In late 1961, a younger teenager known as James Chambers turned up unannounced at Beverley’s restaurant and ice cream parlour on Orange Avenue in Kingston, Jamaica. Looking for a sponsor, he informed the house owners, three Chinese language-Jamaican brothers, that he had written a music for them. His audacity paid off and some months later, Dearest Beverley was launched because the B-side of a extra topical and upbeat music known as Hurricane Hattie, which turned the primary hit for the newly shaped Beverley’s Data.
The only was produced by the label’s proprietor, Leslie Kong, one of many brothers for whom Chambers had auditioned. Kong would go on to provide a sequence of traditional early reggae songs like zero07 (Shanty City) by Desmond Dekker and Monkey Man by the Maytals; by the point Dearest Beverley was launched, James Chambers had turned 14 and was calling himself Jimmy Cliff, quickly to be one in every of reggae’s largest stars.
A plaintive ballad delivered over a rolling piano riff, Dearest Beverley is a part of a Jamaican music scene taking its first steps in the direction of world glory. That is the period instantly earlier than the homegrown music of ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub and dancehall – a time when the American sound of doo-wop reigned.
The music is likely one of the highlights of If I Had a Pair of Wings, a compilation of Jamaican doo-wop songs from the 1950s and early 1960s, which was launched final 12 months on the archival label Demise Is Not the Finish. The album consists of equally wistful choices by the likes of Alton Ellis, Millie Small and Laurel Aitken, all of whom who would go on to turn out to be profitable singers as post-independent Jamaican found its personal distinctively offbeat rhythm within the early 1960s.
Now comes If I Had A Pair of Wings Quantity 2, which has simply been launched in restricted version vinyl and cassette codecs in addition to a name-your-price digital obtain. It, too, is dotted with acquainted names of their earliest guises. They embody the inimitable Prince Buster, who fronts the Charmers in uncharacteristically restrained temper, and Derrick Harriott, lead singer of the Jiving Juniors – each singers would discover fame within the mid-1960s rocksteady period. As earlier than, almost all of the songs on the brand new compilation adhere strictly to the American doo-wop mannequin – intricate vocal harmonies articulating lovelorn lyrics over usually understated preparations.
“Plenty of what’s now known as Jamaican doo-wop is, in actual fact, a straight copy of the US type of vocal concord singing, however that isn’t to say that the information don’t sound candy and soulful,” elaborates Gladdy Wax, a reggae aficionado and broadcaster, who has been operating his personal British sound system for greater than 40 years. “A terrific vocalist like Alton Ellis, say, who would later turn out to be referred to as the king of rocksteady, had a particular voice from the beginning, no matter type he was singing in. The identical is true of plenty of Jamaican singers who began out within the 1950s – their voices shine from the beginning.”
The 2 most intriguing tracks on If I Had a Pair of Wings Vol 2 are Responsible Convict by Rupert “Rupie” Edwards and How Can I Be Certain by Higgs & Wilson. The previous is a tougher-sounding, rhythm and blues influenced music that seems like a precursor to the “impolite boy” anthems that turned so in style within the ska period, whereas the latter incorporates a sinuous sax solo that prefigures the jazz-influenced type of the nice Roland Alphonso of the Skatalites. It additionally incorporates a younger Joe Higgs, who went on to be a mentor for a era of reggae singers, together with the younger Bob Marley.
Elsewhere, though there’s nothing as mesmerising as US doo-wop classics like It’s Too Quickly to Know by the Orioles or Within the Nonetheless of the Evening by the 5 Satins, there are one in every of two songs that come shut. A Thousand Teardrops by the Rhythm Aces & the Caribs options some wondrous concord singing tied to a deftly understated backdrop created by the Caribs, an in-demand session group whose core members hailed from Australia and would later play an important position in shaping the approaching ska sound. The album’s most bittersweet second belongs to Dobby Dobson, who handed away from Covid-19 in July, aged 78, and whose sweet-sounding voice may be heard on Chuck & Dobby’s I Love My Instructor, initially launched in 1961 on the legendary Blue Beat label.
Luke Owen, who runs Demise Is Not the Finish from his south London house, precisely describes Jamaican doo-wop as “a sort of prehistory” of Jamaican music. “In comparison with the New Orleans’ rhythm and blues shuffle type that so influenced ska, doo-wop has been comparatively under-appreciated as a stylistic affect on reggae,” he elaborates. “However you may argue that it influences each the vocal type of the rocksteady period and the three-part harmonies of traditional reggae vocal teams just like the Methods and the Heptones.”
Doo-wop emerged out of the black ghettoes of city American cities within the 1940s, its intricate vocal interaction turning into a touchstone for excellent 60s soul teams just like the Impressions, who, in flip, influenced the singing type of the unique Wailers and numerous different Jamaican vocal concord trios. (In 1965, The Wailers belatedly recorded their very own homage to doo-wop with a jaunty remodeling of Dion and the Belmonts’ traditional of adolescent angst, A Teenager in Love.)
Like their American position fashions, many nice Jamaican vocalists started by practising their harmonies on road corners, earlier than graduating to the expertise contest circuit that was the combative testing floor for uncooked expertise within the period earlier than the ascendancy of the early sound methods. Concurrently, the 1950s produced a brand new breed of musical entrepreneurs, together with pioneers like Duke Reid and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, who would go on to run their very own sound methods and recording studios, shaping the course of Jamaican music as a lot because the singers and musicians they produced.
All through all this, Jamaica’s proximity to America was an important issue. “All via the 1950s and early 1960s, Jamaicans have been going forwards and backwards between Kingston and New York,” says David Katz, creator of Stable Basis: An Oral Historical past of Reggae. “They usually returned house with suitcases filled with the most recent US singles. Traditional doo-wop information will surely have discovered their method on to native radio stations and early sound methods maybe as a counterpoint to the extra uptempo New Orleans rhythm and blues tunes that have been way more in style in Jamaica.”
The songs collected on each volumes of If I Had Wings to Fly signify the primary stirrings of a soulful vocal concord custom that started within the mid-to-late 1960s and continued into the 70s, when the affect of Rastafarianism produced the intensely devotional harmonies of the likes of the Abyssinians, Burning Spear, Tradition and the Congos. Manna for music historians however certainly enthralling to anybody, these songs are the start line for Jamaica’s lineage of profoundly lovely vocalists.
“For a small island, Jamaica has produced so many superb singers,” says Gladdy Wax. “I believe it’s as a result of, after they begin out, they’re usually singing purely for themselves, for the pure enjoyment that comes from the act of expressing your self in music, in lovely harmonies and nice vocals. That custom runs deep.”
• Two volumes of If I Had a Pair of Wings are out now on Demise Is Not the Finish.