THE STORY BEHIND “OH CAROLINA”
Marlon Burrell -////-
Did you know that the piano on the Folkes Brothers 1960 hit “Oh Carolina” was played by singer Owen Gray? The piano intro on the song was taken from the Rufus & Carla Thomas 1960 R&B hit “‘Cause I Love You” which holds the distinction of being the first hit on the Stax record label. Of course Mr. Gray is known for his singing and not his musicianship, though I’m told that he’s also an exceptional guitarist. As for the song “Oh Carolina,” it turned out to be the # 2 Record Of The Year on the JBC radio chart despite initially meeting resistance from radio executives to gain airplay due to the drumming of Rastafarian Count Ossie and his troupe on the record. It was the first record to feature Rastafarian or nyabinghi drumming. According to the record’s producer Cecil “Prince Buster” Campbell, the radio station’s initial explanation for rejecting the record was because it was not constructed like an American record (which was primarily what was played on Jamaican radio at the time.) Buster said that they eventually admitted that they were afraid that some of their advertisers would pull out because of the presence of Rastafarians on the record (Rastafarians considered social outcasts at the time!) The song only started getting airplay when the station was overwhelmed with requests due to the song’s popularity on sound systems.
The song’s writer John Folkes says that the first time the song was played on JBC, announcer Radcliffe Butler called it a “very controversial song.”
Folkes further reveals that they first rehearsed the song with Duke Reid, but decided to record it for Prince Buster instead, because Buster showed more interest in the song. Buster for his part, says that he booked JBC studio for the recording session and it was to be his first time using JBC. On the night of the scheduled session, Buster discovered that Duke Reid had bribed his way into booking the studio for the same time as Buster’s session. Buster was given a much smaller room upstairs in which he had to fit the three Folkes brothers, Count Ossie and four drummers, Owen Gray, and back up vocalist Skitter (of Bonnie & Skitter fame.) Buster says the session was very frustrating and lasted for eight hours. They ended up with “Oh Carolina,” “I Make A Man,” and “Chubby” by Skitter. We just never know what some of our classics went through before reaching their immortal status.