A trip to Baltimore with The Tamlins


A trip to Baltimore with The Tamlins

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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The Jamaica Observer continues its 'Reggae 50' feature on people, organisations, and events that have made an impact on reggae over the past 50 years.

Just before leaving for a European tour with Peter Tosh in mid-1979, Sly Dunbar went to see musician/producer Geoffrey Chung at his Kingston home. Chung had “some foreign reggae chune” he gathered on cassette for Dunbar, then the drummer for Peter Tosh's Word, Sound and Power Band.

One of the songs was Nina Simone's version of Baltimore, written by singer Randy Newman.

“When mi hear it mi sey, 'bwoy, da song ya wicked'! An' when wi go on di road, mi used to play it all di time for The Tamlins pon di tour bus,” Dunbar recalled in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer.

The Tamlins — Carlton Smith, Junior Moore and Winston Morgan — were Tosh's harmony group and had been around since the late 1960s. Although they recorded songs for producers Ed Wallace and the Fabulous Five, they were known as backup vocalists for acts like John Holt, Barry Biggs and Dennis Brown.

Immediately after their return to Jamaica, they headed to Channel One Studio with Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare to cut Baltimore.

Released 40 years ago, Baltimore was a monster hit. It elevated The Tamlins to front line status and was one of the songs that announced Sly and Robbie's revived Taxi label.

Dunbar and Smith have different recollections of the recording session that produced the track.

“Di idea was for Jimmy Riley to sing di song but him did have two other song doing dat day, Love and Devotion an' Give me Your Love. Carlton usually do most of di lead (for The Tamlins) but Junior sing lead dis time 'cause Carlton wasn't there when di tracks were laid,” Dunbar recalled.

Smith differs, saying he was in no shape to sing. On the day he was supposed to record Baltimore, his younger brother was sentenced to life in prison.

“I lay di tracks for it an' Laying Beside Me, but I jus' wasn't in the mood to sing after I got di news (of his brother's sentence). So Junior went in an' did the lead,” he said.

What is certain, is that Baltimore featured a top-flight side of musicians led by Sly and Robbie, keyboardist Robbie Lyn, guitarist Rad “Dougie” Bryan, percussionist Uzziah “Sticky” Thompson, horn players Nambo Robinson, Derrick Hinds, and Clive Hunt. The memorable intro was arranged by Hunt.

Dunbar, who made his name at Channel One in the early and mid-1970s as a member of its house band The Revolutionaries, knew he and Shakespeare hit pay-dirt with Baltimore.

“Everything 'bout it was right…Di musicians connect, di vocal performance was perfect. Is jus' one those songs,” he said.

Smith, who started The Tamlins with Moore in the Kingston community of Whitehall Avenue, agrees:

“Di whole production was big an' special. When yuh go Channel One in those days, it had dis sound, like Motown,” he gushed.

Baltimore was arguably the biggest hit song in Jamaica for 1979, a banner year for the fledgling Taxi label which also produced Riley's Love And Devotion, Soon Forward by Gregory Isaacs, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, General Penitentiary and Shine Eye Gal by Black Uhuru.

After replacing The Spinners' Working my Way Back to You, Baltimore topped the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation Radio's Top 20 chart for multiple weeks.

The Tamlins scored other hits for Sly and Robbie, including Go Away Dream. They continued to record and tour with Tosh until 1983 when they parted with the fiery singer; Morgan left that year and was replaced by Derrick Lara, former drummer of the Seventh Extension Band.

Smith, Moore and Lara still record and perform as The Tamlins. After splitting with Tosh, they toured for several years with Rita Marley and have recently worked with Julian Marley.

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