Reggae music first developed in Jamaica in the mid-60s and only a smattering of songs in that genre made their way successfully to the UK at the time. By the mid 70s there was at least one reggae song in the chart almost every week.
The first reggae song to hit the UK chart was in March 1964 when King Of Kings, a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song by Ezz Reco And The Launchers featuring Boysie Grant just missed the top 40. Ezz was born Emmanuel Rodriguez in Jamaica and through various contacts managed to get his song released on the non-reggae related label Columbia. A week later this was follow by the more familiar Jamaican artist Millie who reached number two with My Boy Lollipop and featured Pete Hogman on harmonica, not the more popularly believed, but wrongly assumed Rod Stewart.
Until the famous reggae labels, Island and Trojan were formed in the late 60s, the reggae related songs came out of various different labels. There were even covers by white artists, the most famous being by English comedian Lance Percival with his spoof, but extremely funny cover of Sir Lancelot & his Carribean Serenaders song Shame and Scandal in the Family.
The reggae acts brought a new language with them too. The Jamaican patois is unique and when you see lyrics like ‘Rasta Ozzy from up de hill, Decide fi check ‘pon ‘im grocery bill, An’ when him add up de t’ings him need, De dunny done wha’ him save fi buy likkle weed, Him han ‘pon him jaw, lord. Red him eye an’ just meditate, the time is so hard lord, I man now t’ink ’bout emigrate’ you think, what the hell is that.
That lyric is from Pluto Shervington’s 1976 hit Dat. Pluto was born Leighton Shervington in Kingston, Jamaica in 1950. When he was 21 he joined a showband called Tomorrow’s Children. His fellow performers Ernie Smith and Tinga Stewart had enjoyed local commercial success with Duppy or A Gunman and Play De Music, respectively. Both songs were sung in a heavy patois.
I interviewed Pluto in 2006 and he told me how the name Pluto came about, “That name came straight out of High School and I’ve had it since 1962. We were studying Latin and it was another name for the God of the Underworld.” He learned many instruments as a kid and I asked him if it was his ambition to be a guitarist, “Well not just a guitarist” he replied, “I wanted to do anything I could in music, whether it is playing an instrument, singing or even writing songs.”
Dat reached number six in the UK chart, but what is it all about? Pluto: “Dat is a satire song and the joke was on the Rastas at the time who claimed that they didn’t eat pork. But the truth is they did eat it, but they couldn’t tell anyone. So when they went to order it from the meat store, that didn’t say ‘pork’, they used to say ‘I want some of dat thing there!” A bit like a Rabbi eating a bacon sandwich I suggested? “Absolutely! But some Rastas took it seriously and didn’t like it, but most took it in the humorous way it was meant.”
Did the word Dat make its way into the Jamaican dictionary after that? “It was already in there, I just used it. It was an existing expression that had probably only been in there about a year or so. I think I just popularised it.” Pluto remembered.
When the song first entered the chart, Pluto was unaware that it existed in the UK. “I remember the day I first found out about Dat being a hit in the UK. I was on tour in Barbados and I was doing shows all over the island and one night I got a call in my hotel room from a UK radio station who wanted to interview me and I didn’t know why. When I asked why, he said ‘Your song Dat is moving up the chart.’ Later on in 1976 I went to the UK for the first time and was on Top Of The Pops.”
His next hit was the bizarrely titled Ram Goat Liver which entered the chart the same week that Dat dropped out. “Back home we have a lot of goats, cows and horses running around the streets” recalled Pluto, “and one day a taxi accidentally ran over this goat and killed it. Now one of the delicacies is curried goat and this guy on the street who saw what happened said, ‘Now that he’s dead and there’s nothing else we can do, let’s get some rice and we have dinner for tonight.’
When the Rolling Stones recorded their album Goats Head Soup at Ken Khouri’s Federal Studios in Jamaica in 1973, there must have been a good supply of the broth, as the band are rumoured to have benefited from a little help in that department. Local legend has it that Jagger and the boys were inspired by this concoction and gave them a new-found vigour through an alternate name for mannish water in the album’s title. Locally, the soup is also known as power water and is generally made from goat’s heads, goat’s liver, garlic, scallions, cho-cho (which is a green Jamaican vegetable), green bananas, scotch bonnet peppers and spinners (a Jamaican dumpling).
In 1977, Bob Marley sang about an Exodus – a true story of thousands of Jamaicans leaving, Pluto was one of those and so after the success of Dat he moved to Miami, Florida, where he began recording and in 1982 returned to the international market for the release of Your Honour, which entered the UK Top 20. His follow-up, I Man Bitter, and an album were not commercial successes.
Pluto still lives in Miami but periodically returns to his homeland for performances. In 2007 & 2008 he played solo at Bahama Breeze in Kendall, Florida; and every other Sunday you can catch him at Black Point Marina in Cutler Bay with a five piece band. He often appears at the St. Kitts Music Festival and recently shared the bill with Steel Pulse and Sean Paul, among others.