Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mighty Diamonds - Reggae Band

The reggae road is littered with the bodies of fallen vocal groups that contributed a couple of tunes or an album of note and then disappeared into the history books. But the Mighty Diamonds have persevered, the original trio lineup still intact, having logged some 40-plus albums during a career well into its fourth decade. Their close, soulful harmony sound, offered via both sweet, passionate love songs and conscious political and spiritual material, provided a template that countless others have followed.

Donald "Tabby" Shaw, Fitzroy "Bunny" Simpson and Lloyd " Judge" Ferguson first came together in 1969 in Kingston's Trenchtown ghetto. Inspired by America's Motown sound, they recorded a number of unsuccessful singles for various producers before racking up their first local hit with "Shame And Pride" for Jah Lloyd. It wasn't until they discovered the emerging Channel One studio in 1975, however, that the Mighty Diamonds became a genre-shaping force in reggae. With Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's Revolutionaries behind them, the Mighty Diamonds established their presence with early R&B-flavored romantic hits such as "Hey Girl" and "Country Living," as well as the more lyrically aggressive "Back Weh A Mafia" and "Right Time."

That latter track also provided the title of their first release for Virgin, recognized as one of the all-time classic reggae vocal albums. The best songs on 1976's Right Time, among them "I Need A Roof," "Them Never Love Poor Marcus," "Africa" and the aforementioned "Right Time," placed the Mighty Diamonds in the pantheon of reggae's most outspoken roots artists, their often militant words belied by their refined, charming vocal harmonies.

Right Time made international stars out of the Mighty Diamonds, and they recorded their next album, Ice On Fire, in New Orleans, using the legendary R&B producer Allen Toussaint. They returned to Channel One for their next few albums, Stand Up For Your Judgement, Planet Earth and Deeper Roots. By the early '80s, the group was gone from Virgin and began releasing music on their own Bad Gong label and for other sundry companies. A 1981 single, "Pass The Kouchie," was covered by the British group Musical Youth, who took the ganja references out, retitled it "Pass The Dutchie" and took it to the Top 10 in America.

The Mighty Diamonds have continued to record and tour in the decades since their initial splash (although many of their classic albums are out of print, replaced by poor-sounding, ill-conceived compilations), and while they are no longer considered a front-line group, their past impact is undeniable.

See You in Jamaica


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