Junior Murvin

Junior Murvin achieved fame as the falsetto singer of “Police And Thieves” which was an international hit for him and innovative reggae production artiste Lee “Scratch” Perry. The song has been covered by artists as diverse as The Clash and Boy George, and he has maintained his profile over twenty years after it was made. In the dancehalls Junior Murvin has scored with hits: the ultra easy skank of “Miss Kushie”, the seminal “Cool Out Son”, and others like “I’m In Love”, “Bad Man Posse” and “Muggers In The Street”; releasing enough material to maintain his reputation, without ever flooding the market. In late 1998 London-based Dubwise Productions were visiting Port Antonio in Jamaica where they were introduced to Junior Murvin. This led to the recording of the solid “Wise Man”, currently available on a 10″ single. Time to look back at the veteran singer’s musical career, who has indeed ‘come from very far’.

Junior Murvin was born Murvin Junior Smith. His father was a tailor and singer of ballads from St. James in Montego Bay. When he died Junior’s mother relocated the family to Port Antonio in the parish of Portland, where she was originally from. Junior Murvin began his singing career after going to school in Port Antonio and then in Montego Bay. He sang on stage shows in Montego Bay backed by either A.J. Brown or E.T. Webster. He remembers his first show was at Christmas promoted by Fanso.
He graduated to do mechanics at the Montego Bay Technical High School but “changed the vibe – music take over. From mi born me start sing y’know, when mi small me just have a talent, when I was growin’ up reach all 7 or 9 years old, used to sing Billy Eckstein songs and those big songs. Me find myself singing all different kind of voice – bass, treble y’know”. Junior’s main influences in his youth were ballads and soul classics by the likes of Billy Eckstein, Nat King Cole, Curtis Mayfield, Ben E. King, Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, Roy Hamilton and others.

Junior soon moved to Kingston where the growing recording industry was based: “I left Montego Bay now, I went to Kingston to live with me aunty in Trenchtown. There I get to know Delroy Wilson, Stranger Cole, the whole a the Wailers, Ken Boothe, he was from Denham Town. I get to know Alton Ellis, he always like how I sing, an tell me say ‘youth you’re goping to make it y’know’, an Ken Boothe always say ‘youth you have to come harder y’know, cause me know you have it’. A guy name Jackson Jones taught me to play guitar, used to carry me up and down, everywhere I used to go and sing they used to say ‘soul soul soul’ so they just call me Junior Soul. Monty Morris usually help me to sing in time y’know, taught me harmony, also Derrick Harriott taught me harmony”.

He began his recording career as Junior Soul recording first for Sonia Pottinger’s Gayfeet label with “Miss Kushie” in 1966, and then “Slipping” and “Jennifer”. Derrick Harriott’s Crystal imprint also showcased this new talent with tunes like “Solomon” (written by Junior, re-recorded it became a hit for producer/singer Derrick Harriott), “One Wife”, “Hustler”, “Magic Touch”, “Big Boy”, “Glendevon Special”, “Chatty Chatty”, “Yellow Basket” and “Rescue Children” (which he later recorded for Lee Perry along with “Solomon”). While he was recording he also joined several live bands touring Jamaica playing to both locals and tourists, attracted by the fledging tourist industry. He was at one time part of the Hippy Boys singing with Max Romeo and backed by the riddim of Carlton and Familyman Barrett, and later the Mighty Falcons doing covers of the Stylistics, Chi-lites and Curtis Mayfield tunes. Other members of this last band included Dennis Brown, Noel Brown (of the Chosen Few) and Cynthia Schloss.

Junior Murvin continued to concentrate on live work with the Tornadoes who later became the Young Experience Band. These bands included Linford Richards, guitarist in Burning Spear’s band, female singer Carol “Passion” Nelson – who today, together with Barry O’Hare, runs the Ocho Rios-based X-Rated label – and bassist Earl Jackson from Native Studios amongst others. He played the hotel circuit and Kingston clubs like Merritone Discotek and The Sombrero, until the mid-seventies when the band became defunct and he had an idea for a song which had special qualities. At this time he needed a name change as there was another Junior Soul based in New York. Derrick Harriott who he had returned to see in Kingston suggested Junior Murvin. Co-incidentally Lee Perry also suggested Junior Murvin and that settled the name.

He had met Perry years before when Scratch auditioned singers who wanted to record at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One. Scratch introduced Junior Murvin to Coxsone Dodd as a singer with potential. Coxsone heard the song and told Junior to learn another verse to his song. Junior never returned and never recorded at Studio One. “I never had the patience to wait at that point”. He had come to Kingston to look for a producer for his song and this is how it happened: “It was a vibes y’know – of the producers at that time, only he could manage that heavy hardcore – cause I just get a vision to go to him and that was it. Lee Perry is the greatest producer I ever work with”. Together he and Scratch developed “Police And Thieves” and by its popularity was to prove the cry of the Jamaican people in the strife torn mid-seventies and early eighties. “He (Perry) always said to me ‘bwoy with the tune that you make you nah go dead’. True I was young I never realise what him a tell me – true he was older than me – but now me start get bigger me understand”. Junior and Scratch developed a relationship where they counteracted each other: “Me give Lee Perry nuff idea too y’know nuff idea. Him like work with me too… we have same idea, some time me have the idea before him – him say ‘When you have it ?’. He is a man who when you have voicing – him can talk through the mic and tell you three bars before the bridge comes – he just phrase in your ears – remind you say ‘Junior phrase away now remember the bar a come, phrase away now the bar a come now-hit it!’. (Laughs) When you’re voicing he’s talking through the mic in your ears – coming down with the music y’know and dancing too – give you a vibes. …..Him a dance and a mix, people who play instrument them always dance, but he’s the only man who I see mix and dance….”.

Perry had recently contracted to do work for Island Records and so they began working on an album, which resulted in the classic “Polives And Thieves” set. The songs were written by both Perry and Junior, who sees writing songs as “how we get to our reggae foundation – it’s a biblical form it come to me spiritually – difference is that I find myself a sing from proverbs – me can’t sing nothing impossible and nothin go happen – always come reality or when it come from proverbs a come to teach to tell the youth a nah do that. Me never did know still until when me get older me really find out… and then Winston Barnes (a Jamaican broadcaster) now start call me that on the radio, ‘me a proverbs man’. It come so to, like they come in a message y’know you have to put them together. It might take a time to put them together sometimes three or four weeks, like when you build a house you have to build it strong”.

The songs on this classic album were “Roots Train”, the title track, “Solomon”, “Rescue Jah Children”, “Tedious”, “False Teachin'”, “Easy Task”, “Lucifer”, “Workin’ In The Cornfield” and “I Was Appointed”. Island Records also released “Police And Thieves”, “Tedious” / “Memories” and “Closer Together” (written by Curtis Mayfield), on the 12 inch format with extended Upsetter mixes. The Upsetter sound was unique and as Junior Murvin says: “Lee Perry’s 4 tracks sound like 8 track, some time it sound like 100 track (laughs). Scratch used to say him nah change cause it’s four generations y’know”.

At this time further releases on 12 and 7 inch format came out on Jamaican pressings. These included two on the “Police And Thieves” riddim, titled “Bad Weed” and “Philistines On The Land”, alternative mixes of Tedious”, “False Teachin'” and “Roots Train” with Dillinger as the toaster on the extended mix. In 1980 a 12 inch on Black Ark International emerged with two further tracks “Crossover” and “I’m In Love”, which have the sound of those classic sessions. After the success of the first album Scratch asked Junior Murvin to find a backing band – who became known as the Apostles aka Jahpostles – a further album’s worth of material was recorded that still lies on master tape.

With success Junior Murvin was in demand, and he went on to record songs with the Mighty Two – Joe Gibbs and the late Errol Thompson – including “Time Stiff”, “Right Lick”, “Idle Dog Worry Sheep” and the impassioned dancehall favourite on the Real Rock riddim, “Cool Out Son”. The song began when the guitarist in one of the touring bands Junior was in, was feeling downhearted after too many rehearsels. junior said to him “patient man ride donkey” *) and the idea for the song just followed – cool out son.

He returned with “Load Shedding” with GG Ranglin in 1978. In the early eighties he made an album with Mikey “Dread At The Controls” Dread called “Bad Man Posse”, with the title track asking young men to stay away from bad posses in this turbulent time. He recorded again in the mid-eighties with Henry “Junjo” Lawes, who released the album “Muggers In The Street” and the singles “Strike And Demonstration”, “Poison Dart”, “Jamaican Girl” and the title track, a recut of “Police And Thieves”. Soon after this, in 1986, he began a project with Prince Jammy who was the top producer at the time. The album “Apartheid” was released along with the singles “On The Level” on the Boxing riddim, “Lawman And Gunman” and the heavy “Cool Down The Heat” over the riddim that Nitty Gritty masterfully sang “Run Down The World”.

Beres Hammond was present at this session. “He always there when I voice a tune… stay and listen to me – always come in and say ‘wha’appen you want a harmony’ – when me a voice the same tune “Shot A Lick, (Cool Down The Heat), down at Jammys. Beres was down there too – most of the songs me a voice him a always deh deh – like a co-incidence me no know. He always tell you someting say ‘Junior that ting there it bad you know. Do more a dat, y’understand what me a say’ – give me a vibe and him give vibe to the studio more time y’know.”.

Junior Murvin recorded “Make It And Set It” on King Tubby’s Saurus label and “I’m Fresh” on Sunset in 1987. He reappeared in 1989 with an album produced by Al Campbell called “Signs And Wonders”. Junior has also recorded material for Bobby “Digital” Dixon, the New Name label, Freddie McGregor’s studio, and other studio’s / producers, some of which is still unreleased. In the last few years Junior Murvin has been recording again. He has recorded a self-produced album called “World Cry” for the Sunvibes label, who he did a tour with in Germany in the mid-nineties. Recently he voiced two as yet unreleased tracks for a German label, which he called “Weapon Of Destruction” and “Keep Your House In Order”.

He has also released a number of 7 inch titles on his Murvin label including recuts of “Bad Man Posse” and “Police And Thieves”, and new titles “Go For It”, “Girl Come On Back” and “Puss And Dog”. Junior has maintained a presence in the dancehalls recording specials for local sounds Love Stone and Mandela, as well as bigger sounds like Exodus, Killamanjaro, Saxon, 4 By 4 and others. Junior Murvin attributes his longevity to healthy living – “I’m fit – take a whole heap a exercise, nah smoke or drink – a whole heap a exercise and less woman, one woman and your body and your mind and your soul. Music is a spiritual vibes y’know not a thing to boast over – a talent from God y’understand. I tried to avoid the whole heap of tours, it’s not good for your voice too. Much tour really wear you out. Singing is a thing you’ve got to be disciplined and if you sing in a high pitch you have to be more, you have to discipline your body more.
…and less problems – don’t think pon certain things. If it upsets me I don’t think about it – go with the flow – me don’t really deal with competition, wish everybody the best. If you do things spiritually you don’t have no problems !”.

*) It is customary that travellers in great hurry are loath to go via the slow but sure donkey. For them, a horse, used to galopping in at terrific speeds for sustained periods seems a more logical choice. However, the donkey, although much slower, eventually gets to its journey end. Similarly, we must exercise great patience in order to reach our goals.
From: ‘The Jamaican Handbook Of Proverbs’ – Vivien Morris Brown – Island Heart Publishers – 1993.


Also Issued in Step Forward Issue 1 / DW007, Spring 1999.

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