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TopFeature ArchivesLabel Hall of FameBeverleys
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BeverleysText by Harry Hawks
From 1962 to 1971 Beverley's Records was one of the leading labels on Kingston's music scene and Leslie Kong was one of the very first record producers to move Jamaican music forward onto the international stage
Founded 1961
Place of Establishment Kingston Jamaica
Leslie Kong
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"He was there from in the ska era and he made the most chart music in the sixties and seventies but the younger people don't really know about Beverley's." Bunny Striker Lee

For almost an entire decade Leslie Kong's Beverley's(Beverleys) Records were an unassailable force in Jamaican music, from shuffle and boogie, through ska, rock steady and on to early reggae, but Leslie Kong, a Chinese Jamaican, has rarely received either sufficient respect or any of the accolades that are definitely due for his pioneering role in the music's development.

"You know Beverley's made the most international hit tunes up to this day? I don't why he doesn't get the credit for it. He's still unsung..." Bunny Striker Lee

There were four Kong brothers, Fats, Cecil, "another brother who is a Catholic priest" and Leslie who was born in 1933 and, alongside Cecil and Lloyd, Leslie ran Beverley's Record Shop and Ice Cream Parlour at 135A Orange Street in Kingston. In 1961 a young James Chambers wrote a song called 'Dearest Beverley' and went down to Orange Street where he sang it for Leslie Kong. He was so moved by the youth's song and obvious talent that Leslie "hired a place down Greenwich Farm named Blissett House where they rehearsed" and he then took James Chambers, whom he renamed Jimmy Cliff, to the recording studio. 'Dearest Beverley' and 'Hurricane Hattie' were released back to back on the Beverley's label in Kingston and on Island in London in 1962 and the record was a huge hit. Jimmy and Leslie continued to work together scoring with a number of seriously successful ska sides including 'King Of Kings', 'Miss Jamaica' and 'One Eyed Jacks'. Later that year Leslie began to record Desmond Dacres, whom he renamed Desmond Dekker, on hit records such as 'Honour Your Mother And Father' and 'King Of Ska' and another youth, Bobby Martell, who released two singles on Beverley's, 'Judge Not' and 'One Cup Of Coffee'. Bobby had arrived at 135A Orange Street as Robert (or Bob) Marley...

When Derrick Morgan began to work for Beverley's he incurred the wrath of his former employer Prince Buster who recorded the vituperative 'Black Head China Man' which detailed Derrick's alleged betrayal in no uncertain terms.

"Are you a chinaman? Are you a blackman? It don't need no eyeglasses to see that your skin is black..."
'Black Head Chinaman' Prince Buster

"Prince Buster and I were good friends until I left him for Beverley's and after 'Forward March' in 1962 he write a song about me called 'Black Head Chinaman'". Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan answered Buster with 'The Blazing Fire' which he introduced in Chinese and sung "be still and know I'm your superior" and, undeterred, the multi talented Derrick not only continued to sing for Beverley's but also became Leslie Kong's chief talent scout and co-producer.

"You'd come to see him and he played the piano and listened to you. If he liked your song you'd come to the studio and they'd record it. That was Derrick's job away from singing... Derrick was the man at Beverley's. You can say Derrick produced those songs because he was the producer... him and Leslie Kong made those tunes but Leslie Kong was the man who sat in the control room and if he didn't like it he'd say so!" Bunny Striker Lee

The success of Beverley's Records throughout the sixties, both at home and abroad, was nothing short of phenomenal. Desmond Dekker & The Aces' '007' reached Number Fourteen in the UK Top Twenty in July 1967. It was the first Jamaican produced record to reach these exalted international heights but this was only the beginning. An astute businessman who had always seen the bigger picture Leslie Kong had initially licensed his Jamaican recordings to Chris Blackwell for release on Island in the UK. In 1967 he formed the Pyramid label in London in partnership with Graeme Goodall to release Beverley's recordings and, two years later, he began to work with Trojan Records who by then were the UK's leading reggae label.

Meanwhile back home in Kingston Beverley's records were seldom absent from the Jamaican charts. In 1968 Desmond Dekker & The Aces won the Festival Song Competition with 'Intensified Festival '68' and the following year The Maytals won with 'Sweet & Dandy'. '(Poor Mi) Israelites' from Desmond Dekker & The Aces was propelled by the new style reggae rhythm to the Number One position in the UK in April 1969 and the record then went on to trouble the upper reaches of the American charts. These were momentous breakthroughs for Jamaican music. 'It Miek', which had previously only been a hit with England's Jamaican community, reached the Number Seven position the UK National Charts in July 1969. And the hits just kept on coming...

"So...Derrick Morgan, Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker were the backbone of Beverley's business. Then you had Ken Boothe, BB Seaton & The Gaylads... The Melodians: 'Rivers Of Babylon', 'Sweet Sensation', The Pioneers: 'Long Shot Kick The/De Bucket'... You name them!" Bunny Striker Lee

'Long Shot Kick The/De Bucket' from The Pioneers, 'Wonderful World, Beautiful People' by Jimmy Cliff, 'Rivers Of Babylon' and 'Sweet Sensation' from The Melodians' and 'Monkey Man' by The Maytals all entered the UK charts. Songs such as The Gaylads' 'There's A Fire', Bruce Ruffin's 'Dry Up Your Tears' and Ken Boothe's 'Freedom Street' were every bit as popular in the reggae market but inexplicably failed to chart and Beverley's driving sound, exemplified by Hux Brown's dynamic driving guitar, became the immediately recognisable sound of crossover reggae.

The popularity of Leslie Kong's music was so all pervading and persuasive that Bob Marley & The Wailers climbed aboard the Beverley's bandwagon in 1970 hoping to break internationally with a selection of singles including 'Soon Come', 'Soul Shakedown Party' and the wonderful 'Caution'. But Leslie Kong's decision to release an album the following year entitled 'The Best Of The Wailers' led to a heated confrontation with the group. Bunny Livingston was insistent that this title could not be used because the best of The Wailers was yet to come and that an album named 'Best Of' was only released after an artist died. In an oft repeated prophecy Bunny proclaimed if Leslie Kong released the album that he would die but Leslie Kong told him that it was already too late and the album was ready for release. Leslie Kong died of a sudden heart attack on 9th August 1971.

"He died early and his brother Cecil used to carry it on but he wasn't really interested. Les had a son too but he wasn't interested either. Warwick Lyn was working with him but after Les died he started to work with Dynamic Sounds..." Bunny Striker Lee

Leslie Kong was one of the first to make meaningful inroads into the international market but his professional musical values did not remain popular after his untimely death. One of the most consistently successful producers throughout the sixties and early seventies his unerring ability to spot a star, his intelligent, enlightened employment of top vocalists and session musicians together with an unparalleled aptitude for production that had once ensured his pre-eminent position in Kingston's musical hierarchy seem to have been forgotten in the intervening forty years. It is difficult to understand why Leslie Kong has been airbrushed out of the picture of Jamaican musical history. Perhaps it is something to do with his work being considered 'unfashionable' and possibly because the polished, sophisticated perfection of his production techniques was at odds with what would later become the perceived image of Jamaican music.

Beverley's Records have not been particularly well served by the current revival/reissue labels either. The compilations that have been released have tended to concentrate on his two most successful acts, Desmond Dekker and The Maytals, at the expense of his other productions. A series of competently compiled and thoughtfully annotated collections are long overdue for his work has stood the test of time, defied the vagaries of style and fashion, and stands proud as a testament to Jamaica's 'Out Of Many, One People' adage. But it urgently needs to be more widely recognised.
Date Added: Sep 13, 2012 / Date Updated: Apr 15, 2014
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