon was a favourite on the Jamaican mobile discos known as sound systems, not thanks to bootin’ R&B hits such as “No More Doggin’” or “Keep On Doggin’” although they’d been sufficiently popular in Jamaica to see release as 78rpm singles on CRC’s Down Beat label. It was “Let ’Em Try”, a slow, tortured, a 1961 B-side ballad, that made a lasting impression. Without doubt, Rosco Gordon’s off-beat rhythmic technique influenced the sound of early ska and reggae. Covered by Alton Ellis as “Let Him Try” for Studio One in 1967 as a sprightly rocksteady song (after having seen Tony Gregory singing the song in a Christmas show), it was one of the biggest hits by one of Jamaica’s greatest singers. It was never released on a 45 outside of Jamaica. Also Johnny Clarke, Jackie Parris & Big Youth and Freddie McGregor covered the song, while Alton Ellis did a second, lesser appealing version of the tune which appeared on Jet Star’s 1997 released “Reggae Max”.
THE WAILERS – DIAMOND BABY
One of the Ska songs The Wailers recorded for Coxsone Dodd was an adaptation of The Impressions’ “Talking About My Baby”, which was changed to “Diamond Baby”. The original pressing of the 1965 released single, which wrongly credits Bob Marley as the writer of the song, is one of the most valuable ska 45s. At the time of the recording Bob Marley was not only employed at Studio One as a singer but also had to play through US singles and albums in search of songs that could be adapted by Mr Dodd’s artists who, unlike the young singer, were not writing their own songs. Perhaps he then heard The Impressions’ song and decided to do an own version based on The Impressions cut.
DELROY WILSON – ONCE UPON A TIME
Produced by Stranger Cole, Delroy Wilson recorded a cover of Mary Wells & Marvin Gaye’s 1964 single “Once Upon A Time” from their sole duet album “Together”. The song discussed how the two narrators felt lonely until they met each other referring to their past as it happened ‘once upon a time’. Delroy Wilson’s 1968 single, which featured Lyn Taitt & The Jets as backing band, was the debut release on Stranger Cole and Vincent Wright’s W&C label. “Once Upon A Time” has been covered numerous times by different reggae artists such as Dennis Brown (as “I Was Lonely” in 1972), Clancy Collins & the Versatiles, Roman Stewart, Sidney Rogers, the Main Attractions, Jacob Miller, and the ‘Cool Ruler’ Gregory Isaacs.
GLEN ADAMS – LONELY GIRL
Ruby and the Romantics’ soft and dreamy song “Hey There Lonely Boy”, written by Earl Shuman and Leon Carr and recorded for Kapp Records, was released in July 1963. Ihe single reached #27 on Billboard’s national charts. It was later recorded in 1969 by Eddie Holman renamed “Hey There Lonely Girl”. In Jamaica, Glen Adams did a strong rocksteady version of the song, produced by Bunny Lee and released on the Giant label in 1968 under the title “Lonely Girl”. Glen Adams had started to work with Bunny Lee from around 1967 as a solo singer, backing singer and A&R man, in exchange for studio time. He was involved in recording sessions for a range of producers under a variety of group names and did some of his most memorable work accompanying Slim Smith.
THE STARR BOUNDS – HEAVENLY
The Starr Bounds, who had something to do with Tall Dread, is yet another short-lived group with Dave Barker and Bobby Davis on vocals. They did a reggae version of the 1973 ravers classic “Heavenly” by The Temptations, a song about a person trying to persuade a woman to love him because a relationship between them will be heavenly. The Starr Bounds version was produced by Trevor Brown and released in the UK on the Horse label on June 6, 1975. The Norman Whitfield written love tune “Heavenly”, sung by Temptations members Richard Street and Damon Harris, was caught in the center of a DJ boycott against the Motown label. A Motown executive did not thank the United States’ DJs while accepting an award for The Temptations at the 1974 American Music Awards, and, as a result, the DJs refused to play “Heavenly” and thus the single stalled out on the pop charts.
PHYLLIS DILLON – THING OF THE PAST
Jamaican rocksteady and reggae singer Phyllis Dillon recorded for Duke Reid’s lucrative Treasure Isle record label in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She recorded her first record for Duke Reid, “Don’t Stay Away”, in late 1966. Most of her subsequent recordings would be covers of popular and obscure American songs. In 1967, she did a rocksteady version of “A Thing Of The Past” by The Shirelles, one of the girl groups of the late 1950s/early 1960s. That song was written by Bob Brass & Irwin Levine, recorded by The Shirelles and released in 1961 on Scepter Records. It reached #26 on the US R&B chart.
THE SENSATIONS – BORN TO LOVE YOU
Produced by Bunny Lee and released in 1967, The Sensations recorded a great rocksteady version with fantastic harmonies of The Temptations’ “Born To Love You”. Also artists like Slim Smith, Derrick Harriott, The Heptones, and Barry Biggs covered this wonderful soul tune. The Sensations were a Jamaican vocal group which performed on many of the reggae hits of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Membership was fluid but centred on the original members Jimmy Riley, Cornell Campbell, Buster Riley and Aaron “Bobby” Davis. In fact, The Sensations were a rotating group of interlinked Jamaican session singers, closely tied to similar groups like the Techniques and the Uniques.
AUDREY – SOMEDAY WE’LL BE TOGETHER
Kingston born Audrey, the older sister of Pam Hall, began her career as part of the duo Dandy & Audrey (with Dandy Livingstone) in the late 1960s. Audrey released a few tunes on the Down Town label with Dandy Livingstone as the producer. One of these tunes was a reggae version of “Someday We’ll Be Together”, a song written by Johnny Bristol, Jackey Beavers, and Harvey Fuqua in 1961 and recorded by Johnny (Bristol) & Jackey (Beavers). The song had moderate success in the Midwestern United States, but gained little notice in other venues. In 1969, Johnny Bristol was preparing a cover version of “Someday We’ll Be Together”, to be recorded by Motown act Jr. Walker & the All-Stars. Bristol had already recorded the instrumental track and the background vocals by Maxine Waters and Julia Waters when Berry Gordy happened upon the tracks and heard them. Gordy thought that “Someday” would be a perfect first solo single for Diana Ross, who was making her long-expected exit from the Supremes at the time.
SUGAR MINOTT – A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME
In 1968, Karl Bryan & The Soul Vendors did a saxophone instrumental for Studio One, about ten years before Sugar Minott recorded his cover version of “A House Is Not a Home” for the legendary Jamaican label. Then, in 1980, Sugar Minott put out a new – singer/deejay – version together with Papa Honey (who’s actually Sugar himself) for his own Black Roots label. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “A House Is Not A Home” was used as the title song to the 1964 movie of the same name. Brook Benton’s version of the song, which was the one that appeared in the film, was released at nearly the same time that Dionne Warwick came up with a version of this song herself, which she recorded at Bell Sound Studios, Manhattan, and was released on the B-side of her 1964 single “You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)” on Scepter Records. Despite its modest initial success, the song went on to achieve greater renown through frequent recordings by many other artists, including a hit version in 1981 by Luther Vandross. Also more reggae artists came up with a version of “A House Is Not A Home”, such as Freddie McGregor, Marcia Griffiths, John Holt, Hopeton Lindo, Dennis Brown, The Immortals, Hortense Ellis, One Blood, and Junior Dan.