Junior Byles - Photo by Beth Kingston
The SMALL AXE FILES
Junior Byles - The Long Way
By Ray Hurford With Thanks to lan McCann
(C) Small Axe 1986/7 (C) MuzikTree 1991
© Small Axe Reggae News 2003
Keith 'Junior' Byles was born in 1948, and grew up in the Jones Town area. When Junior left school, he worked first as a mechanic, and then as a fireman. Sometime around the mid sixties during the early rock steady era he made his first records under the name of 'Chubby' and The Honeysuckers. 'Emergency Ward' which came out in the UK on Rio (R75)
By 1967 he had formed the vocal group The Versatiles. It seems that they initially recorded for a Mrs. Barnett, who produced at least four tunes with the group, all of which were released on Pama's Crab label. 'Children Get Ready'/'Someone To Love' was the first release in 1968, both sides in the then new reggae style. The following year came 'Spread Your Bed/'Worries A Yard' The A. Side being as good or as bad as many of the slack or 'Rude' reggae tunes of the time.
The Versatiles were one of many little known vocal groups such as The Leaders, The Mellotones, and The Creations, who worked with Joe Gibbs in his early production days.
They recorded at least five tunes for Gibbs. Five being released on a Trojan subsidiary label Amalgamated, which along with Pressure Beat released solely Joe Gibbs productions. Later on in common with all the other producers who had material released by Trojan, Joe Gibbs productions could be found on a variety of Trojan group labels, but all the Gibbs produced Versatlles music was released on Amalgamated, from 1968 till 1969/70.
The first Versailles tune was 'Just Can't Win' which was very good, but much better was the second release ' Trust The Book. It has a very strong rock steady rhythm over which can be heard Junior singing in fine style. Drawing on the parables of the Bible in much the same way as Justin Hines and The Dominoes.
The third release 'The Time Has Come is a cheerful song for unity, Over a rhythm that falls somewhere between rock steady and reggae and also features a lone violinist. Junior's vocal inflections on this take in Ken Boothe and Desmond Dekker.
Push It In released in 1969 uses a fast reggae rhythm, and is well slack lyrically. With their last release on Amalgamated, The Versatlles finally get an whole disc to themselves. ' Lu Lu Bell' is the A. side, while 'Long Long Time' can be found on the B.Side.
It was around the early seventies 70/71, when Junior Byles left The Versatiles. A group who at the time consisted of Junior Byles, Louis Davis and one called Dudley. After that the group was then produced by Willy Williams. Releasing at least one tune on Willy's Halifax label. Then in 1974 they recorded their best known tune 'Stepping Razor' for Lee Perry, which was written by Joe Higgs, but it's perhaps better known from Peter Tosh's recording of it.
Four years before this time back in 1970, Junior had just joined up with Perry, to begin a solo career. Scratch then was just coming out of the reggae and was ready to change the beat, with a group of musicians that included the Barrett brothers, drummer Lloyd 'Tin Leg Adams. Bass player Val Douglas, Keyboard player Glen Adams, and guitarist Alva Lewis.
He was working out of the studios of Dynamic and Randy's, and was working with the likes of The Wailers, Max Romeo, Dave Barker, David Isaacs as well as DJs like Dennis Alcapone and Dillinger. What came of those studios from those early 70s sessions included music like Duppy Conqueror, Keep On Moving' and 'Small Axe' from The Wailers. Max Romeo's Public Enemy Number One and Leo Graham's 'News Flash', but Junior Byles, first tune for the Upsetter couldn't have been more different.
For Junior's first tune for the Upsetter was 'What's The World Coming To issued under the name of King Chubby and released on Pama Supreme in the UK. On this Upsetter had him singing his lyrics of common complaint over a chugging rhythm filled out with a string arrangement from either Harry Robinson or Johnny Arthey that was typical of those times. Thankfully, this corrupt approach to making music did not harm the career of Junior, like it did to so many others. And the next time he came forward he was to use the much more appealing title of Junior Byles.
And Junior's initial solo effort as Junior Byles is Got The Tip' released in the UK through Pama on the Punch label. It's just a story of Junior's day at the races, but it's got The Wailers on harmonies so that makes it a bit special.
The magnificent 'Black Crisis' was probably Junior's next release. Produced by himself for the Love Power label, which could well be Junior's own label, the song is a call for unity through greater awareness, over a harsh rigid Randy's style rhythm, that also features some nice melodica blowing.
In the two years from 1970 when Scratch produced Junior's first solo tune to 1972, Scratch's work had become even wilder and more Rasta influenced. It was 'Beat Down Babylon' with it's militant lyrics over a angry scrubbing rhythm that gave Junior and Perry a massive hit. The little known 'Informer Man' also came out around this time. It featured a DJ - Jah T in combination style over the 'Beat Down Babylon' rhythm. Subtitled 'Babylon Chapter 9', it is a song about anti corruption, and the work of informers.
Da Da followed, it was Scratch's entry in that year's (1972) Festival Song Competition, and Junior won it for him. 'Da Da' was no 'Beat Down Babylon' but it was well sung, and had a fine scrubbing rhythm. The lyrics were enjoyable as well. A string of simple catchphrases strung around a big bass chorus.
Junior's third big hit came with his first love song Fever. On this it was to be use of that deep rich organ sound combined with a 30 second false start, as well as impassioned lyrics and vocal from Junior, that was to make this a classic Scratch was to use again for King Medious's (Milton Henry) 'This World' as well as for cuts with Jah Lloyd 'Hay Fever' and Susan Cadogan's recut of 'Fever.
With 'Pharaoh Hiding' Junior returned to the biblical themes heard on 'Beat Down Babylon1 like the latter it features a well forward scrubbing rhythm guitar, that pushed the rhythm on and on. Junior's always seemed to revel in these type of tunes, which were often used for attacks on the system and its supporters. Recorded at and for Dynamics, but produced by Lee Perry.
The 'King Of Babylon' is similar except that the beginning of the song is a plea for unity and righteousness. Then Nebuchadnezzer (A King of Babylon) is attacked for spreading evil across the land. Randy's are credited with production on this but it could be more of Scratch's work, what with the scrubbing guitar and kinky organ work.
Probably the first cut of the rhythm that U.Roy used for his 'Double Six' title, is the basis for Junior's 'Auntie Lulu song. Which picks up on the lyrical techniques he used for 'Da Da', but the song itself is Junior's contribution to an anti-illiteracy campaign of the time. And a fine contribution it is, with a very intense vocal from Junior to match Scratchs production, on this 1973 release.
Another song in the same fine tradition of 'Auntie Lulu is 'Education Rock'. This one was produced by Pauline Morrison, Perrys wife/partner. If anything, it's even closer to the style of 'Da Da' with a very relaxed vocal approach, singalong with Junior Byles.
Another classic from this time is 'Rasta No Pick Pocket where Junior in great form criticises the false dread and those who run down Rasta. A slow heavy rhythm with lyrics like 'Rasta No Pickpocket, Rasta No Run Racket, Rasta No Want Rachet," and " You think it's the hair on your head, that make you dreader then dread, but it's the heart within - RASTA NO DWELL IN SIN. "
Junior Byles's first album release came in 1973, about a year after Soul Rebel, Bob Marleys And the Wailers, first for Lee Perry. With these albums Perry wanted more than for Trojan Records to just release them, it seems he wanted some promotion for them as well. Perry knew this time he had done more than just change the beat.
'Soul Rebel' and 'Beat Down Babylon' was a change in direction. Even the sleeves were militant. Sadly, like the Studio One works of Burning Spear, this great music was largely ignored. Reggae music then was about 7" singles (released) and budget priced albums. Junior Byles's "Beat Down Babylon single had made a huge Impact, as did the singles released by Bob Marley on Upsetter, but albums weren't really checked for, not unless they cost 99p. 'Catch A Fire' changed that, but 'Soul Rebel' and 'Beat Down Babylon' were there first.
The nine songs found on 'Beat Down Babylon in one album show us all that makes Junior one of reggae music's greatest talents. A set of lyrical indicators of what was to come from Junior over the next five years. 'Da Da' the opening track links in with 'Auntie Lulu', 'Lorna Banana', and 'Weeping'. And uses many techniques of unusual lyrical composition, that was to form the basis of the dancehall style some six years later, where groups of ideas linked together, rather than words, make up the song.
As a Rastaman Junior sings of slavery, oppression and repatriation. These themes and others are to be found in 'I've Got A Feeling" 'Beat Down Babylon and 'A Place Called Africa'. And it shouldn't be a surprise to find these songs to be some of the most conscious to be written on the above subjects. They are clear and direct explanations of the ongoing sufferation of black people. 'Don't Know Why' is a sad love song. 'A Matter Of Time concerns itself with young girls acting out of order. Surely an attempt at reasoning with the unreasonable. Which leaves 'Demonstration' ('What's The World Coming To' without strings and with a clearer mix) 'Coming Again and 'Poor Chubby'.
Three views on reality that take in world destruction, revolution and exploitation, and show Junior's great awareness, that grew over the years, enabling him to write classics like 'Bur 0 Boy' 'Can You Feel It' and 'Chant Down Babylon'.
'Beat Down Babylon' was a huge step forward for reggae music. Yet only a few saw it, for many including myself, it was to be Bob Marley's and The Wailers 'Catch A Fire' that was to show the way.
In 1974, Pete Weston began to record Junior for the Micron label. Lyrically and rhythmically this sounds like it could be their first work together. What with Junior singing of Joshua in the manner of 'Pharaoh Hiding'. 'Gwane Joshua Gwane' could be gospel, except for the country reggae style backing rhythm, that oddly suits Junior's voice perfectly. Released on Soul Beat.
A version of Delroy Wilson's 'Better Must Come' called 'When Will Better Come recorded for Lee Perry and released on the Kaya label, remained for a long time a mystery tune - all that was really known about it was the title. Now it can be placed alongside 'Beat Down Babylon' as yet another classic. Junior adaptation of Delroy Wilson powerful song is truly remarkable
There is no mystery at all concerning 'Curly Locks' it stands as Junior's biggest hit as well as one of reggae music's biggest sellers -in excess of 250.000 copies is one figure mentioned. Junior sings his love Song? over a slow piano lead rhythm with a lot of feeling, as he tries to explain to his loved one, the nature of her father. Curley Locks - B.Side is also interesting. Taking as its theme the judgement to come on all and especially the wicked. For 'Now Generation' Scratch has created an almost reggae rhythm, giving the piano the work of the organ or merging the two together for a mid tempo skank.
Juniors next release is perhaps his best ever recording. 'The Long Way'. The power on this record is immense. It comes from the feeling Junior puts into the work and the raw energy Perry has blessed the rhythm with. Lyrically, the song seems to be for his woman. Yet most of the time the song could be open to alternative interpretation. 'All The Way' the dub is also very surreal.
From one classic we move on to yet another, this time from the studios of Channel One. "He who seek of only vanity, and no love for humanity, shall fade away, fade away." Are the opening lyrics of 'Fade Away'. And are representative once again of the magnificent lyrical skill of Junior Byles. And they are not wasted either, for this slow Channel One rhythm equals Junior's lyrics with fine musicianship and a quality production.
It was around this time that Junior recorded a version of Barbara George's ' I Know' for Watty Burnett who was later to join the Congoes. Released in Jamaica on Watty's own label Top Secret, and in the UK on Sir Jessus. Recorded at Black Ark 'I Know showed that Junior was just at home singing other people's songs, as he was his own.
Lloyd. F Campbell's Thing label was to give Junior his next release with 'Bur 0 Boy'. Lloyd's production work was totally different to Perry's and Channel One's. This effort is more basic, but is just as compelling as the two latter tunes. Junior's strong anti-war lyrics and vocal make sure of that. A message from time for all time.
A duo with Rupert Reid, for producers Hollet & Swaby's Ja Man label brought Junior even more acclaim. This time it sounds like Skin Flesh & Bones were the backing musicians. As the duo sing about the confusion caused by living in Babylon, and encourage all to "Chant Down Babylon" for a better way of life.
Lorna Banana' released on Micron and produced by Lee Perry and Pete Weston, carries on the style that Junior had employed on 'Da Da' and 'Auntie Lulu' , mixing up lyrics to great effect over a wicked and wild Upsetter rhythm track. Featuring a scrubbing rhythm guitar and heavily echoed vocals.
Another Micron release was 'False Leader' which was produced by Desmond Minott. It wasn't as good as the other Micron productions, but then very little is, It's truly a shame that Micron label wasn't more successful, it was and still is a very good concept.
Larry Lawrence's Ethnic label issued 'Mumbling and Grumbling' and gave credit to Junior. A Lee Perry production certainly, but the vocals on this sound very rough, which have always made me doubt it was Junior. It's certainly written by him though. The lyrics have his character. Some very well arranged horns and background vocals really make the tune.
The piano led rhythm style of 'Curly Locks' and 'Fade Away' is revisited on 'Girl Next Door'. And this one is actually produced by Junior Byles as well. Like 'Black Crisis' this is another impressive effort, that is Upsetter inspired. It's a Ray Charles love tune, and ranks as one Junior's best cover tunes.
'Remember Me', a solo effort this time for the JaMan label, is Junior's vision of life in the promised land. A land that from the title of the song and lyrics, suggests that Junior feels he would never see. And that sadness can be heard in Junior's voice. Again it sounds like Skin Flesh & Bones on the rhythm track.
With and for 'Dreader Lacks a version of 'Curly Locks Junior is joined behind the mike by Perry himself. Who can be heard behind Junior doing what Jackie Knockshot did for Youth Promotion and Sugar Minott - sound effects, creative vocalising. While Junior chants down Babylon in traditional fashion, with lots of blood and fire, lightning and brimstone. He also delivers a message to Prince Tony.
Niney -the Observer also released two productions from Junior in 1975. The first is a raggamuffin version of Delroy Wilsons Run Run, that typifies Niney approach to production. This sounds like it was done in one 3 minute session, but that's Niney's style. As Chris Lane once stated, "It's hard, it's brash, and it had always got that unmistakable stamp that says a Niney production. "
'King Of Babylon is a recut of the 1975 Randy's production, and is interesting in that Niney has employed a rockers rhythm on the production. It must be one of Niney's first efforts in the new style, and it shows how progressive a producer he is. As this record already has much of the sound that was to be used by others right up until 1978.
Totally different to Niney's work was Junior's latest production for Pete Weston, a version of the Folkes Brothers, hit 'Oh Carolina'. This was another chance for Junior to use his much loved lyrics mix up techniques, over a bright and cheerful rockers rhythm complete with a string synth melody line.
1976 also saw Junior back in the studio with the JaMan production team of Swaby and Hollet, with an original song Know Where Youre Going which has an outstanding mid-tempo Channel One rhythm, some nice touches on the piano and fine harmony work. Junior sings for repatriation in a strong clear voice that really rams home his lyrics..."Don't Fight It, Get On Board".
Advance, Micron's subsidiary label issued their second release from Junior in the form of 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg', a version of the soul tune, featuring some great horns and an outstanding rhythm. Overall it perhaps ranks as the best production from Pete Weston & Micron, Junior singing very well, with a lot of feeling.
'Can You Feel It from producer Lloyd F Campbell stands as one of Junior's most personal songs with lyrics like "Oh time and time I've traveled this road my knees get weak from this heavy heavy load, and I feel it SUFFERATION EVERYDAY." Added to those lyrics is the 'Pick Up The Pieces rhythm, that Lloyd has recut very well.
Perhaps Junior's strangest record is 'Weeping' also produced by Lloyd F Campbell. Here Junior's mix up lyrics is taken to it's most extreme. Essentially of course its about sufferation, but then the confusion begins when Junior sings of "Have you ever seen stones, get up cry." though it's plain that it makes sense to Junior, who sings the lyrics with intense passion. A great dub of this Rockers rhythm is to be found on the B.side 'Weeping And Wailing'
"Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, some are begging this and some are begging that, some pitchy patchy walking down the street.... Well I don't really know, but that's the way story goes, an whole lot of suffering, out deh, out deh. out deh. This is the introduction to 'Pitch Patchy' for the Jaman label. A song of praise to Jah is the real message in the song, but those opening lyrics are wellcharged.
Jordan The album for producer Pete Weston was recorded in 1976, and came out in the spring of 1977, and is a solid set of music, that contains recuts of A Place Called Africa a medley of Beat Down Babylon' and 'Curley Locks' which are good but seemed unnecessary at the time.
Sometimes a recut can add something to the original, but the only real difference between these recuts and originals is the pace. The recuts are quicker and in the process something gets lost.
The title track Jordan is a recut of 'Pitchy Patchy, but this time the process works in reverse. Horns and phasing are used throughout the tune to tremendous effect. Some great lead guitar can also be heard.
'Mystic Revelation', a new tune, is constructed in a similar way, as Junior singing lyrics like ' I Had to kill the rent man, cause I didn't have a cent."
The other new song is 'I Ain't Got that concerns itself with poverty as well as offering the only real solution to the problem.
The remaining four songs 'Bur 0 Boy' 'Lorna Banana' Oh Carolina and Aint Too Proud Too Beg are remixes of the single releases, sometimes with the addition of percussion and electric piano and string synth. 'Bur 0 Boy' perhaps benefiting most from this work.
Jordan then represents a second fine album from Junior. One that as aged well, and sounds better today than it did when it was released.
Around 1977, Niney the Observer produced Junior again, this time releasing the works on 12" through his connections with Count Shelleys Third World operation. 'One Love" wasn't very memorable, but the B.Side 'It's Boring featured Junior singing about how boring London is, which can only mean he visited the city, that has no pity and is full of iniquity.
Natty Dreadlocks/'Sick-More-Tree/What Kind Of World'/'Easy Stepping' issued under the name of Junior Boyce had the same sort of impact as the first disco, which wasn't great, but this was still great music.
Junior then took a break from the business that lasted until 1978. When he returned, it was to be for Joe Gibbs and Errol T, with whom he recorded ' Heart & Soul'. It could have been a very productive and creative relationship as Joe and Errol had recently produced many fine roots records together, notably with Dennis Brown and Culture. 'Heart And Soul' was a fine effort. Junior singing this time for more devotion to Rastafari, over a cut to the 'Mean Girl' rhythm.
A year later came the second and last production to date from Joe Gibbs and Errol T, 'Dreadlocks Time', which uses the 'Baba Boom' rhythm, and to a certain extent the lyrics as well. Although Junior's voice still sounds as good as ever, a lack of inspiration can be heard throughout the tune. Perhaps Junior was now well and truly fed up with the business, as after the release of 'Dreadlocks Time nothing was heard from him until early 1982.
It was then that he recut 'Don't Know Why'. 'Don't Be Surprised is the new title given to it. and is a Blacka Morwell production, really finding Junior at his best again. A sad love song that Junior gets very involved with, pushed along by a firm Roots Radios rhythm.
Jamaica's most potent talent form the 70's had made it into the 80's with style. It was around about the time of the release of ' Don't Be Surprised in the UK on 12" that Blacka Morwell announced that he was soon to be releasing a Junior Byles LP
He made this statement on Tony Williams's show on Radio London. At the time The Morwells had an album on Nighthawk a U.S. reggae label - the 'Best of the Morwells'. Not long after Blacka Morwell's statement, Nighthawk the St.Louis based reggae and blues label also announced that they had a Junior Byles LP to release. Everyone including myself, assumed that it was the Morwells produced LP. Four years later we were to discover that it was a Niney the Observer production!
With 'Rasta No Pickpocket as its title, this album released by Nighthawk in November 1986 has everything you could really want. Although a lot of people said they could have done with 4 more tracks! 6 tracks are acceptable, but the album should have dubs to make it a real showcase album. Why it didnt is still a mystery. Still everything else was up to the usual Nighthawk standard, an excellent sleeve, and very good sleeve notes. Recorded at Harry J's in 1984 with the Roots Radios band the contains 3 old songs and 3 new ones
The first of the new tunes is "Thanks And Praise'. And like the title suggests its Junior paying tribute to H.I.M. without apologies. Except with Junior he always manages to get over something a little more personalised, and yet still is totally respectful. This is a man who learnt a long time ago that in order to get a message to someone - you first have to get them to listen.
With 'Press Along' he's joined by Larry Marshall and Niney for a chant - that includes all the much loved and familiar lines - "The Hotter The Battle, The Sweeter Jah Victory" being one of them. The song is essentially about persecution, but they would have a hard jab to downpress Junior Byles in a mood like this
On 'Cally Weed' he takes one step backward, to make a massive leap forward. Here is the lyrics mix up style, with a new element added. That element being Junior going into a female voice. Whereby Cally Weed becomes a person who Junior loves very much. It's a very funny song - that is equal to the great Lorna Banana'
Of the 3 recuts 'I No Got It' is the best. In 'Cally Weed' there is a lot of humour. In this song we come across the sadness that fills many of Junior's works. It's a song about poverty, the kind of poverty that today is driving a lot of people into mental homes, or what's left of them. This is a state of mind that Junior knows all about. In 1976 he was confined to a mental ward of Belview Hospital in Kingston. Thankfully he recovered - not fully, that is expecting too much in a mad world
'I Don't Know' is of course yet another cut of 'What's The World Coming To'. And it is the best cut so far. A lot to do with this, are the little additions to the lyrics. Although Niney's more comprehensive production certainly helps
'Rasta. No Pickpocket' should have been the best track on the album, but it was always going to be a very hard job topping the original. And this cut doesn't really come close. It's still very good, Niney after all being an innovator himself. And overall he did a great job on this album.
No sooner had 'Rasta No Pickpocket been released then Trojan, finally, after many years of waiting re-released Beat Down Babylon'. Now renamed ' Beat Down Babylon' - The Upsetter Years. It contained the 10 tracks from the original release, plus two unreleased tracks produced by Perry around the same time 'Fun And Games' and 'Pretty Fe True' with their dubs. Also included on the album are 'King Of Babylon' and Pharaoh Hiding, which are also produced by Scratch. The album with its new sleeve, and sleevenotes is one of the better Trojan issues. Although it probably didn't help Junior that much, it at least made a classic reggae album available again
For long time followers of the man with "The Voice That Hurts" the main interests are the two new tracks 'Fun And Games' and 'Pretty Fe True'. Around 74, Lee Perry had been working on a second album from Junior. These two tracks, and ' Curley Locks and 'The Long Way' would have probably been on it. And what an album that would have been! Both these new tracks are up to the standard of 'Curley Locks'. 'Pretty Fe True' is a wonderful creation. A powerful rhythm is balanced by some cleverly distorted horns into which Junior sings his happy love song. On 'Fun And Games' Junior revisits 'A Matter Of Time; it quickly turns into a dub where it works just as well.
The following year (1988) Trojan came forward with 'When Will Better Come' This features not only 'Curley Locks' and 'The Long Way from Lee Perry, but the likes of 'Bur-0-Boy' and 'Weeping' which it seems now were produced by Niney The Observer. It seems almost pointless to mention that originally these records carried a production credit from Lloyd F Campbell. This is the reggae business after all, who cares? Well it certainly got Lloyd F Campbell motivated. He came back from the dead. The full remarkable story of this resurrection is still to be told.
Still in 1988, out of nowhere came a very rare and precious thing a new single from Junior, 'Hustling' released on the One In Three label, and produced by H. Barrett and Junior Byles. For the first time we could hear him singing over a finely produced digital rhythm filled out by horns. It's a very good song as well. A simple account of life in the ghetto and problems thereof.
Then Heartbeat reissued the Micron album 'Jordan' to make it (1988) quite a year for Junior. Now we are into the Nineties. Roy Cousins still hasn't released his album, neither have the Morwells. Yet Junior is still active. Proof of that came with the release of a new various artists album Turbocharge produced by Niney, and released on Heartbeat. Like it's been said many times 'You cannot keep a good man down.'
JUNIOR BYLES - SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY
Beat Down Babylon -Trojan - Lee Perry 1973
Jordan -Micron - Pete Weston 1977
Rasta No Pickpocket Nighthawk Niney 1986
Beat Down Babylon The Upsetter Years Trojan Lee Perry 1987
What's The World Coming To - Supreme 7" UK - Lee Perry 1970
Live As One Supreme 7" UK Lee Perry - 1970
Got The Tip Pama 7" UK Lee Perry 1971
Place Called Africa Upsetter Lee Perry - 1971
Informer Man Upsetter 7" Lee Perry 1972
Black Crisis - Love Power 7" - - Junior Byles ~ 1972
Beat Down Babylon Upsetter 7" Lee Perry