|Thankfully there has been some kind of resurgence in popularity over the past few years on the revival market of the short-lived but in many ways, perhaps, the 'sweetest' era ever in Jamaican music, the one that was called 'rock steady', sandwiched between ska and reggae during the mid sixties. Rock steady was a simple but 'gentle' beat whilst ska was storming the dancefloors and the early reggae era which took over from rock steady was funky, fast and straight in your face. Rock steady never commanded that kind of attention; it was just sweet for your dancing feet. 'No More Heartaches', by the Beltones vocal trio, was undoubtedly one of many prime examples of genuine rock steady at its very best. Trevor Shields led the Beltones at the early Harry J stable. Harry made an effort in hiring that beloved Hammond organ to help enhance and create one of those timeless pieces of music at Studio One, 'No More Heartaches', and one of his finest productions of the late sixties. The story goes that he promoted the song by parking the car outside the crowded Half Way Tree bus stop on the pretence that it was broken down, then upon hearing the tune over the airwaves turning the volume up for maximum effect... Those were the days. Trevor Shields cut a series of solo tracks, such as the extraordinary 'Life' for Coxson and the equally impressive 'Rough Road' for Harry J, collaborated with the Cables' Keble Drummond before vanishing from the music scene in the late seventies. Little has been heard from him since. He puts it into detail in this conversation, one of very few interviews with the man. Trevor appears as a calm, warm, confident and balanced character, in many ways just like his music. He's not a man to over-do things. Everything seems to have its time and place. It lends an atmosphere of relaxation in the air. There's a lot to talk about and reflect upon. And we've got time. My thanks to Trevor, Carlton Hines, Teacher & Mr T, and Steve Barrow.|
Q: A little personal background if I may ask.
A: Well, actually (I grew up in) Trench Town and Jones Town (chuckles).
Q: It's adjoining there.
A: Yes. I lived and I went to school in Trench Town. I also went to church. My family was a religious family. Well, actually I should say my dad, because I grew up with my dad, not with my mom. And he was a Christian. I used to go to church with him. With going to church, singin' in the choir, that's how we get inspiration to get into singing, y'know what I mean. And, yes, started writin' songs. I loved to write, y'know.
Q: How did that start, that you wanted to piece together songs on your own?
A: Well, actually I don't really know, it's just, like, y'know when you're young you try different things and I liked to draw and I liked to sing. And you try to make your own stuff, like you compose your own songs. And I tried to learn to play the guitar a little, and so that motivated me to write. Plus I used to sing... You know, in church you used to sing at the concerts that they have, I sang at the concert they had in church. They said I sounded good and from there I get encouragement to write songs on my own.
Q: An early group was formed from there?
A: In church really... we had this little church group, the three of us. Yeah, we sang gospel then. Y'know, as I said before, at young people's events we would sing, that is really going to... that is just for the church. But when I kinda venture out of the church (chuckles) and I met all the guys who were interested in doing regular songs... Yeah, and I used to just like walk around practicin' and singin' with my guitar. And then that's the time I met this other guy from the original Beltones, 'cause the Beltones was already formed.
Q: What year is this?
A: What year? I'm not good at age but that was like...
A: Late sixties.
Q: So approximately '67 or so?
A: Yeah, thereabout, yes. That's when they usually see me walking with my guitar, there was a school there, and then he asked me if I wanted to come and jam with them, just like that. And then that's how it started. I was the only one who could really play an instrument then, not really excellent, but I mean... y'know (chuckles)?
A: I could find the chords (laughs).
Q: The rudiments was there.
A: Exactly. And you could jam with that. And that's how actually we... He decided, he say, well, if I want to join the group, and I say why not. And that was great for me.
Q: Who are we talking, the guy Bop from the first constellation of the group?
A: That was Bop, yeah. Rudolph Simmonds. That time he was a popular dancer.
Q: Bop alias Rudolph Simmonds, 'Bop the Dancer'.
A: Yeah. That time he was with Coxson, Studio One. He was recording then. 'Cause when I went there, some of the songs you see credited to Beltones was done before I actually got in, like 'Smile Like An Angel', done before, and 'Not For A Moment'.
Q: 'Dancing Time'.
A: 'Dancing Time', those were done before.
Q: And 'Love'.
A: When I started it was with 'No More Heartaches', and then Bop had left the group.
Q: Bop was the leader, who were the other guys?
A: Oh, at the time you had another chap, Keith Mitchell, and Owen Laing.
Q: What was the structure within the group? You sort of took over because he had left and...
A: Well, yes. OK, after he left and we decided to - we were trying to find a 'sound', like. We tried to get that, to create our own sound, so everybody tried deep. And then eventually we decide say, OK, I would be... Well, as a matter of fact, I wouldn't totally... No, I just remember why I actually become the lead singer. Keble, Keble Drummond now from the Cables, yeah, he played a vital role in that. Because he introduced us to Harry J, Harry Johnson. Yeah, he introduce us, so Harry wanted to hear us sing. And at that time Keith, Keith Mitchell was actually doing the lead. Even though I wrote the songs, but he was doing the lead. But when Harry heard us he said, "OK, I have an idea. Why don't you switch around your harmony a bit. Trevor, let me hear how you lead." And that's what happened. And we switched around that way, and because I wrote the song, so I kinda had the strength in it more than he in a sense. Yeah. So Harry heard it that way and he said, "Yes, why don't you guys just practice it that way". And so that's how it came about (chuckles). And as I said, Keble played a great role because he was the one who introduced us to Harry, Harry J. And then Harry was instrumental in saying it this way, and then we decide to keep it that way on all the other songs we did, and that's how it went from then on.
Q: Why did Bop leave in the first place?
A: Well, actually what he did, he left for the States.
Q: Ah, so it was basically just a question of migration on his part.
A: Yes, he left to pursue his dream, and he didn't come back (chuckles). And that was it, y'know.
Q: His parents already resided in the US, or what?
A: Well, I'm not sure why he left, but in those early days people wanted to... you know?
Q: Try their luck.
A: Try their luck, and the group wasn't really known yet to say they was really known, so he just went. And he leave the group and didn't come back, and we decide to continue the group at that point.
Q: Did you ever hear back from him?
A: Yeah, in those days we heard... y'know what I mean, he was doing quite well according to him, he was doing dancing. Ca' he was stronger as a dancer than a singer, so I guess he concentrated more on the dancing. But after a time we didn't hear much from him again. We used to, like, hearing this and hearing that, but it stopped after a while.
Q: So you lost track of him then.
A: Lost track of him, yeah.
Harry J & Sheila Hylton.
Q: Back to Harry J again. He was an insurance salesman at this time, right?
A: He was at that time, yeah. He was just coming into the music business. As a matter of fact, I think we were the first group he recorded. To my memory we were the first group he recorded. 'Cause at that time, when Bop left, they were still at Studio One. And like, we were under a contract, so some of the songs that you probably hear, they were recorded but went nowhere. So it's like we forget about them. And Keble was also there, his group (the Cables) was also there at the time under a contrac', and they were like encouraging us 'Nutten happening here, why not go to Harry J?', you understan'?
A: Ca' his group also went to Harry J, and we followed suit. And Harry liked what he heard and decide to record us. (Chuckles) And as a matter of fact, the firs' song that we record was 'No More Heartaches'. We also did it at Studio One, ca' then Harry J didn't have a studio yet. So we recorded that song at Studio One, (chuckles) the place we were originally assigned to. Yeah.
Q: How did you like the vibes at Studio One?
A: It was OK, it's just that nothin' was happening. I mean, you go in a certain time and you can record, you have your own recording time, and that's it. But nothing was happening. At that time he had like his bigger artists that he was tryin' to concentrate on, but he still... You know, producers are like that, they still take what they can out of you. If you are not making money for him he's not concentrating on you. In those days he had like the Heptones, the Gaylads and people like those. Ken Boothe, those people were there. So we were just like... I don't know how to put it, but he wasn't saying anything. 'Cause as a matter of fact, the same song, 'No More Heartaches', when we sang it for Coxson... when we sang that song for him then he said that song, it goes kinda soft, it's not really saying anything. At the time they were singin' mostly gimmick songs, catchy tunes, songs with gimmicks so he said 'Why don't you change it up?' But we didn't want to change it, we just love it the way it was. That's why he didn't record that song, according to him, yeah. But when Harry J heard it, he was new to the business too and he was willing to take the chance, so he decided then he liked the song jus' the way he wanted to by rearranging - when I say 'rearrange' I mean, like, that I would become the lead singer and the other two guys would do the harmony. Yeah, and there it was, the public like it when it's happening (chuckles). And that's the beginning of the story, when the group came up.
Q: Now, the 'big three', Duke Reid, Federal and Coxson, they had the power to block the way for opportunists at the time, from getting the sort of exposure you need to succeed in the business. I can't even imagine the obstacles to get through the payola issue, which was probably there even in the 1960's.
A: Well, I know, the big producers had more influence then. And as you say, the payola, they had the money and they had the contacts, so they could do what they want. But then again, like Harry J, he had a vision in a sense. He had visions, and he pushed. (Chuckles) I guess he pushed against them. He got contacts... I guess he had some money too, I don't know, so he could do the same thing that the rest were doing. So we got our music played on the air. Plus there was sound system in those days. And as a matter of fact, I remember going to this sound system, I think it was Merritone. I don't know if you've heard of them?
The Beltones at the State Theatre.
(Neville Francis & Trevor Shields).
Q: Winston Blake and brothers.
A: Exactly, Winston Blake, Merritone. And he had a club going too (Turntable Club). And I can tell you something that happened (chuckles). Actually, Harry J asked him to play the song on the sound system, and it was the first sample of the song, and when he was gonna play it... Hear what happened. At the time we had this program going on the radio station where you can call in and request for your songs to be played. 'Cause then we had Radio Jamaica and... what was it again...?
Q: JBC. It was those two, RJR and JBC.
A: And RJR, right. And friends keep on calling in. They hear the song and they call in and they request for it, and the more requests you get the more play it would get, y'understan'. And the more play it gets the more people gonna hear it. And that's what happened. So people keep on requesting it. And then at that time they had this chart going where it goes on the chart with a bullet, and if it goes on with a bullet you know that means it's going up. I think that's what happened (laughs). It keeps on playing and every week it moves up.
A: Yeah, and that's wha' happened. And then it start going and keep on moving up. And then Winston went back to Harry J and say "Man, I really didn't like the song, but it still have to get a play", y'know. "So give me a copy" (laughs). Harry J said: "If you want a copy now you have to go and buy it yourself". Like, when he asked him he didn't want it, ca' he say it wasn't good. You know (chuckles)?
Q: So it goes.
A: Afterwards, Winston now, he got himself a copy and he started playing it on his sound system and in his club, and then that helped to kinda push it some more. And then it really took off, and I know Harry J released it in England and then - bam! - we hear it was making waves in England also. And that was the beginning of the Beltones really. People started to know. Because before Beltones was not a name to anybody that people would talk about. Even 'Smile Like An Angel', it was like a mediocre hit still. But 'No More Heartaches' was the one that break Beltones, and further down with 'Home Without You'.
Q: I believe they recorded as early as '63, '64 or '65, the early attempts like 'Gloria's Love' and 'Hold Me' for Lindon Pottinger, Sonia's late husband.
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: They recorded for his Gay Disc label.
A: Right, right.
Q: 'I Want To Hold You', 'I'm Cold', 'We Are One', other titles around that time.
A: Those were done before me. Yeah, I wasn't really a part of those, the earlier ones.
Q: That was the early...
A: The earlier Beltones.
A: Because... Yeah, when I joined them I think the one they had was 'Gloria's Love' or 'Smile Like An Angel', one of those. But even though they still used to perform. Like, nobody know the group as much then, or who was who.
Q: What was the rhythm section for 'No More Heartaches', if you can recall? (Leroy) Sibbles on bass, Fil Callender on drums?
A: Yes, who was there...? What's this guy...? Yeah, he played bass. I think Wright was the name of the guy who played keyboards.
Q: Winston Wright?
A: Winston Wright, those two I can remember. But I can't remember the rest, but I can remember those guys. 'Cause they were like studio musicians, and you know Leroy had his group going but he was a good bass player too.
Q: Did Leroy have a finger in the arrangement of the song?
A: Well, not really, y'know. 'Cause those days, when you write a song it's like you have the riddim and the melody already arranged, so when you go in it's like you hum it to them and they bow to how you want it. In those days, that's how it worked. You go in and you say (hums): 'ta ta da daaa da', you know wha' I mean? And, yeah, when you do that they come up with a bass line. In a sense, even though we give them they're the ones who create it, but we are the one who give them the idea of how we want it to sound. But they created it. We come with the melody, tell them how we want it and then they record, that's what happened. Horns...? I try to remember who were the ones who blew the horns... I know it was one of them hornsman who played for Mrs Pottinger.
Q: Might've been Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Vin Gordon (Don D. Jr., trombone), perhaps Roland (Alphonso, sax).
A: It could be anyone of them, but as I say, the two people who would stand out that I can remember was Leroy and Winston Wright.
Q: Maybe 'Deadly' Headly on sax.
A: Could be anyone of them, 'cause in those days they had different... a lot of people was workin' at Studio One. Yes. But, like, I was kinda more close to the Heptones still, like we were friends still. I know they loved me. I mean, I know that's one thing: you see when a musician love your song, you get a good outcome.
A: Yes, they love it. Even though originally when we sang it for him (Coxson) he said it was too soft.
A: 'Soft', yunno (laughs). But as I said, Harry was more willing than these guys to... he liked the sound.
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