Legendary producer Winston Riley is dead

by Howard Campbell Observer senior writer

Saturday, January 21, 2012

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WINSTON Riley, the singer/producer whose career spanned 50 years, died Thursday evening at the University Hospital of the West Indies. He was 65 years old.


Kurt Riley, one of Riley's children, told the Observer that his father had been hospitalised since last November when he was shot in the head at his St Andrew home.


Riley had been in an induced coma and had briefly come off life support, his son said.


The police have made no arrest in the incident which came months after Riley's landmark store, Techniques record store on Orange Street, downtown Kingston, was destroyed by fire.


Kingsley Goodison honoured Riley for his contribution to the development of Jamaican music at the 2009 staging of his Tribute To The Greats awards ceremony. He described him as an 'unsung hero' of the local music business.


"He really produced some outstanding songs. Very few people in the business worked harder than Winston Riley," Goodison said.


Four years ago, Riley established a museum dedicated to the history of Jamaican pop music in downtown Kingston.


Born in the west Kingston community of Denham Town, Winston Riley started his career in the early 1960s as a performer on the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. In 1964, he became a member of harmony group, The Techniques, which recorded for producer Arthur 'Duke' Reid's Treasure Isle label.


Led by the gifted singer, Keith 'Slim' Smith, the original Techniques line-up had hits in the ska era with Little Did You Know. The group excelled when ska evolved into rock steady, becoming one of the genre's top acts.


Riley was with the Techniques during their glory years, appearing on big hits like Love Is Not a Gamble, My Girl and Travelling Man. He left the group in the late 1960s and went into production, launching his Techniques label.


He had instant success with Double Barrell, a massive hit in Britain in 1971 for Dave Barker and Ansell Collins. Around the same time, Riley produced Come Back Darling which was done by singer Johnny Osbourne.


In the 1970s, Riley teamed with Collins and the Soul Syndicate Band to cut the Stalag 'riddim' which has spawned some of the biggest hits in dancehall music, such as General Echo's Arlene and Ring The Alarm by Tenor Saw.


Ring The Alarm was recorded on an updated Stalag in the 1980s when computerised beats took over Jamaican popular music. Riley embraced the new sound and had an impressive run throughout the decade with several upcoming artistes.


Some of the acts who scored for Riley during this period were Super Cat (Boops), Sister Charmaine (Granny Advice), Red Dragon (Hol' A Fresh), Sanchez (Loneliness) and Spanner Banner (Life Goes On).


Kurt Riley says his father never stopped trying to break new ground.


"He always wanted people to be creative and original, he didn't want people to re-create the wheel," Kurt Riley said. "He wanted reggae and dancehall to cross new boundaries."


Winston Riley was pre-deceased by his wife Yvonne and younger brother Buster, also a producer. He is survived by several children and grandchildren.


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