The Heptones Biography

Leroy Sibbles (1949, Jamaica, West Indies), Barry Llewellyn (b. 25 December 1947, Jamaica, West Indies) and Earl Morgan (b. 25 November 1945, Jamaica, West Indies) were without doubt the foremost rocksteady and reggae vocal trio, and their work together, especially for Studio One, set the standards by which all other Jamaican harmony groups are measured. They started with Ken Lack’s Caltone label, but failed to record any hits, although they produced a memorable and bizarre version of the ‘William Tell Overture’ entitled ‘Gun Men Coming To Town’. Their next move, to Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One set-up in 1966, coincided with the rise of rocksteady, and the Heptones proved to be masters of the genre. Not only did Sibbles possess a pure and delicate lead voice and a masterly songwriting talent, he was also responsible for many of the music’s most popular (and versioned) bass lines, which were sufficiently versatile and melodic to be able to record any number of different instrumental and vocal takes. The Heptones quickly became the most imitated and influential vocal group in Jamaica. After their first big hit in Jamaica and the UK, the lewd and suggestive ‘Fattie Fattie’, which was a big seller despite being banned from the radio. Sibbles wrote love songs and social/protest/reality songs almost to order, but he excelled with the sly misogyny of ‘Tripe Girl’ His voice swooped and soared, and all the time Morgan and Llewellyn filled in beautifully behind him, taking occasional lead and even contributing songs, such as Llewellyn’s ‘Pretty Looks’, which proved just as popular and enduring as Sibbles’ own compositions.

The Heptones left Studio One in 1971, a bitter parting for Sibbles in particular, who had been employed at Brentford Road as a bass player, musical arranger and talent scout, and, while Dodd is reluctant to discuss the past, Sibbles has voiced many accusations. It was a sad end to an association that gave the world so much great music. This was by no means the end for the Heptones, however, and they went on to work for Joe Gibbs, Harry J. , Augustus Pablo, Harry Mudie, Geoffrey Chung, Phil Pratt, Rupie Edwards and many more. In 1973, they relocated briefly to Canada, but returned to Jamaica and recorded what was their most commercially successful album, Party Time, for the Upsetter - Lee Perry - consisting mainly of recuts of their Studio One hits. It appeared, for a time, that the Heptones would follow Bob Marley And The Wailers into the realms of international stardom, but for some reason - and it was certainly nothing to do with the power and strength of their music - it did not happen. Sibbles left for a solo career, returning again to Canada where he has based himself intermittently ever since, and he continues to tour and sporadically release interesting records. Llewellyn and Morgan recruited Naggo Morris and continued as the Heptones; although they were solid and workmanlike, they unfortunately failed to match the power and beauty of their earlier recordings.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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