Listen To The Music

Peter Austin & The Clarendonians – I'm Sorry
Lloyd & The Groovers – Listen To The Music
Tommy McCook & The Supersonics – Killer Joe
Devon And The Tartans – Making Love
Alva Lewis With Lynn Taitt – Return Home
Chuck Jacques With Lynn Taitt And The Comets – Dial 609
The Unqiues – The Journey
The Kingstonians – Why Wipe The Smile From Your Face
The Clarendonians – I'll Never Try
Tommy McCook – Smooth Sailing
The Kingstonians – Love Is The Greatest Science
The Clarendonians – Lonely Heartaches
The Cool Cats – Hold Your Love
The Uniques With Caltone Studio Orchestra – Do Me Good
The Diplomats With Tommy McCook – Going Along
Lloyd And The Groovers – My Heart And Soul
Chuck Jacques & The Supersonics – Now That You're Gone
Eric 'Monty' Morris – Hear Them Say
Honey Boy Martin – Dreader Than Dread
King Rocky & The Willows – You Are The One
The Emotions With The Lynn Taitt Band – Gypsy

Blondel Keith Calneck better known as Ken Lack, was undoubtedly a hipster. His Caltone imprint was an unusual setup. Most record labels are usually like pyramids, with an MD/Producer at the top and artists, writers and staff below. Occasionally, a label springs forth that is a little out of the ordinary. Caltone was one such label, more of a coming together of ideas than a straightforward business proposition. it would be fanciful to describe it as a full on co-operative, but it certainly had more of a lateral feel to the way it operated than most record labels. Ken Lack was a businessman with a passion for music, a shopkeeper who indulged himself with his musical productions. His connections with Jamaica's top session players resulted in a series of 45s that were both tasteful and well produced. He has remained an enigmatic character to this day.

Ken Lack tour-managed the Skatalites along with PJ Patterson during the 1960s bringing him into contact with some of Jamaica's best musicians. he offered to pay for recordings by Tommy McCook and Johnny Moore, both members of the Skatalites while Don Drummond was still a member of the group. 'Jontom' was the label created to release the McCook and Moore productions. Caltone, an anagram of Ken Lack's name, released records in both Jamaica and the UK. There were other labels such as Shock and Jontom, but basically Caltone was his main Jamaican label. 15 Mark Lane in the downtown part of Kingston was the centre of operations for both Ken Lacks hardware shop and his record labels.

He maintained a loose arrangement with Rita & Benny, a Jewish couple that ran a shop in Stamford Hill, North London. Rita & Benny King (real name Isen) were some of the first people in the UK to release Jamaican music; their shop was a hub for many young Londoners hip to the burgeoning Jamaican music scene in the UK. Benny was often in Jamaica looking for music to release back home and to keep their shop well stocked with the hottest platters. Rita ran the shop and by all accounts was a formidable lady. They released some of Ken Lack's Jamaican Caltone records on their own labels such as Ska Beat, Jolly, Giant, R'n'B, King and, of course, the English Caltone label. Which brings us nicely to Bunny Lee. there are several essential musical train stations in reggae music and Bunny Lee is one of them. Trying to pass through the reggae rail network without stopping at the mainline station of Edward O'Sullivan Lee is just about impossible!! Along with several other key figures he seems to have been around forever and involved in many of the crucial developments of Jamaican music since its inception.

It was Bunny Lee and Phil Pratt who handled most of the hands-on production for Ken Lack although there was undoubtedly much input from Lynn Tait, Tommy McCook and Johnny Moore. Ernest Ranglin and Aubrey Adams also featured on many of the Caltone sessions as both players and arrangers.

The singer Max Romeo had worked as a plugger for Ken Lack as well as fronting the group Romeo & The Emotions. The other members of the Emotions were Kenneth Knight and Lloyd Shakespeare (brother of bass player Robbie). Joe Gibbs also worked for Ken Lack as a radio plugger for a short period of time.

Of the artists recording for Caltone, Peter Austin and the Clarendonians cut some of their hottest tunes for the label. their recordings for Studio One were in general smoother and a little more restrained as opposed to their Caltone output, which brimmed with exuberance and Peter Austin's extraordinary voice was much punchier and less restrained. 'I'm Sorry', 'I'll Never Try', 'Lonely Heartaches', are all essential Rocksteady gems.

The Tartans consisted of Prince Lincoln Thompson, Cedric Myton, Devon Russell and Lindberg Lewis. On the sublime 'Making Love' it's very much the Devon Russell show. With repeater drums thumping away in the background this is a peach of a record. Devon Russell's voice meshes perfectly with the soaring harmonies of his fellow Tartans. It was recorded and released on Caltone in Jamaica with a different mix before appearing on Nu Beat and Pama labels in the UK.

Alva 'Reggie' Lewis is perhaps better known for the many records featuring his guitar in the 1970s but he also cut a couple of records as a vocalist for Caltone, 'Suicide', which was on the 'Safe Travel' album, and 'Return Home', which kicks in with an outrageous drum solo before gliding into a lovely rocksteady vocal. Lynn Tait supplies the guitar colourings. Alva Lewis also recorded the same rhythm as 'Return Home' for Bunny Lee although with a different set of lyrics on the song 'Lonely Still'.

There was a rumor that Chuck Jacques may in fact have been Phil Pratt, but this theory in incorrect. According to Bunny Lee, Chuck Jacques is in fact more likely the Chuck Barry that sings with Joe White on several ska songs ('Anytime' & 'One Nation'). 'Dial 609' and 'Now That You've Gone' both inhabit the beat between Ska and Rocksteady. They get the full Caltone treatment with classy arrangements and tasteful horns. It's a characteristic of Caltone records to have superb horns and excellent arrangements.

The Uniques at that time had Roy Shirley in the group. The two songs included here are much more straight forward R&B than Rocksteady. Very Sam Cooke influenced. 'The journey' in particular makes it clear that Slim Smith would have been an exceptional singer in any genre of music he chose. 'Killer Joe' and 'Smooth Sailing' were recorded around late 1966 or early in 1967 by Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. 'Killer Joe' is a jazz standard originated by tenor saxophone player Benny Golson. The Supersonics version has an off-key feel but still flows beautifully; and on the original Jamaican Jontom label its an extremely hard to find record.

The Eric 'Monty' Morris track 'Hear Them Say' is on the flip side of the Jamaican release of 'Reach Out' by Phil Pratt. It was later released by Pratt on his Sunshot imprint but its original Jamaican release was a Pratt production for Ken Lack, most likely from around 1968 or 1969. 'Hear Them Say' does not fit neatly into the Rocksteady category or even early reggae but it's a great example of the kind of idiosyncratic record that's perfect for Caltone. Offbeat and original.

It seems sad that Ken Lack left Jamaica for the USA in the early 1970s and only returned briefly to visit members of his family. His Caltone label was a great example of what can be achieved with a small group of people working in unison. Ken Lack, along with Bunny Lee, Phil Pratt and the exceptional singers and players that recorded for Caltone, left a legacy that continues to resonate with lovers of Jamaican music wherever they are.

The music recorded at WIRL, Federal and Treasure Isle studios is filled with the kind of creativity and attention to detail that has made Caltone records so collectable to this day. Ken Lack died in 2001 in Miami, Florida of a heart condition. He left behind a unique set of recordings and should be remembered for bringing a more collaborative and cooperative spirit to Jamaican music.

Pete Holdsworth - 2012

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