While Jamaican performers such as Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis benefited from the laid back rhythms it was chiefly the island's vocal groups such as the Maytals, the Paragons and the Wailers who benefited most from the transition of Ska to Rock Steady. This laid-back style of Jamaican music introduced a new wave of groups and none proved more popular than the aptly named Melodians.
Tony Brevett, who was the nephew and namesake of the legendary Skatalite, Lloyd, formed the group while still at school. He initially enrolled George Alison, Bradfield Brown and Eddie Fraser before the line-up settled with the aforementioned Brent Dowe alongside Trevor McNaughton who replaced Eddie and George. It is widely rumoured that the group initially recorded with Prince Buster although the result of these sessions are believed to have remained on acetate for the producer's Voice Of The People sound before Bertram left the group in 1966.
The Melodians continued to perform as a trio and embarked on recording sessions for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd at Studio One. Their debut, 'Lay It On' proved a local hit and led to further releases recorded at Brentford Road, such as 'Meet Me', 'I Should Have Made It Up' and 'Let's Join Hands'. Usually the group's songs were self-compositions, written individually and collectively, although some of their more famous hits were either solely or co-written by their long time associate and silent partner, Renford Cogle.
In 1967, the trio began recording for Arthur 'Duke' Reid, Coxsone's main rival. The Duke allegedly paid the group a more generous fee, which attracted them to his Treasure Isle studios in Bond Street. This partnership resulted in a series of hits such as the legendary 'You Have Caught Me' that provided the foundation to U. Roy's classic `Version Galore' and the celebrated, 'Last Train To Expo.'67', which features on this compilation. Following further sessions that resulted in 'Come On Little Girl', 'I Just Know How She Feels (aka Far Away Love)' and a re-make of their earlier Studio One hit, 'Let's Join Hands'. Their run of hits with the Duke came to an abrupt end in 1968 when the group ironically fell out with the Duke over money.
After leaving Treasure Isle their next sessions were recorded with the Orange Street based Tip Top Record Shop owner, Mrs. Sonia Pottinger. The partnership resulted in the hugely popular hits, 'Little Nut Tree' and 'Swing And Dine'. It was at the same time as working with Mrs. Pottinger that the group teamed up with fellow label mates, the Gaylads, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson, to set up the short lived Links label. Whilst with the cooperative, the Melodians released the favoured 'Sweet Rose' before the company folded towards the close of '68.
Immediately after the demise of Links, the trio were briefly linked with Winston Lowe's newly launched Tramp imprint, where they were given the freedom to produce their own material including 'When There Is You', 'Ring Of Gold', 'You've Got It' and 'Personally Speaking'. They also returned to recording hits with Mrs. Pottinger as well as Coxsone Dodd and, having resolved their financial wrangles with Duke Reid. Early in 1969 they released a number of titles with the Duke such as the ever popular 'Everybody Bawlin'', alongside the lesser known 'Lonely Nights', 'Hey Girl' and the succinct `What More Can I Say'.
The Treasure Isle sessions that spawned these sides were immediately followed by a move to Leslie Kong's Beverley's label. Kong was enjoying unparalleled success in the UK with Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff and the Pioneers all crossing over into the British Pop listings. The Melodians debut with Beverley's was the celebrated title track of this collection, which despite limited national airplay climbed into the lower reaches of the UK pop chart, peaking at number forty-one in January 1970. While further British mainstream success proved elusive, the quality of the group's output for the producer remained undiminished, with their releases from this period including 'A Day Seems So Long', 'Say Darling Say', 'It Took A Miracle' and the renowned 'Rivers Of Babylon'. The latter should need no introduction when it opens with that achingly familiar gentle guitar strum followed by lilting keys and a drum fill before the group sing the first, third and fourth verse from Psalm 137. While it failed to equal their international hit, the song featured on the soundtrack to 'The Harder They Come', a film that played a major role in introducing Reggae around the world. A clichéd disco version of 'Rivers Of Babylon' also provided the manufactured Pop group, Boney M with a huge international hit in 1978. On the flip side of the German Popsters' hit was a version of another Jamaican favourite, `Brown Girl In The Ring' probably inspired by either Chenley Duffus' or the Maytones renderings. Boney M's double 'A' side spent 40 weeks on the UK chart and was fêted at the time as the second best-selling UK single in the history of record sales. At the time of writing it remains Britain's fifth best-selling single of all time. Other notable performers such as Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle and Don Carlos have also covered the song, while the original Melodians version provided the foundation to a rare DJ outing for Beverley's, namely 'Sounds Of Babylon' by Samuel The First that is featured on the 'Trojan Nyahbinghi Box Set' (TJETD094).
The Melodians themselves meanwhile recorded a plethora of additional material at Beverley's and we have featured a killer line-up of tracks to compliment the 1997 Trojan compilation, 'Rivers Of Babylon' (CDTRL 387). These include 'Too Young To Fall In Love', 'Give Thanks And Praises', 'Come Rock It With Me', 'I Don't Care', 'The Staircase Of Time' and `Walking In The Rain', a number of which appear on CD for the first time. All the tracks are fine examples of the musicianship of the Beverley All Stars (including musicians such as Jackie Jackson, Winston Wright, Hux Brown, Rad Bryan, Paul Douglas and Winston Grennan) and demonstrate the layers of melodious rhythms topped off with the group's sublime harmonies.
While working with Beverley's, the Melodians also reunited with Mrs. Pottinger, who produced a handful of sides by the group, including 'Love Is A (Doggone) Good Thing' and 'No Nola'. Whilst these titles maintained the group's profile, it was the partnership with Kong that proved particularly rewarding. The group's final sessions at Beverley's resulted in 'Come Ethiopians Come', 'My Love My Life', `No Sins At All', and 'The Time Has Come', all of which were recorded shortly before Leslie Kong's untimely demise in August 1971. In spite of the devastating loss of their producer, the trio rose above the tragedy to record some of their finest material, which included Tony Brevett's productions of 'This Beautiful Land' and our featured track 'Without You'.
In 1971, a number of Jamaica's most popular and established artists recorded highlights of their back catalogue in a medley form. Artists such as the Wailers released 'All In One', while the Heptones produced 'The Magnificent Heptones' and it was the latter that directly inspired the Melodians to follow suit. The group released two medleys with Mrs. Pottinger: 'The Sensational Melodians' and 'The Mighty Melodians', both of which featured on Trojan's 'Medley Train' (CDTRL350) compilation. The trio also worked with Sid Bucknor who produced the inspiring, 'In Our Time' that features for the first time on CD with this retrospective. Another Jamaican tradition is to record `one offs' with a variety of producers and the Melodians were no exception, recording 'You Are My Only Love' with Warrick Lyn and 'Round And Round' for the enigmatic Lee 'Scratch' Perry.
As 1972 came to a close, the group returned to Treasure Isle for their final sessions with the Duke, cutting the laudable 'Passion Love' and 'Love Makes The World Go Around' before once again re-united with Mrs. Pottinger to record the deeply spiritual 'Black Man Kingdom Come'. Sadly for lovers of the group's close harmonies the Melodians began to concentrate on their solo careers.
Tony Brevett had already recorded material such as 'You Took Me By Surprise' for Martin Riley and 'Don't Give Up' with Bunny Lee as well as the self-produced, 'Don't Get Weary', 'So Ashamed' and 'Black Girl' that saw issue on the rejuvenated Links label. Following the official break-up of the Melodians, he recorded a series of exceptional releases, such as 'Words Of Prophesy', 'Star Light', 'I've Got To Get Back Home' and an outstanding version of 'Over Hills And Valleys'.
Brent Dowe had also recorded as a soloist notably with Byron `Smitty' Smith and Leslie Kong and following the group's demise he recorded a number of hits for Mrs. Pottinger many of which featured on his debut album, 'Build Me Up' (TRL76). Although most of his work was with Mrs. Pottinger, he recorded on an occasional freelance basis having released 'Down Here In Babylon' for Lee Perry and a re-recording of 'Your Turn To Cry' for 'Prince' Tony Robinson. He also cut two fine versions of the Jamaican favourites, 'Things You Say You Love' and 'Come On Pretty Woman', while, as is often the case in the field of Reggae, he went into self-production, issuing 'A Deh Pon Di Wicked' along with 'No Sweeter Way' and 'Unfaithful Mankind'.
By 1974, while the group had officially disbanded, Brevett, Dowe and McNaughton re-formed to record 'It's All In The Family' and a rare cover version of The Drifters 'I'll Take You Where The Music's Playing'. The group also recorded with the Revolutionaries who provided the backing to 'Why Little Girl' along with a re-make of 'Passion Love' at Channel One studios. Other releases credited to the group from the Seventies include 'Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying', an updated version of 'Swing And Dine' with the Soul Syndicate band, as well as 'Stop Your Gang War', produced by Yabby You. Furthermore, the group returned to Brentford Road where they recorded three singles, namely 'Burning Fire', 'Loving Feeling' and an updated version of the classic, 'Little Nut Tree'.
In 1983, the Washington based Ras label commissioned the group to record an album's worth of material. The sessions resulted in the suitably titled 'Irie Feelings' (Ras 3003), with notable tracks including 'Warning', 'Jah Reggae', 'Get Up And Dance' and the melodious title track. Also included were two earlier recordings from the group, 'Down Here In Babylon' and `You Don't Need Me' from 1975 and 1967, respectively. The trio's reunion was short-lived and it was some years before they again recorded as a group.
Soon after the release of the Ras album, Trinity's brother, Clint Eastwood teamed with General Saint to record a version of the Melodians' 'Last Train To Expo 67' as 'Last Plane (One Way Ticket)', resulting in a return to the UK Pop charts for the song writing skills of Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton, with the disc peaking at number fifty-one in the British national listings.
The group's last known reunion was with celebrated DJ turned producer, Tapper Zukie in 1992, when they released 'Song Of Love', which led to the veterans performing in a series of highly praised shows in Jamaica.
The trio continued to tour sporadically throughout the remainder of the Nineties and into the new century, but on the evening of January 28th 2006, after a rehearsal for forthcoming performance at the Jamaican Prime Minister's residence, Brent Dowe suffered a fatal heart attack. In the years since, Tony Brevett and Trevor McNaughton have maintained the group's name with regular live appearances throughout Europe and the USA, by the Yellow Wall Dub Squad.