Mighty Diamonds Biography

One of the most famous Jamaican vocal groups of the 70s and 80s, the Mighty Diamonds was formed in 1969 by lead vocalist Donald ‘Tabby’ Shaw with Fitzroy ‘Bunny’ Simpson and Lloyd ‘Judge’ Ferguson providing the harmonies and occasional lead. They recorded unsuccessfully for Stranger Cole and Rupie Edwards, among others, before their breakthrough in 1975 with Joseph ‘Joe Joe’ Hookim’s Channel One studio. ‘Hey Girl’ and ‘Country Living’ were big reggae hits, but their next release, ‘Right Time’, on Hookim’s Well Charge label, consolidated that success. The Mighty Diamonds’ initial popularity was boosted by a number of factors: the influence of Burning Spear’s championing of Jamaican national hero, Marcus Garvey; the definitive three-part rocksteady harmonies of the Heptones, together with Sly Dunbar’s militant rockers style of drumming on ‘do-overs’ of timeless Studio One rhythms; and, of course, their own superb songwriting, vocal abilities and the odd knack of somehow managing to sound urgent and relaxed at the same time. Jamaica erupted into Mighty Diamonds-mania, while the Channel One ‘rockers’ sound they had brought to prominence was to dominate reggae music for the next few years, with every drummer in the business developing his very own Sly Dunbar impersonation.

The UK label Virgin Records was busy acquiring reggae artists in 1976, and the Mighty Diamonds and Hookim signed with them for the release of their debut, Right Time. It was a classic collection, showcasing perfectly the group’s uncanny ability to write catchy, meaningful songs - whether about ‘love’ or ‘reality’ - and set them to updated versions of some of the greatest Studio One rhythms. They sold throughout the reggae world and picked up many crossover sales. Virgin sent the Mighty Diamonds to New Orleans to work with veteran producer Allen Toussaint, which resulted in Ice On Fire. It was not well received, and sold poorly - mainly because its misguided approach baffled reggae fans, while the Mighty Diamonds name still meant very little to a wider audience. They continued to work at Channel One, and many more hit singles emerged during the 70s. In 1981, the dub plates of tunes they had recorded for Gussie Clarke were the most played on the Kingston and London sound system circuits. The most popular of these tunes was released on a 10-inch, dub plate-style record in New York, a 7-inch in Jamaica and a 12-inch in England; ‘Pass The Kouchie’, an updating of a 60s Studio One instrumental ‘Full Up’, was a massive hit. This eventually became ‘Pass The Dutchie’ for the English band Musical Youth, which was a worldwide pop hit. (A ‘kouchie’ is a pipe for smoking ganja, while a ‘dutchie’ is a type of cooking pot.) The rest of their work with Clarke was released on Changes, which comprised the same combination of new songs and old rhythms, with some classic reggae songs, including ‘Party Time’ and ‘Hurting Inside’, performed in the inimitable Mighty Diamonds style

For the rest of the decade and on into the new millennium, the Diamonds have continued to build on their reputation as one of the best vocal harmony trios in the business with regular releases for a variety of different producers and some lovely self-produced records. Their harmonies are always tight, and their songs usually manage to avoid obvious and naïve statements. In the constantly changing world of reggae, they are always a reliable and dependable source of top-quality music, and if their performances have not quite reached the exalted standards of Right Time and Changes, it is perhaps too much to expect any radical change in direction at this stage in their career.

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

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