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Artist Hall of Fame

HeptonesText by Harry Hawks

Anyone with more than just a passing interest in rock steady and reggae knows and loves the music of The Heptones. Their near faultless body of work gives no indication as to why crossover success managed to elude one of the greatest ever Jamaican harmony trios
Date Added: Aug 25, 2010, Date Updated: Sep 22, 2010 Copyright (C) 2016 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Members:Leroy Sibbles
Earl Morgan
Barry Llewelyn
1965 -
Place of Establishment: Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Paragons
One of the most popular and influential Jamaican vocal trios ever began their working lives with Leroy Sibbles welding, Barry Llewellyn as a mechanic and Earl Morgan selling newspapers. The Heptones were originally formed in Kingston's Trench Town ghetto in the late fifties by Earl and Barry. In the early sixties they met Leroy Sibbles, then lead singer of another street corner group, when the two groups clashed in a street corner singing contest. Leroy was so impressed with Earl and Barry that he immediately asked them to join with him and Leroy became the group's lead singer but both Barry and Earl could also sing lead. This varied versatility was vital to their overall sound.

Sydney 'Luddy' Crooks of The Pioneers brought the group to the attention of Ken Lack, road manager for The Skatalites, who ran the Caltone label. They recorded four songs for Caltone at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio in 1966 and their first release, a version of Rossini's 'William Tell Overture' entitled 'Gunmen Coming To Town', was a very early indication that this particular trio were not going to be following anyone. Their next record for Caltone, 'I Am Lonely', was not a particularly big seller on its original release but thirty years later would go on to become one of the most prized (and most expensive) records on the UK revival circuit.

Top vocalists Bob Andy, Ken Boothe and Horace 'B.B.' Seaton sat on the panel for The Heptones' audition for Coxsone(CS Dodd) in 1966 and, after being judged favourably by this team of experts they stayed at Brentford Road for the next five years. Their first hit record, the risqué 'Fatty Fatty', was deemed too lewd for radio play:

"They decided to ban it in Jamaica and, when they did that, everybody wanted to hear it so it made the record one of the best sellers in Jamaica." Earl Morgan

The group soon became a vital part of the Studio One set up and The Heptones' contribution to the sound of Studio One can never be overstated. Leroy was employed as both talent scout and session bass player, Barry as a session musician and Earl sang harmonies and worked in the pressing plant. Leroy Sibbles also wrote countless songs, many tinged with a hint of misogyny, yet delivered with a genuine underlying sensitivity. And as rock steady turned into reggae his superb love songs were matched by songs of truth and rights and many of his thoughtful lyrics became preoccupied with black self determination.

Leroy was also an extremely talented musician whose bass lines were sufficiently melodic to work with any amount of different arrangements. Many of these have subsequently become ubiquitous and the rhythms for songs such as 'Give Me The Right', 'Party Time', 'Sweet Talking', and 'Why Did You Leave' are returned to time after time after time. Prolific but always professional much of their output can be found on four faultless albums for Studio One 'The Heptones', 'On Top', 'Freedom Line' and 'Black Is Black' also known as 'Ting A Ling'. These contain much of their best work but many classic tracks also appeared only on seven inch singles or featured on one of Coxsone(CS Dodd)'s many long playing various artist compilations.

"After Coxsone we said anybody want us they can take us so we went from one producer to the next. We worked for so many producers..." Earl Morgan

The Heptones left Studio One in 1971 and were free to record for any of Kingston's many record producers passing on the lessons they had learnt at Coxsone's musical college to a new generation of producers and artists. Their first move was to Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson) where they hit with 'Be The One' and 'Hypocrite' and over the next two years, they recorded for most producers of note often updating their Studio One hits in the current style. In a frenetic burst of creativity they worked for Clive Chin At Randy's(Randys) with 'My Guiding Star', Geoffery Chung with 'I Miss You', Rupie Edwards with 'Give Me The Right' over the 'My Conversation' rhythm, for Augustus Pablo with 'Love Won't Come Easy' and for Phil Pratt with 'Party Time' & 'Swept For You Baby'. The Heptones' cover versions and do-overs were all inevitably invested with all the feeling and subtlety of their own originals.

In 1973 Leroy emigrated to Canada but returned to Jamaica three years later and the group began to work with Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry) and Harry 'Harry J' Johnson(Harry Johnson). Records such as 'Sufferers Time' echoed the dread mood of the times and their work for The Upsetter showcased their soaring harmonies against his dense, churning rhythms. In 1976 the Lee Perry produced 'Party Time' album was released worldwide by Island Records and followed by Harry J's long player 'Night Food' which trod a more traditional route despite the inclusion of the vitriolic 'Country Boy'. Both albums belatedly helped to introduce the music of The Heptones to a wider audience but, later that year during a tour with Bob Marley & The Wailers and The Maytals organised by Island Records, Leroy left the group and returned to live in Canada and pursue a solo career.

"If Leroy had never left The Heptones we would have been even bigger worldwide... "
Earl Morgan

After Leroy's departure Dolphin 'Naggo' Morris took over as lead singer but, with a few notable exceptions, their records did not scale the same exalted heights as the group's previous work. Barry and Earl reunited with Leroy in the early nineties and The Heptones "keep playing and recording and spreading the message".

"The Heptones is not a one man thing. The Heptones is a three man thing." Earl Morgan

Barry and Earl always did far more than filling in the gaps behind Leroy's lead and both have made notable contributions to The Heptones' canon. Earl's 'Pretty Looks Isn't All' is one of a handful of classic songs that will last for as long as reggae music is listened to.

The Heptones unfailingly set standards for everyone else to aspire to and to measure their own work by. There is no need for any retrospective revisionism to belatedly bestow credibility on The Heptones for they notched up rock steady hit after hit and reggae hit after hit after hit throughout the sixties and the seventies. At one time it looked inevitable that they would surely follow Bob Marley & The Wailers and Burning Spear into the realms of international stardom but it was not to be. Amongst Jamaican music lovers their popularity is unmatched yet they remain relatively unappreciated by wider audiences. Probably the most accomplished Jamaican vocal harmony trio ever... there will never be anyone quite like The Heptones again.
Aug 25, 2010 (Sep 22, 2010 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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Debut title(s)
Heptones - Heptones
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¥1680 (US$16.01)
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Heptones - Gunmen Coming To Town
7" Heptones - Gunmen Coming To Town / Tommy McCook - Riverton City Hep Hep UK
  
¥900 (US$8.58)
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Hit titles
Heptones - On Top
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¥1680 (US$16.01)
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Heptones - Heptones
LP Heptones - Heptones Studio One
  
¥1680 (US$16.01)
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Heptones - Ting A Ling (Black Is Black)
LP Heptones - Ting A Ling (Black Is Black) Studio One
  
¥2180 (US$20.78)
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Heptones - Freedom Line
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¥1680 (US$16.01)
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Heptones - Gunmen Coming To Town
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¥900 (US$8.58)
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Heptones - Love Me Girl
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Why Must I
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Fattie Fattie
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Party Time
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Love Won't Come Easy
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Equal Rights
7" Heptones - Equal Rights Studio One UK Party Time
  
¥900 (US$8.58)
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Heptones - Pretty Looks Isn't All
7" Heptones - Pretty Looks Isn't All Studio One Pretty Looks Isn't All
  
¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Mama
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Heptones - Sea Of Love
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - We're In The Mood
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Why Did You Leave
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Ting A Ling
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Fall In Love
7" Heptones - Fall In Love Studio One
  
¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones, Tommy McCook - I Am Lonely (Crying Over You)
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¥800 (US$7.62)
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Heptones - Hold The Handle
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¥600 (US$5.72)
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Heptones - Sea Of Love
7" Heptones - Sea Of Love Hep Hep Sea Of Love
  
¥700 (US$6.67)
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Heptones - Party Time
7" Heptones - Party Time Hep Hep Party Time
  
¥600 (US$5.72)
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Heptones - Pretty Looks
7" Heptones - Pretty Looks Hep Hep Pretty Looks Isn't All
  
¥700 (US$6.67)
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Heptones - Fattie Fattie
7" Heptones - Fattie Fattie Hep Hep Fattie Fattie
  
¥700 (US$6.67)
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Heptones - Sweet Talking
7" Heptones - Sweet Talking Hep Hep
  
¥600 (US$5.72)
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Heptones - Sweet Talking
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - I Shall Be Released
7" Heptones - I Shall Be Released Studio One I Shall Be Released
  
¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Get In The Groove
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - Time Will Tell (Hypocrite)
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¥850 (US$8.10)
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Heptones - I'm In The Mood For Love
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¥880 (US$8.39)
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Heptones - My Guiding Star
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¥800 (US$7.62)
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Heptones - Obladi
7" Heptones - Obladi Hep Hep
  
¥700 (US$6.67)
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Heptones - Book Of Rules
7" Heptones - Book Of Rules Hep Hep
  
¥800 (US$7.62)
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Heptones - I Shall Be Released
7" Heptones - I Shall Be Released LBE I Shall Be Released
  
¥700 (US$6.67)
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Prince Jazzbo, Heptones - You Never Know Colour Sell A Shop
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¥700 (US$6.67)
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Recent arrival(s)
Heptones - Good Life
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Best selling CD(s)
Heptones - Meet The Now Generation
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Best selling 10/12"(s)
Heptones - Through The Fire I Come
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Best selling 7"(s)
Heptones - Gunmen Coming To Town
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¥900 (US$8.58)
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Heptones - I'm In The Mood For Love
7" Heptones - I'm In The Mood For Love / Tommy McCook - Eight Years After Hep Hep/Trench Town UK Mood For Love
  
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Heptones - Get In The Groove
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Heptones - Mama
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Heptones - Why Did You Leave
7" Heptones - Why Did You Leave Studio One Why Did You Leave
  
¥850 (US$8.10)
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