Lloyd Charmers obituary: Acclaimed singer and producer
His production of 'Everything I Own' for Ken Boothe topped the UK charts for three weeks
Saturday 30 March 2013
The singer, keyboard-player and producer Lloyd Charmers enjoyed a lengthy and successful career in the ska, rocksteady, reggae and lovers rock genres, first in his native Jamaica and then after relocating to Britain in the late 1970s. Most famously, he produced Ken Boothe's exquisite reggae adaptation of the Bread soft-rock classic "Everything I Own", which topped the UK singles charts for three weeks in the autumn of 1974, and wrote and produced the yearning "Crying Over You", Boothe's follow-up crossover hit of the same year.
He also recorded under his real name, Lloyd Tyrell – with "Terrell" and "Chalmers" misspellings common. In 1970 he cut the risqué "Birth Control", which The Special AKA incorporated into their first No 1, the title track of their 1980 live EP "Too Much Too Young" at the height of the ska revival.
Charmers, who died of a heart attack while driving himself to hospital in London, was born in 1938 – though sources differ – in the Trench Town area of Kingston. He owed his best-known sobriquet to his membership of the vocal duo the Sweet Charmers, alongside his friend Roy Wilson. In the late 1950s they entered a talent competition, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, after the RJR radio presenter who helped launch performers like John Holt and Alton Ellis. Indeed, Ellis soon showed the Charmers how to hone their harmonies and introduced them to Coxsone Dodd, whose Studio One operation dominated the Jamaican music scene at the time.
Dodd produced several hits for the Charmers, but they also recorded with rival producer Prince Buster, most notably the infectious shuffle of "Time After Time". In 1964, backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the Charmers performed "Oh Marie" in the short documentary This Is Ska, but went their separate ways.
Charmers teamed up with Martin "Jimmy" Riley and the Uniques founder-member Keith "Slim" Smith to form the second line-up of that vocal trio in 1967. "Watch This Sound", was an inspired rocksteady remake of the Buffalo Springfield protest song "For What It's Worth", and inaugurated a prolific run of 45s which encompassed "People Rock Steady", a gorgeous version of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman" and "My Conversation".
Charmers became involved with production and songwriting, and penned "Love and Devotion" and "What a Situation", the B-sides for their covers of the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and the Tommy James and the Shondells hit "Crimson and Clover". In 1968 he issued a rocksteady version of "Bang Bang Lulu", the traditional folk song whose rhymes never quite deliver the expected rude punch lines; it became a bestseller and hinted at another direction.
Following the break-up of The Uniques in 1969 he began mining an X-rated seam of material with singles like "Birth Control", "Pussy Cat" and "White Rum and Pum-Pum" and a series of ever-cruder Censored! albums credited to Lloydie & the Lowbites. These rivalled Judge Dread and Max Romeo for coarseness; but he failed to reach the mainstream charts.
Charmers issued myriad records licensed by the British companies specialising in reggae,Pama and Trojan. In 1966 he took up the organ and piano and soon led the Hippy Boys, a group of session musicians. They included the bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his drumming brother, Carlton, who subsequently joined Bob Marley. They topped the Jamaican charts with the organ-led instrumental "Zylon" in 1969.
Charmers often put a Jamaican spin on the soul hits of the day, either with the Hippy Boys or under his own name, and recorded striking versions of Isaac Hayes' "Shaft", Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and Smokey Robinson's "Sweet Harmony". Similarly, when he formed the short-lived Messengers with Boothe, Busty Brown and B B Seaton of The Gaylads, they cut the socially conscious "Crowded City", a reworking of the Motown hit "Smiling Faces Sometimes". However, the Boothe catalogue features the best examples of his sophisticated productions, which made the most of the technology then available at Federal Records in Kingston. Short of one track, the singer suggested "Everything I Own", which he'd heard in Canada. "When I sing it, everybody in the studio, everybody, musicians say: 'This is No 1'," Boothe recalls in Chuck Foster's book Roots Rock Reggae.
The single became a Jamaican sound-system favourite, but Charmers was au fait with the market for reggae in Britain and beyond. Having severed his business agreement with Pama, he sold the "Everything I Own" master to Trojan for £7,000 and sent Boothe over to undertake a tour of UK clubs. The single rose up the British charts and reached No 1 after a couple of Top of the Pops appearances. But the cash-flow problems generated by the need to press tens of thousands of copies contributed to the company's eventual bankruptcy, though Trojan's subsequent revival under new ownership enabled Charmers to generate income from further licensing agreements.
In the 1970s he also worked with, among others, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, The Heptones, John Holt and Delroy Wilson. Following his move to the UK he collaborated with the lovers rock vocalists Janet Kay and Sylvia Tella and helped King Sounds, a Jamaican singer based in London, score hits in his native country. In 1981 he cut a lovers rock version of Phil Collins' "If Leaving Me Is Easy".
Lloyd Tyrell (Lloyd Charmers), singer, keyboard-player, songwriter and producer: born Kingston, Jamaica 1938; died London 27 December 2012.
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