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EthiopiansText by Harry Hawks
"Leonard Dillon, who was in effect The Ethiopians, remains one of the unsung heroes of Jamaican music..." Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton
Real Name Leonard Dillon
Born 1945
Died Sep 28, 2011
Place of Birth Port Antonio Portland Jamaica
Related Artist(s)
Leonard 'Sparrow' aka 'The Ethiopian' Dillon born 1945 in Port Antonio in Portland, a builder by trade, began his recording career in 1964 performing ska and mento influenced records as Jack Sparrow for 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) at Studio One. These included 'Ice Water' featuring The Wailers, who had introduced Leonard to Coxsone, on harmonies, and 'Beggars Have No Choice'. In 1966 Leonard started singing with a fluid line up of singers including Wally Booker, Stephen Daley/Taylor, Neville Duncan and Aston Morris named The Ethiopians. Leonard and Stephen Daley/Taylor became a duo recording for Coxsone, as ska slowed down to rock steady, with releases such as the seminal 'I'm Gonna Take Over Now'... "for I know that our time has come".

They then recorded 'Train To Skaville' for Charles Ross which was, despite the title, a rock steady record and was originally released through |labelWIRL||| in Jamaica. It was also released on Rio in London where it was a huge hit in the clubs and scaled the lower reaches of the UK charts. The bass line of 'Train To Skaville' formed the basis for two further hits, The Maytals' ' 54 46 Was My Number' and Marcia Griffith's 'Feel Like Jumping', the following year.

"The Ethiopians were the first to hit the charts up her with 'Train To Skaville' ... Toots' biggest hit was '54-46' but did you know '54-46' and 'Train To Skaville' are the same rhythm? It's just a different horn phrase...

The Ethiopians did that 'Train To Skaville' tune for a man named Mr Ross... Charles Ross... yeah man... he came to Jamaica after he and his wife were just divorced... a very nice man and he made some great tunes... some big hits." Bunny Striker Lee

That same year The Ethiopians recorded 'The Whip' for female producer Sonia Pottinger who released it on her Gay Feet label in Jamaica and on Doctor Bird in the UK where it hit again and could be heard playing in clubs and at every fairground, and I mean every fairground, on the ride known as The Whip. It was odd that the group's two biggest international hits, 'Train To Skaville' and 'The Whip' consisted of little more than a vocal chorus and refrain, albeit over two totally timeless rhythms were the least representative of their oeuvre. But in the wake of these two hits The Ethiopians were now rated as one of Jamaica's premier vocal outfits.

"The Ethiopians who are very well known and are extremely popular for a lengthy period of time: but who have really hit the peak of their career since recording on the J.J.(JJ) label... With their 'Everything Crash' they made and held the number one spot simultaneously on both local Hit Parade Charts." Jackie Estick

The following year The Ethiopians started to enjoy a period of massive and sustained success which continued up until 1971 with Carl 'Sir J.J.' Johnson with a superb series of records including 'What A Fire', 'The Selah', 'My Testamony', which although credited to The Maytals on the UK release on Nu Beat was unmistakably The Ethiopians, 'Hong Kong Flu', 'Woman Capture Man' and 'Everything Crash' a damning critique of the then current state of the nation.

"Firemen strike, watermen strike, telephone company too..." 'Everything Crash'

The combination of Sir J.J.'s relentless, pounding reggae rhythms "'this new beat' which was originated by Sir J.J. himself" and The Ethiopians impassioned vocals ensured that the records were not only hugely popular in Jamaica but also in the UK. By now the group comprised Leonard, Stephen and Melvin 'Mellow' Reid "the first song he did with us was 'Everything Crash' and for most of the J.J. stuff Melvin was there". When Sir J.J.'s various artists Jamaican album 'Reggae Power' was released in London through Trojan Records in 1969 it was reshuffled and credited to The Ethiopians although two of tracks were not actually by the group. The Ethiopians mixed heavyweight social critique and Rastafarian inspired lyrics with more lighthearted songs such as 'Woman Capture Man' which harked back to the early Jack Sparrow recordings. 'Hong Kong Flu' should have been taken as a health warning about the current epidemic but I will never forget seeing the duo perform the song on stage at the Crystal Palace Hotel in South East London in the early seventies. Leonard kept coughing, spluttering and being unable to sing before one of the band members asked "what's wrong with him? It sounds like he's got the..." as they tore into a rousing rendition of 'Hong Kong Flu'. The crowd erupted and the show was triumph...

"The series of performances recorded for him (J.J. Johnson) by The Ethiopians remain a high point in the history of Jamaican vocal groups." Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton

The group also recorded extensively for Kingston's established producers, including Duke Reid with 'Pirate' and 'Mother's Tender Care', and with up and coming producers such as Derrick Harriott on 'No Baptism'. They also worked with Rupie Edwards, Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson), Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry), Alvin GG's Ranglin (Alvin Ranglin)and brothers Martin and Winston Riley. The Ethiopians had established a template years in advance of the trend for Rastafarian influenced lyrics but, despite their prolific output, Stephen Daley returned to work at a petrol station "over by Washington Boulevard" where he was tragically killed in a road accident in September 1975. Leonard "had to leave now and relax myself until I form up with these six Nyahbinghi brethren" and returned to record as The Ethiopians using a number of harmony singers which culminated in the raw roots of the Nyabinghi album, 'Slave Call', for Niney The Observer in 1977 which featured former members Aston Morris and Melvin 'Mellow' Reid.

Leonard Dillon returned to Studio One in the late seventies where he recorded a selection of new tracks and a recut of 'Everything Crash' for an album of the same name. This long playing release played an integral part in the Studio One renaissance and tracks such as 'Locust' aka 'Locus'/'Locous' on the 'Train To Skaville' rhythm and 'Muddy Water' helped to alert a new generation of music lovers not only to Studio One but also to the strength and beauty of The Ethiopians back catalogue. This coincided with the birth of the early eighties revival scene in the UK when 'The Whip' was re-released and entered the reggae chart and 'Engine 54' became one of the first Jamaican records to fetch eye-wateringly high 'collectors market' prices. Ironically this reprise of 'Train To Skaville' was a tribute to the lovingly restored steam locomotive pictured on the cover of the 'Engine 54' album, released on WIRL in Jamaica and Doctor Bird in the UK in 1968, inspired by the enthusiasm of a UK railway enthusiast then working in Jamaica... a triumph for train spotters everywhere! These records have never lost their popularity and are still played out nightly at revival dances.

Throughout the nineties and the noughties Leonard Dillon continued to record in a solo capacity and with back up singers and touring alongside former Ethiopians, Neville Duncan and Harold Bishop. Their stage shows were very popular in America but, following an operation to remove a brain tumour, Leonard Dillon died at his daughter's home in Kingston on 28th September 2011. Leonard Dillon and The Ethiopians, trail blazers for cultural music, still remain criminally under-represented in the reissue market which is a crying shame. A major overall perspective of their work is long overdue but the logistics of co-ordinating the many different producers they worked with during the seventies could prove very difficult. The name and music of Leonard Dillon and The Ethiopians definitely deserve to be far more widely known...

Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton: Reggae The Rough Guide Rough Guides Limited 1997
Noel Hawks & Jah Floyd Reggae Going International 1967 to 1976 The Bunny 'Striker' Lee Story
Jamaican Recordings Publishing 2012

Jackie Estick: Liner Notes 'Reggae Power' Various Artists Sir JJ LP 0001 (Jamaica) 1969
Chris Wilson: Liner Notes 'Owner Fe De Yard' The Ethiopians Heartbeat/Studio One CD HB 129 1993
Date Added: Mar 27, 2020
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