The Merritone Music Story
…. IT’S ALL ABOUT MERRITONE
This document is a compendium of some of the important events, achievements and milestones in the cosmology of Merritone Music since it embarked on its journey in 1950 in St. Thomas.
The name Merritone Music identifies the famous Merritone Sound System, which originated in Morant Bay over 55 years ago. The late Val Blake the founding father of Merritone Music, was also the father of the Blake brothers, Trevor, Winston, Tyrone and Monte.
Merritone has the distinction to have played, and shared billing with some of the legendary soundmen of the era. Soundmen such as Sir Coxone Down Beat, Tom The Great Sebastian, V Rocket, Count Nick, Sky Rocket, Duke Reid The Trojan, Doc’s, Lord Koos, King Edwards, Prince Buster, and The Mellow Canary, to name a few. These were the pioneers who helped to mould the ‘sound system’ into a Jamaican phenomenon, which has become the number one source of entertainment for Jamaicans of all classes. It is the same sound system that has provided the major launching pad for Jamaica’s most successful ‘dance hall’ DJ’s such as Hugh Roy, Big Youth, Yellow Man, Beenie Man, Sean Paul and Elephant Man, to name a few.
It was evident from the onset that Merritone chose to follow a path that made it different from the great sounds of the era in that, Merritone opted for a unique quality of sound and a varied musical selection. The tonal quality of Merritone’s sound was more melodic versus the raw power emphasized by the other sound systems. Merritone presented the music selected with sensibility and purposeful organization that became their hallmark, charting a course that they have maintained and which has sustained them to this day.
Another important difference that Merritone displayed versus the other “sounds”, was that Merritone music was almost always played by a Blake while the other “sounds” were owned by individuals who employed operators/DJ’s to do the actual playing of the music.
Today, gone are the great names that paved the way, gone also, is the stigma which was attached to sound systems, but what has not gone is Merritone Music! It is the ‘last sound standing’ from that pivotal period in Jamaican history, and is proud to have been there from the formative years.
The sobriquet “merri music”, specifically speaks to the style and type of music Merritone has left its mark on, during its 55 years of existence. Merritone Music, the sound system, and “merri music”, the music identified with Merritone, is a joyous music for the head, the heart, the soul and the feet. Merritone has been the vanguard of quality entertainment from day one, and it has spawned and inspired more DJ’s and discos than anyone can imagine. Merritone has been the catalyst for most ‘collectors’ whose collection is not complete without its portfolio of “merri music”. It has set the benchmark for all sound systems which cater to a dancing clientele, with the legacy that you can always identify “merri music” regardless which sound system is playing it.
Initially though, Merritone like all the other sound systems in the early years, was not acceptable entertainment for the Jamaican middle classes. Such dances were the milieu of the residents who lived below Torrington Bridge. Eventually however, Merritone evolved into the sound system of choice for this same middle class after capturing the hearts of Kingstonians at the Wembly Club in 1962. In fact, after this introduction, Merritone in the 60’s, became the choice of the collegiate set that graduated from the house party circuit to attending sound system dances at venues such as Copacabana, The Wheel, Sombrero Club, Glass Bucket/VIP, Peyton Place, Victoria Pier, UWI’s Student Union, Old Dramatic Theatre/UWI, Akara, Wagon Wheel in Mandeville, and Ocean View in Montego Bay.
Many of these early Merritone fans are now icons in the Jamaican society.
Merritone has always had an eye for talent and an insatiable appetite for any good quality music produced. It was therefore no surprise, and a natural progression for Merritone, when it started to host its talent series at the VIP Club in Kgn. Some of the talents who emerged from these talent exposure series in the late sixties, were Cynthia Schloss, Beresford Hammond, The Tamlins, Jacob Miller, Ruddy Thomas and The Mighty Diamonds. These artistes are testimony to Merritone’s unerring instinct for quality, as they (the artistes) are masters of their craft and are as good as one can get.
Separate and apart from its talent exposure, Merritone played a vital role in supporting local artistes by way of introducing their latest recorded releases at Merritone dances, as it was virtually impossible for these artistes to get radio play for their recordings in those days. Who can forget the great Scratch Lee Perry bringing new Bob Marley releases hot off the press to the Turntable Club, Merritone’s home base? As a record producer, some of Merritone’s finest releases are Cynthia Schloss’ “Love Me Forever”, “Chained To A Memory”, “Surround Me With Love” and Hopeton Lewis’ “Grooving Out On Life”.
The legendary Turntable Club, which operated for over 28 years, is another Merritone winner! In its hey day, the club was visited by luminaries such as prime ministers, movie stars, and a host of other famous personalities for example, Bob Marley, Michael Manley, Calvin Lockhart and Karl Parboosingh, to name but a very few. The Club was conceptualised at a time in Jamaica’s history when Jamaicans could afford to, and knew how to dance, and to have fun. “TT” as it was affectionately called, was opened seven days a week and had a policy never to turn off the music until the last patron left. Regretfully, Turnatable was forced to close its doors due to the deterioration of the area in which it was located since inception. This is one nightclub that will always be sorely missed, as it has left an irreplaceable void in the Jamaican entertainment scene. Its indelible memories are still spoken about to this day by those fortunate enough to have enjoyed the “TT” experience.
The mass migration of the 70’s & 80’s created a whole new market for Merritone Music in North America & Canada, and Merritone’s foray overseas has been a success story, thanks to the indefatigable energy of Winston “Merritone” Blake. Continuing its pioneering ways, Merritone was the first Jamaican Sound System to venture overseas taking “merri music” to cities such as London, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, New York, Hartford, Toronto, L. A, Atlanta, Boston, Seattle, and Washington D.C. These are just some of the stops on the Merritone Overseas train. Merritone Music has become so entrenched overseas that it now conducts an annual Merritone Family Fun Day in Shelton, Connecticut held in July each year. Last year, the seventh staging of this event saw a significant number of people from all over the U.S.A and the Caribbean in attendance. This annual function has grown tremendously, and is truly a “family affair” enjoyed by the entire family!
Merritone has also been the first to take its brand of musical entertainment to Cuba, and has won the hearts and respect of our Latin neighbours in Santiago and Havana.
Merritone (Jamaica) has come full circle and is on the road again since the closure of the Turntable Club. Continuing its core business, Merritone finds joy in keeping old fans happy while attracting new ones. A recent visit to Merritone’s hometown at the Springfield Club in Morant Bay after a 38- year hiatus, was not only historic and symbolic, but was also great fun. It was delightful to see the plethora of young people mixed in with traditional “Merri” fans, expertly executing all the dance moves from the jitterbug to ‘rowing de boat’& ‘pon de riva, pon de bank’! In the meantime, the traditional Turntable Thursday “classics” continues at the beautiful Waterfalls in Mona Plaza where “TT” fans, old and young, come together to enjoy these nostalgic “TT” Thursday nights!
We have been receiving several requests over the years, to publish the Merritone story and Andrew Henry of Renegade Disco will be spearheading this project.
Merritone also has a web site at www.merritone-music.com hosted by Emoquad. This site is currently on hold while being refurbished. In the meantime information re Merritone can be gleaned on MySpace.
This year, the Merritone Annual Family Reunion/Homecoming event celebrated its 16th year, and “family” members and their friends from home and abroad came to Kingston and Hedonism111 from October 11th to 16th, to celebrate life, love and Merritone music.
Merritone’s ability to survive 56 years is no easy feat as it has been mistakenly pigeonholed as an “oldies” sound system. However, over the years and up to the present time, and without fear of contradiction, Merritone has in fact introduced more, new, quality recorded music to the dance/party scene than any other sound system. The abundance of young people who flock to Waterfalls where Merritone now conducts its “Turntable Thursdays” each Thursday night is testimony to the mix that we attract.
One of Merritone’s greatest attributes is its aficionados, who, once having tasted “merri music”, become life long fans, bonding in friendships second to none. These are the real heroes who take their music (and fun) seriously, and who settle for nothing less than the best. Merritone fans are music and dance savvy, when they party, they party hearty, and when they rock, they literally rock around the clock. That’s the way Merritone has been doing it for the last 56 years, because for the entire Merritone family, music is life and life is music. Their mantra sums it up succinctly, “things of quality have no fear of time”.