Derrick Harriott hits in different voices
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
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