Wednesday, May 2, 2018

More Classic Reggae from Omnivore: Junior Byles, Ethiopian & Gladiators

Ethiopian & Gladiators' Dread Prophecy
Omnivore Recordings has been crushing it since buying the catalog of the legendary reggae label Nighthawk Records a year or so ago. The first pair of Nighthawk titles, released at the end of 2017, were the Gladiators’ Full Time and a very cool, previously-unreleased Ethiopian & His Allstars’ album titled The Return of Jack Sparrow.

Two more titles, both critically-acclaimed albums by Gladiators, were released in April 2018. Now Omnivore has announced another pair of acclaimed reggae albums, which will be released on CD and as digital downloads on June 22, 2018 – Ethiopian & Gladiators’ Dread Prophecy and Junior Byles’ Rasta No Pickpocket.

Leonard Dillon, a/k/a Ethiopian a/k/a Jack Sparrow first met Albert Griffiths of the Gladiators back in the mid-1960s. Dillion had already formed the Ethiopians and had been working in the studio with legendary reggae producer Coxsone Dodd for his Channel One label. The sessions inspired a musical collaboration between Dillon and Griffiths, who would later form the Gladiators, the pair recording the classic “Train To Skaville” single.

The Ethiopians were one of the most popular bands in Jamaica during the late 1960s and into the early ‘70s while the Gladiators hit their creative and commercial peak during the late 1970s and the early ‘80s. A recording session in 1986 for Nighthawk Records reunited Dillon with Griffiths and the Gladiators, which resulted in the classic roots-reggae album Dread Prophecy.

Junior Byles' Rasta No Pickpocket
Meanwhile, reggae singer Junior Byles formed the vocal group the Versatiles in 1967, recording with noted producers Lee “Scratch” Perry and Joe Gibbs, resulting in the hit single “Children Get Ready.” When the Versatiles split up in 1970, Byles continued to record as a solo artist for Perry, garnering a minor hit with the song “What’s The World Coming To,” released as ‘King Chubby,’ Byles’ nickname. Byles continued to record numerous singles for Perry, including classics like “Cutting Razor,” “Place Called Africa,” and “Rasta No Pickpocket” which made Byles a major star in Jamaica.

Byles suffered from mental illness, however, and moved in and out of sanitariums during the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The artist scored a final hit with the Joe Gibbs-produced “Heart & Soul.” His session for Nighthawk Records was arranged by Byles’ longtime friend Niney the Observer, which resulted in his final album, 1986’s Rasta No Pickpocket. He released a handful of singles during the rest of the decade and would end up homeless, begging in the streets.

Byles would return to performing in the late ‘90s, though, and would travel to the U.K. for a short tour in 2004. The Omnivore release of Rasta No Pickpocket is the first time the album has appeared on CD, remastered from the original tapes and including bonus tracks.

Buy the CDs from
Ethiopian & Gladiators’ Dread Prophecy
Junior Byles’ Rasta No Pickpocket

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