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 Derrick Morgan

‘King of Ska’ makes immense contribution apart from own songs

Last week’s Music Diaries on Jamaican ska singer Eric ‘Monty’ Morris again brought into sharp focus Derrick Morgan’s colossal contribution to the development of Jamaican popular music.

During the early 1960s, when the driving rhythm of ska dominated the Jamaican music scene, he was the singer, above all others, whom aspiring artistes sought to emulate. Morgan was so popular that at one time he held the top seven positions on the Jamaican music charts – a record that is unlikely ever to be broken and a feat that helped him earn the reputation as ‘The King of Ska’.

But if one were to measure Morgan’s contribution to Jamaican music merely on the basis of those achievements, we would be doing him an injustice. His contribution transcends those boundaries and goes into other areas.

His assistance to Morris, getting him into studio for his debut recording Now We Know in 1959 (on which Morgan accompanied Morris), was perhaps Morgan’s first venture outside of his personal recordings. A year or so later Morgan again took Morris into studio, this time under the production of Prince Buster. The result was Morris’ first big hit, Humpty Dumpty, which catapulted him into prominence by breaking into the top 10 of the Jamaican chart. Additionally, it was among the top 12 songs for 1961.

Eric Monty Morris

Eric Monty Morris

On that same recording session, Morgan recorded for Buster one of his most treasured early pieces, Shake A Leg. Morgan was, in fact, ‘killing two birds with one stone’, as the success of Humpty Dumpty launched Prince Buster’s career as a renowned record producer and businessman.

It didn’t happen by chance either, as Morgan related to me in a radio interview some years ago: “One day, on my way home, I met Buster, who asked me to help him out by doing some songs and starting a business. I helped him and later went with him to studio. He recordedThey Got to Go and I did Shake a Leg and then I took Monty with me and he did Humpty Dumpty. And that’s how we became friends in the music.”

Late in 1962, a young singer named Jimmy Cliff searched frantically for Morgan, who held the key to his future. Cliff had a song named Dearest Beverley which he wanted to record. However, upon approaching would-be producer Leslie Kong for sponsorship, Cliff was told to find Morgan and bring him to perform an audition, as he (Kong) was a novice in the business.

Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff


In an interview with me, Morgan expanded on the episode: “It was the first I was seeing and meeting Jimmy, who was named Cliff by Kong. He told me that Kong wanted me to listen to a song he had and, if it sounded good, I should take him back to Kong. Jimmy had a song named Dearest Beverley, named after the restaurant that Kong owned, and I tell him that one was too slow. He needed something faster. So he said, ‘I have another one named Hurricane Hattie‘, and I said, ‘Let’s hear it’. So I helped Jimmy out with it and set up that one, and he took me to meet Leslie.”

Cliff followed up with other successes like Miss JamaicaKing of Kings, and several others. Morgan seized the opportunity to record two songs for Kong – Sunday Monday and Be Still, which launched Kong’s successful producing career. Morgan boastfully stated that he wrote Be Still against Owen Grey, who on the same session boasted that hisDarling Patricia was the best of the lot. All were number-one songs.

Apart from recording for Kong, Morgan also helped him recruit new acts. He auditioned and passed, among others, a young aspiring singer named Robert Nesta Marley, who debuted with Judge Not.

Morgan was again on the topic of boasting when he brought his long-time singing partner, Millicent Todd (Patsy) into the music business with one titled Love Not to Brag in 1963. The lyrics go in part:


“Love not to brag, love not to boast my son,

Grief comes to those who always like to brag the most.”


Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan

Backed by the Drumbago All-Stars Band, it was also a big hit in Jamaica that year for producer Duke Reid.

By 1967, Morgan was again at his heroics, when he brought the larger-than-life record producer and his eventual brother-in-law, Bunny ‘Striker ‘ Lee, into the business.

Lee said: “When I was doing my first production, Do It To Me Baby by Lloyd and the Groovers, Derrick helped me run the session and got me into the business. He was my teacher, my friend, and later became my brother-in-law.”

Lee also dubs Morgan one of the first deejays, as he rapped on perhaps the most popular instrumental piece of that period, One Thousand Tons of Megaton, produced by Lee.

By 1968, Morgan was into the production business, having under his belt Lloyd and Devon’s big rocksteady cut Red Bumb Ball. That same year, Morgan was responsible for the hugely successful pop-a-top series of songs, when the rhythm of his re-recorded version of Fatman was extensively used.

Four years later (1972), he copped the first runner-up prize in the Festival Song competition with Festival 10. That same year he produced Max Romeo’s Let the Power Fall on I, which helped in no small way to win the general elections for the People’s National Party (PNP) that year.

Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan

Morgan’s music exploits continued in 1998, 2000 and 2002, when he wrote three winning Festival Competition songs – Jamaica Whoa(performed by Neville Martin), Fi Wi Island a Boom (performed by Stanley Beckford) and Progress (performed by Devon Black), respectively.

Derrick Morgan’s contribution to Jamaican music is immense. His achievements become even more amazing when one considers that he did most of these things while blind.

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