14 December 1943 (age 74)
Dandy Livingstone (Robert Livingstone Thompson, Kingston, Jamaica, 14 December 1943) is a Jamaican reggae musician and producer
He is best known for his 1972 hit, "Suzanne Beware of the Devil", and for his song, "Rudy, A Message to You", which was later a hit for The Specials. "Suzanne Beware of the Devil", reached number 14 on the UK Singles Chart.
At the age of 15, Livingstone moved to the United Kingdom. Livingstone's first record was released without his knowledge - a tenant in the building where he and a friend jammed recorded some of these sessions and released some tracks on the Planetone record label. When London-based Carnival Records were seeking a Jamaican vocal duo, Livingstone filled the requirement by double-tracking his own voice, releasing records in this fashion under the name 'Sugar & Dandy'. One of these singles, "What a Life", sold 25,000 copies, providing Livingstone with his first hit. When called on to perform live, Roy Smith was recruited to make up the duo, although he would be replaced by Tito "Sugar" Simon.
In 1967, Livingstone signed with Ska Beat Records, for whom he recorded his debut album 1968's Rocksteady with Dandy.
In 1968 Livingstone moved into production, and formed a duo with Audrey Hall (as 'Dandy & Audrey'). His production of other artists included The Marvels' debut album, and hit singles by Nicky Thomas ("Suzanne Beware of The Devil") and Tony Tribe ("Red Red Wine").
In the late 1960s, Livingstone worked with the trombonist, Rico Rodriguez, who had featured on "Rudy, A Message to You". Rodriguez later played with The Specials, whose 1979 cover version of the song made it famous. Livingstone produced several singles for Rodriguez under the name 'Rico & the Rudies'.
Livingstone signed to Trojan Records in 1968, releasing two albums, Follow That Donkey and Dandy Returns. A Trojan subsidiary, Down Town Records, was set up to release Livingstone's output, both as a singer and producer, the J-Dan subsidiary serving the same purpose in the early 1970s. In the early 1970s, Livingstone returned to Jamaica, living there until 1973.
Livingstone resurfaced in 1973 with the "Black Star" single on Mooncrest Records, and the album Conscious. On his return to the UK, he recorded a self-titled album at Byron Lee's studio.
The 2 Tone movement in Britain of the late 1970s brought Livingstone to a new audience.
Dandy is one of the great unsung heroes of the early British Reggae scene.
In 1963 he chanced to meet Lee Gopthal, who later founded Trojan Records, and soon began working in the record shop Gopthal owned. 'Dandy' - a natty dresser - heard that a local record company was keen to sign up a Jamaican duo. So as not to miss the chance, the enterprising would-be singer double-tracked his voice. He then offered the recording to the record company as the debut of a new male duo he called "Sugar and Dandy".
The Sugar & Dandy name continued to appear on various UK-based labels, first for Carnival, then for Ska Beat. In time, Dandy recruited a second singer to take on the "Sugar" role - Roy Smith. He was soon replaced by Keith Foster. When the duo finally split, Foster worked solo under the alias Sugar Simone, and went on to enjoy some success in the early seventies as Tito Simon.
In the meantime, Dandy went from strength to strength as a solo act, writing, performing and producing his own material. His 1967 classic, Rudy - A Message to You was affectionately revived by the Specials in 1979 in the midst of the UK Ska revival.
In 1968 Lee Gopthal was rebuilding his Trojan label, following his split from Island Records. He offered Dandy - his protegé - a remarkable deal, signing him as both artist and in-house producer. Seven of the first ten singles issued on the 'new' Trojan label were Dandy (or 'Brother Dan') productions. When Trojan licensed more Jamaican-sourced material, the Downtown label was set up later that year, specifically for the British recordings.
Working in London, Dandy was prolific, both as artist and producer. He used the best Jamaican musicians available locally, such as veteran trombonist Rico Rodrigues, and proved it was possible to create Reggae music outside of Jamaica. Chalk Farm Studios in London provided the recording facilities, and hardly anyone noticed the records were 'home-grown'.
In 1969 Dandy's schedule was as productive as it was hectic. "I'm Your Puppet" he sang on a cover version of the James & Bobby Purify Soul hit, but he was nothing of the sort. Dandy was in total control. He discovered girl singer Audrey Hall, fronted Rico Rodrigues with the Rudies, and his production of Tony Tribe's Red Red Wine was the inspiration for UB40's later cover version. (Although the song was originally recorded by its composer Neil Diamond, it was first popularised in England by Jamaican-born Jimmy James.) Dandy almost achieved a hit himself, with the classic Reggae in Your Jeggae. Though it made no impact on the Top 40, the track was popular enough to be included on Trojan's Reggae Chartbusters album the following year.
By the early seventies Dandy was becoming tired, disillusioned and losing direction. He relocated to Jamaica in 1971 to - as he described it, "recharge (his) musical batteries". A year later, refreshed and full of new ideas he hired Byron Lee's Dynamic studios and cut some new material. With the master tapes under his arm he returned to London and presented Trojan with a new album and a new identity. Dandy 'Your Musical Doctor' was no more. Enter Dandy Livingstone.
Despite finally achieving chart success in 1972, with Suzanne Beware of the Devil and Big City, Dandy's sudden high profile proved to be short-lived. His "Conscious" album was greeted with warm reviews, but wasn't a chart-topper. Also, the Reggae scene was changing, and Trojan's dominance in the market place was dwindling. The label's finances were on the rocks, and in 1974 he decided to leave the sinking ship. The label folded not long afterwards. Dandy - for many years a mainstay of British Reggae scene - simply vanished from sight.
With the chart success of his "Dandy Livingstone" sides, he found himself busier than ever, but now with interviews, TV appearances and media curiosity about the latest Jamaican 'pop star'. But, behind the scenes, decisions were being made that took him by surprise. His album was shuffled off the main Trojan label onto Mooncrest - better known for its Folk and Rock releases. By the time he found out about it, the deal was done. Dandy Livingstone was apparently no longer a "Trojan" artist. In retrospect, this probably wasn't the best idea for a singer identified with Reggae, and may have relegated the album to the bargain bins.
As the seventies progressed, he decided he'd simply had enough of the musical rat-race, and after cutting a couple of Doo Wop tunes on his own label, more for his own pleasure than anything - he kind of disappeared. By the time Reggae fans began wondering, "whatever happened to Dandy…?" he didn't seem to be around any more. The truth was, after 25 years in London, he'd packed his things, said farewell the cold climate of Britain, and in February 1983 he headed back to the sunnier shores of Jamaica.
In more recent times, he has been involved in a crafts distribution outfit - actually his wife's concern - but happily, the call of music has proved too strong to let him 'retire' forever. In mid-2002, Trojan Records announced plans to release a "Best Of Dandy Livingstone" compilation, which would mark the first-ever CD release of his classic recordings. As soon as I heard the news, I mailed him. He was naturally delighted to hear about it. And, there's more…
Early 2003 saw Mr Thompson putting the finishing touches to his latest project. With an energy typical of the man, he's not just preparing an album - but TWO! At the moment, the details are still under wraps, but you can be sure I'll publish all the news as soon as I'm allowed to!
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