❉ Undiscovered Caribbean musical treasure chests are worth finding and prizing open, writes Paul Matts.
“Soul Power ’68 is most definitely not a soul record. But it does have plenty of soul influence – the fusion of rock steady, early reggae nuance and American soul is present throughout, and it is a refreshing feature of vintage Jamaican sounds that versions of proper ‘A-List’ tunes are favourably comparable to the originals despite the radically different styling. The role of the producer is crucial – and Duke Reid is spot on here.”
One of the real pioneers of Jamaican popular music, Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid, has had his Treasure Isle back catalogue plundered continually since his life was cut tragically short in 1976. Incredibly, a dozen tracks, mixed, mastered but without full album issue have been discovered. Named Soul Power, the project seemed shelved with no prospect of seeing the light of day.
Such is the bountiful nature of Reid’s back catalogue it would be natural to assume the good stuff is already out there. But this unreleased material contains intriguing gems, and forms the basis of Soul Power ’68, a double disc collection from Doctor Bird.
Soul Power ’68 is most definitely not a soul record. Nor is it early seventies ‘Island Soul’ in the vein of The Chosen Few. But it does have plenty of soul influence – particularly in the American Stax style. The fusion of rock steady, early reggae nuance and American soul is present immediately, in the brash opening chord sequence of In The Midnight Hour. You cannot get much more soulful than this Wilson Pickett classic, and The Silvertones – best known for their work at the Black Ark with Lee Perry – do a classy rock steady do-over to get proceedings going.
It is a refreshing feature of vintage Jamaican sounds that versions of proper ‘A-List’ tunes are favourably comparable to the originals despite the radically different styling. The role of the producer is crucial – and Duke Reid is spot on here. The Silvertones contribute another premier slice of rock steady among disc one’s bonus cuts, Slow And Easy.
Lloyd Williams showcases more soul touches. The counting ‘one, two, three, four …’ vocals are typical of the Stax sound and contribute to a lively and energetic performance on Funky Beat. Williams reappears on side two of the original, unreleased, album with Goodbye Baby – the most out and out Stax-style offering on the disc.
The cool, spoken delivery of Radcliff Butler’s Soul Power aka My Last Word pre-dates soul monster Isaac Hayes’s Theme From Shaft by three years. It is also an early example of the DJ sound, over a backing track somewhere between rock steady and reggae. Indeed, some have even claimed My Last Word to be the first ‘reggae’ number, ahead of Toots’s Do The Reggay and various others. Very innovative any which way.
Tommy McCook and the Supersonics are heavily featured here, including the Ring Of Fire-inspired Music Is My Occupation and the belting Work Your Soul. There are also two instrumental cuts by McCook and co., the pumping and grandiose Venus, and Black Power, featuring the one and only Winston Wright. The latter is a significant track for 1968, a key year in the USA Civil Rights and Black Power movements. It also closes the original vinyl issue and, by revisiting In The Midnight Hour, neatly bookends the long player.
Rock steady vocal harmony quartet The Conquerors contribute the delicious Lonely Street – a beautifully sombre touch of RS. I Fell In Love repeats the formula in a snappier manner, with more soulful articulation of heartfelt lyrics from one of the era’s best rock steady acts. Another soulful vocal harmony combo, The Melodians – of Rivers Of Babylon fame – open side two with Come On Little Girl. Slightly more up-tempo and chirpy.
The first disc’s bonus cuts start with Lloyd Tyrell’s Keep On Going. An earthy slice of rock steady, and The Yardbrooms’ If You See Jane has a nice, light skip to it with woodwind adding to the backing effectively. The Gladiators contribute one of their early recordings, Live Wire. Sadly, founder member Albert Griffiths passed away in December 2020. A true hero of Jamaican music. Live Wire gives us a definite glimpse of the potential the band were to fulfil, with tremendous edge performed with gusto and fabulous voices, natch.
There are two further cuts from McCook and crew among disc one’s bonus tracks, Uncle Sam and My Best Girl and one-third of disc two is credited to Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. Their rhythm version of Joya Landis’s Angel Of The Morning closes the collection.
Rock steady singer, and television personality Hopeton Lewis, has four tracks across both discs, including a take on McCook and the Supersonics’ Black Power. The ‘Midnight Hour’ influences are marginally less conspicuous this time! Live It Up shares a backing with Junior Byles’ wonderful A Place Called Africa – a typical example of Jamaican music’s care and share tactics! Lewis’ She’s Gone is a great track and is by and large an undiscovered gem, and the brief and bouncy There She Goes completes his appearances here.
Two tracks on disc one come from Joya Landis, a name known to reggae collectors – I Love You True aka So True and Let Me Know (Soul Version). Joya has a further five numbers on the second disc (including her version of The Tennors’ Ride Your Donkey, issued here for the first time) which means she has a sixth of this collection donated to her. Doctor Bird are shedding light on this woman, for sure.
Discovered in America by the Duke in the late sixties, Joya released just one single before Reid persuaded here to come to Jamaica and issue virtually all her subsequent output with Treasure Isle. After her short run of recordings with Duke she returned to the USA and never set foot in a recording studio again. She remained in apparently deliberate obscurity right up until her death a few years ago.
Duo Clive and Doreen give us the easy listening What More Can I Do, which was backed with the afore-mentioned Black Power.
The Sensations’ Baby Love is arguably the collection’s highlight, featuring some creative harmonies. A wonderfully seductive, warm piece of rock steady, with the voices conveying the feeling behind the lyric naturally. They also contribute disc two’s penultimate track, Darling Please Forgive Me.
Another high point is The Paragons’ Joy In My Soul, a lively rock steady gem with guitar up-front in the mix and an earthy vocal, proving that there is so much more to their repertoire than The Tide Is High. Joy In My Soul. Similarly, The Melodians’ Joy In My Soul bustles along nicely, a darker number with spooky-style organ by Winston Wright. An honourable mention is deserved for the fantastic Phyllis Dillon with Humpty Dumpty. A powerful Stax-inspired soul stomper. And yes, it recites the nursery rhyme!
Why the hell not?
When DJ reggae surfaced, Arthur introduced the public to U-Roy. Of course, the man originally named Ewart Beckford has tragically recently been taken from us and many, including this writer, will feel his loss for some time. However, the impact Arthur made in championing U-Roy’s toasting, will be celebrated long and hard for eternity thanks to the number of cuts released on Treasure Isle. The hits kept coming for Duke’s Treasure Isle roster, but as the ‘70s unfolded the man became disenchanted with music, culminating in selling his entire back catalogue to Sonia Pottinger in 1974, just prior to his death in 1976. His body was left in state at Black Rock and much later, in 2017, he was posthumously given an ‘Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican Music’ – “Few have been more worthy of the honour,” said reggae historian Laurence Cane-Honeysett.
It is a good thing treasure-hunters discovered Soul Power ’68. Many lost tracks have surfaced, and Doctor Bird have jumped at the opportunity to bolster things with dusted down beauties by The Sensations, Joya Landis and The Gladiators, among others. It is a great example of a more definite US influence on the Jamaican sound, and the breadth of the work of Duke Reid. Hallelujah.
❉ Various Artists: ‘Soul Power ’68’ (DBCDD074) is released on March 12, 2021 by Doctor Bird Records/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.