Federal Records
Now Generation Band (circa 1974)

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 45th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

The music produced in Jamaica during the 1970s is oftentimes regarded as reggae's golden age. That decade is synonymous with Rasta and militant songs by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Burning Spear.

At Federal Records, however, artistes and musicians had a different focus. For most of the 1970s, singer/songwriters like Ernie Smith, Ken Lazarus, and Pluto Shervington recorded a number of easy-listening hit songs for the company, which was owned by the Khouri family.

Federal Records was also the hub for famous acts like Paul Simon and The Rolling Stones who, respectively, recorded their hit song Mother and Child Reunion and album Goat Head Soup, there.

Robbie Lyn was pianist for the Now Generation, house band at Federal Records. His colleagues included the Chung brothers, Mikey and Geoffrey, who played guitars; bass player Val Douglas; keyboardist Earl "Wire" Lindo; and drummer Mikey "Boo" Richards.

Lyn went to Federal when there was a change in the family guard.

"Richard would be mostly in charge, taking over from his Dad [and founder] Ken. Paul [younger brother] dealt mostly with the actual music production assisted by seldom-mentioned Jerome Francique, a Trinidadian trombone player who was noted for being in the band Tomorrow's Children. The musicians for the recording sessions were collectively known as Now Gen, which had a house band arrangement with Federal and we worked, I think, three days per week for a period of time which I don't really remember," Lyn recalled.

Some of the hits Now Generation played on were Pitta Patta, Life is Just For Living, and Duppy Gunman (Ernie Smith), Ram Goat Liver and Your Honour (Pluto Shervington), Hail The Man (Ken Lazarus), and Play the Music by Tinga Stewart, which won the 1974 Festival Song Competition.

Ken Khouri's business savvy in the 1950s paved the way for Federal's remarkable success a decade later and in the 1970s. Born in St Mary to a Jamaican mother and Lebanese father, he got into the music business during the late 1940s, recording calypsonians such as Lord Flea, then officially started Federal Records in September 1954.

The Federal studio became the go-to facility for producers, including Leslie Kong, Prince Buster, and Clement Dodd. It is where Marley recorded Judge Not, his first song, in 1962. Three years later, singer Hopeton Lewis cut Take It Easy, reputedly the first rock steady song, at Federal.

Federal hit a purple patch in the late 1960s when American singer Johnny Nash recorded his massive hit single Hold Me Tight for the company and Bob Andy's cover of Joe South's Games People Play was another sizable seller.

In 1974 Federal Records had another monster hit with Ken Boothe's reggae version of Everything I Own, originally done by American soft rock group Bread.

Despite all these achievements, Paul Khouri says his father and Federal Records never got the respect they deserved from Jamaicans.

"People have this notion that Bob Marley started reggae – we created rock steady and formulated reggae," he said in a 2002 interview with the Observer.

Ken Khouri never received a national honour from the Jamaican Government. In August 2003, one month before his death at age 86, he was honoured at the Tributes To The Greats ceremony in Kingston; one month later, the Institute of Jamaica named him and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell among 12 recipients of its Musgrave Medal.

The Khouris sold Federal Records to Marley's family in 1981. The compound is headquarters for Tuff Gong International.

As for the Now Generation Band, Lyn and Val Douglas are the only survivors. Like Smith, Shervington, and Lazarus they are still musically active.

Ken Khouri
Howard Campbell

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