NEARLIN ‘LYNN’ TAITT – CROSSING BOUNDARIES AND BORDERS - A LIFETIME IN MUSIC
..When Nearlin ‘Lynn’ Taitt passed away on the 20th of January,2010 Caribbean music lost one of its most notable figures. Throughout his lengthy career Taitt played innumerable concerts and recorded a huge body of work which influenced countless musicians. His distinct mark on both Trinidadian and Jamaican music will live on for generations to come.
Born in San Fernando Trinidad in 1934, Lynn developed an interest in music at a very young age. Influenced by the sounds of Carnival, Lynn’s first foray into music was playing hand percussion on his mother’s rain capturing barrel. Before long, Taitt, his friend Kenrick, his brother Cedric and several boys in the neighborhood (the area where Navet, Coffee and Skinner Streets meet) began their own local steel band which operated under the name Seabees. In spite of opposition from his parents (Lynn’s mother was a strict Seventh Day Adventist) and no formal musical training, Taitt became obsessed with music and quickly became known as an expert player and pan tuner. Such was Taitt’s reputation that he even arranged songs for Seabees rivals the Southside All-Stars. In 1956 Taitt won the Ping Pong Competition as a pan soloist in an island-wide competition staged in Port-of-Spain. In part, Taitt’s pioneering style was linked to his use of three sticks whereby he could simultaneously play accompaniment. Shortly thereafter he formed his own band which played many gigs around the South area. Lynn went on to form the Guinness Cavaliers, the legendary steelband from South, before focusing on other musical ventures. The young musician also assisted an aspiring group of pan players in the town of Fyzabad.
At the same time, Lynn was developing other talents – including reading and writing music as well as playing the cuatro. Taitt has recalled how he was influenced by Venezuelan music, classical pieces heard on the BBC, and country & western music emanating from the Chaguaramas naval base radio station. After acquiring a guitar, Lynn quickly become proficient on that instrument, eventually drawing the attention of the Dutchy Brothers group. Lynn was the first guitarist with the Dutchy Brothers. Conflicts between the group’s schedule and Lynn’s ongoing steel pan playing led Lynn to strike out on his own with the Nearlin Taitt Orchestra. However it was Lynn’s connection with the Dutchy Brothers that led him to Jamaica in 1963. The band was fielding offers to go to Venezuela and Jamaica at the same time and opted to go to Venezuela leaving Taitt’s group with the option to take the Jamaican tour (a celebration of the anniversary of independence that was to last thirteen days). The group traveled to Port-of-Spain where they teamed up with such performers as Lord Melody and Lord Blackie before traveling on to Jamaica. When the band failed to get paid for their efforts the members opted to stay in Jamaica rather than return to Trinidad empty-handed. Through connections with Byron Lee the musicians found their way into a number of high-profile Jamaican bands.
Lynn remained in Kingston and began working with a pre-existing band named the Sheiks (which notably included keyboardist Jackie Mittoo). As with his experience in Trinidad, Lynn quickly acquired a reputation as a skillful and creative musician. Through a connection with Skatalites drummer Lloyd Knibb, the guitarist recorded his first session in Jamaica – an event that produced the massive and still continually re-recorded song ‘Shank I Sheck’. This was Taitt’s first foray into Jamaican Ska but his reputation was sealed and he would find himself recording with the Skatalites at Coxson Dodd’s legendary Studio One – although the guitarist cemented his name and did most of his future work at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio (Dodd’s main rival). Significantly, Taitt introduced the solid-body guitar and a new style of playing to Ska music. While he made a significant contribution to Ska it was in the Rock-Steady period which followed that the guitarist/arranger came to the fore of Jamaican music.
Many Jamaican musicians credit Lynn Taitt with either the invention of Rock-Steady or as being the key player in the genre. In several interviews Taitt had described how he slowed down the Ska sound to accommodate the lyrics of Hopeton Lewis’ song ‘Take It Easy’. The guitarist had also noted how his experience on the steel pan influenced both the speed of Rock-Steady and his ‘bubbling’ guitar style. Overnight the sound of Rock-Steady swept Jamaica and Taitt became the most in-demand session player on the island. In 1967 and 1968 his band (the Jets) played on an endless stream of hits for producers such as Derrick Harriott, Sonia Pottinger, Joe Gibbs, Bunny Lee, Prince Buster and Leslie Kong. The distinct sound of Taitt’s sparkling and bucking guitar graced such hits as ‘007’ (Desmond Dekker), ‘Say You’ (Ken Boothe), ‘Tougher Than Tough’ (Derrick Morgan), ‘Stop That Train’ (Keith & Tex) and ‘Long Story’ (Ruddy Mills) to name but a few. Taitt recorded hundreds of songs during his relatively brief stay in Jamaica. He could later recall single recording sessions for Duke Reid in which up to ten songs would get committed to tape. His guitar style was inventive and unconventional, with a sharp percussive sound that accented the Rock-Steady beat. The Jets also released a series of highly popular instrumental Rock-Steady albums on Richard Khouri’s Merritone label – the last of which appeared after Lynn had left Jamaica.
In 1968 Lynn was commissioned to set up a band at the West Indian Federated Club in Toronto. As with Lynn’s journey to Jamaica, what started out as a short-term trip led to a new home. Enjoying the somewhat less strained and hectic environment of Toronto, Lynn discovered that he could eke out a living by playing the club circuit in Ontario. What Taitt may have gained in piece-of-mind he lost in career momentum as in that period there was no type of infrastructure in Canada to record the kind of music he specialized in. Through will and determination Taitt always managed to find enough jobs to keep himself going and never had to resort to taking a job that didn’t involve the playing of music. An opportunity brought Lynn to Montreal in the 1970s and again he ended up relocating entirely. Lynn played in a number of local groups and would occasionally link up with musicians he had worked with in Jamaica for recording sessions (Winston Grennan, members of the Skatalites). Significantly at one club show north of Montréal Lynn met his future partner Francine (the couple had a son named Anthony and remained together until Lynn’s recent passing).
Over the last few years various elements of Lynn’s career came full circle. He would return to recording in 1997, releasing a CD named ‘I’m In the Mood for Moods’ which mixed a variety of Caribbean music. Subsequently, he set up a home recording studio (which initially took up a room in his house before it occupied his entire garage) in the Montreal suburb of Boisbriand. Lynn never entirely abandoned his attraction to Ska as he was involved with recordings by both The Kingpins and Lorraine Muller. He recorded a number of songs with Phyllis Dillon with whom he had scored hits such as ‘Don’t Stay Away’ in Jamaica in the late 1960s. A few years later he also recorded some rock-steady inspired sessions for local producer/DJ Moss Raxlen. In spite of living so very far from Trinidad, Lynn retained links with his roots as each year he would arrange songs for local Calypsonians. Taitt would also play a bit of pan music when performing at weddings and parties with the group named La Gioventu with whom he worked for many years. Although the guitarist also assembled a group to primarily play Ska and Rock-Steady at the Montréal Jazz Festival in 2002 he spiced up the band’s sound with a series of vibrant pan solos. Two weeks later he also performed at the ‘Legends of Ska’ show at Toronto’s Palais Royale Ballroom.
Over the past three years Lynn struggled with a variety of illnesses and became less musically active. He was hospitalized several times and after contracting pneumonia passed away on January 20, 2010. While Lynn had previously begun to arrange music for the film ‘Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae’, declining health prevented him from appearing in the film and participating in associated studio recordings. Lynn Taitt last appeared on stage in the summer of 2009 at the Montréal Jazz Festival. Tied to the release of the film, the massive outdoor concert was billed as a Rock-Steady revival and featured some of the most notable singers and musicians (including Jackie Jackson, Hux Brown) from the genre – most of whom Lynn had worked with in the 1960s. While Lynn did not perform, veteran hit-maker Ken Boothe (flanked by singers Hopeton Lewis and Stranger Cole) called him to the stage and reminded the thousands of exuberant concert-goes what a huge role Lynn had played in the creation of the music that was being so richly enjoyed that evening.
Lynn Taitt may not have received the recognition that he probably should have over his 50 plus years career, his legacy and his music will remain forever. Listen to podcast of WACK's interview with Lynn on June 22, 2008. Lynn Taitt is a member of WACK's Hall of Fame of cultural icons.
Many thanks to Jim for imparting his knowledge and co-authoring this article.
Jim Dooley/Ottawa, Canada/February, 2010 [Condolences go out to Francine, Anthony, Lynn’s family and all of his many friends and collaborators in both the Caribbean and North America]
Nearlin 'Lynn' Taitt: June 22, 1934--January 20, 2010.
Photo: Lynn at home at age 63, August 97; courtesy Jim Dooley. Graphic artist:
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Evidence of Taitt's influence on Jamaica's recording industry throughout the 1960s is reflected in the music on the Trojan double cd "Let's Do Rocksteady: The Story of Rocksteady 1966-1968", which is a virtual showcase of what some may say is the best of his session work, with almost all of the recordings featuring his unmistakable guitar playing.