Lloyd Charmers, an accomplished singer, pianist/organist and producer who played a significant role in popularizing reggae in England throughout a career that spanned six decades, suffered a heart attack on Thursday Dec. 27 while driving himself to the hospital after reportedly feeling unwell earlier in the day. Unable to complete the trip, he was taken an East London hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Numerous sources including the Jamaica Observer say Charmers was 74 when he died; however, the Trojan Records web site reports his birthday as April 18, 1946, which would have made him 66. Singer Ken Boothe, 64, who knew Charmers since the early 1960s, says the late singer hadn’t yet reached 70, although he was unsure of Charmers exact age. Charmers’ most successful production was Boothe’s reggae rendition of the soft-rock group Bread’s “Everything I Own”, which topped the UK singles chart for three weeks in October 1974.
Boothe ranks Charmers, who had been based in the UK since the mid 70s, as one of Jamaica’s all time greatest producers. “He is in the top five, but he never got the ratings that he should have,” Boothe told Billboard.biz on the phone from Toronto where he is headlining a New Years eve performance at Daddy’s Lounge. “For all he did for Jamaican music, the Jamaican government should have recognized him with a national honor.”
Born Lloyd Tyrell (spelled Terrell on some recordings) in the Trench Town community of Kingston, a wellspring of musical talent immortalized in songs by Bob Marley (“Trench Town Rock”) among others, a teenaged Lloyd first appeared on Jamaica’s musical landscape as half of the vocal duo The Sweet Charmers, alongside his friend Roy Willis. The twosome’s initial exposure came in the early 60s with a performance on a local talent competition, Vere John’s Opportunity Hour.
The Charmers went on to record for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label, often cited as Jamaica’s Motown due to its prolific output of popular singles throughout most of the 1960s. Dodd produced The Charmers’ ska hits “Splish Splash”, “Crying Over You” and “Jeanie Girl” but the duo also fared well with productions by Duke Reid (“In The Midnight Hour”) and Prince Buster (“Time After Time”). In the 1964 documentary “This is Ska”, The Charmers perform their hit “Oh Marie”, backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.
Following The Charmers breakup, Lloyd recorded a minor solo hit, “Loneliest Boy in Town”, prior to joining singers Keith “Slim” Smith and Jimmy Riley as The Uniques. The trio scored several hits in their year together for producers Winston Lowe and Bunny Lee (including the classic “My Conversation”) with Charmers producing many of the group’s latter singles including “Watch This Sound”.
The Uniques disbanded in 1969 and Charmers launched his own Splash imprint further establishing his production skills. “Other than Sir Coxsone who I started with, Charmers played the most important part in my career. He had a very sophisticated style and was a choosy producer, who loved to work with the best singers and musicians,” said Boothe, for whom Charmers produced three albums, “Black Gold and Green” (1973), “Let’s Get It On” (1974) and “Everything I Own” (1974), all Trojan releases. Boothe recalled recording the single “Everything I Own”, released in Jamaica at Kingston’s Federal Records (now the Marley family’s Tuff Gong Records/Recording Studio) where Charmers often worked. “After we finished, the owners Mr. and Mrs. Khourie who didn’t come in the recording studio unless they knew they had a hit on their hands, came inside. Mrs. Khourie said if this song doesn’t reach No. 1 in Jamaica, she would sell the whole complex!”
Charmers’ talents as a keyboard player were prominently displayed through his work with the Hippy Boys, the band he founded featuring brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett,on bass and drum, respectively, which would later evolve into (producer) Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Upsetters and later Bob Marley’s Wailers. The Hippy Boys cut many popular instrumental 45s (including the 1969 Jamaican chart-topper, ‘Zylon’), which were later compiled onto the Trojan release “Psychedelic Reggae.”
As a vocalist using the name Lloydie and the Lowbites, Charmers recorded several bawdy reggae singles (“Birth Control,” “Bang Bang Lulu”) released on Trojan’s 1972 album “Censored.” He was also a member of the vocal quartet The Messengers alongside Boothe, B.B. Seaton and Busty Brown; their biggest hit, “Crowded City” was a soulful reggae adaptation of Undisputed Truth’s early 1970s nugget “Smiling Faces”. But it is his exquisite productions for some of Jamaica’s most-lauded vocalists such as Boothe, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, The Heptones and Marcia Griffiths and numerous UK based artists including King Sounds, Sylvia Tella, Janet Kay and (harmony group) The Blackstones that remain among Charmers’ heralded music legacy.
“The clarity of his productions with Jamaican greats plus his British lovers rock productions highlight traditional reggae one-drop with the concentration on vocal excellence as his hallmark,” wrote prominent London based reggae deejay/radio personality David Rodigan in an email to Billboard.biz (in Feb. 2012, Rodigan was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire). “Charmers was an unsung musical master whose attention to detail enabled him to produce timeless, lilting reggae classics that have withstood passing trends.”