45 Friday: The El Tempos – My Dream Island

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By Bob ‘The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Here’s a record that’s interesting not only for what it is, but also what it became. And as usual with a Buffalo record, a mystery.

In 1976 Bunny Wailer (former of The Wailers) recorded a track called Dreamland on his classic album Blackheart Man. It bore his writing credit and became his signature song, later recorded by Third World, and Bob Marley associate Marcia Griffiths. But those who dig deeper will discover he previously cut it in 1971, and even recorded a version with Peter Tosh as The Wailers back in 1966!

 


On Blackheart Man, it’s a song about an paradise land “across the sea” where he can be free, a song containing a Rastafarian ‘Back To Africa’ message. But on his earlier version the lyrics are more ambiguous; it may be just a love song. Like much of Black music, there may be a message underneath – but it’s in code.

Very few people would know that Bunny didn’t really write the song, because very few people ever heard the 1963 VeeJay Records release of My Dream Island by Lackawanna’s El Tempos. It sold so poorly commercial copies are almost unknown, collectors now having to settle for promotional (radio station) copies. The song is the same, and listening with modern ears, we can even hear some of the repatriation message beneath the romantic sentiments.

Interestingly, the El Tempos track has something of an ‘island’ style, like the earliest of ska. Which raises some questions- who influenced who? Had the El Tempos heard ska music first (which barely existed at the time, especially to Americans)? How did Bunny ever discover this rare record all the way in Jamaica? Bob Marley lived in the USA before moving to Jamaica- did he take a copy along?

Obviously it connected with the Jamaican musicians who heard it, but how much it may have influenced developments there – sound and message – we can only speculate. But it’s a long journey for a record from the Steel City.

The El Tempos were Al “Bunk” Johnson (guitar, lead vocal); Willie “Fish” Lowe (keyboards); Leroy Brown (drums); and Otis “O.T.” Toliver (bass) – who later played with with Dyke & The Blazers.

The flip side is a clearly Sam Cooke-influenced ballad with the title My Love Goes Deep Within, lending credence to the theory that they liked hiding messages in lyrics!

 

 

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