Still feelin’, Hot, Hot, Hot!
At 30,000 feet above the Caribbean, it is not hard to imagine the lilting sway of the coco palms to the music of the islands. I was on my way to Jamaica and my thoughts drifted to the luxury and pampering I was to receive at a beautiful refuge on the Negril coastline of Jamaica. Yet, while sitting in the airplane seat next to Byron Lee of the orchestra Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the heart and the rhythm of the islands came alive. Byron Lee, a legend of island music, had made his final tour before his death the following year in November, 2008.
During those past 43 years, Byron Lee had made an indelible mark of cultural style to world music. On heading back to Jamaica from a September tour of the States, airliners were his lifeline to his home, family, and roots. Calypso music enhanced with island soca style has infiltrated all parts our lives. Byron Lee and a few others were the early pioneers of this now contemporary hit. Having finishing a 37 city tour, Byron’s focus was on the newest of over 52 recordings. “Caribbean Sty-Lee” on V.P. Label was his fusion of the sounds of Bahamas, Trinidad, Belize, Barbados, and of course Jamaica. That recording “flirts” with reggae, French souk, soca, and a Latin pulse.
Much of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires’ performance schedule included the regional Caribbean carnival scene and Mardi-Gras. His tours took him to the heart of carnival in Trinidad and on though the season to St. Maarten, St. Croix, and St. Barth. He toured each island and country while maintaining a band of 14 performers of trumpets, trombones, sax and singers, all backed by that unmistakable calypso sound. North America has embraced the carnival and the Dragonaires toured to the cities of Toronto, Winnipeg, Miami, Atlanta, Orlando, and Brooklyn in NY. Each city has a carnival to rival the best.
If “Hot, Hot, Hot”, written by Byron in 1983, has not gotten you up on the dance floor, nothing could. Other notable hits included “Dollar Wine”, written by Collin Lucas back in 1991, and Byron’s “Tiney Winey” in 1985, also preformed by Arrow. The music transcends all ethnic lines.
What is the future for Byron Lee’s legacy?
He leaves his family at his Jamaican home, “Sweet Music” in Stony Hill outside of Kingston, while sharing his successes with his grown children. His concern for the music industry was strong. As he related, the damage from piracy on the small label hurt the third world artist the hardest. Fifteen to twenty percent loss to bootleg and piracy is difficult to overcome. Artists need the support of the fan. Wise words from an artist who got a break-through to perform several songs in the James Bond movie, Dr. No. in 1961. When I asked him of his greatest fear, he mentioned the vague concept of retirement, and he turned with admiration to the memory of Ray Charles, who worked into his 70’s, for that lasting inspiration.
The Airliner A-320 was over azure blue sea and descending. Byron Lee summed his career for me, “My music is a vitamin; it cleans the heart of hunger.”
The band has continued since Lee’s death at 73 years of age, with the name slightly altered to Byron Lee’s Dragonaires. Look for his music on V.P. Label or Atlantic or visit the website at http://www.byronleemusic.com/ and be sure to enjoy the legacy of Byron Lee’s art.