REVIEW: Derrick Harriot and the Crystalites – The Undertaker

By Gerry McMahon

Derrick Harriot and his musical accomplices the Crystalites are truly unsung heroes of the reggae and rocksteady revolution. In this classic release, Cherry Red records have compiled a classy compendium of 53 crucial cuts (across 2 CDs) – incl. 14 invigorating instrumentals – serving to remind us of the role and status of one of the genre’s pioneers. 

Harriot is renowned for his versatility and rigorous approach – both characteristics that are evident aplenty on this release. And thanks to the accompanying 16-page booklet, his array of renowned musical aficionados is revealed, to include the Barrett brothers, Boris Gardner, ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, ‘Gladdy’ Anderson, ‘Easy Snappin’ Beckford, ‘Deadley’ Hedley, Bobby Ellis, Vin Gordon, ‘Bongo Herman’ and Bingy Bunny. With that line up, it would be hard to go wrong – and this release never does. 

It is described as a long overdue issue of Harriot and the Crystalites’ seminal best seller instrumental album from 1970, embellished by the group’s remaining recordings from that time, together with a tasty selection of Harriot’s vocal productions from the ‘boss reggae’ era. Notably, most of this material has been unavailable in the 50 years since its first release, whilst – for those hoarding worn-down vinyl – it will be of note that 9 tracks are new to the CD format. 

Reflecting the trend of the time, the first CD plays to a range of macho themes from America’s Wild West, with images of – if you can park their political perspectives – Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Lee Van Cleef abounding. And just when one thinks that the sound might get monotonous, the tracks spring to life with rhythmical and instrumental variation, serving to make this a ‘must have’ collector’s item.

Stand out tracks include ‘True Grit’ with its inspired bongo playing, and ‘Lady Madonna’ with its brilliant brass cum organ effects. Fortunately, the organ doesn’t hold back on the ‘Dr. Who’ and (foot-stomping and haunting) ‘Stop That Man’ tracks either, whilst many will jive to the easy swing and brassy effects in ‘Short Story’. And for those wanting to shed some calories, it would be hard to beat the pacey rhythms of ‘Stranger In Town’ and ‘Heavy Load’. Watch out too for the wonderful wind instrument effects on the Crystalites’ ‘The Undertaker’s Burial’.

The second CD includes an array of legendary household names, including Junior Murvin, Eric Donaldson, the Ethiopians and the ‘rhythm master’ Glen Brown. It is peppered with a selection of predominantly pacey hot-steppin romantic productions, though the characteristically captivating Ethiopians’ ‘No Baptism’ ranks highly among the exceptions.So also does the Crystalites’ ‘Isis Part 2’, where the seductively slow sax steals the show.

All round, this release is a welcome reminder of where Bob Marley and his fellow reggae-troubadors came from. Thanks to this release, Harriot’s role in the birth and boom of the genre will not be forgotten. 


Disc One
1.   THE UNDERTAKER – The Crystalites
2.   BOMBSHELL – The Crystalites
3.   THE OVERTAKER – The Crystalites
4.   BIAFRA – The Crystalites
5.   REGGAE SHOWDOWN – The Crystalites
6.   A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS – The Crystalites
7.   MUSICAL MADNESS – The Crystalites
8.   TRUE GRIT – The Crystalites
9.   LADY MADONNA – The Crystalites
10. THE BAD – The Crystalites
11. DR WHO – The Crystalites
12. THE BAREFOOT BRIGADE – The Crystalites

Bonus Tracks
13. A SHORT STORY – The Crystalites *
14. STRANGER IN TOWN – The Crystalites
15. ISIES PART 1 – The Crystalites *
16. SPLASH DOWN – The Crystalites
17. STOP THAT MAN – The Crystalites
18. GHOST RIDER – The Crystalites
19. THE UNDERTAKER’S BURIAL – The Crystalites
20. DON’T LOOK BACK – The Crystalites
21. SLIPPERY – The Crystalites
22. HEAVY LOAD – The Crystalites *
23. TONIGHT – The Crystalites
24. SIC HIM ROVER – The Crystalites
25. COOL IT – The Crystalites *
26. GOLDEN CHICKENS – The Crystalites

Disc Two
1.   LEMI LI – Rudy Mills
2.   THE HUSTLER – Junior Murvin
3.   YABA YAH FESTIVAL – Keith & Tex
4.   SHE’S GONE – Tinga & Ernie
5.   TEARS ON MY PILLOW – Rudy Mills
6.   COME A LITTLE CLOSER – The West Indians
7.   RUN NIGEL RUN – The Chuckles
8.   A HEAVY LOAD – Rudy Mills
10. DOWN THE STREET – Keith & Tex
11. NO BAPTISM – The Ethiopians
12. WHOLESALE LOVE – Rudy Mills
13. OLD OLD SONG – Tinga & Ernie *
15. COME HOME – The Chuckles
16. A HANDFUL OF FRIENDS – Pat Satchmo
17. ISIS PART 2 – The Crystalites *
19. CANDY – Derrick Harriott *
20. TIGHTEN UP YOUR GIRD – Keith & Tex
21. GOOD AMBITION – The Ethiopians
22. TIME IS ON MY SIDE – Rudy Mills
23. LOVE I – Glen Brown
24. HEAR THAT TRAIN – Tina Stewart
25. LOOK TO THE SKY – Keith & Tex
26. GOODY GOODY – Rudy Mills *
* Tracks new to CD