A: Heptones - Be the one
B: Joe Gibbs & The Professionals - The road is rough
I've already stated my sentiment elsewhere that the almighty Heptones recorded their best material right after leaving Studio One. No longer tied to a studio or a producer the gifted threesome were free to record whatever sound they were after. The result is a sublime songbook; featuring originals, cover songs and do-overs; which is worth, or mandatory I would say, checking out for everyone digging reggae, soul and funk. Despite having laid down many classic tunes, superb basslines and tight riddims over at the foundation studio, I feel the strongest Heptones material was recorded in the early seventies. Because it all just seems to come together in this era. The new studio's in which they now recorded provided them with a crisp, more modern, edgier and fatter sound. Add to that their unique way of choosing their cover songs; the late, great Barry Llewellyn read the lyrics of the "Book of rules" somewhere and thought it would make a good song; and their baffling songwriting skills and you have a picture perfect. And just as when they were operating from Brentford Road, the Heptones continued to spawn classic tune after classic tune.
'Be the one' is one of those songs. Slightly overlooked, perhaps, due to the big heap of quality Heptones material out there, a first listen will issue a song that fits both in the soul, gospel and reggae corner. The traditional Heptones cookbook, if you will. "Be The One", a song the Heptones first recorded for Studio One (titled "Show us the way"), is an upbeat song driven by a heavy halftimed bassline and a punchy keyboard that delivers an irresistable hook. It's the same hook that makes it a standout track, as "Be The One Version", on the infamous Dub Serial lp. On the original 7" that dub is called "The Road is rough" which is an excerpt from the positive lyrics the Heptones' wrote for this song. I can't make out if the song is about young lovers, religion or politics, but I suspect all topics are at hand here. "Be The One" was also featured on the great "Heptones and their friends" lp on Jogib/Trojan and it's through that album I discovered an odd writing credit. Apparently, the song I've been rinsing on 7" for ages, credited to Leroy Sibbles on that format, has a ghostwriter. Because on the Trojan lp the credits go to a certain William Tuckaway. The Heptones have a long history of covering and adapting songs, forging it into their own unique mould, so this credit didn't really come as a surprise. I had never heard of William Tuckaway before, though, so that I deemed worth investigating.
Apparently, the song I've been rinsing on 7" for ages, has a ghostwriter.
It turns out the credit should have read "William Truckaway", also known as William Sievers, who was the guitar player in a band called Sopwith Camel. The Sop was a band associated with the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s. The band was renowned for landing a deal with the major label Kama Sutra. They were (one of the) first psychedelic bands to make that big a deal, so expectations were high. Unfortunately, for the band, it didn't go nowhere and they would have to wait almost six years for their next break. In between, William Truckaway recorded a solo album for the Reprise label, called Breakaway. The sixth song on there was called 'Be the one', a track that was also included on the b-side of a 7" promo that was released prior to the launch of the album. Despite the great music on the disc (I love a wee bit of country every now and then), I couldn't help thinking that these "Be The One's" are not the same. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't find a link, not lyrically nor musically. So, if the songs are not the same, where does this credit to William Truckaway come from?
I decided to give Leroy Sibbles, frontman of the Heptones, a call. When I reach him he's in a great mood and he tells me it's raining in Jamaica. "Good for you", I say, "but where I come from it's raining all the time!" We share a few laughs, chat for a bit but then, when we're actually ready to talk business, the line goes beserk. Perhaps it was due to the weather, but all of a sudden a heavy static occurs. I hear Leroy's voice dropping in and out and then there's nothing but complete silence. When I finally get a hold of Leroy again we decide we'll chat some more via e-mail. This is what he had to say about 'Be the one', Joe Gibbs, Studio One and more.
Be The One, one of the finest Heptones songs out there in my opinion, is credited on Trojan Records to William Truckaway. Quite an interesting choice for a reggae make over, but then again: I hear no similarities between the two. Is it indeed a cover or is it an original Heptones song?
This is an original tune that I wrote both the lyrics and the music for. Not sure how William Truckaway got the credit for it. That is a mystery to me.
The Heptones recorded quite a few coversongs. 'Save the Last dance' by The Drifters, 'Our day will come' by Ruby & The Romantics, 'Love has many faces' by Nancy Wilson. I spot some movie scores, some plays, some soul, some jazz. The Heptones are versatile. What was you musical background?
I am a self-taught musician. I grew up listening to mostly R&B – mainly Motown: groups like Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Four Tops, Temptations, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross and The Supremes,The Jackson Five and later Michael Jackson, I also listened to Curtis Mayfield and Otis Redding. I can’t leave out The Godfather of Soul James Brown and I also listened to the The Beatles.
How do you pick your cover songs?
For the cover tunes - they were given to us by Coxsone in the early days. He’d go abroad and come back with the latest tunes for us to listen to and do in a reggae version.
I really like songs that stay with you because they have a vibe and a message that last.
And after that? Radio, soundsystem?
After the Studio One years the covers were picked based on what we liked. We heard those [songs] mainly on the radio.
So, how do you alter them for the Jamaican market? Book of Rules, for instance, was based on a poem, but it's every inch a Heptones' tune.
I just felt the vibe and redid them in a reggae beat when they were covers.
Speaking of Studio One, it sounds like a place of continuous creativity. What was it like in other studios? The same?
No Studio One was different at the time. It was like home.
Everybody was interested in the musical vibe, so there was a common purpose and connection happening. Studio One was where so many of the great artists of that era came from and everybody just fed on the positive vibes.
So, what was it like at Gibbs? Creative? Free?
It was creative, as all studios are creative because the promoters leave the music to the musicians.
I was wondering if Gibbs was the engineer on Be The One and them sessions? And who produced it? Niney? Glen Adams? Gibbs himself?
Gibbs produced himself.
Leroy, you play bass, drums, synth, do background vocals. Did you play on any of Gibbs' sessions?
Not really but in the early days of Errol Dunkley's early Joe Gibbs recording I arranged the music before he went to the studio. (pre-arranged)
Soundwise the Gibbs material sounds golden. It's one of the reasons I like Gibbs. Especially in the early days, the sound was special. Your thoughts?
Every studio has its sound and every studio has a time when their songs are the hot songs. So at that time Gibbs was hot.
Was that what made you go to Gibbo's studio after leaving Studio 1?
The Heptones and Dennis Brown were friends and Dennis invited the Heptones to the studio initially.
I read about some irritation towards Gibbs in your biography. You helped him into the business by arranging a song for him?
It wasn’t a single song, it was projects. As mentioned above I pre-arranged the Errol Dunkley songs and as The Heptones we did the Now Generation with Gibbs as a project.
Gibbs once stated his enterprise was all about fun. Was it like that?
Fun for him to collect the rewards from the recordings.
You now run your own label, called Bright Beam. What are you looking for in an artist?
Hit songs are what sell, but what I really like are songs that stay with you because they have a vibe and a message that last.
You also run a soundsystem, Melody One. What's getting a spin on there? Old, contemporary or a mixture?
Yes I still have the sound system and we play a mixture. Some old school, some R&B, some contemporary, some dancehall and of course reggae.
I'm happy to see reggae is on the rise again with great talents like Chronixx stepping up. What do you think of the current status of reggae music and dancehall in Jamaica?
I see a lot of youth are trying to raise the consciousness of the music and I applaud them and appreciate them. Chronixx is one of my favourites and I give thanks to all the youth sending a positive message in the music.
Give thanks and praise. Reggae music - roots is message music – glad to see that we are returning to the positive message.
And on that positive note, our conversation ends. I think it's safe to say, based on Leroy Sibbles' statement, that the William Truckaway credit on the Heptones' "Be the One' is a mistake. It doesn't, however, clarify how it ended up there. I've tried to reach William Sievers and Sopwith Camel to hear their end of the story. Unfortunately, I haven't heard from either of them yet. When they do reach out, I'll certainly update this article. In the meantime, though, I'm gonna spin The Heptones' cut again. What a tune, what a tune...
Special thanks to Susan and Leroy Sibbles for their time, patience and effort. It's much appreciated.
For more Leroy Sibbles, please visit http://leroysibbles.com/
Label: Joe Gibbs Record Globe (Ja) / also released on Attack and Duke in the UK.
Matrix: my copy's got no matrix
Heptones - Hypocrite
Heptones - save the last dance