Chris Blackwell salutes Ernie RanglinMonday, October 18, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Throughout their 63-year relationship, Ernie Ranglin and Chris Blackwell have developed a mutual admiration. Ranglin for Blackwell's business acumen; Blackwell for Ranglin's proficiency as a guitarist.
Today, 89-year-old Ranglin is formally vested into the Order of Jamaica from the island's Government for outstanding contribution to Jamaican music. He accepts his country's fifth-highest award 48 years after he was honoured with the Order of Distinction, sixth in the line of national honours.
Blackwell will not be in Jamaica for the national honours and awards but, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, he sang the praises of his friend and long-time collaborator.
“Ernest is just an incredible person and I'm so happy that he's getting another award in Jamaica because he really needs to be recognised for the importance he contributed,” said the Island Records founder.
Blackwell recalls meeting Ranglin for the first time in 1958 at the Glass Bucket Club in Kingston. He was on the verge of starting Island Records while Ranglin was an established session musician who played on numerous calypso and mento songs.
Their careers took a dramatic turn in 1964. Blackwell took Ranglin to the United Kingdom, where he had relocated Island Records to introduce Ranglin in jazz clubs.
Blackwell also wanted to break a teenaged Jamaican singer named Millie Small in the UK. He had also brought her to London that year and was determined to find a song for her that would appeal to Britons and the growing Jamaican community.
They happened on My Boy Lollipop, a boogie-woogie number originally done in 1956 by American singer Barbie Gay.
“I looked at Ernest and he looked at me and said, 'This is it, this could be the song,' “ Blackwell related.
Ranglin rearranged the original to ska — which was the rage in Jamaica. The sound was also picking up steam in West Indian clubs and so-called Jamaican blues dances in London.
My Boy Lollipop was a monster hit in the UK and United States and helped pave the way for Island Records becoming one of the music industry's great labels.
Blackwell not only credits Ranglin for the song's global success, but with helping to launch ska outside of Jamaica.
Ranglin recorded several albums for Island Records and played on projects by other acts signed to the company.
His humility and professionalism, Blackwell notes, are his greatest attributes.
“Ernest is one of the most gentle, one of the kindest, one of the most talented musicians...people. Just an incredible talent,” he said.