Dillon had a share of solo success in the first half of the decade, issuing the mento and ska sides "Beggars Have No Choice," "Ice Water" and "Suffering On The Land" under the name Jack Sparrow at Coxson Dodd's Studio One. Banking on Sparrow's success, Dodd picked up the group, but the trio was fleeting: Morris exited before the close of '66. Carrying on as a duo, Dillon and Taylor issued a string of harmony records that foretold the emerging rock steady sound, including "For You," "Free Man," "Dun Dead Already," "I'm Gonna Take Over Now," "Leave My Business Alone," "Owe Me No Pay Me" and "Why You Gonna Leave Me Now."
The duo left Coxson in late 1967, looking to pave their own path, with Dillon at the helm. Their recordings at WIRL yielded one of the greatest tunes of their career and of the rock steady period in general: "Train to Skaville" was a gleaming gem of the train-themed songs issued in the mid- to late-'60s, becoming not only a hit on the island but landing on the UK pop charts in autumn 1967, peaking at Number 40. (The song's legacy was fortified with ska revival band The Selecter's cover, issued as the A-side of their first post-Two Tone single in 1980.)
Dillon and Taylor drifted again, recording "Not Me" and "Cut Down On Your Speed" in '68 for Lee Perry at his embryonic Upsetter operation. The group issued "Reggae Hit The Town" the following year, making it - along with The Maytals' "Do The Reggay" - among the first tunes to call the new style. But it was The Ethiopians' bond with producer J.J. Johnson that would prove most bountiful, inaugurated with "Everything Crash," a vibrant dance song juxtaposed with a brutal commentary of the woes suffered by Jamaica as it strove to come into its own, freed of its colonial bonds. "Everything Crash" marked Jamaican music's turn into social commentary, portending the 'conscious' roots reggae sounds of the '70s; its lyrical content ensured that the song was banned from the airwaves. More hits followed - "Losing You" and "Woman A Capture Man" (1969), "Hong Kong Flu" (1970), "Selah" (1971) - all gathered on the group's Trojan debut, Reggae Power (TTL 10, 1969).
In the new decade, The Ethiopians began working with many of the island's top producers, including Vincent "Randy" Chin, Derrick Harriott, Winston Riley, Prince Buster, Joe Gibbs, Harry J., Alvin "G.G." Ranglin, Rupie Edwards and Lee "Scratch" Perry. But in 1975 everything did, indeed, crash, when Stephen Taylor was killed in a car accident as he was getting gas one night. The tragedy sidelined Dillon until 1977 when he returned with Slave Call, a suite of Rasta-inspired material, driven by a Nyahbinghi collective that Dillon assembled. Singularizing the name, Dillon issued Open the Gate of Zion as The Ethiopian, a strictly rockers affair cut with Sly & Robbie and The Revolutionaries at Channel One in 1978.
Dillon reunited with Coxson Dodd in 1982 and issued Everything Crash. Like many of the Studio One albums of the era, Everything Crash was a deft mix of thoughtful updates of Ethiopians classics and new tunes built on vintage Studio One rhythms. As the dances and the sounds changed in the 1980s, Dillon linked with roots ramparts Nighthawk Records in St. Louis, Missouri, who issued Dread Prophesy, a collaboration between The Ethiopian and new labelmates The Gladiators.
Though the Ethiopian's music fell from favor in the rise of digital dancehall, Dillon continued working on new material. Tragically, the possibility of new material has been truncated: Dillon passed away on September 28, 2011, succumbing to cancer. He was 68.
- DANA SMART