❉ Paul Matts heads back to the original era of reggae and the pivotal sounds of Randy’s Records.
One of the most thrilling sounds in music began emerging in 1968 when rocksteady grooves became turbo-charged. Jamaican sounds, already distinctive, were about to speed up and reach out to the inner-city working-class youth in the UK. It was at this moment that reggae music became internationally massive with three huge numbers gate crashing the higher reaches of the UK National Chart. Long Shot Kick De Bucket by The Pioneers, The Return Of Django by The Upsetters and The Harry J Allstars’ Liquidator built on small foundations laid earlier in the decade by Millie Small’s ska smash My Boy Lollipop and Desmond Decker’s rocksteady hits 007 and The Israelites.
The sound had sped up. A little. Rock steady had evolved, and reggae was the result. Where did this injection of pace come from?
A key location in this was Randy’s Record Mart in Kingston. Opened by Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin in 1959, it soon became THE premier record retail and wholesale outlet in Jamaica and was a key hangout for aspiring musicians and producers. In 1969 Vincent opened Studio 17, situated above the store on North Parade. It was a hugely pivotal moment, and attracted key, cutting edge local producers such as ‘Striker’ himself and Lee Perry. Helped out by his wife Patricia and son Clive, Vincent released material on his own labels, something he’d done since entering the industry ten years previously. Ska Beat, by Anton Ellis came out in 1965 at the peak of the genre’s popularity on Randy’s Records.
It is Randy’s Records that is the subject of I Love The Reggay!, a superb package with entertaining and informative sleeve notes from Harry Hack. The recordings were made between ’69 and 1971. The era of ‘original’ reggae. Let us head back to those thrilling days…
Many stars of reggae grace the collection’s grooves. Delroy Wilson, Winston Samuels, The Gaylads, Nora Dean and Dave Barker. The in-house band, Randy’s All Stars, featuring the Chins, Errol Thompson and numerous guests covering the cream of the island’s session musicians including Tommy McCook and Winston Wright.
The organ shuffle beloved of Striker Lee (“Reggae is the same as rock steady but with the organ shuffle….. The organ shuffle kinda make it a little faster”) is very much the driving force behind I’m The One. You’re The One, the opening cut on credited to Randy’s All Stars. The number also goes by the title Endust Pt 1. A breathy vocal chant introduces the track which thereafter is a pacey instrumental. Reggae indeed.
Randy’s All Stars obviously feature as the backing band throughout the disc – and they have no less than eleven of the twenty-seven tracks credited to them or their alias. Randy’s Reggae, Time Up and the swashbuckling closer Endust embrace further this new sound. The latter, strictly speaking, also goes by the name of Endust Pt 2. There is also a nice shuffling take on the traditional Dixie.
Deejay Count Matchuki joins them on the lively Pepper Pot and War Fare. Wind instruments and scuffling organ join Matchuki for centre stage on the latter, a number that spins repeatedly. Matchuki’s exact projection helped him stand out from his contemporaries at the time.
Another cut by the house band worthy of a mention is a version of the Motown (The Temptations, Edwin Starr) classic War. A faithful reggae do-over – Winston Cole provides the muscular vocal. Skatalite Tommy McCook joins forces with the Impact All Stars – largely Randy’s All Stars – on Rocking Chariot. McCook’s sax leads the way, with floating wah-wah guitar giving a texture to the backing.
Vocal harmony legends The Gaylads receive a credit on almost a quarter of the tracks, either in whole or shared billing. The group also feature Delano Stewart of course, his delightful voice being the focal point on a recent Doctor Bird collection.
Maurice Roberts completed the original Gaylads line-up. Room For Rent has a menacing quality with its smooth vocal gliding over a busy guitar rhythm and solemn brass. The busy chorus line hits the mark. The group duet with Joe White on a do-over of The Beatles’ If I Needed Someone, which has a ruff, edgy sonic. Nice. The partnership is renewed on the bluesy Someone To Love (AKA You’ll Be Mine).
The title track of this collection is another number from The Gaylads. Again, the sound is slightly brooding, its minor key combining with a strutting beat allowing a smooth vocal delivery from the boys. The very danceable Sock It To Me is bright and not at all brooding, however – keeping a good balance to The Gaylads’ input to this collection.
The group also duet with Winston Samuels to fantastic effect on the mournful I Am Getting Old. Winston leads the way with The Gaylads providing delicious harmonies.
Winston Samuels was a superstar singer well before Studio 17 came along. His first number one single, Angela, came in 1964 and he went on to shine through the rock steady era. He was a member of the Four Aces, later shortened to The Aces as Desmond Decker stepped out front on 007. Samuels struts his reggae stuff on Lick It Back, taking to the faster tempo with ease. The slower, balladlike A Lovers Question, appears later.
The unmistakable toasting of Dave Barber jumps right in (as it always tends to) on Hit Back (AKA October). Barber’s formula works so well. His resonant words and noises liven any piece, and this is no exception. The man always gets the party started.
The Lyrics, featuring Fred Locks, have three cuts on the disc. Who Cause It, or Everything Crash, has a resemblance to The Ethiopians’ Everything Crash, but is delivered in a cool, more restrained way which gets the rams home the message. Give Thanks, retains the earthy, rough and ragged production, something accentuated further on Hold On Girl. The vocals on all are individual, with a natural characteristic in every nuance.
One woman I have always been totally in love is Nora Dean. Yes, her of Barb Wire (In Your Underpants) and numerous other risqué tunes. Nora’s husky and immediately recognisable tones give us Me Want Man, an ode to her desperate need for an equally amorous man. Nora’s career was prolific, stretching back to the early sixties and included mento gems such as The Valet as well as musical liaisons with Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and Joe Gibbs. Her singing career continued until a stroke ended her intervened in 2009. Sadly, she passed away in September 2016.
Finally, and by no means least, cool operator Delroy Wilson stamps his class all over Together, aka Can’t Stop Loving You. Its funky, jungle-like soul struts right through, resplendent with female backing ‘na’s’ working with the man’s lead. Sheer magic.
Delroy’s voice was one of the best things to emerge from the island, and I can honestly say I have never heard anything of his that is anything other than top draw. Little wonder he was present at this most thrilling of times, a time when Vincent Chin provided Kingston with a studio to work alongside Studio One and Treasure Isle and help light the blue touchpaper for the musical inferno that became known as reggae music.
This single disc collection from Doctor Bird shines the light on a studio and label who were right in the thick of it as rock steady sped up and strutted across to London, becoming reggae in doing so. Studio 17 and Randy’s Records deserve to have their story as well known as Studio One, Treasure Isle and Black Arc. This compilation tells that story, and the glorious music sound tracks it perfectly.
❉ ‘I Love The Reggay! Boss Sounds From Randy’s Records’ (DBCD071) was released 12 February 2021 by Cherry Red Records/Doctor Bird, 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.