Barrington "Barry" Llewellyn, 63, a founding member of The Heptones, a prominent vocal trio during Jamaica's Rocksteady era of the late 60s, died on November 23 at Kingston Public Hospital in Kingston, Jamaica.
Born on December 24, 1947, Llewellyn, also known as Barry Heptones, cofounded the group in the musically fertile Trench Town area of Kingston in 1965 alongside his classmate Earl Morgan. Originally called The Hep Ones, they changed their name to The Heptones supposedly after Morgan saw a Heptones Tonic bottle lying in a pile of refuse. Llewllyn and Morgan's gently laced harmonies supported the pliant lead of Leroy Sibbles who was also the group's principle songwriter.
The Heptones' first recordings were done for Ken Lacke's Caltone label but that relationship failed to produce any hits. The trio's move to Coxsone Dodd's fabled Studio One label in 1966 coincided with the rise of rocksteady, during which time the Heptones were arguably Jamaica's most influential vocal group, along with The Paragons and The Techniques, who recorded for (Coxsone's rival) Arthur "Duke" Reid's Treasure Isle label.
The single "Fattie Fattie", released in 1966 was the Heptones' first Jamaican chart topper, and a big seller, despite being banned from the airwaves for its suggestive content. A succession of Studio One hits followed throughout the rocksteady era and continued into reggae's early to mid 70s incipiency, including "Ting a Ling", "Party Time", "I've Got the Handle" and a cover of Phil Phillips' 1959 hit doo wop hit "Sea of Love".
Llewellyn sang lead on several Heptones tunes including, "Pretty Looks", "Take Me Darling" and the group's biggest international hit, the haunting "Book of Rules", produced by (Jamaica's) Harry Zephaniah Johnson, owner of Harry J Records and originally released in 1973 on his Jaywax imprint. Adapted from "Bag of Tools," a poem written by R. L. Sharpe in the 1940s, Llewellyn co-wrote "Book of Rules" with Sibbles and pioneering (Jamaican) ska artist Derrick Morgan. Featured on the soundtrack to the 1998 American comedy-thriller Homegrown, "Book of Rules" remains one of the trio's most profound works.
Sibbles immigrated to Canada in 1973; Llewelleyn and Morgan suspended their recording efforts until 1975 when they reunited with Sibbles, signed to Island Records and recorded two albums for the label. 1976's Night Food, produced by Danny Holloway, included the hits "Country Boy" and "Mama Say" and revisited several of the group's Studio One classics. Party Time was recorded with Lee "Scratch" Perry at the eccentric producer's legendary Black Ark studio in 1977, just a year before Perry allegedly burned it to the ground. Party Time also featured Studio One remakes, including a heartfelt (reggae) rendition of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" alongside newer compositions including "Sufferers' Time". The Heptones also released several 12" singles produced by Perry including "Mystery Babylon", "Mr. President" (featuring DJ Jah Lloyd) and "Babylon's Falling".
Sibbles left the Heptones to pursue a solo career in 1978. Llewellyn and Morgan enlisted Dolphin "Naggo" Morris as their lead singer; the revamped trio continued to record, but failed to replicate the success of The Heptones' efforts with Sibbles during the late 60s through the mid-70s.
"The Heptones had a sound that was something different and they were a great inspiration in Jamaican music," says singer/producer Derrick Harriott, owner of Derrick Harriott's Records and Videos, a popular Kingston Record shop. "The Heptones music will always live on," notes Harriott. "I don't care how old their music is, people still ask for it."
Llewellyn's lifelong friend and Heptones cofounder Earl Morgan said that the group still performed and toured as the Heptones, despite Sibbles' solo endeavors. "We just continued our journey and whenever a promoter wanted all three original members, we always tried to accommodate that request," Morgan noted.
Llewellyn lived in Brooklyn for many years. At the time of his death, he was in Jamaica establishing a learning center to help Kingston youth.
Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday Dec. 4; Llewellyn's body will lie in state at the headquarters of JAVAA, the Jamaica Association of Veteran Artists and Affiliates in Kingston. Llewellyn will be buried at the Dovecot Cemetery in the Kingston suburb of Portmore, possibly alongside departed singers Joseph Hill (Culture), Alton Ellis and Gregory Isaacs. "We are trying to get Barry a spot beside these three great reggae icons," offered Morgan. "It is only fitting that he should join them there where they will continue their musical mission."
Llewellyn is survived by his wife Monica, several children and grandchildren, four sisters and four brothers.