❉ Rock steady legends sit next to cool deejay heroes on this star-studded collection. Time to strut!
Hot on the heels of March 2021’s Derrick Harriott & The Crystalites: ‘The Undertaker’ , Doctor Bird Records present another collection of the work of Derrick Harriott – one of Jamaica’s finest, and most significant figures. Aged 82, Derrick Harriott is a bone fide living legend and Derrick’s legacy is so vast, his output so immense, that individual compilations barely scratch the surface. Hence the label’s approach in honouring Derrick chunk by chunk, the latest bite being a selection of his reggae productions between 1971 and 1974.
Derrick Harriott presents Earthly Sounds is a star-studded double disc compilation. Rock steady legends sit next to cool deejay heroes, backed by either of Derrick’s in-house bands, The Crystalites, or, as the 1970s moved on, the Now Generation. Sleeve notes are by Tony Rounce and period photographs abound. All cuts have been released before, but roughly half are getting their digital debut.
Time to strut.
That’s what reggae did. Strut, chop and bounce from Kingston to London and elsewhere. The glorious wave of tuff sounds in ’68 took rock steady beats and melody, elevating Jamaican music higher.
This collection comprises of material recorded by Derrick a couple of years on from this ‘monkey business’ (Trojan Records’ own description, incidentally!). It opens with a bouncy instrumental by The Crystalites, showcasing organ wizard Winston Wright. Cotton Comes To Harlem has a spoken dialogue intro, typical of spaghetti western fan Derrick. Similar in approach to The Undertaker album featuring the infamous ‘Ramon The Mexican.’ The Crystalites have a further five instrumentals on disc one, including the title track of this collection, Earthly Sounds. The production throughout is tremendous. Every snare snap, bass rumble and guitar chop alive and right in your ear, with organ breaks and other bursts sharp and real. Loud, earthy and edgy, everything to the max. Love it.
Indeed, instrumentals abound on disc one. Drummer Bongo Herman teams up with percussionist Les Davis on Home Sweet Home, Hail I and Freedom Fighters. All Derrick Harriott penned numbers. The former is percussion heavy, featuring furious, rapid fire bongo work. Bongo then joins up with Bingy Bunny (The Morwells) on the beautiful, slightly morose classic Know Far I. And again, on the equally fantastic gospel tinged and golden We Are Praying. The three of them (Bongo, Les AND Bunny) then provide a fantastic version (Salaam), complete with opening dialogue, tanking percussion and soulful backing. The melody drifts in and out courtesy of Derrick’s dub mixing desk. We Are Praying also gets a version, purely credited to The Crystalites, which isolates the brass and bass nicely and creates a sunny soundscape.
Denzil Laing receives a co-credit with The Crystalites on the superb, vibrant and texture-laden Medicine Stick. Great title from the man known for his work with The Wrigglers. The Now Generation, Derek’s house band as the 1970s progressed, chip in with a chirpy instrumental take on Shaft, the Isaac Hayes tune also recorded by Derrick with The Chosen Few. Its version is called Black Moses and features Derrick himself voicing lines (as The Preacher) lifting the title character to biblical levels. And then this ‘version’ then gets its own ‘version’ by The Crystalites! If it’s worth doing … No matter – all are great cuts.
The wild west is referenced largely in the lyric, horse samples and spaghetti dialogue on the hypnotic Call Me Trinity credited to Joe White. White’s melodica adds to the edgy backing and a version is also included.
An immensely enjoyable medley of some of Keith and Tex greatest hits is included, featuring Tonight, Stop That Train and Don’t Look Back. The sharp jump from the latter two tracks is worth checking.
Few groups could match The Ethiopians in quality and quantity through Jamaican music’s evolution through the sixties. Whether it be late ska, rock steady or reggae, they were there with classic cuts including some of the island’s finest musical moments. Such as Last Train To Skaville and Everything Crash, revived here on Best Of Five Parts One and Two, respectively.
Both are medleys of the group’s greatest selections. Founder member Leonard Dillon was a fine songwriter, of course, and this is shown particularly on Lot Wife. A concise, sharp peace of work. The spiritual and conscious Throne Of Justice is a tune to bask in with its melody, emotion and subject.
A standout is The Ralph Brothers’ I’m Going Home. The discordant guitar and piano works well with the earthy vocal delivery. Its tale of repatriation entirely appropriate.
Disc two’s chronology is 1972-73. It’s exciting and evolves with Jamaican music of the time – deejay sounds, toasting and roots. If anything, it is stronger than the first disc. It opens with the verse of one Manley Augustus Buchanan, AKA the legendary Big Youth. Cool Breeze uses the chassis of Stop This Train, Cool Breeze was issued before Buchanan’s breakthrough on Trojan, Screaming Target (1973). His star quality is there for all, highly individual, classy toasting oozing with charisma, delivered with clarity. This extends to the version, Wild Storm by The Crystalites.
Big Youth has another cut with Dock Of The Bay with a cracking guitar line, courtesy of Now Generation’s Ernest Wilson.
The cutting-edge dread sound of Changing Times by Roman Stewart and Dave Robinson (Chaga Chaga Warrior vocalist) is an undeniable highlight. Written by Derrick, its groove is cooler than ice, yet its sonic is sweaty, smoky and steaming. This was Roman’s only track cut with Derrick, although he did have big island hits with Hit Song (1976) and Rice and Peas (1979). The sibling of Tinga Stewart, Roman’s life was tragically cut short in 2004.
The presence of thrusting new stars of reggae continues with Junior Murvin. Big Boy showcases Junior’s resonant tones, showing his dexterity and humour. An intimate performance. His vocal range is evident once more on the funky, riffy One Wife. Plentiful instrumental hooks give basis for Junior to show what he can do. His famed falsetto is conspicuously absent on both cuts – not an issue, however, given the skill and range of his singing. Both also have fantastic versions courtesy of The Crystalites.
Another star vocalist on show is Horace Andy with the swashbuckling Lonely Woman. A moody number, lightened by Horace’s unique voice, delivering the lines with a piercing quality.
The awesome I-Roy pretty much steals the show with the menacing, brooding Tougher Than Tough. Breath-taking stuff, his toasting working with masculine backing vocals and deejay dread rhythms. The version by dub-master Augustus Pablo, with jungle bongos, gangster brass and characteristic Pablo melodica, is mesmerizing. I-Roy also voices Frankie J and Melinda, again over a Chosen Few chassis (You’re A Big Girl Now).
Indeed, Augustus struts his considerable talent across several other versions, including the fore-mentioned Dock Of The Bay. Derrick’s mix is a joy, isolating Pablo’s melodica and working it with tuneful bass and guitar work over a dusty soundscape. A further standout is Bells Of Death, performed by Augustus with The Crystalites. Derrick’s characteristic reverbed dialogue opening gives way to a gorgeous, discordant piano-led floating sonic over a steady beat, with Bongo Herman adding his percussion and key rattling to balance angelic backing vocals. A terrific production, using Derek’s smash The Loser as its basis. Complete with version, natch.
Derrick’s own Blackula is his token solo outing on disc two. Crazy, demented, psychopathic terror in the voice, complete with cinema horror, deep laughter and screams and echo from the depths of the canyons. Jamaican music has always had fun with films, and Derek Harriott’s theatrical touch was second to none.
The disc ends with the bedroom romp Bedroom Mazurka. Performed by Augustus Pablo and Fay with The Crystalites. Pure filth! Uncharacteristic for Derrick Harriott, by the way. Enjoy it, mind – I did. And there’s an encore (version) too …
The sound on this collection is real. Earthly, indeed. It is the sound of Jamaican music before technology got too involved – before reggae became slightly sanitised. Its raw splendour is magnificent, with thrusting new young stars and deejay styles working next to established heroes. Derrick Harriott had them all at his fingertips.
❉ ‘Derrick Harriott presents Earthly Sounds’ (Doctor Bird DBCDD078) released May 14, 2021 by 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.