In 1966, when driving rhythms of ska were finally abandoned in favour of the slower, more soulful style of rocksteady, jamaican performers discovered a freedom of expression which they had previously been denied. Few benefited more by this dramatic change in style than the island's vocal groups, of whom only The Wailers, The Maytals, The Paragons, The Techniques and the Gaylads had succeeded in overcoming the limitations of ska to make a sustained impression on the local music scene. The dawn of the rocksteady age, however, gave rise to a new wave of groups and of these, few proved more popular than THE MELODIANS.
Formed in 1965 by Tony Brevett, Brent Dow and Trevor McNaughton at a local singing contest in Greenwich Town, THE MELODIANS made their recording debut for legendary Kingston producer, Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd the following year with "lay it on". The song proved immensely popular locally and was swiftly followed by further releases for Dodd, including "Meet Me", "I should have made it up" and "let's join hands (together)". For their choice of material, the group rarely looked to outside sources, with all three members of the group making significant contributions to their song-writing sessions, assisted by close friend, Renford Cogle.
Early in 1967 the trio joined the growing roster of artists recording for Arthur 'Duke' Reid, a gun-toting former policeman who operated his much revered recording studio above his liquor store in Bond Street Kingston. The hits soon came thick and fast for the trio, with "you don't need me", "you have caught me", "last train to expo.'67" and "gonna get along without you now", a song clearly influenced by the Teresa Brewer/Skeeter Davis hit of the same name. Following two further releases, "come on little girl" and a re-make of "let's join hands", the group fell out with Reid over a financial dispute and decided to record for Sonia Pottinger. The change of producer proved far from detrimental to the trio's popularity and their next two single releases, "little nut tree" B/W "you are my only love" and "swing and dine" B/W "could be a king" further enhanced their standing on the island.
By now the trio were eager to exert more control over their careers and joined fellow artists, The Gaylads, Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe, in launching the links label. Although their resulting release on the label, "sweet rose" B/W "it comes and goes" proved enormously popular, internal disputes among the artists, allied to distribution difficulties resulted in the demise of links records after a mere handful of releases.
Late in 1968, the trio joined Winston Lowe's newly launched "tramp" label, where they continued to supervise and produce their own material, which included "when there is you", "ring of gold", "you've got it" and "personally speaking". They also found time to record one-off sessions for both Sonia Pottinger and Coxsone Dodd before returning to work with Reid early the following year, cutting a number of titles for the producer, the most natable being, "everybody bawlin'".
A little later, they began recording for Leslie Kong, who was beginning to enjoy unprecedented international success for a Jamaican producer, the group's initial release for Kong was "sweet sensation" B/W "it's my delight", which was issued by trojan in the UK, where it crept into the lower reaches of the pop chart, peaking at number 41 in January 1970. While further success abroad proved elusive, the quality of the group's output for the producer remained undiminished, with their releases from this period including "a day seems so long", "say darling say", "it took a miracle" and rivers of babylon", a traditional song, the lyrics of which quoted parables from psalms 137. Some years later their version was slavishly copied by Bony M, who enjoyed international succes with the song.
During this time, the trio also recorded once again for Sonia Pottinger, who produced them on a handful of songs, including "(you rule) your destiny" and "love love away". It was their relationship with Kong, however, which continued to prove most fruitful, with releases such as "come ethioians, come", "my love, my life" and "the time has come". In August 1971, however, the Jamaican music industry lost one of its finest talents when Kong, while still at the height of his success suffered a fatal heart attack.
Despite the shock, the group overcame the tragedy to record some of their finest material, which included the Tony Brevett-produced "this beautiful land" (featured on the history of trojan vol.2, cdtal-900). They also worked with a series of local producers, returning to Pottinger once again to cut two medleys of their old hits ("THE SENSATIONAL MELODIANS" and "THE MIGHTY MELODIANS"), and later worked with Sid Bucknor ("in our time"), Warrick Lyn ("you are my only love"), Lee Perry ("round and round") and N.E.Williams ("your turn to cry").
Towards the end of 1972, the trio returned to work with Duke Reid for a last time to record "passion love" and "love makes the world go around" and also reunited with Sonia Pottinger yet again to cut "black man kingdom come". A little later however, THE MELODIANS disbanded. Brevett, had already recorded material without the group, including "you took me by surprise" for Martin Riley, the Bunny Lee-produced "don't give up", and a number of self-produced singles, most notably "don't get weary", "over hills and valleys", "so ashamed" and "black girl". Following the break-up of THE MELODIANS, he cut a series of excellent singles, such as "words of prophesy" for Israel Rockers label, "star light" for Planit, along with "i've got to get back home" and an updated version of "over hills and valleys" for Vivian 'yabby u' Jackson. Meanwhile, Dowe, who had previously cut solo sides for Byron Smith and Leslie Kong, proved even more prolific, recording a number of popular singles for Pottinger, resulting in his debut album, Build Me Up, issued early in 1974. Over the next few years, Dowe continued to work with Pottinger as well as recording "down here in babylon" for Pauline Morrison, a re-make of "your turn to cry" for Prince Tony Robinson and "things you say you love" and "come on pretty woman", both issued on the virgonian label. Like Brevett, he also produced a number of his own recordings, most notably, "a deh pon di wicked", "no sweeter way" and "unfaithful mankind".
Throughout the remainder of the decade, Brevett, Dowe and McNaughton occasionally re-formed to record, with their collaborations including "dry up yuh tears", "what am i to do", "it's all in the family" and a version of the drifters "i'll take you where the music's playing" for Pottinger, and "why little girl" along with remake of "passion love" for Channel One. Other releases bearing their name included "don't let the sun catch you crying" and an updated version of "swing and dine" for Harry Johnson, a Vivian Jackson-produced single, "stop you gang war" B/W "learn to love one another" and three singles issued on the Studio One Label: "burning fire", "loving feeling" and an updated version of "little nut tree". In 1983 the trio recorded the album, Irie Feelings for the us label, Ras, who also issued "warning" B/W "push a little harder" as a single. The reunion proved short-lived, however, and it was some years before they pooled their talents once again to record "song of love" (issued on the Tappa Label) and to make a number of highly acclaimed performances at concerts in Jamaica.
Today, the future of the trio remains somewhat uncertain, but whether or not they ever decide to record together again, THE MELODIANS will long be remembered for the many wonderful recordings which have earned them the reputation as one of the finest vocal groups ever to have make thier mark in Jamaican Music.