Leslie Kong was a Legend in Jamaica's Music History
Jamaican Music

Leslie Kong was a Legend in Jamaica’s Music History

Leslie Kong influential Chinese-Jamaican reggae producer

The legendary Beverley’s Records and the “Beverley’s” record label literally came into existence from a less than chance meeting between Leslie Kong and one James Chambers who called himself Jimmy Cliff, in 1961.

Leslie Kong operated a restaurant, ice cream parlour, and record shop called “Beverley’s” on Orange Street in Kingston along with his two older brothers Cecil and Lloyd. Young Jimmy Cliff had journeyed into Kingston to attend school at Kingston Technical. He would pass the restaurant on his daily trek to school. Encouraged by the success of some of his youthful peers who had entered the music business Cliff had been writing a couple of songs but none got the attention of any of the business’ players. One night he forced himself into the restaurant as it was about to close and offered to pitch a song he had written entitled “Dearest Beverley” to the owners of the business.

While not enamored by the particular song, Leslie liked Cliff’s voice and the fact that he could write songs. He directed Cliff to meet with Derrick Morgan who had by then gained some recognition as a recording artiste. Morgan returned with Cliff to Leslie Kong the following day and advised him that Cliff had a lot of promise. Interestingly, the 14 year old Jimmy Cliff by his efforts helped to convince the Kongs at that point to go into the recording business where instead of buying records for re-sale they would be producing their own material. Thus began “Beverley’s Records” and the launch of Jimmy Cliff’s recording career. Kong recorded Cliff’s song as well as one other, none of which were successful. His third song “Hurricane Hattie” was a hit but not as big as “Miss Jamaica” after which Leslie Kong never looked back.

Leslie Kong paid his artistes better wages (certainly better than Coxsone and Prince Buster) and through Jimmy Cliff’s rising reputation he was able to lure a lot of talent to Beverleys including Bob Marley whose first two tunes “One Cup of Coffee” and “Judge Not” were both recorded at Beverleys. Throughout the 1960s Kong recorded many top Jamaican artistes covering the Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae period including Stranger Cole, Joe Higgs, Desmond Decker, Toots Hibbert and the Maytals, John Holt, and Derrick Morgan. The latter caused friction between Morgan and Prince Buster who viewed Derrick Morgan as misguided for leaving as Buster to sing for a Chiney-man. What was clear though was the fact that Kong paid better money than Buster and the two would exchange a litany of “throw-wud” songs at each other much to the delight of dance fans. Kong recorded the patriotic Ska hit by Derrick Morgan “Forward March” which celebrated the country’s birth as a sovereign nation. Other hits by Morgan included Housewives’ Choice and Blazing Fire

Like many of the Chinese-Jamaicans who entered the music business during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Leslie Kong brought a sense of commerce with him into the business. An illustration of this was his acquisition of shares in Island Records with Chris Blackwell and Grame Goodall as well as the signing of a deal with Blackwell to distribute Ska records in the United Kingdom (UK) under license. Blackwell later bought out Kong and Goodall’s share in Island Records, and in 1967 Kong formed a second partnership with Graeme Goodall, who created the Pyramid label in the UK for the successful release of Kong’s Rock Steady and early Reggae productions. The arrangements with Pyramid folded in 1969 and Kong established a similar relationship with Trojan Records.

Kong’s business savvy resulted in him becoming the first Jamaican producer to get international hits with Desmond Dekker in 1967 with 007 (Shanty Town) and again in 1969 with Israelites which topped the UK Singles Charts in April 1969 and number nine on the US Charts in July of the same year selling over two million copies. During the early reggae period, he worked with The Wailers on their album “The best of the Wailers,” a compilation that the Wailers had deemed unworthy of release. In fact, Bunny Wailer was so incensed with the album’s release that he predicted that “Kong would one day drop dead” as punishment for committing such a wicked act. Kong would go on to enjoy several successful hits with other artistes including The Pioneers with “Long Shot Kick The Bucket,” The Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon” and “Sweet Sensation.” His works with The Maytals also led to many hits including “54-46 That’s My Number,” and the UK charting single “Monkey Man.” Other vocalists who recorded for him and the Beverley’s label include The Gaylads, Delroy Wilson, Bruce Ruffin, Ken Boothe, and Roland Alphanso who recorded numerous instrumentals for Kong during the Rock Steady period.

Kong was on top of his game at the dawn of the 1970s when reggae emerged as the dominant sound in Jamaica when in fulfillment of Bunny Wailers’ alleged curse, died suddenly (from a heart attack) in August 1971.

About the Author

Richard Hugh Blackford Richard Hugh Blackford is the host of a 2-hour music-driven internet show Sunday Scoops on yaawdmedia.com each Sunday from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. The show focuses on Foundation Jamaican Music and takes its audience on a nostalgic but historical musical journey, peeling back the years of Jamaican musical development as the hosts explore the careers of Jamaican artistes. Sunday Scoops provides interviews with personalities, and discussions on Jamaican music and other topical issues.  The show is co-hosted by noted DJ Garth Hendricks.

About the author

Richard Hugh Blackford