Legendary Montego Bay singing duo in brighter surroundings at Pyre River Cemetery

By Horace Hines—

MONTEGO BAY, St James — A group of stalwarts from Jamaica’s music fraternity gathered at the Pyre River Cemetery here on Friday for the unveiling of headstones on the newly-renovated tombs of pioneer Jamaican music ambassadors, Lloyd Campbell and Phillip James, the Montegonian duet who formed the sensational Blues Busters.

The singing duo was popular on the local and international circuit from the early 1960s to the 1970s.

After it was discovered that the final resting places for the two Montego Bay musical icons were badly caved in and unrecognisable, the Merritone family, assisted by VP Records and members of the Byron Lee Foundation and other friends, decided to act.

“When we came here and saw the state of the graves we thought it was totally unforgettable and unforgivable,” Winston Blake of the Merritones told the Jamaica Observer.

Consequently, they pooled funding, which was used for the payment of the renovation of the graves and the erection of the headstones.

Blake decried the lack of attention from the Montego Bay community towards the memory of two of their most prominent sons.

“Up to now I cannot recall Montego Bay producing any more popular artists or any artist with any such prominence. The Busters appeared on shows with every major act (during their era) and actually outshone them,” Blake reminisced.

“I realised the magnitude of these two young men at a time when Jamaican music was just creeping… it wasn’t running. Bob Marley wasn’t even popular at that time. As a matter of fact, they would have, at some stage, been more popular than Bob Marley,” Blake said.

The veteran musicologist said that the resort city should do more to honor the memories of the late singers.

“Montego Bay is missing out by not honouring these men, because many people got to know Montego Bay because of the Blues Busters and what they created on stage, their charisma, their popularity,” Blake stated.

Meanwhile, Donald Clive Davidson, who was reportedly close to the late singers, wants Government to honor them for their early contribution to the nation’s music.

“I’m glad that we are able to get together, because it is a part of Jamaica’s musical history. And, in fact, the Government should get involved, just like they giving ODs to the new musicians, they (Blues Busters) should also be recognised for [being] a part of Jamaica’s musical history,” Davidson said.

“They were real stepping stones in the world of music in Jamaica. Especially with not only R & B (rhythm and blues), but with the reggae genres they represented Jamaica and were one of the first artists to promote Jamaica in the United States and London. And so, when I heard of the problem that nobody, especially the new generation, knew of them and the conditions their graves were in, I said I had to become involved.”

Michelle Williams, VP Records’ marketing and sales director in the Caribbean, said that her company felt compelled to play a part in improving the tombs of the two late musicians.

“VP got involved when Monty (Blake) asked us to help with the tombing of the Blues Busters brothers. We have been in the music business for so many years, and we have been always willing to help older guys who are the foundation of our music. We have been in music for over 50 years. So we were very happy to help with this momentous occasion. They have passed on, but are not forgotten, because the music still lives on,” Williams said.

“VP Records will always be involved in whatever way we can to aid in the music business; young and old — we are here for them. We are a family always. Family don’t turn their backs on family,” Williams added.

Chubby, a Montegonian who now lives in the United States and who served as valet for the late singers, said that he could not miss the unveiling of the headstones.

“I used to be the valet for the Blue Busters. The first time I travelled they took me to the United States in 1963 with Sam Cooke. I live in Rochester, New York, so when I got this call I jumped on the first occasion, because I was born right here in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was really sad that this happened,” Chubby said in reference to the dilapidated graves.

The two members of the Blue Busters, who were friends from childhood days, began singing together at the Montego Bay Boys’ Club.

They eventually began to stamp their class on the music scene with songs such as Behold, There Is Always Sunshine, Wide Awake In A Dream, I Won’t Let You Go, among many others.

They subsequently rose to international prominence and opened shows for American stars such as Sam Cooke and Joe Tex.

Walter Campbell, no relation to Lloyd Campbell, is of the notion that had it not been for Americans Sam and Dave who sung the same kind of stuff like the Blues Busters they would have made it to the top.

“They (Blues Busters) did well. They went on the Ed Sullivan Show, opened for Sam Cooke on shows, opened for Joe Tex on major shows,” Campbell recounted.

Meanwhile, Blake recalled that the singing duo was in great demand internationally.

“All the foreign artists wanted to take them on tours. And one or two did. And I think that they had reached the pinnacle of what they could in Jamaica,” the Merritone member said.

Also on hand at the unveiling of the tombstones on Friday was Kathlyn Johnson from Railway Lane, Montego Bay, who was an ardent Blues Busters fan. She recalled the difficulty she encountered as a young girl to get into a Blues Busters show in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I am glad to be here. In the 60s and 70s, as a young girl, you had to fight to go a fi dem show at theatres such as Roxy, Palladium and Strand. We had to fight when we a little gal fi see them, because everybody want see them,” Johnson told the Sunday Observer.

The two singers eventually emigrated to the United States, where they eventually died, three years apart. James died after an asthma attack in 1989, while Campbell died in 1992 from a heart attack.

Their bodies were returned to Montego Bay where they were buried close to each other, only parted by another grave.

“As a matter of fact, I think it was Sam Cooke who encouraged them to come to the States. He actually wrote one or two songs for them,” Campbell noted.

But Blake is of the view that, at the time, had the Blue Busters opted to go to the UK, instead of the US, they would have been more successful.

“My thing is, they took the wrong plane, they should have gone to Europe instead of America,” Blake contended.

“I think their future would have been entirely different had they gone to Europe. They were better acts than Millie Small and those people who went to England and made it,” Blake said.

Campbell said that his namesake did not want to go to England as James did, so they eventually ended up going to America.