Derrick Harriott

Derrick Harriott

Most Popular Songs 

    Monkey Ska

    The Loser

    Let Me Down Easy

    Do I worry

Bookings and Current Status

Birth Name Derrick Harriott
Born February 6th Kingston, Jamaica
Genres Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae,  Lover’s Rock
Occupations Producer, Songwriter, Musician, Singer
Years active 1970s – Present

Derrick Harriott Biography

Derrick Harriott, singer, producer, distributor and shop owner – one of reggae’s few Renaissance men – born Kingston, Jamaica on February 6th the youngest of five children laughs and gives his age as “still in my forties to fifties” has been responsible for some of the most significant, influential and, perhaps more importantly, the most successful music to have ever come out of Jamaica.

In 1971 Swing Magazine voted Derrick Harriott ‘Top Producer For 1970′ – in fact he won three awards that year and I can remember playing his version of the Whatnauts’ ‘Message From A Black Man’ (the Heptones also covered this groundbreaking song for Coxsone Dodd) over and over again and being convinced that this was the future of reggae music. The lyrics “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud” reflected the growing self awareness of the black consciousness movement and the reggae based arrangement was as sophisticated as anything coming out of Motown while the delivery and harmonies were as perfect as we’d come to expect from a Derrick Harriott production. I couldn’t have been more wrong! The music took a totally different direction, still espousing black awareness but in a completely uncompromising and back to basics manner. Instead of being niced up the music was stripped down to its component parts and new, younger producers began to question the values of their predecessors.

There are many different collections of Derrick’s work currently available and his name is mainly remembered for his soul covers and ballads – which are faultless. However his career covers all the different styles of Jamaican music but we believe that this is the first time there’s ever been a collection of his more roots based material. All the big names from the rebel music era are here so it’s all aboard for a ride on the roots chariot…

Derrick’s back catalogue of rhythms were the perfect starting point for many of these releases – the younger artists and musicians had grown up with the sound of Derrick Harriott and in much the same way as black history was explored so the musical legacy of Jamaica was also re-examined and given a new lease of life. Derrick Harriot has nearly a full album’s worth of work with the Ethiopians… “Leonard ‘Sparrow’ Dillon came to me with a wicked song ‘No Baptism’. I was glad they had this song especially for me. The drummer was Esmond Jarrett who used to play drums in the Mighty Vikings. The Chosen Few who had Number One hits with ‘Shaft’ and ‘Ebony Eyes’ were dancing up a storm and pumping up the drummer to roll the drums at certain spots!” The song was a particularly penetrating observation of Rastafarian beliefs and their next session together produced ‘Lot’s Wife’ and ‘Good Ambition’ with Aston & Carlton Barrett on drums & bass. “Me no remember the other session men!”

Derrick Harriott was one of the first to use the now legendary King Tubby’s studio alongside Clancy Eccles, Lee Perry & Bunny Lee. “Everybody lived good. We were very close…so close that when the payola thing bust all the disc jockeys decided that they would not play the Bunny Lee song ‘Watch This Sound’ (by the Uniques) but I played it on the Derrick Harriott Show on RJR. Man couldn’t stop me! (Bunny) had to come back! I’m the only man with a photograph of the original Uniques – Slim Smith, Lloyd Charmers & Jimmy Riley. Tubbys was the thing. If he touch your tune it can’t miss! We had a real good thing… I used to leave all my tapes at Tubby’s”. As for Big Youth… “I searched him out. I hear a thing – a man named Big Youth a do it and I featured him on a couple of dances”. In fact Big Youth used his Move & Groove publicity photograph on the label when he set up his own Negusa Nagast (King Of Kings) imprint. Their work together was inspired by films such as ‘Cool Breeze’ (obviously!) and the spaghetti westerns. “Certain artists go to certain producers (they) feel Chariot would like it that way. I just gave them an idea!” Derrick Harriott was the first man to work with Dennis Brown “I used to know his bigger brother – a comedian. (Dennis) used to sing ‘Solomon’, on Byron Lee’s shows. He was little youth talking about he’s a big man (the lyrics to ‘Solomon’, one of Derrick’s biggest hits, go “cause I’m a big man in this town”). The vibe just went around and we became friends. His first recording – he was no more than ten or twelve years old – was ‘Obsession’ but (we) changed the title to ‘Lips Of Wine’. (This session also produced ‘Slave’, more of which later). Derrick Harriott remembers teaching Dennis the Van Dykes’ song ‘No Man Is An Island’ and rehearsing him in the back of his shop on King Street. He was called away to America on business for two weeks and on his return discovered that Dennis had recorded the song for Coxsone Dodd. It was to become one of his best loved and most popular tunes! There were no hard feelings but “Coxsone got two albums (out of Dennis) – he had his own studio – and I only got one (‘Super Reggae & Soul Hits’)”. Dennis returned to work with Derrick and their songs together are to be found on the aforementioned album – still rated as a landmark in both of their illustrious careers.

A measure of Derrick’s standing was the prominence given to his Scotty version of the ‘Stop That Train’ rhythm – ‘Draw Your Brakes’ which plays over the opening sequence of the seminal ‘The Harder They Come’ film as Jimmy Cliff arrives in Kingston and gets tricked and robbed by a city boy. The film was many people’s introduction to reggae and the inter-play between the throbbing rocksteady, Scotty’s deliberations and the hustle and bustle of down town Kingston combine to form an unforgettable taste of Jamaica. Scotty (David Scott) had begun his career as a singer in The Federals but achieved his biggest success and fame as one of the best early talk over artists. His ‘School Days’ album is a beauty featuring many of Derrick’s best rhythms ruthlessly exploited by Scotty’s unique style. Derrick also worked with both U Roy & I Roy. U Roy interestingly enough over a version of the Federals’ big hit ‘Penny For Your Song’. This was quite late in U Roy’s hit making career (1976) but “…it went top five. I used to admire U Roy. You can’t forget him. I Roy actually came to me – he wanted to bubble ‘pon certain rhythms’.” And Pablo? “I said to Pablo you’re a wicked man ‘pon your instrument! We used to go to Tubby’s regularly. He mashed up the rhythms.”

The version to ‘Slave’ featured here is the 12″ mix from the late seventies. “The 12″ version was a Channel One mix that sound like Tubbys and Tubbys had about thirteen different versions – so did Arrows and Jack Ruby. ‘Slave’ was a big thing then!”

Bongo Herman and Les visited Derrick Harriott’s store on King Street in the late sixties to audition ‘Know For I’. He was so impressed that he took them straight to the studio and ‘Know For I’ became a hit – he admired their vocals but even more so their superb drums and Derrick Harriott decided that the way to increase their popularity was to build their reputations as drummers. “I exposed them as drummers on my Festival Song ‘Tang Tang’ in 1967 on a show to pick the top Festival Songs at the State Theatre. It must be noted that the Festival Song Contest that year was rated as the best ever! Mainly because of the rivalry of the artists. It was like a political campaign – artists had T-shirts advertising their songs & motorcades too! The winner was the Jamaicans ‘Baba Boom’, just edging out Desmond Dekker & The Aces ‘Unity’ …later on Bingy Bunny joined Herman & Les and another seller entitled ‘We Are Praying’ was born.”

A key figure in the development of Jamaican music Derrick Harriott says simply “It’s nice to know that people really regard the music” and as with all modest people he states “with all these things other people help. My associate in New York – Lorna Thomas – helped me a lot also Jennifer the mother of my last three children and Moy, formerly of One Stop, were the generals in Jamaica.”