(5 / 5)
Harry Zephaniah Johnson may not be a familiar name to many. But he was one of the most influential and under-rated producers on the Jamaican scene in the last throws of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
Better known as Harry J. In 1969 and again in 1980, his biggest hit, “Liquidator” under the guise of Harry J Allstars stormed into the UK singles chart at number five and then just under the Top 40.
The song was adopted by the skinhead movement, like a lot of the Trojan label tracks. Harry J was also a prolific producer and had success with The Beltones, “No More Heartaches” in 1969 on his own label, Harry J.
Again, as producer he scored with Lloyd Robinson on “Cuss Cuss”, and in the early 1970s, he enjoyed big success with the vocal duo Bob (Andy) and Marcia (Griffiths) and the hit “Young, Gifted and Black”.
As a producer he had a hit with Sheila Hilton and “Breakfast In Bed”. Other artists he produced include Dennis Brown, The Melodians, Lloyd Willis, Zap Pow, Leslie Butler, The Heptones and Sylvan Morris.
Johnson began his career as a bass player in Jamaica with The Virtues, and then became their manager. After the band split, he sold insurance.
As a producer he had access to Coxsone Dodd’s studio to make records, at famed Studio One. His productions included many Jamaican hits with DJs, including Scotty and Winston Blake.
Harry Johnson had a record store and sold that to open his own studio in 1972, in Kingston, Jamaica, Harry J Studio, where Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded some of their albums between 1973 to 1976, such as “Catch A Fire”.
The likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Grace Jones hung out there, as did Chris Blackwell before he moved to the UK. Trojan was co-founded by Blackwell 50 years ago.
Johnson had a deal with Island Records to record their artists, including Burning Spear and The Heptones. Across the 70s and 80s he recorded Ken Boothe, Augustus Pablo, The Cables and Johnny Nash.
After seven years out of action, in 2000, engineer Stephen Stewart who had worked at the studio in the early years, refurbished, re-equipped and re-opened Harry J Studio. Artists to record there since the new incarnation include Burning Spear, Toots Hibbert, Shaggy, Sly & Robbie and Shakira.
Sadly, Harry J died in April 2013, after a long battle with diabetes, at the age of 67. In June 2018, Doctor Bird re-released his iconic album “Liquidator” as an expanded version, so we get the original dozen cuts, including the title track.
Plus, another dozen bonus tracks, all on one disc. “Liquidator” is one of the most popular reggae albums of all time. This version includes tracks new to CD.
Amazing that after just 12 months in the music business, Harry J hit the jackpot with his first international hit, “Liquidator”, performed by some of Jamaica’s most in-demand session musicians. The booklet here, contains extensive Harry Johnson bio and rare memorabilia imagery.
This is timeless stuff and part of the soundtrack to my life and to many other lives too. Perfect summertime sounds. Get your Doc Martin’s out from under the bed and “give me some of that old moonstomping”. Careful of that bad back, though!
By Andy Faith
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’