Wicked rhythms from Beverley's
The 17th staging of Tribute To The Greats takes place July 27 at the Chinese Benevolent Association in St Andrew. Dubbed 'The Chinese Connection', it salutes the contribution of the Chinese to Jamaica's popular music. Today, the Sunday Observer starts a six-part series on some of the recipients.
When Leslie Kong died in August 1971, he was arguably the most successful Jamaican music producer in terms of overseas impact.
Kong died suddenly of an heart attack at age 38. He was at his peak as a producer, having released a number of hit songs by Derrick Morgan, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and the Aces and The Maytals through his Beverley's Records.
History will probably remember Kong best as the person who produced Judge Not, a 1962 song by a teenaged singer named Bobby Martell who would later be known as Bob Marley.
It was the artiste's first song.
Kong's music career began in the early 1960s with hit songs by Derrick Morgan. Some of those songs, Tougher Than Tough and Forward March, are ska standards which helped launch that sound in Britain.
Beverley's also nurtured the careers of a teenaged Cliff. But the label really took off in the late 1960s with Dekker and The Aces who entered the British national charts with Israelites and 007 (Shantytown).
Kong had remarkable success with The Maytals (Monkey Man, 54-46, Pressure Drop); The Melodians (By The Rivers of Babylon); and the adult Cliff (Many Rivers to Cross, Wonderful World, Beautiful People).
Steve Barrow, the respected British reggae historian, spoke to the Observer last week about Kong's legacy.
"I see Leslie Kong primarily as a gifted enterepreneur, who invested in Jamaican music early on via his financing of sessions featuring Derrick Morgan and Jimmy Cliff, and subsequently Desmond Dekker.
Still, he was there as the local music changed from the 'boogie shuffle' style and mutated into ska proper, and was able to enjoy a string of hits with Derrick Morgan, and promote the early career of Jimmy Cliff via hits like Miss Jamaica, Hurricane Hattie and King Of Kings," Barrow said.
Based on his research, Barrow believes Kong functioned like most early Jamaican producers.
"My understanding is that the work in the studio was effected by the musicians and singers. I know that Derrick auditioned singers for Kong, and advised them about studio craft, so he was a crucial figure in establishing Kong as a 'producer' in the early 1960s," Barrow explained.
The Beverley's catalogue is one of the most impressive in reggae. Songs by Cliff, Dekker, The Maytals and Morgan are constantly reissued, especially in Europe by companies like Trojan Records.