Friday, March 27, 2009

Owen Gray


O wen Gray was Jamaica's first home-grown singing star, and the first Jamaican singer to achieve recognition (and stardom) doing something other than calypso music.

He seemed destined for stardom at an early age -- born in Kingston in 1939, he showed an affinity for music and a love of singing very early in life, winning his first talent contest age the age of nine and also distinguishing himself in the local church choir, where he sang first tenor (and his mother played piano). His father was a career military man, but the younger Gray set his sights on music as a career early on, and by his teens he was an experienced singer and performer -- he attended the Alpha School, whose other alumni included such future legends as Tommy McCook and Dizzy Johnny Moore, and by 19 he was ready to turn professional. In a sense, Gray and his contemporaries could not have timed their lives and careers better, as Jamaica's musical life was ready to bloom -- the world was already listening to the sounds of calypso music in the late 1950's, initially by way of Trinidad (and pioneering figures such as Sir Lancelot) and more recently by such island-descended figures as Harry Belafonte and Lord Burgess; and Jamaica, which was already moving toward independence from Great Britain was about to experience a cultural renaissance as well. Gray's breakthrough came in 1960 when he recorded "Please Don't Let Me Go" with the Caribs (including guitarist Ernest Ranglin on his first recording session) for a young would-be record producer from England named Chris Blackwell, who'd begun to dabble in Jamaican music in between deciding what he wanted to do with his life. Released in Jamaica, it hit the top chart spot on the island, and the record was also issued in England, through the jazz label Esquire, and sold surprisingly well -- a fact undoubtedly noted by Blackwell, who began to suspect around this time that there were enough Jamaican emigres in England to make a viable business of recording and releasing music aimed at them.

Back in Kingston, Gray found himself in high demand, and his voice quickly captured -- working in idioms from rock 'n' roll to American-style r&b -- on tape by producers Leslie Kong, Prince Buster, Duke Reid and, most importantly, Coxson Dodd, who was just starting up his legendary Studio One label at the time; Gray's "On The Beach" (which featured local trombone virtuoso Don Drummond) was among the very earliest releases on that label. It was also a group of sides that he cut for Coxson Dodd that resulted in Gray's becoming the first solo Jamaican artist to have an LP of Jamaican popular music (as opposed to calypso music and folk songs) released in England -- the Esquire imprint Starlite Records combined a bunch of them in 1961 as Owen Gray Sings, which was also released in Jamaica; the album never sold even moderately well, but it was a beginning, and soon he had competing London labels issuing different tracks. With advance work like that going on without his direct input, he could hardly resist the opportunity to take the leap to the next career step, and cultivate a London audience from London, and in the spring of 1962 he moved there.

Gray recorded for Melodisc, which had previously licensed some of his Jamaican sides. and he was soon established in London, finding a large and serious club audience. He toured Europe in 1964, doing mostly soul music, and also signed with Blackwell's now-established label Island Records. By 1966, he was well known in England a a soul singer as well as for his Ska and reggae sides, and made the switch to Rocksteady easily enough, cutting sides for producer Sir Clancy Collins, and also licensing some songs to the new Trojan Records label -- his versions of the ballads "These Foolish Things" and "Always" reflected the soft ballad style for which he was known at the time. He enjoyed some further success fronting the Maximum Band (on the Fab Records imprint of Melodisc) with the ballad "Cupid", which charted in 1968. He also found favor with the early skinheads, thanks to a jump beat-driven tune called "Apollo 12", released in 1970, even as he continued to keep his hand in ballads with releases such as "Three Coins In the Fountain".

Gray moved to the Pama label in 1968, releasing his sides on their Camel Records imprint, which included "Woman A Grumble" and his version of King Floyd's "Groove Me". By 1972, he was back with Island Records, where his reggae versions of the Rolling Stones' "Tumblin' Dice" and John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" were released to complete (and astonishing) indifference; strangely enough, one of his bigger successes around this time took place in Jamaica, where his "Hail The Man" -- a single praising the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie -- was embraced by the burgeoning Rasta audience. Gray briefly tried basing himself in New Orleans -- not surprising since his early idols included Fats Domino -- and then returned to Jamaica, where he found fresh inspiration in the booming demand for roots reggae. During the mid-1970's, working with producer Edward "Bunny" Lee, he saw success on both sides of the Atlantic, as a mainstay of the roots reggae movement. Since the 1970's, Gray's career has waxed and waned, and he had returned to singing ballads by the 1990's. With the passing of his 40th anniversary as a professional musician in 1998, however, Gray has once more risen to stardom around the world, a fact confirmed by his international engagements and the release in 2004 of Shook, Shimmy & Shake: The Anthology, a double-CD set that spans a significant (though in no way nearly complete) chunk of his career. ~ Bruce Eder, All Music Guide


Blog Archive

KING DJANGO


A seminal force in the American ska & reggae scene, KING DJANGO has made his name internationally as a singer, ragamuffin MC, songwriter, arranger, instrumentalist (trombone, ukulele, harmonica, melodica, etc.), producer, studio engineer and label owner (Stubborn Records).

On his newest album Roots Tonic, Django has enlisted an all-star cast of NYC's finest ska/reggae veterans. The result: twelve crucial roots reggae cuts utilizing tuff original riddims covering a wide range of styles including dark, sultry lovers rock, militant rockers, crisp rub-a-dub deejay, psychedelic dub and even niyabinghi, complex lyrical structures, and combinations with Rocker T and Dr Ring Ding. Musically, Roots Tonic harkens back to the positive, political reggae of the late 70's / early 80's spearheaded by legendary imprints Island, Frontline, Trojan, Heartbeat, On-U Sound and Greensleeves. That was a time when songwriting was key, conscious lyrics reigned supreme and reggae music was live and full of soul & Dancehall was in its infancy and still resembled reggae, unlike its mostly American hip-hop and R&B influences today. So sit back, take a heavy drink -- its 100% organic -- and soak up reggae's energy, strength, and soul with our cure-all: KING DJANGO's Roots Tonic on JUMP UP/Stubborn Records (USA)/Bacteria Buffet Records (Canada)/Ska In The World Records (Japan)!

King Django always keeps busy and always has a surprise or two up his sleeve. Drawing on such diverse influences as roots reggae, dancehall, ska, rock, soul, swing, and American and Yiddish folk music, he has always been a hard man to pigeonhole. His versatility within genres of punk, rhythm & blues, and Jamaican grooves is unmatched, starting early as the singer / trombonist of legendary NYC ska band The Boilers (1986-1988), evolving through reggae/soul/punk/jazz experimentalists Skinnerbox (1989-1998), and achieving mainstream recognition as the founder and leader of traditional ska supergroup Stubborn All-Stars (1994-1999). After the ska revival died down, King Django was able to devote his full energy to solo material: "Roots and Culture" (Triple Crown Records, 1998) combined ska, reggae and traditional klezmer music; while "Reason" (Hellcat / Epitaph, 2001) was an adventurous, eclectic self-produced album of rock deeply grounded in roots-reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, and drum and bass. In late 2003, King Django headed to Switzerland to record King Django Meets The Scrucialists, unleashing twelve brilliant slices of political roots reggae, rockers, dub, lovers rock, ska and dancehall, including two combinations with German ska/dancehall superstar Dr. Ring Ding.

In 2003 and 2004, Django hit the road in support of three releases on three different independent labels. A Single Thread, an 11-year career retrospective, which saw release in three countries (Megalith Records, USA/Ska In The World, Japan/Leech, Switzerland) presents an overview of Django’s range of style and capabilities. In 2003, King Django headed to Europe to record King Django meets the Scrucialists (Jump Up Records, Chicago/Leech, Switzerland). These sessions unleashed the true lyrical genius that has been inside Django all this time. The result was twelve brilliant slices of political roots reggae, rockers, dub, lovers rock, ska and dancehall, including two combinations with German ska/dancehall superstar Dr. Ring DingThe American release also includes two exclusive dancehall versions created with the hottest new riddims coming straight out of Jamaica. Version City Sessions (Asian Man Records, California) showcases Django’s talents as a producer, engineer and remix artist.


King Django has toured internationally many times over as a solo artist, as the leader of Skinnerbox and Stubborn All Stars and as trombonist for Rancid, The Toasters, and legendary New York City hardcore band Murphy's Law.In the studio, he has worked closely with fellow NYC pals the The Slackers and Skadanks and recorded with Tim Armstrong, Lars Fredrickson and Matt Freeman of Rancid and Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on Stubborn All Stars’ Back with A New Batch in 1997 (Triple Crown).

At about the same time, Django began collecting studio equipment and soon the legendary Version City was born. Within months, a steady flow of bands flocked to this NY mecca to create warm Jamaican vibes with Django's knowledge, production and engineering skills.<>

CHRIS MURRAY

Chris Murray is a unique force on today's music scene. As leader of influential Canadian ska group King Apparatus, Chris earned a strong reputation as a dynamic performer and gifted songwriter. Upon the band's breakup, he relocated to Los Angeles, emerging as a solo artist with his debut album The 4-Track Adventures Of Venice Shoreline Chris. This charmingly lo-fi collection of home recordings won high praise for its finely crafted tunes and the raw sincerity of its vintage production.
 

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