Saturday, March 1, 2014

UNTAMED: The history of The Fashioneers, The Mighty Abidjans, the Swing Bird label, and Mr. Jaiq Sterling!

To go along with the DKR February 2014 release of Part 1 of 7" reissues from the SWING BIRD label, we've put together a history of the two awesome and related groups who will be reissued, THE FASHIONEERS and their later incarnation, THE MIGHTY ABIDJANS. These groups self-produced all their music on their own SWING BIRD label from approx. 1975 thru 1982. Read on and learn the details of these until now mysterious reggae groups. Following the story is a discography and some great photos of both groups' one-time lead singer and song writer, Mr. Jaiq Sterling. Jaiq has a fantastic history in reggae music dating back to 1968, having been involved in but a couple of those many and too-often speculated-about and unknown groups of the era when pre-release blanks were the order of the day. We as latter-day listeners can often only play detective to try and know the story of these groups, but here's one instance where we've cracked the case. All that is recalled is below, so read on and enjoy!

*To see & hear the first set of SWING BIRD 45's, click here to check them out on our new website!*

The Fashioneers and the Mighty Abidjans are two related groups who until now have remained obscure and known mainly only to record collectors. However these groups made a handful of the best roots harmony records of the late 1970's and early 1980's. Much like the Fox Fire label who produced a small but deadly output of music during the same era, the relative commercial non-success of the Fashioneers/Abidjans does not at all correlate to their quality. Over the years, a handful of their tunes have bubbled up from the thousands of singles released at the time, to be recognized by those in the know as tip-top shelf material. These songs were crying out for availability and a light being cast on the details of their story. We tracked down one-time lead vocalist and song writer for both groups, Jaiq Sterling, and subsequently the other surviving members of the group, to get the story and get these rightful classic tunes back on the road.

Both groups began with Leonard Billings, who is unfortunately and sadly no longer with us. Leonard was a tailor by trade, but had begun singing in the late 1960's with the group The Selectors. By 1975 that group had dissolved, and Leonard recruited Jaiq Sterling and Pixley Brown to form the Fashioneers. Jaiq Sterling too was by then an experienced musician, having also been recording since the 1960's with his previous group The Destroyers/Soulites for both Lloyd 'Matador' Daley and Coxsone Dodd at Studio 1, as well as more recently in 1975 as an interim member of the Black Traps (see photos and the full details of Jaiq's very interesting discography below!). The Fashioneers would be different though, as from the outset it was determined that the new group would be independent, and produce and release all their own music. So the group went to Channel 1 and cut their first tune, "Guiding Light." With Jaiq writing the song and singing lead, backing by the Revolutionaries, and equipped with a hard dub mixed by Ernest Hookim, the single is a masterpiece of militant '70s roots harmony. It was released shortly there after on the revived and updated Swing Bird label, which Leonard had first used back in the early '70s and would from now on serve as the label for all of both groups eventual releases. When "Guiding Light" failed to make a real mark and the group's progress stalled a bit, Jaiq left the group. Afterwards, Leonard sang lead on two more songs under the Fashioneers moniker, again releasing both on 45's. These are the equally great "Give a Helping Hand" (coming soon!), and the softer and less memorable "Give Me Right Now."

By 1980, none of the three singles by the Fashioneers had garnered much attention, and Leonard dissolved the group and was seeking members for a new group, to be dubbed The Mighty Abidjans. In this group Leonard was joined by new members Glenford McLeggan and Kingsley Irons. Glenford played some instruments but had never previously recorded, while Kingsley had been a member of The Shockers in the late 1960's (anyone know about them?). It was this trio that cut the Abidjans' first tune "Whip Them Jah Jah", which in addition to its Jamaican release, was licensed to April Records in America. The New Jersey label is now best known for releasing the classic albums by the Mighty Threes. Shortly after this, Leonard again approached Jaiq about joining his group. Jaiq agreed, and the new four man Mighty Abidjans group returned to Channel One in 1980, this time to cut one of Jaiq's new compositions, "Untamed." To our ears one of the fiercest songs of self-determination ever to come from Jamaica, the boldness of the lyrics had a rhythm to match, a very tough one from the emergent Roots Radics Band, who were now resident at Channel 1. A while later in 1981, the group decided to try their hand at an updated version of The Fashoineers' "Guiding Light." Remixing and revoicing the original 1975 rhythm track, and adding percussion overdubs by Bongo Herman, the tune came out arguably harder and better than before. Both songs were again released on Swing Bird 45's, with "Untamed" catching the attention of the fledgling No. 1 Rock label in the UK, who after hearing the 45, wrote the band a letter asking to release a discomix version for them in the UK. The group agreed, and returned to Channel 1 studio to voice a deejay piece to be added to the vocal cut. Though uncredited on the subsequent twelve inch, the deejay on the record was actually group member Kingsley Irons. It would seem even with the disco release in the UK, "Untamed" also failed to bust the group out further, despite them also having a nearly full page write up with band photo in the Jamaica Star newspaper appearing shortly after the song's release. A scan of this article can be seen below. Differing opinions within the group and slow progress again made Jaiq look elsewhere, and by later in 1982 he had left the group. Sometime shortly after, the remaining members managed one last attempt, cutting and releasing two more 45's, "Oh No Girl", another soft lovers number, and "Don't Change the System", which re-uses the rhythm from "Untamed" but with a much more straight mix. And it seems as though the story ends there, as quietly as they made this handful of now-classics, they were done, the group finished and the members going their separate ways. But we're thankful for the perseverance they showed in the tough JA music business, because it left us with these gems to discover years later, to finally be recognized worldwide as among the high water marks of their moment in Jamaican music.


Jaiq Sterling Discography


The Soul Might > The Destroyers > The Soulites - 1969-1971
Jaiq Sterling, Darvel Weir, Carlton Paterson (later producer of the Black & White label)

The group's first ever recording was for Lloyd 'Matador' Daley in 1969.
The Soul Might aka The Destroyers aka The Scorchers - Dengue Fever (Matador FLD 7759 FRM)
Note: The name 'The Scorchers' is a posthumous mis-crediting by the producer Lloyd 'Matador' Daley, as the Soul Might/Destroyers are NOT the group who did the song 'Ugly Man.' Their original name was the Soul Might which at the time of the recording, the producer asked they change to 'The Destroyers.'

Their next recordings were for Coxsone Dodd/Studio 1, several songs were recorded, beginning in 1969. Arriving at Studio 1 as 'The Destroyers', the group changed their name to 'The Soulites' after realizing their was now another group called 'The Destroyers.' Please note that this 'Soulites' is not the group who recorded 'Rise & Shine' on the Gemini label, that is yet another group. The Soulites also did harmonies for other (solo) artists at Studio 1. Jaiq recalls one such song as "Wednesday's Child" by one Frank Diamond. This artist and song is unknown to me, possibly unreleased, any further info is appreciated. All day rehearsals and sessions at Studio 1 are also recalled, with other artists such as The Cables and The Royals also alternately rehearsing and recording throughout the day.

Recordings:
The Destroyers aka The Soulites - Burning a Pagan aka On That Day (blank - DYNA CS 337-1 LGA) Note: The group gave this song the title 'Burning a Pagan', as evidenced by handwriting on some original copies, but it came to alternately/posthumously be known as 'On That Day.' Please note the song on the other side of this blank, known as "The Good You Do" is NOT by the Soulites.
The Destroyers aka The Soulites - Spirit Down Here Below (Studio 1 blank - DYNA CS 1076-1)
also released on Bamboo (UK) as BAM34B, incorrectly credited as "Feeling Good" by Brentford Rd. All Stars.
The Soulites - Love Me Tonight (Studio 1 blank - C&N 2-IV / Bamboo UK BAM 27-A)
Note: The tune 'Botheration' on the flip side of the Bamboo UK issue of 'Love Me Tonight' is mis-credited, it is NOT by the Soulites.
According to Jaiq, unreleased songs include: "I Was Lonely", "Pick Me Up" (the rhythm for this tune was later re-used by John Holt for 'Anywhere'), and approximately two more songs for which the titles cannot be recalled.

After the break up of the Soulites circa 1971, Jaiq moved on to -

The Black Hunters (1975)
Denson Brown, Fil Callendar (of In Crowd Band, Studio 1 band, etc.), Jaiq Sterling

Don't Be Afraid (Leo - Leo 001 - DB 2375 A/B)
Bril Creme (Leo Leo - 002 - DB 7852 A/B)
Notes: Both recorded at Black Ark Studio, rhythms by the In Crowd Band. The Black Hunters did one more recording called 'Trod' later on, which Jaiq did not participate in.

and then on to -

The Fashioneers (1975-1980)

Jaiq Sterling, Pixley Brown, Leonard Billings
Guiding Light (Swing Bird - LB 3238 A/B) 1975
Notes: "Guiding Light" was recorded and mixed at Channel 1 and backed by the Revolutionaries, on this session recalled as: Sly Dunbar - drums, Ansel Collins - keyboard, Radcliffe 'Dougie' Bryan - lead guitar, Ranchie McLean - bass, Robbie Shakespeare - rhythm guitar (?). Jaiq left the group after 'Guiding Light' and does not appear on The Fashioneers two other released recordings, 'Give a Helping Hand' or 'Give Me Right Now.' Leonard Billings sings lead vocals on those songs.

By 1980, The Fashioneers had broken up, and Jaiq rejoined Leonard Billings to form the Mighty Abidjans, along with two others.

The Mighty Abidjans (1980-1982)

Jaiq Sterling, Leonard Billings, Kingsley Irons, Glenford McLeggan
Untamed (Swing Bird - DSR 0913-AS / DSR 0914) 1980
Guiding Light (Swing Bird - DSR 2796 A DT G MCLEGGAN / DSR 2797 B DT G MCLEGGAN) 1981
Notes: "Guiding Light" is a new mix and voicing of the original 1975 Fashioneers rhythm, with added percussion overdubs by Bongo Herman. "Untamed" is backed by the Roots Radics Band. Both songs recorded & mixed at Channel 1. Jaiq does not appear on 'Whip Them Jah Jah', which was done before he joined the group, or 'Oh No Girl' and 'Don't Change the System', as those were done after he left the group. 'Don't Change the System' re-uses the rhythm from 'Untamed.' 'Untamed' was also released on the No. 1 Rock label in the UK, with a deejay part added after the vocal, and a dub on the flip side. The label owner wrote a letter to the group in Jamaica, asking to release it in UK after hearing the JA single on Swing Bird. The deejay piece was cut specifically for release on this 12". The (uncredited) deejay part was done by Kingsley Irons, member of the group.

and lastly in Jamaica -

Furnace (1982)
Jaiq Sterling, Kingsley Irons, Ras Harper
After leaving the Mighty Abidjans in 1982, but before migrating to Canada in 1984, Jaiq formed a group named Furnace, who recorded two songs at Channel 1, backed by the Roots Radics, and produced by Niney the Observer.
songs titles were:
Keep Cool in a Dancehall
Cool Natty
As far as we know, neither song was ever released.

In 1984 Jaiq migrated to Canada, where he has continued to sporadically perform and record over the years, producing himself but also having done songs for Canadian-based producer Oswald Miller. Anyone seeking to contact Jaiq can contact us and we will put you in touch.

MIGHTY ABIDJANS IN THE JAMAICA STAR, CIRCA 1981


JAIQ STERLING CIRCA LATE 1970'S




1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a wicked set of releases!