Byron lee and the dragonaires:Elizabethan serenade
BYRON LEE & THE DRAGONAIRES / REGGAY HOT COOL & EASY
Byron Lee and the Dragonaires are a Jamaican ska, calypso and soca band. The band played a crucial pioneering role in bringing Caribbean music to the world. Byron Lee died on 4 November 2008, after suffering from cancer for a sustained period.
The band recorded their debut single, “Dumplin’s”, in 1959 at the WIRL studios owned by future Prime Minister Edward Seaga, who would also become the band’s manager. The single was released on the Dragonaire’s own Dragon’s Breath label in Jamaica, and was the second release on the Blue Beat label in the United Kingdom, and was unusual for a Jamaican single as it featured an electric organ and a Fender bass which Lee had purchased during a visit to the United States – the first such instruments ever seen on the island.
The band were selected by Seaga, then the island’s head of Social Welfare and Economic Development, in 1964 to travel to the New York World’s Fair and perform as a backing band for a showcase of Jamaican talent, including Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, and Millie Small.
In 1961, the band received a huge break when they were cast as the hotel band in the first James Bond film, Dr. No. The band performed several songs in the film, although the recordings were actually made by guitarist Ernest Ranglin. In 1964, the band was featured in a program called “This is Ska!” alongside Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, and Toots and the Maytals.
Lee bought the WIRL studios from Seaga and turned into Dynamic Sounds Recording Co., where the Dragonaires naturally recorded, using the superior facilities to record a string of well-produced albums during the late 1960s and early 1970s, often containing cover versions aimed at tourists, and they went on to record a series of “Reggay”-titled albums in the early 1970s.
The WIRL name had remained with its division in Barbados and had remained the ever-popular brand of Bajan music until 1995, when it changed its name to E.A. Best Music Ltd, and eventually to its current name, Caribbean Records – still the major record company and distributor of Barbados. Back in Jamaica, Dynamic had become a bigger force than ever before, investing in presenting more of Jamaica’s talent to vinyl, including Toots & the Maytals, Eric Donaldson, John Holt, Barry Biggs, Freddie McKay, Tommy McCook, and Max Romeo, issued on imprints such as Jaguar, Panther, Afrik, and Dragon.