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Lord Lebby

 

Last revised: 4/17/11

 

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Background

Lord Lebby (Noel Williams) was born in 1930 in St. Mary, Jamaica. According to the liner notes from the LP found at the bottom of this page, Noel sang with calypso groups all over the island from early childhood to put himself through school.

In the 1950s, Lebby recorded at least 15 tracks for both Ken Khouri and Stanley Motta. First was a series of 78 RPM singles on the Kalypso label. Many of these tracks in particular are very interesting, and are discussed below. This was followed by a residency at The Montego Beach Hotel that resulted in a string of 78 RPM singles released on a label by the same name. These sides were also collected as album of 78s and, later, as a LP. (See here for MBH's LPs released after Lebby.) In the 1960s, he recorded at least one middle-period LP.

Perhaps Lebby's earliest recordings are the two songs made available on the Ken Khouri CD compilation "Rookumbine". Both "Coconut Woman" and "Green Guava Dumpling" feature a strong calypso sound and are billed to Count Libby, so it is possible this is not actually Lebby.

For a period in the mid-1950s, it appears that Lord Lebby performed as the lead singer for Count Barry, though it does not appear that any recordings were made bearing that name.

An account of a 1966 meeting at the Montego Beach Hotel was supplied by a frequent visitor to that resort:

He was a big man, heavier than on the LP jacket at that time with yellow eyes. I remember asking him about the name "Lord Lebby". He told us that it was a couple he had met from Lebanon who suggested the name. A few days after our first meeting he showed up at The Montego Beach Hotel carrying a rumba box. I must have made some indication that I wanted one and Lebby was nice enough to get one for me.

Golden Age Singles

Lebby then released a great string of rural mento 78 RPM singles for Khouri's Kalypso label that produced some classic sides. On all these tracks, he was backed by the talented The Jamaican Calypsonians, playing classic rural mento instrumentation: banjo, acoustic guitar, hand percussion and rumba box. Several of the songs are written from the point of view of a Jamaican living in London, raising the possibility that Lebby spend some time there.


From 1955, the A and B side of a famous Lord Lebby single:

  "Dr. Kinsey Report"         

      backed with

  "Etheopia"

 
 
 

To the left is the same single, re-released as a 45.

 

The sides of this single feature vastly different lyrical content.

"Dr. Kinsey Report" celebrates the social scientist who caused a sensation with the publication of "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" in 1948 and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" in 1953. It a good example of a two of mento's lyrical traditions: songs that comments on the news of the day and songs that have ribald content.

"Etheopia", in contrast, deal with far more serious subject matter. It is considered the earliest recorded (mid-1950s) back-to-Africa song; a theme that became so prevalent decades later in reggae. As in Bunny Wailer's "Dreamland" (to name one example), Africa is an idealized paradise, fulfilling all basic and spiritual needs. This track has been covered by several artists, including the aforementioned Bunny Wailer. (However, the authorship of this song is contested.) Great rural playing, vocals and lyrics make this a classic mento single! And judging by the relative ease in finding this single (compared to any other mento 78), it must have been a very big hit . Buy the compilation CD Boogu Yagga Gal, and you can hear both of these tracks and read the lyrics as well. ("Dip And Fall Back" is another CD compilation that includes both sides of this single. "Jamaica Mento - Authentic Recording" also includes "Etheopia ".)

 

 

Aless famous Lord Lebby 10" 78 RPM single and its subsequent (better sounding) re-release on 45, both on the Kalypso label:

"Hol'Im Joe" b/w "Bargie".

Unlike the previous record, which featured original songs, Lebby chose two mento classics for this record. These are vibrant and enjoyable renditions of these oft recorded songs. Because these tracks are favorites of mine and they are not in print, here are song clips of Bargie and Hol'im Joe

[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

 

 
 

A third Lord Lebby Kalypso 78, complete with water damage, and its subsequent (better sounding) re-release on 45,

Sweet Jamaica   b/w
Mama No Want No Rice No Peas

"Sweet Jamaica" may be based on a 1948 recording by Lord Kitchener. It's a tale of the difficulties of immigrating to London, which, at one point, Lebby refers to as "Babylon". This may be the first such recorded use of this term in such context. Between this and the theme of Etheopia, the case can be made that Lord Lebby and the Jamaican Calypsonians are Jamaica's original cultural

recording artists. They recorded Garveyite themes more than ten years before Burning Spear, and showed a nascent rasta sensibility fifteen years before  rastafari became synonymous with reggae music.

Mama No Want No Rice No Peas is a cover of the old jazz standard, first recorded in the 1930s by Count Bassie and many others. It is said to have originated in Nassau, Bahamas. It's a faithful cover, but done with rural mento instrumentation and is quite nice. Because these tracks are favorites of mine and they were not in print when this site was created, here are song clips of Sweet Jamaica and Mama No Want No Rice No Peas [Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.] A less interesting remake of the latter track would appear on one of the Valmark CDs. The lyrics to "Sweet Jamaica" are below. In 2006, both sides of this single saw their first re-release in 50 years with their inclusion on the CD compilation "Dip And Fall Back".

"Sweet Jamaica" by Lord Lebby

Thousands of people are asking me
how I spend my time in London city
No doubt that is a question I can not answer
I regret the day I left sweet Jamaica
and if it wasn't my position
'cause I nearly die there of starvation

Jamaica Jamaica, my darling, I'm bound to remember, darling
Jamaica Jamaica  I'm have an[?] failure                                  [could be "heart failure" or a failure"]

This is a thing bugging me:
Is the food control in London city
Now if you do not have a ration book
friend, you can not just put on something to cook
You know the weekly rations are small
In a day or two you can tour it all
and before I say [?]                                                                 [sounds like "ration pop"]
I go back to ackee and salt fish in Jamaica

My darling, Jamaica Jamaica, I'm bound to remember, darling
Jamaica Jamaica  I'm have an[?] failure                                  [could be "heart failure" or a failure"]

Many West Indians are crying out
because they left their countries and don't know how
Some left their jobs and their families
and determined to go to London city
Yes they are crying, they now regret
No kind of employment that they can get
The city of London they got roped
they cant find their passes to go back home

My darling, Jamaica Jamaica, I'm bound to remember, darling
Jamaica Jamaica I'm bound I'm bound to remember

During the winter in Great Britain
when I miss Jamaica for Babylon
If I had wings like an airplane
I would fly to that blessed country again
Where you get the sunshine in every day
and the lovely beach at Montego Bay
These are the things that I remember
that cause me to gwine back to Jamaica

My darling, Jamaica Jamaica, I'm bound to remember, darling
Jamaica Jamaica  I'm have an[?] failure                                  [could be "heart failure" or a failure"]

  Well, it isn't pretty, but labels from Lord Lebby's "Jingle Bells Calypso" are not easy to come by!

The b-side is "Blood Shot Eyes".

Jingle Bell Calypso proves a few things. First, there was at least one golden age mento Christmas song, replete with the melody of Jingle Bells played on banjo. Second, it further broadens the diversity of Lebby's Kalypso releases. Although it's the same band and instrumentation, this song is a bit unhinged, compared to the controlled sound heard on Lebby's other Kalypso tracks. The vocals are a bit crazed, as Lebby adds all manner of scats and sounds over the choruses as he is downright giddy about the coming party he describes in the lyrics below. Even though Lord Lebby seems to have started conscious Jamaican music, in this song, he is carefully orchestrating a Christmas party. With his enthusiastic specifications for the required liquor, it looks like Lebby throws one hell of a Christmas party! Because it is a favorite of mine and it's not in print, here is a song clip of Jingle Bell Calypso[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

"Jingle Bells Calypso" by Lord Lebby

Have you bought your ration?
it's Christmas right here in Britain
Thousands of people walk on the streets
with the celebration of Christmas eve

Jingle bells, jingle bells jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh

Don't be reluctant,
your liquor is most important
Two gallons of whiskey
with champagne and Morgan's brandy
Gin and cherry must be had
That's the latest drink down in Trinidad

Jingle bells, jingle bells jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride on a one house open sleigh

Haven got your liquor
please contract your nearest butcher
With chicken and turkey, hamburger [?] be sure it's plenty
Christmas here now is very grand
for women, children and every man

Jingle bells, jingle bells jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride on a one house open sleigh

Now, Christmas make you happy
The children dance and they are feeling merry
Piccadilly Circus, they sing and dance around the area
Hip hip hip hooray, with the celebration of Christmas day.

Jingle bells, jingle bells jingle all the way,
Oh what fun it is to ride on a one house open sleigh

 

The b-side is a good cover of "Blood Shot Eyes", a R&B hit in the early 1950s for Wynonie Harris, and originally an American country recording by Hank Penny from 1950. In Lloyd Bradley's excellent book on reggae and the dancehall, "Bass Culture", he states that Harris' version was a favorite at dances from 1951 through 1953. Not surprisingly, Lebby's version features R&B influenced vocals over mento-R&B played on rural instruments.

  The same recording of
"Blood Shot Eyes", this time with "One Little Love[r]" on the flip.

The latter allows Lebby's banjo player to show off his skills, as Lebby's R&B-influenced vocal leads one to believe that this track is a cover version. (If it is, I can't place it.) A fine track.

Courtesy of Robert Schoenfeld of Nighthawk Records and Roots Natty Roots fame for the first 4 and Richard Noblett of London for the last two are six Lord Lebby releases on the Montego Beach Hotel Gift Shop label. Lebby is now backed by The Montego Beach Hotel Calypso Band, though their instrumentation is the same classic rural mento as his previous band. Since he is apparently recording these strictly for the tourist trade, the songs are popular Jamaican songs rather than conscious themes. An the music, though fine, is less intense than the Kalypso tracks.

 

Noisy Spring           b/w:
Too Late Kitch

The writing credit for "Noisy Spring" is given to banjo player Eddie Brown. He was also credited as the writer of this song when he and Reynolds Calypso Band recorded it on MRS.

 
Marian           b/w:
Tomato

(Sorry, a large image of Marian is not available .)

  Blood Shot Eyes    b/w:
Take Her To Jamaica

This is a remake of the version above on Kalypso.


 
One more Lord Lebby single on Montego Beach Hotel Gift Shop label: "Wheel and Tun Me".

The flip side is "Doctor Kinsey Report". This is a very similar version to the above version released on Kalypso. However I believe it's a re-recording of their big hit.

Because it is a favorite of mine and it's not in print, here is a song clip of "Wheel and Turn Me"[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]


 
 
 
On the Kalypso label, a single by Lord Lebby, with Orchestra by The Kalypsonians:

Island In The Sun    b/w:
Destiny

"Destiny" has new lyrics set to the melody from "Yellow Bird".

Perhaps released in the 1960s, this single is a departure from the classic rural sounds Lebby had recorded to this point. The sound is dominated by electric guitar, as was the case with his 1960s LP below. Maracas and hand drum keep a foot in the rural camp. But the vocals sounds lean towards the non-mento style of the single below.

Non-Mento Singles

Lebby also recorded in styles other than mento.
 

  A 45 on Kalypso by Lord Lebby and His Calypsonians:

Endlessly    b/w:
Scarlet Ribbons

Only the song selections and the legend "Vocal" warn that there would be a very non-mento sound on this single.
 


 

A very early Chris Blackwell production on the R&B label, a Lord Lebby with the Caribs 45 RPM single:

Caldonia    b/w:
One Kiss For My Baby

Full blown R&B, with a rough voiced Lebby holding his own in this genre.


 
   

Here's the same single as above, but this time on the Starlite label. Starlite re-released singles on the Jamaican R&B imprint in the UK.


 
  One source found Lebby's "Caldonia" a R&B track worthy enough to be included on a compilation LP along with tracks from Slim Harpo, Howlin' Wolf, Lloyd Price  and other less known artists. The LP is "Stompin' Volume 2" on the Stompin' label.

Golden Age Album

In addition to releasing a number of Lord Lebby singles , The Montego Beach Hotel Gift Shop label also released an album of 78s, and then an LP that collected many of these sides. These are, to my knowledge, the only 1950s albums of Lebby's and the only time that any of his tracks appeared on any golden-age album.

Complete with tie string is an album of four 78 RPM singles entitled, "Selected Recordings of the Calypso Band of The Montego Beach Hotel, Montego Bay, Jamaica, B. W. I.".


Inside are three Lord Lebby singles on the Montego Beach Hotel Gift Shop label:

        Take Her to Jamaica       b/w         Blood Shot Eyes
        Marian                           b/w         Tomato
        Wheel and Turn Me         b/w         Doctor Kinsey Report

plus a Lord Kitchner single on Melodisc, "Wife and Mother", backed with "Mango Tree".

 

The inclusion of the last disc seems odd, but there is no way to be sure what was in this album when it was sold.

Sharing many tracks with the album immediately above, below is the LP, "Souvenir Album". The group is billed as The Montego Beach Hotel Calypso Band, with no mention of Lord Lebby whatsoever, unlike the singles, where he is credited as the vocalist.

 
   

The front cover predictably features a photo of the hotel. But the back cover does offer a very nice band shot. Detail can be seen below.

Side 1:
  1. Limbo
  2. Back To Back
  3. Red Head
  4. Matilda
Side 2:
  1. Maintenance
  2. Mary Ann
  3. Bloodshot Eyes
  4. Hold 'Im Joe
  5. Jamaica Fashion
"Jamaica Fashion" is a remake of the Kalypso side "One Little Lover". "Hold 'Im Joe" is also a remake of the recording on Kalypso.

Inside of the jacket, I was surprised to find mimeographed typed lyrics, as seen below. Not each of the LP's 9 songs are represented, but there are lyrics for a total of 13 songs. This is most extensive set of printed mento lyrics I've seen.

Mainten-
ance
 

Hold
'Em
Joe

Blood
Shot
Eyes

Dr.
Kinsey
 

Island
In The
Sun

Jamaica
Fashion
 

Mary
Ann
 

Back
To
Back

Matilda
 
 

Red
Head
 

Take Her
To
 Jamaica

Tom-
ato
 

Too
Late
Kitch

Middle Period LPs

 
     

An LP on the Kalypso label, "Lord Lebby Sings Favorite Calypsos". Photos of golden age mento performers are rare, so this middle period LP jacket photo is a find. The jacket has two more bonuses: first, biographical info in the liner notes (another rarity) and, on this copy, a Lord Lebby autograph. If only the music was as exciting! As was often the case with middle period LPs by golden age stars, the music just pales by comparison. There's certainly nothing wrong with Lebby's vocals, but the instrumentation (banjo has been replaced with electric guitar, sax has been added and the only percussion is maracas) is just not as exciting as his earlier recordings. Ken Khouri was the producer, cementing the career long relationship between these men.

The inclusion of "Danny Boy" seemed odd to me until Dan Neely explained that Danny Boy was a very popular song in Jamaica because of Sil Austin's recording. It even became one of Sugar Belly's signature songs. As if there was any doubt, Matthias Münchow provides a scan of the Jamaican pressing of Austin's 1959 hit single.


The liner notes give some idea of Lebby's travels later in his career. At some point after he left the Montego Beach Hotel (and Gift Shop label), he began a residency at the Casa Montego Hotel for at least eight years, interrupted by a three year stint, where Lebby toured the US and Canada. The autograph on another copy of this LP, courtesy again of Matthias Münchow, shows that Lebby was performing and autographing this LP in 1967.

This obscure Lord Lebby recording was issued on the NYC based Deryck  Waring Recordings label and is entitled "Cosco In Jamaica at Miranda Hill With Lord Lebby".  Although I haven't heard this recording, it was described to me as follows:
 
It's a live performance: you can hear the people in the club talking and clapping. Lebby talks back to them at some points, and at other times you can hear glasses clanking, etc. At the beginning an announcer introduces a man named Marshall Dylan. He goes to the mike and talks a little while about Lord Lebby. In the background Lebby starts out playing and singing a song about how everybody loves a Saturday night. This song takes up the whole first side of the LP and a portion of the other side. He incorporates the names and personal stories of many of the people staying at Miranda Hill into the song. After this song, he does a few more like "Yellow Bird", "Rum and Coca Cola", etc. Besides his guitar, the only other instruments I could hear sounded like a stand up bass, and possibly a tom tom drum. There is no banjo

Sorry, a larger version of this image is not available.

 

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