Clancy Eccles

Reggae pioneer

Clancy Eccles made important contributions to the evolution of Jamaican popular music during the late 1960s and early 1970s, as a singer, record producer and concert promoter; as a social activist, Eccles also helped produce significant changes to Jamaica's political landscape during the same era.

Born in Dean Pen, a small country town, Eccles had an itinerant childhood because his tailor father was forced to travel Jamaica seeking work; his mother tired of the constant upheaval and left the family when Clancy was 10 years old. Clancy Eccles's singing talent emerged when he was a teenager and he began his professional singing career working the burgeoning north-coast hotel circuit in the mid-1950s.

In 1959, he won an important talent contest held in Kingston by Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, a sound-system operator who was soon to found the Studio One group of labels and recording studio. Eccles's "Freedom" was one of the first recordings Dodd made; although the song was based on the notion of the desired repatriation of Jamaica's African descendants to their distant homeland, the island's independence movement quickly adopted it as a theme song. Despite the popularity of this and other numbers, Eccles was dissatisfied with Dodd's business policies and left Studio One to begin promoting concerts with artists such as Bob Marley and the Wailers and the Clarendonians.

In 1967 Eccles formed the Clandisc label, initially as a vehicle for self-productions; it was based in a tailoring shop he had opened in downtown Kingston. The following year, in collaboration with the eccentric vocalist Lee "Scratch" Perry, Eccles was instrumental in breaking the new reggae form, which many say he actually named, by adapting the term "streggae" (connoting a woman of loose morals) to describe the new dance-based music that was taking the island by storm.

Monty Morris's "Say What You're Saying" and Eccles's own "Feel the Rhythm" were hits in Jamaica, while Eccles's suggestive "Fatty Fatty" and King Stitt's energetic "Fire Corner", "Lee Van Cleef" and "Vigorton Two" were huge in Britain, particularly among the white working-class skinhead subculture that championed Jamaican music. During 1969-70, driving instrumentals crafted with his backing band, the Dynamites, ensured Eccles's reputation as an innovator; his production of the sentimental "Kingston Town" by Lord Creator also proved to have longevity, as shown by UB40's loving cover version recorded some 20 years later. Eccles recorded the first single by Beres Hammond in this period, issued about 10 years before the singer first became popular.

Long a committed political activist, devoted to social equality, Eccles became involved in the People's National Party (PNP) election campaign of 1971. He appeared on musical bandwagons with the Wailers in support of the PNP leader Michael Manley. Eccles also released a single, "Power to the People", featuring excerpts from Manley's public speeches set to reggae.

During the late 1970s, Eccles experienced further success, with recordings by Tito Simon and Exuma the Obeah Man; he also issued inspired work created with the dub mixer King Tubby. Thereafter, Eccles issued new recordings only sporadically, concentrating instead on live concert promotion and re-issues of his back catalogue.

David Katz

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