The breadth, depth and wealth of musical talent that has passed through the ranks of the Techniques is nothing short of incredible and, over the years, various members of the group not only topped the UK charts and masterminded the worldwide sensation of Musical Youth, but have also made indelible impressions as solo singers, musicians, deejays, songwriters, arrangers, producers, recording engineers and dub mixers, music publishers and legal representatives. The list of their various and varied talents is endless and the influence of the Techniques, both as a group and individually, on the development of Jamaican music has been profound. The guiding light behind the group, Winston Riley, is a man whose resume reads like a history of Jamaican music, yet throughout his long career he has never sought fame or status and is content with the satisfaction of knowing that a job has been done properly:
"Yet I want nothing out of it. A man can get fi him credit. I get my credit from the work I do."
One of the key figures in the development of Reggae, Winston Riley was involved in the Kingston music business from the very start and his productions still continue to exert an important influence in the new Millennium. He was born in Kingston in 1946 and grew up in West Kingston. He became a male nurse after leaving school for, in those times, music was not regarded as a career option, and Winston recalls that if he wanted to make it then he would have to "work and sing, work and sing". He cites his musical influences as the Rhythm Aces, Jimmy James and the Impressions. It has been said before, and will no doubt be said again, that Curtis Mayfield's Impressions have exerted a massive influence on the form and the content of Jamaican music and on the vocal group tradition in particular and some of the Techniques' biggest hits were adaptations of Impressions songs.
Winston Riley formed the first incarnation of the group in 1962 at Kingston Senior School and at Chocomo Lawn Youth Club. Original members consisted of himself, Keith 'Slim' Smith, Frederick Waite and Franklyn White, while later Pat Kelly, Junior Menz, Jackie Parris, Bobby Davis, Bruce Ruffin, Jimmy Riley, Dave Barker, Lloyd Parks, Morvin Brooks and 'Johnny' from 'Johnny & the Hurricanes' would all play their part in this stellar array of talent. The original Techniques could not only sing but also learnt to play instruments at Chocomo Lawn "a club developed by Edward Seaga" where they were introduced to "these guys from Columbia [Records]". Their first recording, 'No One', was released internationally by the label and, as members of the Victors Youth Band, the group gained further credence when they were numbered among the champions in the 'Ska And Mento' contest in the 1964 Jamaica Festival.
"We even had our own band called the Victors 'cause we, all of us from the group, learned to play instruments. I never really played none as such. I can play piano but not that strong. Slim Smith used to play drums, Franklyn White used to play bass, Frederick Waite used to play guitar."
In 1965 Stranger Cole introduced the group to Duke Reid and they started to record for his Treasure Isle label while at the same time they also worked with Sonia Pottinger's Gay Feet, Richard Khouri's Kentone and Byron Lee and Ronnie Nasralla's Gala labels. Their first big hit was 'Little Did You Know' for Duke Reid in the Ska style with Slim Smith on lead vocal, but "Rock Steady was the key" and as Ska slowed down to Rock Steady, the group, all accomplished vocalists, would exchange lead vocals and harmony parts as they really came into their own. But that was still a year or two away.
In the meantime, Slim Smith and Franklyn White left the group in 1966 to form the first version of the Uniques with Roy Shirley, but both Roy and Slim left soon after to pursue solo careers for a brief while until the Uniques came together again with Slim, Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell and Jimmy Riley. Slim Smith has always been regarded as the 'real' Reggae fan's favourite all time singer and in his tragically curtailed career he sang countless songs that are now acknowledged as classics. His willingness to "wear his heart soulfully on his sleeve endeared him to an entire generation" and his popularity was unrivalled:
"At the Carib Theatre, the Sate Theatre, the Regal Theatre and the Music Union they stole the show from any other group performing and, on one memorable occasion, from the Wailers where Bob Marley threatened Slim Smith with a knife."
The departure of Slim Smith and Franklyn White may well have proved catastrophic for the Techniques, but if anything, their career went from strength to strength, recording hit after hit after hit for Reid's Treasure Isle until 1968. Later that year, Winston took the unprecedented step of forming his own label "let me just try a thing… first of all I mentioned it to the guys and everybody refused", but undaunted Winston borrowed money from his mother and set up the Techniques label with his brother Buster. Winston "played a very important part. I was the producer and real arranger during that period of the group" and he continued to sing and use various combinations of singers under different names, such as the Shades (which included Tyrone Evans) and the Sensations and Winston hit the big time with 'The Time Has Come' featuring Pat Kelly on lead vocals.
Pat Kelly was born in Kingston in 1944 and he was drafted into the ranks of the Techniques to replace Slim Smith. A naturally gifted singer with a fine soulful falsetto he had worked part time alongside Lloyd 'Prince Jammy's' James at Chin's Radios in downtown Kingston as he studied Electrical Engineering at Kingston Technical High School. He was awarded a Scholarship that took him to the USA for three years where he graduated with a degree in Advanced Electronics. Pat formed a group called the Sheridans alongside Winston Francis, Owen Roberts and Edwin Brown who recorded a few sides for Carlos Malcolm's Up Beat label before breaking up, with Pat subsequently joining the Techniques. The group's adaptation of the Impressions' 'You'll Want Me Back', re-titled 'You Don't Care', was a massive hit. The Curtis Mayfield songbook was turned to once again as the Techniques sang over the Impressions' 'Minstrel & Queen', renaming the song 'Queen Majesty'. Both have assumed legendary status in Jamaican music and are now regarded as bona fide Bond Street classics that are versioned over time and time again, yet many are still not aware that they are in fact Impressions originals.
The Techniques enjoyed some of their biggest hits with Pat singing lead and he would later sing with the Uniques before enjoying a very successful solo career, which took off in a big way when he recorded 'How Long Will It Take' for Bunny 'Striker' Lee in 1969. When he toured the UK in December of that year, the Beatles tried to sign him to their newly formed Apple label. During the eighties his smooth, sophisticated vocal style was at odds with the roots music that dominated the decade and Pat freelanced as a recording engineer at Randy's, Channel One and, most famously, at King Tubby's. He took over at Tubby's as a 'temporary' replacement for 'Prince' Philip Smart when the latter emigrated to the USA in 1975, and he remained with the King until the end of the decade when 'Lovers' music rose in popularity and his star rose again. Suddenly, a whole new generation warmed to the sound of one of the finest singers Jamaica has ever produced.
Bruce Ruffin, who was born in St. Catherine in 1952, was asked to join the Techniques after the disappointment of appearing at yet another Vere Johns Jnr.'s talent show where he been placed third "as usual". After leaving Woolmers High School he was studying to be a dental technician and growing increasingly disheartened with the music business and he recalled that after his first singing engagement with Byron Lee that instead of being given the expected cash "he showed me to the kitchen (and) I was paid with a meal." Winston Riley asked him if he had written the songs that he had just performed and when Bruce answered in the affirmative he was promptly invited to join the Techniques as a songwriter and singer to fill the gap that Slim had left. Bruce worked with the group during their time at Treasure Isle and stayed with them when Winston established the Techniques label. In 1969 he made his name as a solo artist in Jamaica when he recorded 'Dry Up Your Tears' for Leslie Kong at Beverley's and 'Long About Now' for Lloyd Charmers, and two years on he attained international success with his version of the Jose Feliciano song 'Rain', produced by Herman Chin-Loy. Geoffrey Chung was in charge of the session that spawned the hit and the tape was sent to Trojan Records in London where "Tony White put all the strings and things on it. After that the record went on to become a big hit all over Europe" attaining a top twenty place in the UK charts in 1971. Bruce Ruffin endured rather than enjoyed a brief spell as a pop artist when 'Mad About You', a record he personally hated and "couldn't wait to stop selling 'cause I was so embarrassed by it" reached the UK top ten the following summer, and after this unhappy spell he returned to writing songs. He gradually moved into music publishing and eventually, after studying at law school, became a legal consultant.
In 1969, 'Come Back Darling' by Johnny Osbourne & the Sensations and 'Who You Gonna Run To' by the Shades both proved to be major hits for Winston's Techniques label and he never looked back. In 1970 he recruited Dave Barker to deejay on an Ansel Collins rhythm entitled 'Double Barrel':
"'Dave can you deejay?'… 'Dave can do any damn thing man!'"
But Dave was also one of Jamaica's most impassioned vocalists. as Winston recalled. "Dave Barker had a sound just like an American; he reminded me of a soul singer". and his powerful delivery is awesome in its intensity. His background was not in Jamaica's Sound Systems but in soaking up the sounds of Radio WINZ from Miami with Chuck Jackson, Garnett Mimms, Jerry Butler and Gene Chandler numbering among his particular favourites:
"It lifted me up and I found myself singing just like them!"
Dave Barker (real name Dave Crooks not Collins!) born in Franklin Town, Kingston in 1948 helped to popularise the deejay school but he remains relatively unsung. He was the first Jamaican deejay to ever top the UK charts with the million selling 'Double Barrel' in early 1971 and his recordings as a deejay (including the classical 'Shocks Of Mighty' with Lee Perry The Upsetter) have at times tended to overshadow his superb singing ability:
"They're surprised to hear me sing! But the true Dave Barker fans know me as a singer."
Dave repeated the success of 'Double Barrel' with its follow up 'Monkey Spanner'. which reached the UK top ten that summer and this further crossover success enabled Winston to open his Techniques Record Shop in Chancery Lane off Kingston's North Parade the following year. As each successive new style and fashion in Jamaican music came and went Winston was always at the forefront making music that mattered and his musical experience was accompanied and strengthened by his resolve and business acumen. Realising that the soulful, harmony based sounds of the Techniques were out of step with the dread, deejay and dub dominated times he wrote, arranged and produced some of the most chilling roots records of the period. including 'Purify Your Heart' with Johnny Osbourne, 'Nothing Is Impossible' with the Interns, 'All Nations Bow' from Big Youth and Technique Morvin Brooks' sombre call to arms. 'Cheer Up Black Man'. Morvin went on to sing Soca and Calypso with Byron Lee & the Dragonaires "he's still working with them too". Winston also produced one of the finest dub albums, 'Meditation Dub', for the Techniques label and the music's most enduring and adaptable rhythm ever, 'Stalag 18'.
At the turn of the decade as the Dance Hall style took over Winston was there with General Echo's 'Slackest LP', a collection now rightly regarded as a key record and catalyst in the development of Dance Hall. He was the man behind 'Boops' by Super Cat, one of the funniest and most memorable outings of the eighties, and as computer built rhythms gained the ascendancy Winston was to be found working with one of the major architects of the genre:
"In this era Steely is one of my most admired musicians. If you have an idea and give it to Steely then Steely can build around it…"
Winston opened a new state of the art premises on Orange Street in 1993 and continues to be both a driving force and guiding light in the Jamaican music business.
The size specifications of a CD booklet have dictated that this has been far too brief a synopsis of some of the careers of only some of the Techniques and some of their talents. Other members of the group have also made their indelible musical mark and all of their stories are inextricably linked and interlinked with the story of the development of Reggae. Each one deserves their own individual chapter (at least) in the definitive history of Jamaican music: Lloyd Parks, as a singer, producer and leader of his We The People Band, one of Jamaica's tightest and most formidable live aggregations; Jackie Parris and Jimmy Riley for forging noteworthy solo singing careers; Frederick Waite for forming Musical Youth in the UK with two of his sons - "Frederick Waite used to play guitar and he still does now with Musical Youth" - and taking them on to worldwide success with their 'Full Up'/'Pass The Kouchie' update, 'Pass The Dutchie' in 1982. So it goes on and will continue to do so:
"The Techniques have been preaching the message of love ever since they came together in the early sixties. Their lead singers have all left the group to become powerful forces on the Reggae scene still emitting the essence of love as the basis of unity and peace."
Both within and without the group, the members of the Techniques have invariably stamped the mark of quality on every thing that they ever did; dedicated at all times to the search for perfection in whatever endeavour they undertook, their all encompassing commitment permeates throughout all of their works.