Theo was born into a musical background but despite his father's accomplishments as a pianist, indeed all round musician, young Theophilus was entirely self taught on the piano, quickly mastering the New Orleans boogies of Fats Domino and Rosco Gordon that were all the rage in early 50's Kingston. When and how his graduation into the masterly ranks of the Blues Blasters occurred is a mystery, but the very fact that he was slotted between future Skatalites Arkland Parks, Ernest Ranglin and Roland Alphonso as well as the equally legendary Rico Rodriguez and Clue J himself, is ample testament to Theo's abilities. As is the fact that when Easy Snappin' was finally released to the public in 1959, Beckford, at No.1 in the Jamaican charts was as big a homegrown name as Jamaica had ever known. Further hits for Coxsone followed, both under his own name and under the Blues Blasters umbrella, but the customary 'Owe Me No Pay Me' system forced a hungry Beckford to set up on his own in 1961, embarking on his own 'King Pioneer' label, from where this collection draws it's fire.
These four sessions, most likely from 1962 and predominantly unreleased 'til now certainly show Beckford stuck in a groove or a rut, depending on your preference. The whole Easy Snappin' New Orleans rolling sounds fast seemed dated in the ever changing Jamaican dancehalls and the handful that were released in the UK, as late as 1965, must have sounded positively prehistoric at the time. Despite his own obvious larynx limitations though, Theo's ear was obviously attuned to the times and his productions of others were perfectly of the moment. Just check a pre Maytals, even pre Toots, Frederick Hibbert Ska-ing his way through a tune you need an enigma machine to decipher. Or another Coxsone artist, Shenley (or Chenley or Chandley) Duffus and Annette Clarke harmonizing in the still popular fashion of Shirley and Lee or Gene and Eunice. Featured harmonica player Charles Cameron (AKA Charlie Organaire AKA Big Charlie) offers a few workouts easily as exciting as those Roy Richards was sucking and blowing for Coxsone and Karl (AKA Keith) Walker offers up a tribute to the early 50's craze of 'But Officer' tunes that was still going strong at the end of the 60's. Of his own tunes, perhaps the most interesting trio are the Laurel Aitken soundalike, 'Drink Rum', Theo's own answer to his big hit 'Snapping Is Back' (Surely Snapping It Back?) and pivotally a dedication to the parsimonious accounting practices of his old boss Coxsone the downbeat, 'Mr Downpresser'.
Beckford's career post King Pioneer was both varied and intermittent; writing, singing, producing, session work, pianist on those Upsetters tracks that aren't actually the Upsetters, a hit remake version of Easy Snappin' in 68, recording artists as diverse as Jah Whoosh and spiritual duo, Gordon and Berry and owner of the Sundown Record shop, all of which should ensure his place as a little more than the footnote he seems to have become in the standard references.
When he was stabbed to death in Kingston, virtually penniless, few would have realized this man played at Coxsone's first session, Lloyd Daley's first session and Desmond Dekker's first session. Theophilus Beckford has greater claim than most to kicking it all off. And whether he was the first or even the best, he most certainly deserved the titles King and Pioneer.