It is with sadness that we must share the new that Jimmy Riley passed away on March 23 from bone cancer at the age of 61.
Jimmy Riley is a chameleon of music. As a singer, he performed with the Uniques and the Sensations prior to becoming a solo artist, and additionally he emerged as a producer as reggae grew. Furthermore, he is also the father of the noted musician Tarrus Riley. Jimmy will be remembered as a fine singer, a talented producer, a caring father, and a dedicated mentor to musicians. We are so very sad to hear of his passing, and tonight, we will spotlight each facet of Jimmy Riley’s career. We send much respect to his family and all who worked with him.
To start off, we will began with recordings from the group that he helped form: The Sensations. Jimmy Riley went to school at Kingston Senior High School with Slim Smith, and he very much wanted to be a member of the Slim’s group, The Techniques, but the group already had four members, so adding a fifth did not make sense, even though Jimmy did his best to join the band, helping to carry clothes to and from shows and rehearsing with them as well. As a result, Jimmy formed the Sensations with Cornell Campbell, Aaron Davis, and Buster Riley, creating a group that had great talent in their own right. The quartet auditioned for Gladdy Anderson at Treasure Isle and were accepted on the spot. King Sporty came by the studio and brought Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers’, “Juvenile Delinquent,” and the Sensations began to rehearse their own version of it. The group’s version of that iconic track was their first recording, and they saw success with it at the dances in Jamaica. Next, we’ll hear The Sensations’ “Juvenile Delinquent,” the track that marks the strong beginning of Jimmy Riley’s career as a recording artist.
After the Techniques disbanded, Slim Smith founded the Uniques with Franklyn White and Roy Shirley. That first version of the Uniques separated after their early recordings failed to take off, and Slim took some time to record as a soloist. Well, the Sensations would disband during this time, and upon this, Jimmy reunited with Slim Smith along with Jackie Parris and Lloyd Charmers as a vocalist for the second version of the Uniques. The Uniques saw great success, defeating Bob Marley and Wailers to win the Battle of the Groups at the Ward Theater. We’ll heard Jimmy Riley with the Uniques next. “Lesson of Love” was written by Jimmy Riley.
After the Uniques split up, Jimmy Riley began to record as a soloist, first for Bunny Lee. Born as Martin James Norman Riley, Jimmy is credited as a recording artist and a producer as either Martin or Jimmy Riley. While most know Jimmy as a soloist for his track, “Love and Devotion,” which he recorded for Sly and Robbie, his early solo works are excellent, and you’ll hear them next.
As a producer, Jimmy Riley created his own labels, which included PEE, the subject of one of our label spotlights, along with Yes and Full Moon later in reggae. Plenty of his productions also made their way to England, to be distributed by some of our favorite English imprints. To kick off this hour of Jimmy Riley productions, we’ll start of with three tracks from the mighty PEE label.
For a younger generation, many know Jimmy as the father of Tarrus Riley, and the two of them would often perform as a duo, including most recently at Central Park’s Summer stage last year. We send much respect and many condolences to Tarrus.
For news on the upcoming spotlights and fun discoveries tied to early Jamaican music, join the group for the Bovine Ska and Rocksteady on Facebook.
Lily and Generoso
Here is our March 29th, 2016 Bovine Ska and Rocksteady Jimmy Riley Memorial Radio Show