Forty years ago, reggae lost a treasure with the August 1971 passing of producer Leslie Kong. Establishing his base of operations in his family's ice cream and record shop on Kingston's Orange St., Kong founded his Beverley's imprint in 1961. Along with sound engineer Graeme Goodall, Kong was one of the founding directors of Chris Blackwell's Island Records, and remained the label's MD in Jamaica following Blackwell's relocation to London in the early '60s. Kong is perhaps best known, however, for producing some of the finest records in the late-rock steady / early-reggae period in the late 1960s. His keen intuition and eye for the international market led to a stream of records from Jimmy Cliff, The Melodians, The Pioneers, and principally Toots & The Maytals - along with Desmond Dekker & The Aces, whose "Israelites" was the first Jamaican record to both hit the #1 spot on the UK pop chart and land on the US pop chart at #9 - that caught the ears of the general pop music market and continue to resonate decades after their initial releases. To be sure, Trojan picked up classic recordings from producers Lee Perry, Harry Johnson, Winston Riley and label namesake Duke Reid, but it was Kong's impeccable sensibility that fortified Trojan's sound and seeded reggae on the international music scene in the pre-dawn hours prior to Bob Marley & The Wailers' global explosion in the early 1970s.
- DANA SMART