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The Hiltonaires

 

Page last revised: 6/10/2012

 


 

Background

The Hiltonaires were named for Kingston's Hilton Hotel, where they were the house band. Though not necessarily the best mento group ever recorded, The Hiltonaires  may have been the most prolific, recording six LPs during mento's middle period. They also toured North America, playing such cities as Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, as well as destinations in Canada.

Nearly all of the songs on their six touristy LPs

are popular selections from the mento repertoire. Many appear on more than one Hiltonaires LP, though they are different renditions. The Hiltonaires utilized a number of lead singers across these LPs, including one un-credited lead singer mento and reggae fans already know.
 
As this autographed sample attests to, the musicians son the "Seven Bells" album are:

Neville Chambers - banjo (and group leader)
Lionel Davis - guitar
Oswald Jackson - maracas and vocals
Lawrence Christie - Rumba box "and is also a useful vocalist"

Big Bamboo LPs and CD

"Big Bamboo" is The Hiltonaires' most popular LP. It features classic rural instrumentation, including what sounds like a bamboo saxophone (though only a regular sax is ever pictured on an LP jacket) and sometimes augmented with a little electric guitar. In 2001, I found a CD version of this 1966 release in Manley airport in Kingston. Not surprisingly, the CD has better sound quality than my old LP. As middle period LPs go, this one is fairly easy to find inexpensively at used-record stores, on-line dealers and on eBay. But which version will you wind up with?

 


 

Here's my LP on WIRL. It
has the following 8 tracks:

1. Yellow Bird
2. My Pussin'
3. Island In The Sun
4. Mary Ann
5. Big Bamboo
6. Chinese Baby
7. Matilda
8. Shame and Scandal


 

 

Here's the CD version, on Sonic Sounds, which I found
at Manley Airport in Kingston.
 It adds 4 tracks to the above:

         1. Island Woman
         2. Jamaica Farwell
         3. Wings of a Dove
        
4. Going Back To See Her


 

 

Courtesy of Steve Brentford
of the Netherlands, here is a
version of the LP on the Coxsone label. It has the 12 tracks found on the CD, but substitutes "Seven Bells" for "My Pussin'".


 


 

Again, courtesy of 
Steve Brentford
,
here are two
more versions of
the "Big Bamboo" LP.
To the left is a version
on the Hilary label.
On the right is an
alternate version
on the WIRL label.
Each have the same
tracks as on the
CD, above.

 


(Incidentally, though very much part of the mento repertoire, "Big Bamboo" was originally a 1952 hit for Trinidadian calypso star Duke of Iron.) 

My favorite Hiltonaires song comes from (every variation of) the Big Bamboo LP. Although some of the terminology heard in "Chinese Baby" is politically incorrect by today's standards, you have to feel for the singer, who is black, as is his girl who keeps producing Chinese babies. This is a popular theme that continued into the reggae era. The Hiltonaires recorded this track more than once, as it also appears on Seven Bells and on Ska-Motion In Ska-Lip-So. But the version on Big Bamboo is my favorite rendition of my favorite Hiltonaires track. Here is a sound clip of Chinese Baby. [Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]



Other LPs

   

"The Best Of The Hiltonaires", on the Coxsone label, is not a collection of tracks from their other LPs, but a new set of tracks. It includes "Nobody's Business" and "Archie", both of which were covered by Peter Tosh, as discussed on the Wailers page. Also included is a cover of Toots And The Maytals "Bam Bam", with the addition of trap drums and organ to the rural instruments. Check out the little banjo-ukulele on the front cover!




Courtesy of Dan Neely, Steve Brentford and Matthias Münchow, respectively, the front, back and label scans of The Hiltonaires' LP, "Ska-Motion In Ska-Lip-So". Like its sequel, "Meet Me In Jamaica With Sunshine", this LP adds an electric guitar ska chop to some tracks, but the music is really still mento in both instrumentation and repertoire (even if the word "Ska" is worked into some of the titles of familiar mento songs, like "Ska and Fall Back" instead of "Dip and Fall Back"). This LP came back in print (on vinyl, not CD) in 2003. 
 

   

Yet again, courtesy of Steve Brentford, here are three more Hiltonaires LPs. These are a little harder to find than Big Bamboo, but as mento records go, not very difficult or expensive to acquire.
 

 











 

Hold 'Im Joe


Meet Me In Jamaica with Sunshine

 

Seven Bells

 

A similar sound to the Big Bamboo LP described above, but Hold 'Im Joe features covers of several American folk-pop songs in addition to songs from the mento repertoire.
 

The cover promises "Calypso - Ska - Mento", but the music is really mento, even if a couple of tracks have electric guitar playing a ska chop and a few more have something of a calypso beat. Two singers share lead vocals duties. An email from Robert Sterle of

  All mento this time, though more tracks feature a more subdued rhythm, lead by the strum of acoustic guitar. Line up info is included and reads as follows:

Neville Chambers - leader & banjo player
Lionel Davis - guitar
Oswald Jackson - maracas and vocalist
Lawrence Christie - Rumba box and also a 

Argentina alerted me to the fact that one of the singers sounded very much like Lord Tanamo. Brian Keyo confirms that it is Tanamo, singing ion such songs as "Yellow Bird",   useful vocalist
 
"Big Bamboo" and "Day O". This is a surprise, but not a shock, as Dan Neely has already documented that The Hiltonaires provided instrumental backing on some of Tanamo's mento recordings, as mentioned on the Lord Tanamo page.

Singles

  A Hiltonaires  45 from 1965 on Coxsone Dodd's Studio One label:

"Wings Like A Dove"

        backed with

"Ethiopia"

 

  A Hiltonaires  45 from on WIRL:

"Obeah Wedding" (covering Mighty Sparrow's Trinidadian hit)
        backed with

"Take It Easy"

See also...

The track "Jamaica", from "Meet Me In Jamaica with Sunshine", was included in the 2004 compilation, "Trojan Jamaica Box Set". "Island In The Sun" and a version of "Chinese Baby" are included in the 2006 the CD compilation "Dip And Fall Back

 

email me at:
mike@mentomusic.com

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