Bitty walks away from loveWednesday, October 27, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
IN 1975 American soul singer David Ruffin released his hit single Walk Away From Love. That was three years after British reggae act Bitty McLean was born. McLean would go on to make it a hit again with his smooth, lover's rock version which was released in 2004.
Delroy McLean, who was born in Birmingham, northern England, to Jamaican parents, earned the nickname Bitty due to his small size. He grew up listening to his father's music collection covering ska, lovers' rock, dub and reggae, and developed a fondness for music from his parents' homeland.
He began his musical career as a teenager working in a studio owned and operated by the famous UB40. While there, McLean began utilising the facilities to record his own compositions as well as 'specials' for Birmingham sound systems. In a 2013 interview he shared what drove him to record the Ruffin classic.
“I had spent five or six years producing other artistes and I was bored with it. There's nothing worse than being in a studio, and I know that I can sing, and you're working with an artiste who can't sing and you're trying to tell them about melodies and they're just not getting it. So, I had a conversation with Peckings [Records] and they said they had the rights to Treasure Isle [Records] and I went straight to work listening, sampling and putting together rhythms,” said McLean.
In 2004 he released the album On Bond Street KGN JA, which featured his vocals over vintage Tommy McCook and Duke Reid-produced, Treasure Isle rhythms from the rocksteady era. Among those tracks was Walk Away From Love.
The project was released on the Peckings Records label under a joint deal between McLean and the company.
Chris Peckings, who operates the label, still gets excited talking about this single, 16 years after its release.
“Growing up we were all aware of some of the great covers by reggae artistes... some of them we didn't even know were covers until we heard the original years later. One of those for me was Dancing Mood by Delroy Wilson. The original by The Tams just doesn't compare. When we drop our reggae vibe on a song it gives it a whole different effect,” Peckings told the Jamaica Observer in an interview from his London home.
“When Bitty first played it for my brother and I, we just knew. It was just meant to be... it was gone through the door. Other artistes had covered it — Ken Boothe in the 70s, Mike Anthony in the 90s, but I think it's the combination of Bitty's voice and that great Treasure Isle sound that makes this one such a hit. That was 2004 and it still has the same effect,” he continued.
The million-selling single for Ruffin was produced by Van McKoy and written by Charles Kipps. It went number one on the US R&B Singles Chart for one week in early 1976, and crossed over to number nine on the pop charts.
In Canada, Walk Away From Love peaked at number 30. It was Ruffin's only number one R&B hit, and one of two top 10 pop hits for the former Temptations singer on the Billboard Hot 100.
Peckings is pleased that McLean's cover of Walk Away From Love has such an impact on the Jamaican audience.
“When we are over here in England making music and to have a song connect with Jamaicans is always a joy and something that we truly appreciate. To see and hear how they love this tune by Bitty is always great. I remember Pat Kelly saying to me, 'Duke Reid would really love this.' You really can't get any better that. It's a testament to how well Bitty has done this track. So, if I had to describe Bitty McLean's Walk Away From Love I'd say it is sublime... everything about it is captivating,” Peckings added.