By Howard Campbell—
OF the countless songs guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith has played on, Fade Away holds a special place. He also wrote and produced the timeless track sung by Junior Byles.
On Sunday, the respected session musician pays tribute to the troubled singer with a performance at the Dub Club in Jack Hills, St Andrew. This year marks the 45th anniversary of Beat Down Babylon, Byles’ classic song and album produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry.
For Smith, Byles’ rehabilitation is personal.
“A lotta artist dat dem rate like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown an’ Alton Ellis, Junior Byles is one of dem artist dey, based on di kinda music him have. Him still alive; all him want is some treatment,” Smith told the Jamaica Observer.
Smith was only 19 in 1974 when he wrote and produced Fade Away, which is inspired by a line from Psalms 18. The song was recorded at Channel One with Theophilus “Snapping” Beckford on piano, Carlton “Santa” Davis on drums and George “Fully” Fullwood playing bass.
For Fade Away, he borrowed from Perry’s genius.
“Curly Locks has no guitar, so it have a different feel. I always wanted to do a song wid dat kinda vibes,” Smith explained.
Fade Away is a favorite at dances to this day, but Smith is angered that it has been “exploited” by record companies, producers and publishers over the years. This, he said, prevents Byles from earning as a performer.
From the Waltham Park area of Kingston, Kerry “Junior” Byles worked as a fireman while recording for producers such as Joe Gibbs and Perry. The latter is responsible for his biggest hits, including the provocative Curly Locks and yearning Place Called Africa, both of which Byles wrote.
Smith, whose extensive credits includes albums with Marley, Brown and Jimmy Cliff, plans to record new versions of those songs and Beat Down Babylon with contemporary artists to help introduce Byles to a new generation. He also hopes to stage an unplugged ‘Evening With Junior Byles’ event early this year.