❉ “No Matter what the people say, these sounds lead the way”: Dynamite by name, dynamite by nature!
“There is much to enjoy here, even for those who already own Freedom. Clancy Eccles was a man who, despite not being as well known as the likes of Lee Perry, Desmond Dekker and Toots Hibbert, was a crucial cog in the development and evolution of Jamaican music.”
Clancy Eccles was a key figure in the evolution of Jamaican music. He sang, produced records, promoted concerts and helped change the political landscape of the island.
His early introduction to Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, the recording of his song Freedom and his role in the rocksteady movement were all vital. And then, in 1969, he was there at the coalface as the music strut its stuff and spread over-ground and overseas. His gritty output was an ideal export.
His backing band The Dynamites were appropriately named. They were, indeed, dynamite. Their sound, produced by Eccles, graced many a record as rocksteady morphed into reggae from the late sixties onwards. The Dynamites always gave things a rugged edge, soulful melodies and an irresistible groove. Clancy Eccles role as a producer of records in the late sixties and seventies resulted in a series of classic cuts which include some of the island’s biggest hits.
Doctor Bird Records, the legendary label licensed to release material from the Trojan back catalogue, is a division of Cherry Red Records. It is about to release the first of four exhaustive collections of Clancy Eccles’ recordings. The volumes are to run chronologically, with the first collection focusing on the period 1967-70. This period saw the release of the man’s first long-playing records.
Clancy Eccles was born in Dean Pen, in the parish of St Mary on December 9th, 1940. By his mid-teens he was singing American Blues songs to tourists for a wage, and courtesy of jamming Ray Charles, Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole tunes, soon developed his own style.
‘We used to copy and we used to create.’ Clancy Eccles
Eccles moved to Kingston in 1959 and following an appearance singing in a local talent contest, received an introduction to Coxsone Dodd, proprietor of the Sir Coxsone Downbeat Sound System, and a record producer. Dodd, of course, went on to start the Studio One label and studio. Clancy Eccles had already written material and in 1961, his song Freedom became one of the first recordings made by Dodd. Among the musicians to feature in the session were Roland Alphonso on saxophone, and Ernest Ranglin on guitar. The song became adopted by Sir Alexander Bustamante, founder of the Jamaican Labour Party.
‘My song Freedom was the first music that was used politically in Jamaica, the song that was used by Bustamante to upset the federation.’ Clancy Eccles
Indeed, from an early age, Eccles took a revolutionary stance in his music, stating ‘I was taught socialism from an early age.’ He wanted in as the Jamaican population campaigned for independence and saw the opportunities music could provide to get a message across. Freedom, released on Dodd’s All Stars Label, was a huge hit in Jamaica.
A series of follow up singles were issued between 1962 and 1967, on, amongst others, Island, All Stars, Ska Beat and Pama Records. The latter released the glorious What Will Your Mama Say. It is a good example of Eccles helping spearhead the rocksteady movement, along with the likes of Desmond Dekker, The Melodians and The Gaylads. Soulful vocals, simplified arrangements, snappy songs and wistful melodies, were featured and could be produced with a handful of musicians, rather than a large (and expensive) ska orchestra. Eccles took note, releasing single after single, some on his own label, Clancy’s Records, later Clandisc. Though the golden age of rocksteady (slowed down ska, fusing American R & B with Jamaican rhythms) only lasted for a couple of years in the mid to late sixties, its impact paved the way for reggae music to break out in 1969. By then the form had developed a faster, supercharged sound that appealed to a wider demographic, for example the skinhead population of the United Kingdom. Eccles was primed and ready.
At this point he left Pama Records, one of two main labels releasing Jamaican sounds. He switched to the other, Trojan Records. Pama refused to keep releasing Clancy Eccles’ back catalogue, so he took it all to his new home.
1969 saw the release of Fattie, Fattie. It was a huge international hit and propelled his notoriety beyond Jamaica’s island shores. It became a favourite of skinheads, drawn in by its tale of female corpulence and gritty sound. It had energy. Trojan Records decided the time was right to release a collection of Clancy Eccles’ music thus far. Hence Freedom, an album ostensibly mopping up much of Eccles solo output between 1967 and 1970.
Indeed, some claim Eccles helped coin the very term reggae, adapting the phrase ‘streggae’, describing a woman with loose morals, to describe the new dance-based music that was taking Jamaica by storm in 1967. This was only alleged, incidentally.
Clancy Eccles – ‘Freedom’
Before we go any further, a mention must be made of the cover of Freedom. An iconic photograph of Eccles riding a motorcycle in the Jamaican countryside. With no helmet. It smacks of liberty, straight the way.
Indeed, Freedom kicks off with Freedom. A soulful, strong vocal delivery over a tune with an up-tempo but beautifully loose vibe. Its easy to see why Bustamante wanted it to lead his political ambitions as the song is choc-full of emancipative lyrics –
‘Before I be a slave
I’ll skip over my grave.’
The song itself was written about the desired repatriation of Jamaican African descendants to their homeland. However, it can be interpreted, as all great art can, and Bustamante’s adoption is easy to fathom.
The recording of Freedom represents the only new recording on the album. The other tracks are all the original recordings. The presence of The Dynamites beefs this track up from the original 1961 recording and sets the tone for the string of rocksteady pearls that follow.
What Will Your Mama Say is up next, a bass heavy groove up backing up Eccles’ vibrant soul delivery perfectly. It is a cover of the Zodiacs tune.
Two Of A Kind features the man being joined by Cynthia Richards during the chorus. The effect is dynamic, with Richards’ Two Of A Kind line biting through and complementing Eccles’ voice to dramatically. A golden tune.
The remaining side one cuts continue this feel. The World Needs Loving, Dollar Train and the very strong Constantinople were all released as singles during the strutting arrival of Reggae ‘outernational’ in 1969. Constantinople is a pulsating, driving force complete with sharp keyboards; another feature throughout the album. Winston Wright, The Dynamites organist, was highly sought as organ recitals became popular, and his presence is constant and welcome.
Fattie, Fattie began side two when Freedom was originally released as a long player. The song’s inclusion on the Trojan Records compilation Tighten Up Volume 2 introduced Eccles to many, opening ears to Jamaican music for the first time. A strutting, singalong, shimmering earthquake of a tune which still sounds fresh.
The same applies to Auntie Lulu, originally released by Clancy and The Slickers. Eccles lead vocal is superb, leading the way for backing vocals (courtesy of The Slickers themselves) to follow, akin to chant and response.
Like Fattie, Fattie and Auntie Lulu, the remaining tracks from the album’s original form were 1969 releases. Oscillating, pounding numbers, made for sweaty dancehalls or house parties. Or for moon-stomping. You can imagine the thud of Doc Martin’s Airwear soles on the wooden dance floors of establishments in London, Birmingham and Leicester. Shu Be Du, My Girl and I Need You are all cases in point. The latter has a sharp, raucous vocal from our man, striking out over the deep rumble of the backing. The former has beautiful, almost angelic backing vocals working in harmony with Eccles’ own delivery.
The pace eases marginally for the closer, Mount Zion. A duet with Noel ‘Scully’ Sims, it has a triumphant, anthemic character. The sax solo creeps in and lifts proceedings further, before a final repeat of one of the best choruses to come out of Jamaica. A final sax flurry and fade, with Val Bennet, the horn player with The Dynamites, taking centre stage.
The remaining tracks on this Doctor Bird issue of Freedom are era-appropriate cuts. In other words, tracks recorded and released 1967-70, but not included on the original album. And they add nicely to this collection. There are thirteen extra cuts, and include a rare, alternative version of Fattie, Fattie. Many of the tracks were singles released before Eccles came to Trojan. The sequencing of Freedom works perfectly – it’s easy to see why these tracks were left off.
However, they are all gems. Festival ’68 drives on like a juggernaut.
The Fight apparently recounts a famous stand-off between the Sound Systems of Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster. It’s hilarious, actually – in a good way. A haunting backing vocal adds to the sinister tone of The Revenge, and Darling Don’t Do That has such a monster of a sound that it comes over as entirely representative of that Trojan sonic of 1969. Loud, demanding, rugged. It was the B-side of What Will Your Mama Say.
There is much to enjoy here, even for those who already own Freedom. With twenty-five snappy tracks, it is a suitable and wonderful appreciation of Clancy Eccles’ early work. He was a man who, despite not being as well known as the likes of Lee Perry, Desmond Dekker and Toots Hibbert, was a crucial cog in the development and evolution of Jamaican music. And there are still three more volumes to come, including his role in the period (1970-73) when reggae music rose to its peak.
Next stop, Foolish Fool and Herbsman. Can’t wait.
The Dynamites – ‘Fire Corner’
The Dynamites were by 1969, Clancy Eccles ‘official’ backing band. Insofar as he used the same, tight-knit group of musicians. They had other pseudonyms, Beverley’s All Stars, Mudie’s All Stars, and The Crystalites, for example.
The line-up was a fluid one, but regular mainstays included Jackie Jackson on bass, Ernest Ranglin, Hux Brown and Bops Williams on guitar, Gladstone Anderson on piano, Paul Douglas on drums, Winston Wright and Audrey Adams on organ and Val Bennett, Bobby Ellis and Johnny Moore on keyboards. They played on most of the later tracks on Freedom, including all of side two, and on many of the tracks Clancy produced for other artists.
And they also released their debut album, Fire Corner, a month before Freedom came out. This album is included as part of this Doctor Bird collection.
Dynamite by name, dynamite by nature. The band were tight, fluid, rugged, strutting, spacious, tasteful, pulsating and vibrant. Fire Corner is largely instrumental, and once again mops up pieces of music already recorded, including several previous single releases. Although it is not the first deejay album, it is arguably the first GREAT deejay album.
Toaster King Stitt is a major force on the record. His rhythmic spoken work (toasting), on the dreamy Soul Language especially, is the sign of the revolution to come. Nice horns, too. An example of the innovation of Clancy Eccles. Further singles released by King Stitt included on the original version of the album include Vigorton 2. The organ work of Winston Wright complements Stitt’s toasting, creating an audio-experience that at the time, was new and ground-breaking.
However, it is the title track Fire Corner that really broke the mould.
‘No Matter what the people say, these sounds lead the way.
It’s the order of the day, from your boss deejay.’
Are there many more immortal and prophetic opening lines on a record? No, didn’t think so. Stitt was announcing the arrival of a new medium.
The tune was embraced enthusiastically by the dance halls and clubs worldwide. Skinheads stomped to it and lovers smooched to it. It paved the way for the likes of U Roy to do their stuff shortly after. Dave and Ansell Collins, Big Youth, Mikey Dread, Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest) and many more, right up to the present day, owe a lot to King Stitt, and the opportunity Clancy Eccles and The Dynamites gave him on Fire Corner.
Elsewhere, classic melodies are given a ‘do-over’ on the record. Tom Hark appears in the guise of John Public, and the African tune Skokiaan receives the same as ‘Mr Midnight’. Both were released as 45s. The organ work of Winston Wright is again showcased. Wright was well on the way to becoming a in-demand session musician in 1969. Check ‘Next Corner’, with added flute accompaniment, from the original release. Incidentally, Wright also played the organ on Liquidator by the Harry J All Stars. The Harry J All Stars? Well, they were also The Dynamites by another name.
Horn player Val Benne has plenty of stand-out moments in Fire Corner. On opener Eternally, for example, with its brass phrasing and solo work. Bennett was another in-demand musician, playing sax on the barnstorming The Return of Django by The Upsetters. The scene was a close one, producing some of the finest sounds from this close-knit group of local musicians.
As with Freedom, Fire Corner is joined by thirteen cuts of era-appropriate material not on the original release. These include Who Yea, On The Street, Lick It Back and I For I, all featuring the toasting of King Stitt.
The crashing Last Call is worthy of a special mention, with its full-on brass riff, belted out with pride, doing the job nicely. Tracks credited to the afore-mentioned Bennett (Sweet Africa) and Wright (The Lion Wakes, a ‘do-over’ of The Lion Sleeps Tonight) showcase their respective horn and organ further.
The Dynamites played a massively important role in Jamaican music, as well as being a fantastic group of musicians. Not as celebrated as, say The Skatalites, their work helped give Jamaican music the soundtrack it needed at the time. The careers of many, from toasters to reggae superstars, would not have been the same without the Dynamites, and others like them.
This Doctor Bird volume underlines this.
This release is an exhaustive one, with its fifty tracks and its splendid, informative accompanying booklet. This gives the reader a history of Eccles and The Dynamites right up to and including the release of Fire Corner and Freedom. The bonus tracks help the listener build a fuller picture. Doctor Bird have three more volumes of the work of Clancy Eccles ready for issue, hence this volume going no further than 1970.
Often when one listens to a Trojan compilation, one finds the need to dig deeper with certain artists. Many would have felt that exact need having heard Auntie Lulu, Fattie, Fattie or Fire Corner, for instance. In releasing the first of their Clancy Eccles volumes, Doctor Bird will go a long way to satisfying these desires.
❉ Clancy Eccles & The Dynamites: ‘Freedom/Fire Corner’ released February 14, 2020, by Doctor Bird/Cherry Red Records. RRP £11.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.