By Howard Campbell—
IN early 1974, Antonio “Chips” Richards was a marketing man at Trojan Records. The British independent company, formed in 1968, was desperate for a hit song.
Richards thought Everything I Own, a mellow ballad by Ken Boothe, could break the drought. He was right.
Boothe’s reggae take on American group Bread’s 1972 hit topped the British national chart for three straight weeks in October 1974. Richards, who is visiting Jamaica, said it was a game-changer.
“Getting in the charts took a lot of strategy. First, we serviced it to the 360 record stores across the UK and then we got into the local radio stations,” he recalled. “You’ve got to remember, reggae didn’t have a mainstream audience.”
Richards started working with Trojan in early 1973. The label was founded by Lee Gopthal, a Jamaican of East Indian descent.
Trojan had a distribution deal with Island Records. It had mostly regional success with rocksteady songs in the late 1960’s and reggae songs at the dawn of the 1970’s.
Its biggest sellers were Lee “Scratch” Perry-produced albums like Soul Rebel by The Wailers and Return of Django by The Upsetters and Bob and Marcia’s Young, Gifted And Black.
The label’s clientele was Britain’s growing West Indian population and working class white youth.
Born in Kingston, Richards moved to the UK in 1962 at age 16. By the time he joined Trojan he had worked as “a background man”, servicing Jamaican music across the country.
British tastes, as far as Jamaican music went, had changed considerably since My Boy Lollipop and Israelites hit the national chart in the mid and late 1960’s.
“There wasn’t a lot of reggae on radio; you had a one-hour show on the BBC on Sundays and they basically played general releases. Producers were using strings in the songs for a commercial feel, to get on radio,” Richards explained.
Everything I Own was produced by Lloyd Charmers at Federal Studios in Kingston, and had been a hit in Jamaica. Competition in the UK was much more diverse and intense.
“We had groups like Slade, I remember the song Sad Sweet Dreamer was hot. I had a lotta doors slammed in my face for Everything I Own,” said Richards.
Eventually, Brits warmed to Everything I Own, which Richards estimates sold over 600,000. Boothe’s follow-up, Crying Over You, also did well and revived the reggae market.
According to Richards, Everything I Own was responsible for Jamaica-produced songs like Move Outa Babylon and Zap Pow’s This Is Reggae Music, entering the British chart.
In 1976, Junior Murvin breached the national chart with Police And Thieves. Althea and Donna did the same one year later with Uptown Top Ranking.
Gopthal sold Trojan Records in 1975 and died in 1997.
Richards started his Sky Note label which had major triumphs with British singer Carol Thompson and Alton Ellis. He was also one of the first persons to distribute reggae in Africa, most notably the music of Sonia Spence and Marcia Griffiths.