Derrick Harriott & The Crystalites – Psychedelic Train
Released 13th October 2017
Long out of print 1970 Reggae album by singer/producer Harriott, expanded with 13 bonus tracks recorded by him during the same period. LTW’s Ian Canty takes a seat on the Psychedelic Train and finds it quite a ride…
Another classic but now obscure Reggae album given a fresh burst of life by Doctor Bird Records! The Reggae re-issue market is flooded with compilations you can buy at your local superstore along with the week’s shopping. There’s nothing wrong with that stuff, don’t get me wrong most of it is great, but it’s been heard time and again. By focusing on lesser known producers and acts DB sidestep the familiar and in turn provide us with great sounds and much of interest. Psychedelic Train is no exception. It was a big seller for Trojan Records on its initial airing in 1970, but for one reason or another hasn’t been available since.
Derrick Harriott had quite a career as both a singer and producer, ranging from performing with initially the Jiving Juniors and then solo and producing right on through the Dub, Roots and Digital ages. In fact he issued one of the earliest dub LPs in Scrub A Dub with King Tubby and also worked with the talented Dennis Brown on his Super Reggae album. He was still singing and manning the boards right on up into the early years of the 21st century, though he’s been quiet of late. I imagine and hope he is enjoying well-deserved and happy retirement (though if transpires that he’s still making music I would obviously be thrilled).
He launched his own label Crystal in the early 60s, with which he had many hits in Jamaica. Really coming into his own during the Rocksteady era due to his soulful, sometimes high voice and Doo Wop/R&B singing roots, he saw major success around this time and also during the original 69 Reggae era (he produced two of the best records of the time in John Jones by Rudy Mills and the Kingstonians’ Sufferer). Part of his talent was being able to adapt to the changing trends in the JA scene, whilst keeping his core values of echo-drenched, well-recorded vocals and danceable rhythms whatever the tempo. He seemed always open-minded to new ideas, which stood him in good stead with the rapid developments in sound on the island.
This release concentrates on his work with backing outfit the Crystalities from the middle of the 60s onwards. The album itself, whilst having a “trippy” title, was solid Skinhead/Boss Reggae seasoned with some of his earlier Rocksteady material. Harriott’s past in vocal groups is clear in the 50s US R&B influenced ballad Laugh It Off, but what could be a weepy is allied to a solid Reggae beat. Message From The Blackman is classic conscious Reggae, flitting from spoken word to sweet high vocals, with an insistent groove. Psychedelic Train itself is custom-built for rampant Skinhead Moostompin’, but stranger is Riding For A Fall, which juxtaposes Bluebeat with a chorus seemingly straight from a 60s beat number. He knew how to mix thing up, to provide something new to dance and listen to.
The Loser comes from earlier on, a big hit for Harriott in the Rocksteady years. Both beautifully sung and catchy, it is a sad and haunting lament of lost love. Rocksteady was really a prototype of late 70s Lovers Rock and surely Derrick’s often sweet and souful productions like this one had some bearing. Walk The Streets, a redoing of the Tams You Might As Well Forget Him, shows how Harriott’s used his debt to R&B and brought things thrillingly up to date by welding it to a firm Boss Reggae base.
It’s little wonder that Psychedelic Train was wildly successful on its initial UK release. Though the Skinhead/Suedehead scene was reaching critical mass at the time there’s great lurching and jerky dance rhythms, good material well performed and a tonne of invention too. The bonus tracks included here go onto to further prove the depth and quality of his work. The loping Rude Boy cool of Solomon is perfect and the old Smokey Robinson chestnut You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me is given a successful Kingston JA refit as a lilting skank-a-long. The Dub version of Psychedelic Train which ends this collection shows how on the ball DH was, Lee Perry-like weird echo vox in among the original song and a flute line zaps in from nowhere…great stuff.
Psychedelic Train shows one of the unsung heroes of Reggae/Rocksteady on tip-top form, easily bridging two eras through good tunes and good taste. Derrick Harriott glided through the 60s, 70s and 80s racking up hit after hit in Jamaica and really should have a higher profile, one that befits his undoubted abilities. This reissue should help do that, along with getting many folk on their feet at Ska/Reggae revival dos.
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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here