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Lord Fly  

 

Page last revised: 7/12/13

 

Jump to:

Background  Dan Williams  Golden age singles and clips  1950s album  1960s LP  Gerald Lyon 


Background

Born in Lucea, Jamaica in 1905 to a musical family, Lord Fly (Rupert Linly Lyon , called 'Pertie' by friends and family) has the distinction of the recording the first records for the first Jamaican label, MRS. As a child, Rupert played violin and organ, but by the time he was 25, he was playing saxophone professionally. His jazzy dance band mento sounds less and less like the Jamaican music that followed. But would have Jamaica produced other mento, ska, reggae, and dancehall records if not for the success of Fly's initial recordings? If for no other reason, Lord Fly is assured a place in the Jamaican music hall of fame.

On these recordings, with Fly's backing band was often billed as the Dan Williams Orchestra. (This band does not appear to have recorded with any singer other than Fly.) These performances are high spirited, slick affairs. Fine vocals and jazz chops abound, featuring piano, several percussionists, bass and lead clarinet. We have a good idea of some of the musicians from Daniel Neely's excellent article, "Long Time Gal! Mento is Back!" in the December 2001 issue of The Beat magazine. In addition

 

 


 

Jamaican recording pioneer
Rupert Lyon (Lord Fly) and his sax
courtesy of  great grand niece
Mish Kumar-Misir
 

to Fly on vocals and saxophone, there was:

...some of Jamaica’s best musicians, probably including the likes of Bertie King (clarinet), Fitz Hugh Colash (guitar), Mapletoft Poulle (piano), Herbert Nelson (bass), Donald Jarrett (drums) and others too numerous to mention.

As such, Lord Fly consistently performed the urban dance-band style of mento, never the rural variant of the genre.

Lord Fly also has the distinction of having his story well documented in the Jamaican newspaper, The Gleaner, on September 26th 1948. A copy of this article (along with a host of additional images and information that appear on this page) was sent to me by Mish Kumar-Misir, Lord Fly's great grandniece. It contains a wealth of information from a time just before Fly began recording for MRS. The text of this article appears below. 
 

Lord Fly and band,
 with Dan Williams on piano
from The Daily Gleaner
courtesy of  great grand niece
Mish Kumar-Misir
 

 

'The King of Calypso'
Meet Lord Fly

Jump in the line, wag your body in time
When I say wag you body, I mean so
From left to right in the tempo
And if you get a sensation
You can jump-up in the air and come down in slow motion.
Jump in the line
 
 

Almost any night at the Colony Club smart, after-dark resort in Cross Roads, St. Andrew, you can hear these words of the 1945 Trinidad Carnival song, being sung by a musician with mischief in his voice. The tune is Calypso, but the rendition is Jamaican, for "Lord Fly" is doing another of his popular numbers.
 

Ever since Dudley MacMillan, versatile manager of the club, gave the name to 46-year-old Rupert Lyon it has stuck like a fly in glue. Stuck, too, has been the magical popularity of “Fly”, whose singing of Jamaican and Trinidad folk tunes have been a musical sensation in local night club history.

A musician of years of experience -- he started playing way back in the days when such legendary figures of local orchestra music as Louis Steppenson and Bertie King were ruling the roost -- "Perty", as he was intimately known before "Fly" became his sobriquet started singing Calypso only a few years ago -- by accident.

During World War II, he took his saxophone in the then existing Hugh Coxe orchestra. Hugh had the engagement to play for the armed forces in Jamaica, at the USO at Old Hope Road, and at the two island bases, Sandy Gully (now Vernam Field) and Goat Island. And Lyon was on the bandstand, helping to make the music ride in the merry Coxe manner.

"Then I started singing Calypso." says Fly, telling the story himself. Hugh Coxe started it -- I must give full credit to him, for he has always been singing these Jamaican tunes -- and one night I started singing with him. From then, every time he was going to sing the local songs, both of us sang together, until finally I started singing them alone."

That launched Fly on his new career as a singer of West Indian songs. He took to it and the public took to him. Warming to the task, he got his brother Gerardo (of vaudeville fame, now in Engand) to write songs for him. Then he started writing some himself. More and more, as everyone started talking of them, the rage for Calypsos grew, and Lord Fly soared to the peak of popularity.

His big following of devotees, wait eagerly, until the throb of the drums and piano, and the shaking of the maracas signal the arrival of Calypso time. Then, to the pulse of the exciting West Indian rhythm, the man who calls himself the 'King of Calypso' in Jamaica, puts down his sax, gets to his feet and starts to sing, in his whimsical, slightly off-key voice, the quaint words of Calypso. "'Going back to. Jamaica, Going back to Jamaica, They ration this, they ration that. They ration mi cat down to one little rat. Going back to Jamaica".

This is a typical Fly tune. Written by brother Gerardo, nostalgic in London, for the sunshine and abundant food of Jamaica it came to Jamaica last year. From the first night it was sung at Colony, it was an immediate' hit. Fly says it's his favourite Jamaican tune. 'Jump In the Line' is his favourite Trinidadian.

Born in Lucea, of a musical family, Rupert Lyon came to Kingston 22 years ago as a youngster just out school, playing music as a hobby. Those were the days of silent pictures and he began playing at The Palace Theatre. Soon he began to be known around the city as a musician. Out of his earnings as a taxicab driver, he bought his first saxophone.

By 1918, the travel bug hit him and he went away to New York. Working by day, he continued his music at night. He joined up with a band, did "a little broadcasting," and worked on a vaudeville circuit, which took him to several theatres in a night, playing and singing.

Back to Jamaica in 1923, he was, with his American experience, the local rage for about two years and then he went away again, this time to Cuba. He spent another two years there, during which he played with a rhumba band, and came back.

Then he really got going. Joining the then-popular Sagwa Show, he traveled around the island and eventually teamed up with a pianist called Kid Harry in a band at Montego Bay.

That started him on the high road. Not only did he get a job with the Jamaica Biscuit Company, whose island salesman he is today, but he made his name as a "bigtime" musician, playing before such distinguished listeners as the Duke of York (now King George 'VI) and the Prince of Wales (now the Duke of Windsor), when they visited Jamaica in 1928. Returning to Kingston, in 1935, he found a berth with Eric Leyy’s orchestra, then playing at Bournemouth Club. With this group, he had the distinction of being one of first local musicians to broadcast over ZQI. 

[The liner notes in the LP seen below, has Fly playing at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in NYC from 1930-1933.]

When the Eric Levy band broke up, he started along association with George Moxey, then playing at the Silver Slipper Club. Then came the war and he switched over to Hugh Coxe for the USO chore. One of his proud possessions is a pin given to each member of that USO band by the American Army as a decoration for their services.
 

At the end of the war, Hugh took his band into the newly-formed Colony Club and Lyon went along. Hugh was too busy to lead the band and soon ‘Perty' was in charge. Everybody was getting crazy about Calypso at the time. The manager gave him the name of Lord Fly and he has been a success ever since.

Happy in the name, and pleased at the fame, he has no immediate desire to go away again. Of course, if a really big offer were to come his way, he would not spurn it -- but it would have to be big. Right now, his greatest ambition is "to get some of my tunes copyrighted and to hear them on saleable records."

Naturally, he has made some local records "which my wife plays every night. She likes to hear them." Married, he has no children, but that doesn't prevent him being the merry music-maker in the fancy shirt and the fey voice, who also finds time to be treasurer of the Jamaica Musicians Association.

Of the standard of dance music in Jamaica at present, 'Fly' thinks it has improved considerably since he first started playing. "We have men here who can compare with the best performers abroad." The growth of nightclubs has also' been a good thing for musicians. "It keeps them together and keeps them respectable. "But Calypso is his love and his chief topic. '"More people dance to Calypso music than any other," he says, "I really like to see how the people enjoy themselves when I sing Calypso. It makes me happy to see them happy!"

 

 

A 1959 family photo of Rupert Lyon
(Lord Fly) courtesy of
great grand niece Mish Kumar-Misir
 

  Above is an advertisement from Daily Gleaner, December 10, 1949. A year after the article above, those who wanted to dance to Lord Fly and The Dan Williams Orchestra would patronize Kingston's Wickie Wackie club, rather than The Colony.

In either 1951 or 1952, Fly would begin to record a series of at least 7 singles, some described below. At some point in the decade, he toured New York and Miami.

After this string of MRS singles, Dan Williams does not appear to have recorded again. Lord Fly recorded one LP in the 1960s, as seen below

Although Fly began to have health problems in the mid-1950s, he apparently performed until he passed away at the age of 62 on June 28, 1967.

Dan Williams
 
In May of 2007, I heard from Donovan Williams, one of four grandchildren of John "Dan" Williams. He recalls attending his farher's funeral after he died of a heart attack after completing a tour of the Caribbean with his band. Donovan surprised me by with the information that Dan Williams is the grandfather of disco singer, actor and model Grace Jones. Dan Williams and his orchestra can also be heard on this release.

1950s Singles and sound clips
 
  On MRS (as always), a single by by Lord Fly & The Dan Williams Orchestra.

"Medley of Jamaican Mento-Calypsos (Fan Me Solja Man Fan Me; One Solja Man; Yuh No Yeary Weh De Ole Man Sey; Slide Mongoose)"     backed with

"Whai, Whai, Whai"


Medleys of two or more mento standards were very popular in the golden age. Fly recorded several. The first here includes the "Wheel and Turn Me" refrain, as discussed on The Bob Marley and The Wailers page.

These tracks were included in some editions of the 78 RPM album, "Calypso Memories of Jamaica", as seen on the More Golden Age Album Scans page. "Medley of Jamaican Mento" can be heard today on the CD collection "Mento Madness", as seen on the Can I Buy Mento? page. "Whai, Whai, Whai" has not yet  been collected on CD. Inconsistently, this side bears the legend, "Calypso". Perhaps the intent of this categorization is to suggest that old folk songs are "mento" and newly written songs are "calypsos". But these legends, when they appear on MRS singles, do not add up to a consistent descriptor.

This is most probably be the very first mento record, and therefore the start of the Jamaican recording industry. Stanley Mottas MRS label began before the other Jamaican labels (such as Times Store, Kalypso and Chins). And the serial number found on each side of the release is 01A and 01B, lending some credence to this theory. That would place this release at 1952 or perhaps

1951. We will have to wait for Dan Neely to publish his research before there is a definitive answer.

For the time being, lets assume this was the first commercially available Jamaican record. That would make "Whai, Whai, Whai" the first original composition on any Jamaican record, as the medley on the flip side is a collection of venerable Jamaican folk songs.

That makes the artifact to the right all the more amazing. Like many, if not all of Fly's original compositions, it was written by his brother, Gerald Lyon. Courtesy Gerald's great grand daughter, Mish Kumar-Misir, is the first page of Gerald's hand written lyrics, music and notes for "Whai, Whai, Whai", dated October 1, 1947.


"Whai, Whai, Whai" became available on CD in 2013 on the collection called "Mento, Not Calypso".


 

 
Careful comparison of this record with the one pictured above shows that these labels come from a different print run. My guess is that the above record was an earlier print than the one seen here.

From two different pressings, here are both sides of the second single by Lord Fly and The Dan Williams Orchestra: A medley of folk songs is paired with an original song.
 
 

"Medley: Linstead Market/Hold ‘Im Joe/Dog War A Matches Lane/Emanuel Road "

"Strike Strike Strike"     b/w:

The medley can be heard on the "Take Me To Jamaica" CD collection.

  With the legend, "Jamaican Calypso", another Lord Fly/Dan Williams single on the MRS label:

"Dip And Fall Back", backed with
"Big Big Sambo Girl; Mattie Rag".

The B-side can be heard on the "Mento Madness" CD collection.


Courtesy of Richard Noblett of London comes these two Lord Fly with The Dan Williams and his Orchestra scans. (All four sides include the legend, "Jamaican Calypso", regardless of whether it's an old folk song or an original.)
 
   

Swine Lane Gal; Iron Bar    b/w:
Gwine Back To Jamaica

The A-side can be heard on Mento Madness CD.


   Salt Lane gal can't cook rice and peas
   The bottom burn, the middle raw,
   the gravy taste like castor oil

   If you’re feeling bad,
   come and cook again

   Hold de light,
   make me boil the rice

   Colic nearly kill me
   Sake a bad boiled rice


To the right are the lyrics (with all the repetition removed) to "Swine Lane Gal", more typically know as "Salt Lane Gal". This popular song about a very bad meal has been recorded by many artists, including The Skatalites, The Jolly Boys, Cedric Brooks and others.

The oldest recorded rendition is here.

The latest recorded rendition is here.

 

  And:
I Don't Know      b/w:
When Mi Look Upon Jame So; Ada; Times So Hard

"When Mi Look Upon Jame So" is a variation of "Water Come From Me Eye".

 


 
  Apparently previously owned by Freddie is this record featuring two Lyon originals:

I Don't Know      b/w:
Gwine Back To Jamaica


 

   
   

   
Another Lord Fly/Dan Williams 78 RPM single:

"Blu-Lu-Lup"                     b/w
"Transportation Kingston Style"

"Blu-Lu-Lup" can be heard on the CD compilations "Mento Madness" and "Authentic Mento", while it's flip can be heard on "Mento, Not Calypso".

 

Above are unrecorded extra verses to
"Blu-Lu-Lup" as written by Fly's
brother Gerald Lyon. The note to Fly
from Gerald is dated July 1951, and
the author is writing from NYC.

Note courtesy of Mish Kumar-Misir.


  Courtesy of  Roddy Savage of Glasgow Scotland, another Lord Fly/Dan Williams single:

"Donkey City", backed with
"Manassa With The Tight Foot Pants".

The later can be heard on the "Mento Madness" CD collection.


 
Here is the  UK release of "Donkey City" on the London label.

It comes from the LP here.

The single's flip-side can be seen here.

 



Last, and perhaps least, is a final Lord Fly single:  "The Little Fly" backed with "Mabel.
 
 

I must confess that "The Little Fly" is probably my least favorite mento song.

Unusually, Dan Williams and His Orchestra are not credited. Instead, the song is billed to is Lord Fly and His Orchestra.  


 
Lord Fly on 45?! Yes, on one side of a UK-released single taken from a London Records  album of mento that was licensed from Stanley Motta.
 
  Lord Fly with The Dan Williams and his Orchestra:
"Donkey City"

     backed with

Robin Plunkey and The Shaw Park Calypso Band:
"Take Her To Jamaica"


 
Because it was out of print when I posted it, below is a clip from another Lord Fly single on MRS that is not pictured on this page. It's another medley.   [Click here for notes about the audio clips on this site.]

Medley: Linstead Market; Hol' Him Joe; Dog War A Mattuse Lane; Manuel Road

This track is available on the CD compilation, "Take Me To Jamaica". The single's flip side, "Strike, Strike, Strike" has not been compiled on CD.

1950s Album
 
"Calypso Memories Of Jamaica", a collection of Lord Fly's first two singles in the jacket seen here, may be the first Jamaican album ever released. However, the story is not clear. For more on this release, visit the "More Golden Age Albums" page.
 

1960s LP
 
   
 
Courtesy of Olivier Albot are these scans from the 1960s urban mento LP "Sings Jamaica Mento" by Lord Fly with Mapletoft Poulle and His Orchestra, as released on the EMP label. The songs are a combination of remakes of Lord Fly's MRS singles and renditions of traditional Jamaican songs.

Fly is in good voice, but his register is a somewhat lower than his MRS singles of a decade earlier. The jazzy instrumentation also sounds more 1960s than 1950s. Featuring jazzy piano, flute, and clarinet over busy percussion that has Latin influence, its similar in style to such LPs as as Baba Motta "Jamaican Carnival at The Myrtle Bank". All in all, this is a fine album.

The liner notes claim that in the 1940s, Fly was first person to record Jamaican music. This may have contributed to the not uncommon belief that his MRS singles were recorded a decade earlier than they actually were. The Gleaner article from 1948 seen above may help explain this discrepancy, as it makes mention of what seem to be private records that Fly made. Though his wife enjoyed playing them, he still had the goal of making "saleable records".

To see another Mapletoft LP, visit the Other Middle Period LP Scans page.
 

Personnel:
Bass - Herbert Nelson
Drums - Donald Jarrett
Clarinet - Bertie King
Maracas - Sagwa Bennett and
                Freddie Galbraith
Percussions - Peter Hudson
Bongos - Sonny Bethelmy
Guitar - Keith Stoddart
Flute - Lloyd Mason
Piano - Mapletoft Poulle
Vocal arrangements
  and orchestration -
           Mapletoft Poulle
  Side One:
1. The Little Fly
2. Lignumvitae ,Wheel An Tun Me , No Tie The Donkey
3. Transportation Kingston Style
4. Maybelle
5. Hole Him Joe  *
6. Badminded People

Side Two:
1. Strike
2. Manassah
3. Bulaloop
4. Swine Lane Gal & Iron Bar
5. Nobody's Business 
6. Going Back To Jamaica
 

* Though it's not listed as such, "Hold Him Joe" is actually a medley of "Hold 'Im Joe", "Dog War A Mattuse
   Lane"; "Manuel Road", "Water Run A Me Eyes", "Ada" and "Time So Hard". 

Gerald Lyon
 
The lyrics and music of Lord Fly's original songs were written by Fly's brother Gerald Randolph Lyon. In addition to the samples seen above, here is Gerald's music and lyrics from a 1948 unrecorded Lord Fly song, "De Wol' Tun 'Roun". It includes a note to Fly: "Dear Pertie: Englishmen are coming out to Jamaica and listen to all the latest and oldest Mentos, Calypsos, etcetera."
 

 

Gerald was also an entertainer in his own right. For example, in 1927 he caused a sensation in Kingston by playing piano for 48 hours straight. He was also a renowned dancer who performed in Cuba, all over the US and as part of The Folies Bergere in Paris. His great grand daughter, Mish Kumar-Misir, informs me that Gerald immigrated to the US in the 1940s. Her research into the family tree reveals that Gerald has had several stage names, such as Professor Ponce De Leon, Geraldo Leon, Geraldo de Leon, Geraldo Ponce de Leon,  etc.

The photo of Gerald Lyon comes from The Gleaner, December 21, 1927. Like the music above, it comes courtesy of Mish Kumar-Misir.

 

email me at:
mike@mentomusic.com

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