Der­rick Har­riott hits in dif­fer­ent voices

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT -

THREE DIS­TINCT phases to his ca­reer – two with the Jiv­ing Ju­niors and one as a solo artiste; two dif­fer­ent voices that cre­ated hits for nearly three decades. Th­ese are cre­den­tials that be­long to only one man in Ja­maica’s pop­u­lar mu­sic his­tory: the leg­endary Der­rick Har­riott.

Har­riott had hits us­ing both his tenor and falsetto voices for nearly three decades. Like many of Ja­maica’s suc­cess­ful singers in early pop­u­lar mu­sic, Har­riott be­gan with a group be­fore mak­ing the tran­si­tion to solo artiste.

How­ever, he took a dif­fer­ent route from his con­tem­po­raries in mak­ing that tran­si­tion as he per­formed with the group, The Jiv­ing Ju­niors, in two dif­fer­ent phases of their ex­is­tence – one phase in Ja­maica and the other in New York.

Al­though us­ing two dif­fer­ent line­ups (Har­riott sang with both sets), the group man­aged to re­tain its char­ac­ter­is­tic sound, while Har­riott had hit record­ings with both sets. Har­riott said that in or­der to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween both sets, he la­belled them The Ja­maican Jiv­ing Ju­niors and The New York Jiv­ing Ju­niors.

The ge­n­e­sis of the orig­i­nal Jiv­ing Ju­niors (the Ja­maican set) was rooted in the duo ‘Sang and Har­riott’ (Claude Sang Jr and Der­rick Har­riott), two mu­si­cally in­clined school­mates at Ex­cel­sior High School, where Har­riot’s un­cle, Wes­ley A. Pow­ell (pop­u­larly know as WAP), was head­mas­ter.

Tem­po­rar­ily cap­tur­ing a pi­ano from the main assem­bly hall, the duo would, of­ten cre­ate a stir dur­ing class-time as they sought to sharpen their mu­si­cal skills. At times, it didn’t go down too well with WAP, who didn’t tem­per his puni­tive ac­tions of is­su­ing de­ten­tions to the duo be­cause of fam­ily ties. But it be­came very in­ter­est­ing when the very head­mas­ter who is­sued de­ten­tions turned around and in­cluded the duo in con­certs and fundrais­ing events for the school.

With the over­whelm­ing re­sponse of school­mates and fans, Har­riott’s con­fi­dence grew to the ex­tent that he be­gan to fancy his chances of win­ning on the pop­u­lar ‘Vere Johns Op­por­tu­nity Hour Tal­ent Show’.

He made a bid in 1955 with the pop­u­lar Amer­i­can R&B song When You Dance by the Tur­bans. Har­riott nar­rowly missed the fi­nal round but was de­ter­mined and en­tered two years later with his school­mate, Claude Sang Jr, who sang and played pi­ano along with Har­riott’s vo­cals. They went on a win­ning streak there­after, earn­ing for the duo their big­gest pay­day. With the ‘Vere Johns Op­por­tu­nity Knocks’ (a ra­dio show), and Bim and Bam shows around the is­land giv­ing them worth­while ex­po­sure, the duo soon set their sights on the record­ing stu­dio.

Sang and Har­riott made their de­but with Lol­lipop Girl at the Stan­ley Motta Stu­dio. The record­ing, which con­tained only vo­cals by Claude Sang Jr and Der­rick Har­riott, pi­ano, back­ups by Sang Jr, and hand­claps by Har­riot and a friend, be­came so pop­u­lar that sev­eral sound op­er­a­tors jos­tled to get a hold of it. Ac­cord­ing to Har­riott, the Max­field Av­enue­based sound Thun­der­bird, who se­cured the first copy, had to lift the record nee­dle sev­eral times in or­der to ap­pease mu­sic fans.

The de­par­ture of Claude Sang Jr on an over­seas study course in 1958 prompted Har­riott to form a group which he called The Jiv­ing Ju­niors. The quar­tet con­sisted of Eu­gene Dwyer (bass), Mau­rice Wyn­ter (tenor and clown acts), Her­man Sang (pi­ano and vo­cals), and Har­riott (lead vo­cals). Their per­for­mances were spiced with comic sit­u­a­tions in which Wyn­ter was mainly the star.

In the mean­time, the hits con­tin­ued to flow with My Heart’s De­sire, An­swer Me, Dar­ling, and Over The River, known to some as I’ll Be Here When He Comes, a num­ber-one hit for pro­ducer Cle­ment Dodd in 1961.

Buoyed by the ser­vices of two Aus­tralian mu­si­cians on gui­tar and drums, along with an ex­hil­a­rat­ing trom­bone solo by the Ja­maican trom­bon­ist Rico Ro­drigues, Over The River, sung by Wyn­ter, Dwyer, Sang, and Har­riott (us­ing his tenor voice), was a ‘bluesy’ ska num­ber that be­came a favourite at dance­halls across Kingston.

De­spite pos­i­tive re­ac­tions to their shows and record­ings, Har­riott de­cided to mi­grate to New York in Au­gust of 1959 fol­low­ing per­sis­tent urg­ings by his mother but kept re­turn­ing at in­ter­vals to Ja­maica to do record­ings, which ex­plains Over The River and a redo ver­sion of Lol­lipop Girl for pro­ducer Duke Reid in 1960.

Al­though try­ing his hand at sev­eral jobs, Har­riott en­sured that he al­lo­cated time for his mu­sic ca­reer. It re­sulted in the for­ma­tion of


POP­U­LAR DE­BUT Der­rick Har­riott

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