THE BIG ‘Afro’ might be missing, but the smile and the walk are the same. And the youthful look. "I eat the right things and live the right way,” is all that Derrick Harriot will say about his ageless look.
Derrick the ‘Chariot’ Harriot – well known singer and the father of seven children – gives away few secrets. Persons in their 50s swear that they had been hearing him sing from they were children!
Harriot is a man of much mystery who prefers to let the facts – if you can find them – speak for themselves. This week we will try to draw a picture of the man whose iconic role in the local music industry is a story which is not yet fully told.
Harriot’s reserve is nothing but ‘humility’, claims Michael Barnett of MKB and Heineken Startime productions who also states; “he has let his music do the talking.”
Derrick Harriot, who is now known for his ability to source the vintage music of the ’60s and ’70s, was himself a rising star of the period. He started singing while at Excelsior High School around 1956 (we think), moving on to make a name for himself at the Vere John’s ‘Opportunity Hour’ at the Palace theatre as a soloist.
Then, with Claude Sang Jnr., he also presented duets and later formed the Jiving Juniors ( Sugar Dandy , Don’t You Be Bad ). Other hits were Over the River and I’ll Be Here When He Comes . A switch to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label produced the hits My Heart’s Desire and Lollipop Girl . Derrick was also a featured vocalist with bands like the Vagabonds, Granville Williams Orchestra, Carlos Malcolm’s Afro-Jamaican Rhythms and the Mighty Vikings. He was a popular performer on stage shows that featured American headliners like Shirley & Lee, Lloyd Price, Fats Domino and Sam Cooke.
His own hits included I Care , I’m Only Human , What Can I Do (Wedding Song) , Do I Worry , Solomon , Born To Love You , Standing In and Walk The Streets . In the ’60s, Harriot also produced hits with Rudy Mills ( Long Story and the Kingstonians ( Winey Winey ).
From 1970 to 1974 Derrick ran his musical Chariot disco at the VIP Club where many musical legends including Bob Marley and the Wailers, made periodic appearances. In the ’80s the crooner produced more songs including Skin To Skin , All Shook Up , Float On , Oogum Boogum Song and Checking Out, Checking In . Were his numerous songs many of which were – about love and heartbreak, in one form or another – his own story? Characteristically, Harriot again dodges this question, stating that “all good songs are based on the real experiences of life, which is why they are good songs.” His song, I was born a loser , is said to have lasted the longest in terms of popular airplay. Harriot’s Checking Out, Checking In is also still a staple on local radio.
His first shop
It was as early as the mid 1960s, when Derrick opened up his first shop at 125 King Street. Now, he is a landmark in Twin Gates Plaza, Kingston. In the new century Harriot has switched to a career of facilitating those who want to build collections through his own record shop. Word is, if Harriot does not have it, it cannot be found. Michael Barnett states, “in my estimation Derrick is one of the greatest contributors to the Jamaican music industry,” expressing the opinion that Harriot’s range of involvement is unequalled. “He (Harriot) started with a group and then went on to excel as a vocalist. He then moved on to owning a record shop, selling and distributing music. He was also a disco operator. Later, he extended his record shop into a video shop.
“He was the first to record Dennis Brown. There was also Rudy Mills and Keith and Tex with Stop that Train . Others whom he produced included the Kingstonians and Bungo Herman. Harriot also provided backup for a number of others.” Recently, in the 90s, he produced several members of the Scare Dem Crew, among other artistes. In every way, Harriot has embraced and nurtured the music. “He has touched every facet of the music, which nobody else has done,” said Barnett. Barnett added, “Harriot is an exceptional singer. He has a good falsetto and a regular tone. He was a very good harmony singer too.
“He is very very humble, which is why he has not achieved more.” Harriot, who describes himself as a “people’s person” says that he is quite content these days with helping his clients to track down the rare finds that they often need. His clientele includes people from as far away as Japan who are frequently in search of the golden oldies on vinyl and who are willing to pay top dollars for them. The difference that time makes! The artiste remembers the days when he would offer to share payment with another artiste in order to get the opportunity to sing. The ’60s were the very best era of Jamaican music, he states. Barnett agrees with him.
“Money was never the objective. These guys were poor. They just wanted to sing. Everything now is about money and that blocks creativity.” In Harriot’s opinion, there are still many good singers who do not receive airplay. If radio should change its policy, then creativity would begin to flow again,” he feels. When he is not expounding on music, Harriot is taking in football, track and field and cricket. Another favourite topic is his youngest daughters Kizzy, Kerry and Kara-Sue. For them, he says, “you (himself) want to do the right things.”
So, how old are you? we ask again.
Harriot smiles, eyes gleaming.
“Keep them guessing,” are his last words on this.
Avia Ustanny, Outlook Writer