During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a select number of independent Jamaican music makers challenged the dominance of the island’s established recording industry giants, famously referenced by Bob Marley as the ‘big t’ree’ – Federal, Dynamic Sounds and Studio One. Of this upstart group of dynamic and largely youthful entrepreneurs, few possessed the immense talent possessed by the singer-songwriter-producer whose music provides the focus of this collection: Derrick Harriott.
From the outset Harriott championed a soulful, sophisticated style that explicitly drew inspiration from the black music emanating from the US, seamlessly blending doo wop, R&B and soul with Jamaica’s national sound to create some of the most popular and enduring recordings ever produced on the island.
Born in Jamaica on 6th February 1939 to Victoria Powell and Rupert Harriott, Derrick was the youngest of five children and along with his older siblings, displayed a keen interest in music from an early age. While still a youth he formed the Harmonisers singing quartet with Excelsior High School classmates, Neville ‘G Bobs’ Esson, Roy Robinson and Claude Sang Jr., although of these only the latter became a long-term singing partner. Throughout this time, Derrick and Claude spent much of their free time practising their harmonies and eventually began entering local talent shows as Sang & Harriott, with a subsequent victorious performance at one of Vere Johns’ renowned ‘Opportunity Hour’ contests inspiring the two young hopefuls to pool their money and cut a basic demo of the original composition, ‘Lollipop Girl’, at Stanley Motta’s studio in Harbour Street.
Soon after, an acetate of the recording was given to the local Thunderbird Disco sound system, which went on to champion the disc at dances in and around the Maxfield Avenue area. Its popularity led to copies of the record making their way into the hands of leading operators Coxson Dodd and Duke Reid, although at this potentially crucial moment for the duo, their ambitions were abruptly put on hold when Sang took a job in Barbados.
Undeterred, Derrick put together the Jiving Juniors vocal group with Claude’s younger brother, Hugh, and two other local singers, Eugene Dwyer and Maurice Wynter. The newly formed quartet began impressing at local talent shows and attracting interest from those at the vanguard of the city’s fast developing recording industry, but with significant success looming on the horizon, it was now Derrick who scuppered any prospect of a recording deal, after deciding to relocate to New York. Following his arrival in the Big Apple he wasted little time in forming a new version of the group, enlisting former singing partner, Claude Sang along with fellow Jamaican ex-pats Winston Service and Valmont Burke.
Meanwhile, back in Kingston, the remaining original group members recruited Jimmy Mudahy as Derrick’s replacement and cut a number of well received sides for Chris Blackwell, which famed record boss issued on his recently launched R&B label.
Around the close of 1959, Derrick and the US-based Jiving Juniors returned to Jamaica after receiving a call from Duke Reid, who was keen for them to recut ‘Lollipop Girl’ for his Trojan sound system. Soon after the number had been recorded at Federal Records studio, it was cut onto an acetate, swiftly becoming one of the most favoured discs on the operator’s playlist, prompting its eventual official release as a 7′ single. It was to prove the first of a number of popular 45s by the group for the former policeman, but with Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd offering better terms, the quartet were lured into working with his main rival and soon after recorded a handful of original compositions for the future Studio One boss, most notably the hugely popular hit single, ‘Over The River’.
But for all their success, financial remuneration thus far remained negligible, and in 1961, they returned to New York where they financed their own recording sessions at the city’s famed Mirasound studios. Subsequently released in Jamaica on their own Crystal label, tracks such as ‘Sugar Dandy’ and ‘Andrea’ not only reaffirmed the Jiving Juniors as one of the island’s leading musical acts, but also established Derrick as the first of what would be many singers to make their mark as an independent music maker.
In 1962, encouraged by the popularity of the quartet’s work back home, he decided to return full-time to Jamaica, but the reluctance of his singing partners to leave New York triggered their eventual breakup. Once back in Kingston, Derrick embarked in earnest on his solo career, and over the next few years produced and released a series of popular Crystal 7′ singles, their number including ‘I Care’, ‘What Can I Do’, ‘The Jerk’ and ‘I’m Only Human’, all of which were gathered on the singer’s popular debut LP, ‘The Best Of Derrick Harriott’.
In addition to his studio work, Derrick performed with some of Jamaica’s leading bands of the period on the live circuit throughout the early 60s, honing his stage act with the Vagabonds, Carlos Malcolm & his Afro Jamaican Rhythms and the Granville Williams Orchestra, respectively. But while the ska years of the early-to-mid 1960s proved a successful time for the ambitious young singer-turned-producer, it was the subsequent arrival of rock steady that firmly established him as one of the most successful independent operators on the Jamaican music scene.
Meanwhile, away from the studio, Derrick had opened his first record shop at 125 King Street in Kingston, from where he was able to keep track of the musical tastes of the city’s record buyers. In addition, he had begun singing with the Mighty Vikings band, one of the island’s tightest and most versatile groups, and it was with many of the musicians in the line-up of this celebrated outfit that he would create some of the finest music of the pre-reggae era. Meanwhile, away from the studio, Derrick was able to keep track of musical tastes through his recently opened record shop at 125 King Street in Kingston, and his live work fronting one of the island’s tightest and most versatile groups: the Mighty Vikings band.
By 1967, rock steady was in full swing and Derrick was keen to make his mark as a major producer, actively seeking local talent for Crystal’s new Move & Groove subsidiary, with notable recruits being Keith & Tex, Lloyd & Glen and Rudy Mills. Major hits duly followed, both for his new acts and himself, with solo works from this time including ‘The Loser’, ‘Solomon’ and a version of the Tams’ R&B obscurity, ‘You Might As Well Forget Him’ that saw issue as ‘Walk The Streets’.
Key to Derrick’s success throughout this period was the involvement of ace Trinidadian guitarist, Lyn Taitt, whose graceful playing became a hallmark of his productions, as illustrated in the recordings featured on the now hugely collectable long player, ‘Derrick Harriott’s Rock (Ska) Steady Party’, which saw release in both Jamaica and the UK in the autumn of ’67.
The following year brought further success with popular solo works including ‘Do I Worry’, ‘Tang! Tang! Festival Song’ and ‘Standing In’, with the latter making the locals charts as ’68 drew to a close. By this time, the emerging sound of reggae sound dominated the Jamaican music landscape, and as numerous producers struggled to adapt to the new style, Derrick demonstrated his keen understanding and appreciation of the fast developing genre with a number of hugely popular 45s that included his own version of the Pastels’ R&B hit, ‘Been So Long’ and two of the most celebrated hits of the boss reggae era: Rudy Mills’ ‘John Jones’ and ‘Sufferer’ by the Kingstonians.
The ensuing months produced further best-selling 45s along with two popular albums, ‘The Sensational Derrick Harriott Sings Jamaica Reggae’ and ‘Rudy Mills Reggae Hits’, both of which were picked up for release in Britain by Neasden-based family concern, Pama Records.
Key to Derrick’s success as an independent music maker was a relatively modestly-sized artist roster that enabled an attention to detail that ensured a consistently high standard of work, but as the sixties drew to a close, the strain of recording, performing live, managing his new One-Stop Record Village shop and launching his new Musical Chariot discotheque, proved overwhelming, and ultimately led to his decision to finally cease singing with the Mighty Vikings.
Free to focus more of his time on studio work, the new decade brought further success as his productions peppered the Jamaican music charts throughout 1970, with hits including a number of superior instrumentals by his all-star session band, the Crystalites, vocal group offerings from the Kingstonians, the Chosen Few and the Ethiopians, and the first of a series of big sellers by singer-turned-DJ David Scott a.k.a. Scotty. Derrick also enjoyed his fair share of time on the playlists as an artist, with major hits from this time including the immensely popular ‘Psychedelic Train’, and fine versions of ‘Message From A Black Man’, ‘No Man Is An Island’ and ‘Groovy Situation’.
Of this quartet of hits all but the latter were gathered on his next long player, ‘Psychedelic Train’, a 12-track collection that also featured the cream of his solo material from the preceding three years. Released in the UK by Trojan Records, the LP quickly became one of the company’s bestsellers of 1970, firmly reinforcing Derrick’s standing as one of Jamaica’s premier music makers.
He continued to create outstanding music over the years that immediately followed, enjoying regular forays onto the Jamaican and British reggae charts and issuing yet more exceptional albums, such as Scotty’s ‘Schooldays’, ‘Super Reggae & Soul Hits’ by Dennis Brown, the Chosen Few’s ‘Hit After Hit’ and his own ’14 Chartbuster Hits’.
As the 1970s unfolded, Derrick seemingly adapted to the changing musical scene with effortless ease and was among the first producers to have pioneering dub master, King Tubby remix his work, most evidently on ‘Scrub A Dub’ – one of the earliest dub albums ever to see issue. Yet, as he assuredly kept in step with the times, he steadfastly refused to jump on the rasta bandwagon and remained true to his roots, preferring a soulful style of reggae to the more militant attitude adopted by the majority of his contemporaries. While this approach would have adversely affected the careers of lesser talents, Derrick remained one of reggae’s leading players throughout the roots era, with later hits including ‘Brown Baby’, ‘Some Guys Have All The Luck’, ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’, ‘Bucketful Of Tears’, ‘Face Dog’, ‘Being In Love’, ‘Look Over Your Shoulder’, ‘Eighteen With A Bullet’, ‘Dancing The Reggae’ and ‘Fly Robin Fly’, all of which featured on the next of his best-selling long players: ‘Greatest Reggae Hits’ and ‘Reggae Disco Rockers’.
He remained at the cutting edge of the industry throughout the remainder of the ’70s, producing popular material by the likes of Winston McAnuff, Ray I, Sly & the Revolutionaries, U Brown, Trinity and Althea Forrest, as well as his sweet-voiced niece, Kim Harriott. In addition, he continued to regularly remind record buyers of his own singing talent, with his own hits from this time including ‘The Roamer’, ‘Solomon And Selassie’, ‘Soul Sister’ and ‘Born To Love You’.
Unlike many of his peers, Derrick successfully adapted to the development of digital recording techniques, recording with significant success until the mid-90s, when he finally decided to take a break from studio work to concentrate on managing the One Stop record shop at Twin Gates Plaza, Kingston, which had opened back in 1973.