BYRON LEE & THE DRAGONAIRES
First Class With Lee
256+ VBR LAME mp3
Vinyl rip & scans from Soul BLP-008
"Music is a vitamin." - Byron Lee
Sweet little score from a few weeks ago, I found this in a dollar bin with a practically pristine cover and the vinyl condition G to VG. Truth be told, it don't matter what condition its condition's in, if I see a Byron Lee in a buck bin I'm in!
Originally this was supposed to be a light post since Byron's story is thoroughly covered at his site. However, when I went back there today after a couple weeks it was offline. I was able to grab the text from Google's cache and thought I'd back it up here just in case! If you're still hungry for The Dragon, there's more bio info at BigUpRadio & AMG while Paris DJs Sound System has a nice tribute mix to Byron and lotsa links in the extensive discography below.
2 My Pussin
3 From Russia With Love
4 What Now My Love
5 The Girl From Ipanema
6 I Will Follow You
7 VC 10 Calypso
8 Maria Elena
9 I Will
10 I Can't Help Myself
11 Jamaica Farewell
12 Mona Lisa
All text below in smaller font is from www.byronleemusic.com, is entirely their property and reproduced here without permission but not for profit.
46 YEARS OF THE DRAGON
MUSICIAN, BUSINESSMAN, GENIUS
Foresight, professionalism, vigour, and commitment are a just a few of the principles that govern the life of a man many call the Dragon. The name Byron Lee to those in the business means a man who can take an idea and market it with a sales force as competent as any major corporation. He is undoubtedly one of Jamaica’s finest musical ambassadors and with 46 years of experience and over 150 awards he continues to command respect and admiration world-wide.
“From the onset, I was determined that my band would be a band of well dressed, clean professionals. I am pleased to say that in all my years of touring we have never had any incident involving a member of my band whilst on tour,” he states. He attributes the success of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires to the image and reputation of a band, comprising of slick-looking members, which would take minimum breaks, play good music and ensure that patrons got their monies worth. For persons who know Byron Lee one comment is repeated over and over – that the Dragon demands respect and discipline from any person who he has to deal with. But it had to be hard work, discipline and commitment that made a band this successful.
Byron & The Dragonaires in Dr. No (1962)
Being well-dressed, clean, hard-working, disciplined and
committed helps. So does a cameo in a James Bond flick
Being well-dressed, clean, hard-working, disciplined and
committed helps. So does a cameo in a James Bond flick
Even though Byron Lee may have been able to read music in school, he had no pretensions to being a musician. Football was his first love, and scoring goals was what he did best. However, in a moment of wild abandon after the game, Byron and some of the boys – Carl Brady, Ronnie Nasralla, Alty East and Ronald Peralto - got together and, with some crude instruments, consisting of a door, a box for their drum, spoons, a grater for percussion, and Byron Lee with an antique guitar, harmonised.
"From my mother - who was of African descent - I received the soul, rhythm and love of music and from my father - who was Chinese - I received my shrewd business sense." - Byron Lee
Enthused and encouraged by old boys and friends, Byron and company approached their Alma Mater, St. George’s College for their first gig - a brief stint on the Bandstand at an Old Boys’ Dance for which they were paid the princely sum of £5. The year was 1956. In 1957 the band officially formed under the name Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and life would never be the same again. Ronnie Nasralla can remember Byron always splitting the money in two, and putting half to instruments and uniforms, the other half to pay the band. A trait he maintains to this day.
Byron brought to his band the same intensity that made him a soccer star, and made it distinctive. There have been more popular and more talented bands than Byron’s at one time or another, but to be able to hold a band together for 43 years is no easy feat. He was one of the first who understood that music is a business and from his group he demanded respect and discipline and got it.
He in turn tried to give the crowd that followed him, a slick-looking band that would take minimum breaks, play good music and give your money’s worth. The Dragon’s “no bull” attitude helped shape the current industry. He was against musicians being slighted by management be it clubs or individual. Byron, along with other major players in the music industry revitalised the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, enlarging its membership with a band-registration drive, and giving its president Sonny Bradshaw the clout he needed to operate.
Spreading his wings, in 1965, Byron along with Ronnie Nasralla and Victor Sampson created Lee Enterprises, which over a period of time produced hit shows which included mega stars such as The Drifters, Jerry Butler, Chuck Jackson, Billy Stewart, King Curtis, Sammy Davis, James Brown and Al Green.
In 1968 he bought West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) and renamed it Dynamic Sounds. The company became a pioneer in the field of distributing foreign records for the major North American and European labels. During the 70's major international artistes frequented the company, including the Rolling Stones, Roberta Flack and the fledgling Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Assortment of WIRL and Dynamic Sounds label designs
At a time of life when most successful professionals would be slowing down, the Dragon continues to break new grounds. In 1990, he was to see his long time dream become a reality with the launching of Jamaica Carnival. In 1989 Byron Lee, along with a small band of believers, came together to plan what has since grown to become the biggest event in Jamaica.
Byron explained in an interview, “This is a dream I have nurtured for years and the right time is now. I wouldn’t be a Jamaican if I didn’t try to bring to my country, some of that happiness I see Carnival brings to other people." Twelve years later he still plays a very active role although the event has grown to encompass a National Committee.
What’s ahead for Byron Lee? "Well," he admits, “it is about time that I slow down and begin to take things a little easier. Now that my brain child (Jamaica Carnival) can stand on her own two feet, I feel comfortable now to sit back and watch it mature.” He made a half-hearted attempt in 1998 when he semi-retired from the organisation of Carnival. However, due to the special occasion of the Tenth Anniversary celebration, Byron decided to return from retirement in 1999 to once again lead the organisation of a Parade the likes of which has never been seen in the history of Jamaica Carnival. He was recently inducted into his College’s Hall of Fame for his contribution to the development and growth of the music industry.
During Trinidad Carnival 2001, Byron was honoured by the Caribbean Brass Festival Organization for his contribution to the music industry. "This has just fanned the flames and made me want to continue for a while longer,” he boasts.
The Ska & Rock Steady Era
Glass Bucket, Sombrero and Copacobana clubs
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires moved into Ska quite easily when its moment of glory came in the early sixties. In fact, they backed the first group of Jamaicans, including people like Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan, Monty Morris and Jimmy Cliff, who tried to take the music international. Their "Jamaica Ska" was one of the first, probably the most evergreen of basic Ska hits of the beginning, the song went on to become an international success and was featured in an international hit movie.
When Rock steady came in the mid to late seventies, they were right there again with lead vocalist Hopeton Lewis being the first and biggest of the very early hit makers of that era with tunes like "Take it Easy."
Great Jamaican Ska
Ska, Jamaica's first self-developed style of music originated from the back streets of Kingston. But it was the major promotion launched by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires which placed the music of Ska on the international map. Through there more polished style of music, the band gained the interest first of the Jamaican middle and upper class, followed by the radio stations and eventually the Jamaican Government.
Their sublime performances coupled with special dance groups that demonstrated all Ska movements ensured that they played to packed venues every week. It was not surprising that the then government of Jamaica sponsored the group sending them to the 1964 World Fair in New York (the first overseas gig for the band), where Ska was performed to an international audience for the first time ever - the rest is history.
Noted ska greats such as Prince Buster, Justin Hinds & The Dominos, The Maytals, The Skatalites and Desmond Dekker & the Aces, helped to spread the music to the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
This is Rock Steady
Whilst there are no exact date for the beginning of the era of Rock Steady, we no that sometime during 1966, this music style emerged out of the hitherto prevailing musical craze in Jamaica called Ska.
As Rock Steady took over, the wind instruments, so dominant in Ska music, receded into the background, or in some cases disappeared altogether. The beat became slower, more "sleep-walkish", and might even be described as erotic. The wind instruments, which served to carry the melody during the ska era, was replaced by the electric bass.
Although rock steady, like ska, was superbly suited to dance evenings, during the rock steady era vocals - harmony and text together - were used to their best advantage.
The rock steady period of Jamaica’s musical history lasted only from around the summer of 1966 up until the end of 1967. The musical form that ultimately succeeded rock steady came to be known worldwide under the name reggae. By 1969, reggae music had completely taken hold of Jamaica. At just about every street corner in Kingston the latest numbers blared out from vast loudspeakers wired to record shops or local pubs. The new music form did not escape the attention of Byron Lee, and, in his newly opened Dynamic Studios situated on Bell road in Kingston, he and his band the Dragonaires went to work on recording the first-ever LP – Reggay Eyes.
Reggay - Reggae
The rock steady period of Jamaica's musical history lasted only from around the summer of 1966 up until the end of 1967. the musical form that ultimately succeeded rock steady came to be known worldwide under the name reggae. Just as with the transition from ska to rock steady, so too with the new reggae era there was no precise date, place or happening that marked its beginning.
By 1969, reggay music had completely taken hold of Jamaica. At just about every street corner in Kingston the latest numbers blared out from vast loudspeakers wired to record shops or local pubs. Some of the well-known his by popular artist/groups were Demonstration (Junior Byles), (Poor Mi) Israelites (Desmond Dekker), The Moonhop (Derrick Morgan), Too Proud To Beg (the Uniques), Reggae hit Town (the Ethiopians), Wonderful World, Beautiful People (Jimmy Cliff), Return of Django (the Upsetters) and So Long (the Cables).
The new music form did not escape the attention of Byron Lee, and, in his newly opened Dynamic Studios situated on Bell road in Kingston, he and his band the Dragonaires went to work on recording the first-ever LP with "reggay" in the title - Reggay Eyes. All the numbers on that LP were cover versions of popular hit songs of the moment that had been selected by Lee Perry (at that time A&R manager for Dynamic).
The Reggay Blast Off! collection consists primarily of his from 1969 - 1970 covered by the Band.
Soca Band Extraodinaire
The influences and early collaborations with Calypsonians such as the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Brynner and others led Byron Lee to carve a path for the band into Soca music.
It was at a performance in Trinidad & Tobago in 1963, that Byron Lee was to meet the Calypso King of the World – The Mighty Sparrow and form a bond that lasts to this day. From that day on, though still playing the music of Ska, Rock Steady, Mento, Reggae, Salsa – the Band started to move more towards the music of Calypso and Soca.
Byron Lee & the Dragonaires inimitable way of interpreting Calypso and Soca has let to commercial success, establishing a trend which now identifies the band primarily as one of the top Soca bands in the Caribbean. One of the most successful productions Sparrow Meets the Dragon was released in 1969 and the title track "Only A Fool" became a big hit worldwide.
Mighty Sparrow, Byron Lee & the Dragonaires - Only a Fool
1974 became another landmark in the career of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires when they were accepted into the prestigious Trinidad Carnival, playing in the road march with a Legendary Mas Band designer - Stephen Lee Hung.
By the 80s The Dragonaires were now a household name for Trinidad Carnival, carving inroads into a very insular society which guarded their Carnival closely. During this decade, the band under the musical directorship of Neville Hinds worked very hard to perfect the Soca beat which was to pay off very handsomely in 1985 with their song "Tiney Winey." The song went on to become one of the biggest hits for Carnivals in and around the Caribbean and the United States that year. But it was in 1989 that formal recognition was achieved when the band became the first non-Trinidadian band to win the Downtown Carnival Committee Award in Port-of-Spain for Best Playing Band.
Perhaps the greatest input of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires into the Caribbean musical potpourri was certainly their efforts to blend reggae as much as possible with Soca in over the last decade into what is now popularly known as Dancehall Soca. Songs such as "Soca Butterfly," "Soca Tatie" and "Dancehall Soca" have all had commendable success both at home and overseas. Their experiments have featured the Dragonaires with Soca giants like the Mighty Sparrow, Arrow and Gabby. "No other Soca band has been able to perfect that Dancehall Soca beat like the Dragonaires," boasts Byron Lee. This was proven when in 1993 when they won three awards at the South Florida Reggae/Soca Awards for their album Dancehall Soca and the tune of the same name.
Band in the late 80's
With over 105 awards to its credit, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires continue to take the sound of Soca music all over the world, performing in 36 cities annually. The band has evolved over the years, however with the exception of a few. Most members have been with the band 25 - 30 years. Today the Dragonaires feature three main vocals - Oscar Benjamin and Audra Perez from Trinidad and Tobago Jumo Primo from Guyana and Cedric Poitier from the Bahamas.
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires in 2006
1962 Come Fly With Lee
1963 The Sound Of Jamaica
1964 First Class With Lee
1964 Caribbean Joyride
1964 Hanging Up My Heart w/ Ken Lazarus at Ben The Balladeer
1964 Jump Up
1964 Plays Jamaica Ska at Global Groove
1966 Firefly Jump Up
1966 Christmas Party Time
1967 Rock Steady '67 at Skinhead Calamity
1967 Rock Steady Beat
1967 People Get Ready, This Is Rock Steady
1967 Rock Rock Steady at Rude Explosion!
196? Rock Steady Explosion
1968 Rock Steady Intesified
1968 Byron Lee & The Dragonaires
1968 Top Of The Ladder
1968 The Many Moods Of Lee
1969 Reggay Blast Off! at You & Me on a Jamboree!
1969 Reggay Eyes at what's in my iPod?
1969 Tighten Up at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1969 Sparrow Meets The Dragon at what's in my iPod?
1970 Goin' Places
1971 Reggae Splashdown
1972 Reggay Hot Cool & Easy at Rude Explosion!
1973 Reggay Roun' The World at JECKROOTSDJ
1974 Reggae Fever
1974 Dancing Is Forever
1974 Carnival In Trinidad
1975 Carnival 75
1975 Disco Reggae
1975 Midas Touch
1976 Reggay International at kaya na noite
1976 Six Million Dollar Man
1976 Byron Lee & the Dragonaires & Mighty Sparrow
1976 This Is Carnival at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1977 Art of Mas
1978 More Carnival
1979 Carnival Experience
1979 The Treasure Seekers OST
1980 Soca Carnival
1981 Carnival 81
1982 Byron 1982
1983 Soul Ska
1983 TNT Carnival City
1984 Heat In De Place
1984 Christmas In The Tropics
1985 Wine Miss Tiny at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1986 Soca Girl at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1987 Soca Thunder at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1988 De Music Hot Mama at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1989 Soca Bacchanal at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1991 Jamaica Carnival 90
1991 Carnival Fever
1992 Wine Down at ýlowek scavel-cronek
1993 Dancehall Soca
1994 Soca Butterfly
1995 Soca Tatie
1996 Soca Engine
1997 Trinidad Tobago Carnival City
1998 Soca Frenzy
1999 Soca Tremor
1999 Soca Fire Inna Jamdown Stylee
1999 Jump and Wave For Jesus
2000 Soca Thriller
2001 Soca Vibes
2002 Caribbean Sty-Lee
2003 Sexy Body
2004 Sweet Music
2004 Jump and Wave For Jesus Vol. 2
2005 Dance Party
2008 Soca Royal
Great Jamaican Ska at Rude Explosion!
Jamaica's Golden Hits Vols. 1 & 2 at Rude Explosion!
Jamaica's Golden Hits Vols. 3 at Rude Explosion!
Jamaican Ska & Other Jamaican Pary Anthems at U.N.C.L.E.
Byron was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, but that hasn't slowed him down as this interview from The Jamaica Star conducted last May clearly illustrates. Here's hoping that discography keeps expanding a while longer. BTW, if you can add any links (especially pre-75!), please leave 'em a comment.
Get bumped up to First Class by Soundological HERE or HERE.