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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tribute to Junior Murvin & Barry Llewellyn

I was quite saddened when I heard that Junior Murvin passed away the other day. I had a bit of regret- I had been in touch with Murvin's agent during the Fall of 2011, in talks about trying to bring him to New England for a couple of live shows. We also talked about having him voice tunes for either Destroy Babylon or 10 Ft. Ganja Plant. The plan also included Willi Williams, which would've been my Clash-cover-related dream come true... Unfortunately, financial uncertainties stalled me from making anything happen. What can I say- life is precious, time is short, and capitalism can work against you.

During the obligatory postmortem catalog spin, I noticed that my Junior Murvin iTunes smart playlist is 5.5 hours long, so I figured I'd pick out some of my favorite tunes for a tribute mix. As I was compiling, I remembered that I wanted to repost a tribute mix to Barry Llewellyn of the Heptones that I made shortly after he died on Nov. 23, 2011. The two singers sit well together; both put out seminal albums produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry in 1977 at the height of the Black Ark's greatness- both Murvin's Police & Thieves and the Heptones Party Time LPs are on par with Heart of the Congos. On the Rockers soundtrack, Murvin's "Police & Thieves" is followed by the Heptones "Book of Rules", featuring lead by Llewellyn. Both recorded with several of JA's best producers since the mid '60s, and both are truly underrated vocalists.

While Leroy Sibbles gets the most attention for leading the Heptones more often, Barry's vocals are just as strong. There's a rare video clip that further ties these artists together; while filming the multi-part documentary Roots Rock Reggae, the producers had a whole segment on Lee "Scratch" Perry at his Black Ark studio (watch it). The day they filmed him, an all star line-up was in the studio recording a one-off song called "Mr. Music" featuring Barry Llewellyn on lead with backing by his fellow Heptone Earl Morgan (Sibbles is absent), Cedric Myton and Ashanti Roy of The Congos, plus a soaring harmony from Junior Murvin (read a bit more about this at Mick Sleeper's post).

Below is an extended tribute mix to these two fallen legends of JA music. As Rob Carmichael said to me after hearing of Murvin's passing, "Well, there's a glorious high harmony in the great invisible choir." Indeed. So play on, Mr. Music, while I go get back in touch with Mr. Williams and check my savings account... (perhaps we'll do a Kickstarter fund-raiser like Scratch is doing to make a collab happen).


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