Earl Sixteen

Irie Magazine | Earl Sixteen
Irie Magazine

Music Alone

Earl Sixteen’s sound is unmistakeable – a cracked falsetto and a lazy delivery that combine to make his voice most poignant, particularly when riding a solid roots rhythm.

Like Horace Andy and other Jamaican singers, Earl John Daley (aka Earl Sixteen) has enjoyed crossover success by lending his vocal talents to some of the UK’s leading contemporary dance producers, such as Leftfield. Yet, despite having recorded fewer records than his peers since his career began in the mid 1970’s, Earl is well known on the reggae scene due to the uniqueness of his voice.

At 15 years of age, the strength of Earl’s voice was publicly recognised when he won a singing contest, beating out serious contenders like Michael Rose (the former Uhuru man), Junior Moore (of the Tamlins), Joy White and others.

Earl was lead vocalist for the group The Flaming Phonics, playing live around Jamaica. However, it was an unplanned recording session which led to the first signs of his emerging talent. After accompanying his schoolfriend Winston McAnuff to Joe Gibbs’ studio to provide support while his friend recorded a song he had written called ‘Malcolm X’, the engineer Errol Thompson, a man with a keen ear, expressed a preference for Earl’s voice. Earl subsequently sang for both Derrick Harriott and Joe Gibbs, with both cuts achieving good success.

At that time, Earl decided to join bandleader Boris Gardiner as part of a traveling revue/cabaret band The Boris Gardiner Happening, where he met Lee “Scratch” Perry. The other band members used to joke with Earl: “How come you’re going on like a big man? How old are you?” Earl replied “sixteen” and he became known as Earl Sixteen. Despite enjoying the great experience of playing with such a professional outfit, Earl’s involvement with Rasta steered him on a different path.

Around this same period, he established connections with Hugh Mundell and Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio. Two songs were released by Perry, ‘Cheating’ and ‘Freedom’, the latter a bona fide classic roots tune. Earl continued to sing backup vocals at many Black Ark sessions, including music for Yabby You such as ‘Chant Down Babylon Kingdom’ and the ‘Deliver Me From My Enemies’ set. He also recorded some tunes for Augustus Pablo’s Rockers label in the late 1970’s, ‘Changing World’ and ‘Rastaman Is A Peaceful Man’, both melancholic and world weary, yet beautiful pieces. It was there that Earl met Earl Morgan of the Heptones, who produced his debut album, ‘Singing Star.’

Meanwhile, the Dread At The Controls, Mikey Dread, had been causing a stir with his late-night weekly radio program where Earl’s tune ‘Freedom’ was regularly given airplay. The two subsequently teamed up for sessions backed by the Roots Radics and mixed by Scientist at King Tubby’s studio. Mikey Dread released Earl’s best LP ‘Reggae Sound’ in 1980.

It was not long before Earl’s voice caught the attention of Coxsone Dodd. After practicing vocals over classic Studio One tunes Dodd had given Earl, he voiced a tune called ‘Love Is A Feeling’ over the rhythm that had underpinned the ‘Heptones Gonna Fight’. It was a massive hit in the fledgling dancehall scene of the early 1980’s, where the Studio One sound was undergoing yet another revival and, to date, remains one of Earl Sixteen’s most popular songs.

In 1988 Earl moved to England where his cover of Simply Red’s ‘Holding Back The Years’ was a big hit on the local reggae market. He has continued to live and work in London ever since where, over the years, he has recorded with the majority of the UK’s top producers such as Mad Professor and Stafford Douglas. In April 2015 Earl’s ‘Music Alone’ backed by The Roots High Quality riddim section was released by Akete Recordings on 7 inch vinyl.


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