Various Artists: Derrick Morgan And His Friends
Released 12 July 2019
Reissue of a much sought-after Island Records compilation LP from 1968 made up from Derrick Morgan productions of the time, featuring the man himself, the Viceroys and Black Brothers among others. 24 bonus tracks spread across the two discs round up everything else Morgan cut for his own Hop Records imprint……LTW’s Ian Canty hears the sure touch of a master at work…..
Derrick Morgan had been around many years by the time this album was released in 1968 – years pretty much flushed with success from the get-go. Coming from a musical background with his deacon father (which possibly explains the depth of feeling and gospel influence in Derrick’s music) and mother both keen vocalists, he was set on his way by winning the coveted Vere Johns Opportunity Hour competition. First recording as an R&B/Boogie singer in the late 50s under the tutelage of Duke Reid, he went onto successfully surf the trends and fads of the 60s Kingston music scene and at one stage held all seven of the top places on the Jamaican charts. The Fatman single was one early highpoint, coming as Morgan transitioned into Ska from Blues with ease.
A famous feud between Morgan and Prince Buster resulted in another of his classic tunes Blazing Fire and only pushed him onto further success, though the heated nature of the rivalry had to be calmed by a public clearing of the air in Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner. He scored hit after hit, including Tougher Than Tough and Conquering Ruler, which is included as a bonus track here. It’s probably the best-known track on offer and cut to a killer rhythm, coolly displaying Derrick’s aptitude for the new Rocksteady craze and its stately and reserved pace. Like many long-standing Reggae performers, he used what he picked up recording for the island’s studio names and used it to diversify into production himself. By 1967 he had his own imprint, Hop Records. Which brings us to this new reissue, the Derrick Morgan And His Friends LP, which was originally released in the UK on Island in 1968.
The original album itself not unreasonably gave one side over to Derrick’s own efforts, with the reverse having selections from Pauline Morgan (Derrick’s sister), the Consummates, the Black Brothers and the Inventors. This record was somewhat of an oddity, consisting of material that hadn’t seen an issue before at the time of its release. Back in 1968, the majority of Reggae LPs were mainly collections of previously released single sides, but the lack of familiarity here made no difference. As a whole, it presents a winning argument for Rocksteady, being addictive and both smooth and rough where necessary.
Derrick Morgan And His Friends music is perfectly realised for listening at home or cutting it up on the dance floor. Simply an excellent record. Derrick himself is on top form, whether riding the jerky, proto-Reggae rhythms on the comic Lagga Head or sweetly rendering Bad Luck On Me in a classic Gospel-tinged Rocksteady style. The old standard Tears On My Pillow is movingly versioned and he corrals fellow Hop recording artists the Viceroys to provide echo-heavy backing vocals on the very fine and catchy Stumbling Block.
On the other side of the original LP sister Pauline get a trio of tracks (backing provided from the Loveletts on I’ve Been Searching and Stop The Wedding and the Consummates on Give Me A Chance), with a steady beat and fussy cymbals giving the Soul/R&B of Stop The Wedding a real boost good and sounding like a prime Lover’s Rock effort ten years early. But all three are pleasing to my ear and got the toes truly tapping. The Black Brothers’ You’ve Been Saying things is another skilful and cool Soul-toned number and the Consummates strike out on their own in a classic JA vocal group style on the slow and appealing The More I Get.
Moving onto the tracks appearing as bonuses on this disc, we start out with the aforementioned and fab Conquering Ruler and the Groovers’ deep and emotion-filled You’ve Got To Cry. The Groovers seems to have been a pseudonym for George Dekker, backed by Bobby Aitken and the Carib Beats (George and Bobby were both brothers of supremely talent singers, Desmond and Laurel respectively). Alva Lewis will always be remembered as providing crucial guitar work for the Hippy Boys and the Upsetters, but here he ably takes the mic on I’m Indebted and Lyn Taitt And The Jets provide sympathetic backing to Neremiah (as it is spelt here, but Nehemiah is more regularly listed) Reid’s cool skank Family War. He only seems to have recorded a few songs (the bouncy bass of his Give Me That Love features on disc two), which is a shame as this is a top quality outing.
Disc two of this set proceeds to round up the rest of Hop Records’ Morgan-helmed output. There are a few gems from the man himself, the 1968 version of Gimmie Back is a cool ace, but mostly it is left to other artists. There are a few better-known names among them – Dawn Penn was still decades away from her international smash No, No, No when she cut the effortlessly sultry When Am I Gonna Be Free for Derrick, a wonderful recording which keenly demonstrates the potential she had.
The Viceroys carved out a long career of JA success right up to and through the Roots era, recording for many of the Island’s producers like Lee Perry, Winston Riley and Coxone Dodd after forming at the dawn of Rocksteady. Derrick caught them pretty well early on here, with Give It To Him and Let Him Go (which slightly reminiscent of the Pioneers to my ears) both allowing them to demonstrate their deep, spiritual vocal style to full effect. OK Fred hitmaker Errol Dunkley makes an early appearance under the name the King Twins with the guitar-led goodie Treat Me Right and Frank Brown only seems to have recorded the one track featured here Some Come, Some Go. However, it is a real treat with that lovely carefree feel only Reggae music can provide.
Red Rum Ball was an early and massive Jamaican hit for Hop Records, the pairing of Lloyd (Robinson) and Devon (Russell) working well on a classic Rocksteady piece. The addictive rhythm re-used by many artists over the years. Here we get a DJ toast take on (Red) Big Bumb Ball Chapter Two by Tony King and an organ instrumental version entitled More Balls(!) credited to Mark Anthony And The Jets, which is ripe for the Boss Reggae dance craze that was still to come at the time.
This is another nice set from Doctor Bird, but they are helped by Morgan’s working being pretty flawless at this point in time. He powered on through the Skinhead Reggae era as one of the most popular artists (the excellent Moon Hop album, reissued earlier this year and reviewed here, shows just how ahead of the game he was then) and though his recording schedule dropped off during the 70s due to illness and changing trends, his abilities and ear for a good sound should never be underestimated. Still performing today, there is a definite argument reasoning that Derrick Morgan is one of Reggae’s real unsung heroes and this compilation makes it all the more compelling.
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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here