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Count Owen

 

Page last revised: 01/6/15

 

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Pre-Mento Years

An article in Vintage Boss magazine (issue #15, July 2003) tells us that Count Owen was born Owen Emanuel in the community of Gayle, Saint Mary in 1943, though this is likely a typo, as he was born in 1933. The next year, he moved to Jones Town, Kingston.

According to the liner notes of his "Mento Time" LP, singer and guitarist Owen began singing in school at age seven. By age 15, he settled on mento and immediately found a measure of success as a performer. However, this is at odds with the Vintage Boss article. Since mento liner notes are notoriously inaccurate, Owen's recollections in Vintage Boss are far more likely to be valid:

"I actually started singing when I was 19 years old going onto 20, in 1953/54. I started singing ballads on RJR on the talent parade show. By age 20, I went to perform at Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, where I sang blues and ballads. At the time when I started singing Mento, you had other singers, such as Lord Power, Lord Tanamo, Lord Fly, Count Lasher, Laurel Aitken and more."

 An early Count Owen photo, from
Vintage Boss
magazine, originally from
The Gleaner, copyright Gleaner Company.

Golden Age Singles

Owen did not record a great many songs in mento's golden age of the 1950s. Only nine tracks have been documented so far (though there were at least a few more). But whether they were renditions of mento standards, or original compositions, they were of consistently high quality. These were rural style recordings, and seemed to always feature great banjo playing by Euton Gayle (a.k.a. Lord Gayle, who recorded solo material under both names). A number of them feature haunting tones that I originally though were played on bamboo flute, but now hear as very judicious electric guitar. Many were released on the Kalypso label, they were produced by Ken Khouri -- an association that would last through the 1960s. Owen was a young man when he recorded these tracks. He is one of the few golden age mento stars that is still alive at the time this web site was created in January of 2003. Below are some scans of his golden-age singles, followed by some some sound clips of my favorite Count Owen songs:

 
 
Courtesy of Richard Noblett of London is this Count Owen and His Five Stars single on MRS:

Nana    b/w:
Love In Sweet Jamaica

Like every other golden age Count Owen track I've heard, this is good stuff.
 



Side 2 of the 45 RPM single discussed on the Lord Tanamo page. "The Albany King Size Calypso, No. 2" by Count Owen and His Calypsonians is rural mento extolling Albany cigarettes. Albany commissioned this song as part of a calypso competition. The lyrics are very much a product of its time. Today, it's surprising and funny to hear such an unabashed recommendation to smoke. One wonders why the Surgeon General didn't step in to break up the proceedings. 
 
Because it's out of print and a favorite, here are the lyrics and a sound clip from Count Owen - Albany King Size Calypso, No. 2.    [About the Audio Clips On this Site.]
 

"Albany King Size Calypso, No. 2" by Count Owen

Why should I hide the facts
of Albany filter tip cigarettes
The cigarette that has received fame
and all Jamaica should be proud of it name
So if you want smoking pleasure
at work or at leisure
Buy the soothing cool Albany filter tip cigarette --
at any measure

King-size Albany is the only cigarette for me,
So you all folks stop your joking and get down to some smoking
Smoke the coolest, smoothest, most economical cigarette --
Albany filter tips!

B. and J. Machado
are manufacturers of this fine tobacco
With so many Jamaicans
helping to make Albany filter tip brands
Cigarette is right on the ball
and I'm certain its standard can never fall
Judgment - it's bread to perfection
its social[?] distraction
it's the coolest, smoothest mildest cigarette there is yet --
that is non-fiction

King-size Albany is the only cigarette for me,
So you all folks stop your joking and get down to some smoking
Smoke the coolest, smoothest, most economical cigarette --
Albany filter tips!

Albany!


 

 

On Kalypso, is the single:

Hool-A-Hoop Calypso    b/w:
Island In The Sun Calypso

Both sides have the credit "Count Owen and His Calypsonians Featuring Euton Gayle And His Banjo". Cool!
 

"Hool-A-Hoop Calypso", an original about the hula hoop craze of the 1950s, was said to have been a hit for him. Euton playfully ends a banjo solo with a strum on the headstock. "Island in the Sun Calypso" is an old mento standard. Both of these tracks a quite good and can be heard in fine sound quality on one of the Valmark CDs . This is the easiest way today to hear Count Owen's work.

  Also on Kalypso, baring the same credits is the single:

Bull Dog    b/w:
Old Lady's Taxi

These scans come from one disc, even though they look a bit different.

Loaded with Euton Gayle's rippling banjo playing, Count Owen's "Bull Dog" is one of the most endearing mento song ever recorded, in spite of the sad ending. You really feel for Owen as the neighbor's dog steals the turkey he and his wife were planning to have for dinner, as he pleads,

I have a loaded gun, and I don't want to be hard,
but, neighbor, get your bull dog out of me yard.

"Old Lady's Taxi" is a nice track as well, with prominent bamboo sax and a short, but typically fine Euton Gayle banjo solo. It uses a common mento double entendre where the old person's (there have been old man and old woman versions) ride, or taxi is more demanding than one might expect.

Because it is out of print and is a favorite of mine, here is a sound clip of Bull Dog  along with the lyrics. Sadly, this great track has never been collected on an LP or CD, leaving scratchy 78 RPM singles as the only means to hear this song.  [Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

"Bull Dog",  by Count Owen

When the turkey started to cool
I so did not know what to do
I really thought it was all nonsense
But then I looked --  a bull dog came over my fence

Woman, get your bull dog out of me yard
Neighbor, come and get your bull dog out of me yard
I have a loaded gun, and I don't want to be hard
so come and get your bull dog out of me yard.

My wife and I were considerin'
that we should have the turkey bird for din-din
But when the bull dog gave us a call
You should be there to hear me and my wife call

Woman, get your bull dog out of me yard
Hear me boiling -- woman, get your bull dog out of me yard
I have a loaded gun, and I don't want to be hard
So, neighbor, come and get your bull dog out of me yard

The bull dog saw me holding the gun
He didn't even shape as if e would run
He didn't mind if I stepped him off his feet
just as long as he got the turkey to eat

Woman, get your bull dog out of me yard
Neighbor, come and get your bull dog out of me yard
I have a loaded gun, but I don't want to be hard
Come and get your bull dog out of me yard

Bull dog was getting near the bird
By this time, the bullet was heard
The owners came to witness the fall
Say didn't really hear when come go and call

Come and get your bull dog out of me yard
Neighbor, come and get your bull dog out of me yard
I have a loaded gun, but I don't want to be hard
So come and get your bull dog out of me yard

  A very rare Count Owen single on RCA, that I found in 2015:

Joy Ride    b/w:
Calypsonian

Both are in the classic rural mold.

"Joy Ride" is a Lasher-like double entendre song.  "Calypsonian" owe a bit to the folk song "John Tom", though the lyrics are as naughty as those on the flip. It's about choosing a Owen over any other type of man. Both songs are peppered by find solos by banjo (especially) and sax.

Because they are out of print and are favorites, below are clips from three more golden age tracks by Count Owen:
[Click here for notes About the Audio Clips On this Site.]

 

Brown Skin Gal and Limbo were each recorded by numerous artists, though better version than these would be hard to find. Both come from the MRS LP, "Calypso Date" and, unusually for a MRS album, do not appear to have ever been released as singles.

Take Her to Jamaica features a proto-reggae beat, odd flute playing and references one of mento's many aliases, "Jamaican rumba". Of all the golden age Count Owen tracks I've heard, this one most foreshadows reggae music. This is another track that has never been released other than on a 78 RPM single.

"Brown Skin Gal" and "Take Her To Jamaica" became available on CD in 2013 on the collection called "Mento, Not Calypso".

Another 78 on the Kalypso label: "Fat Gal", backed with "Kendal Duppy".  Both sides again credit Euton Gayle as on the single above. Prominent bamboo sax and hand drum are also featured.
 
  "Fat Gal" is a simple and lighthearted song about the virtues of fat girls: "Get on pon you lap and call her your lollipop".

"Kendal Duppy" is about the infamous train accident (the Kendall Crash) and the ghosts that resulted.

A single on Kalypso by Count Owen and His Calypsonians:  "Come With Me" backed with "Fish Tail Hobble". Though a release on a 45 RPM single might indicate a late 1950s or even early 1960s release, the sound is vintage golden-age Owen. Classic rural mento with Lord Gayle's fine banjo, acoustic guitar, hand drum, maracas and rumba box. The first side is a ballad, the second is a rocker.

  "Come With Me" is a ballad in which Owen implores his girlfriend to join him in Jamaica to start a family. It lists many things JA has to offer, including kalypso. The rousing "Fish Tail Hobble" describes a dress that increases the allure as well as the upkeep costs of the woman that wears it.

Though I do not have a scan,  I've heard another golden age Count Owen track, "Old Lady's Taxi", which was also released on Kalypso. It's similar in sound to Owen's other Kalypso tracks right down to the fine Euton Gayle banjo solos. Lyrically, the track is a Count Lasher-esc extended double entendre, as the old lady instructs cabbie Owen, "Drive as hard as you can, turn the wheel like you are a man", etc. 

1960s LPs

During mento's middle period of the 1960s, Owen became prolific, as he recorded a string of five LPs that moved from mento to ska to rock steady.

   

Down Jamaica Way is the first Count Owen LP. It sticks to traditional rural mento instrumentation, and for the most part, repertoire. The music is good, but, it must be said, like all middle-period material, to my ears, less vibrant and not as compelling as the recordings of the golden age. This LP was released in 2005 on CD, as described on the "Can I Buy Mento" page. Thanks to Matthias Münchow of Hamburg, Germany for the label scan.

 

 
   
Owen's second LP, Mento Time (on Kalypso) is still rural mento, but a little less so. It's dominated by (non-bamboo) flute and sax, except for the last two tracks. There's also banjo (it sounds like Euton Gayle is still on board), bass, some hand drum, but strangely, I did not hear Owen's guitar in the mix. Though not listed, the first track, ("Chi Chi Bud") segues into "Dog War". This is one of the few LPs that eschews the label "calypso" for the more accurate "mento".

  
"Count Down with Count Owen" is billed to Count Owen and The Crafters. It's on Kalypso, and the jacket gives us a two photos of Owen. The liner notes, on one hand, mostly sells the Treasure-Chest Lounge, where Owen was performing, but on the other hand, gives full band credits. Some songs are from the mento repertoire, but many are not. They are performed in either as ska, or in a urban mento/cocktail jazz/calypso inflected style, as Owen leaves rural mento behind. I am not sure if this LP or the one below is Owen's third album.

The third image above comes from another copy of the back jacket. The difficult to read autograph is said to say, "Count Owen of Kingstown, Jamaica 21/9/66".

"Hooliganism" from this LP is included on the CD 2006 compilation "Dip And Fall Back".

You may have notice the name George Tucker in the liner notes above. Left, is an obscure single by Owen's sometimes guitarist, sometimes banjo player. Released on the George Tucker The Dust label, it an original mento song, though it features familiar name ("Lignum Vitae") and a familiar melody ("Jack Ass Bray"). Its high energy mento with a calypso bend to its rhythm.

Thanks to Jeremy Collingwood for the scan and clip.

 
Thanks to Natty B for these photos of Owen's Come Let's Go Ska-Lipso, on the Kentone label  (which is another Khouri family imprint). As ska broke big in Jamaica, it was not uncommon to see middle-period artists begin to record ska-influenced mento. And although all the songs on this LP are mentos, the music  has an unvarying  ska rhythm and ska instrumentation (trap drums, lead and rhythm electric guitar, bass, and some backing vocals on one track), with no trace of mento. The song, "Take Me To Jamaica" changes the lyric "where the rum comes from"  to "where the ska comes from". (This track is available on the 2004 collection, "Trojan Jamaica Box Set".) The back jacket above is again autographed, and the liner notes place the recording later than 1964. This must have been a fairly poplar album of its day, judging by the number of copies of it that turn up on eBay.

    
Rock Steady Calypso, on the Federal label features another photo of Owen. As is always the case, this record is not dated, but title places this LP as a late 1960s release. The liner notes state that this is the sixth LP Owen recorded for Federal, his band is called The Crafters and that the LP's producer and photographer was Richard Khouri.

Many of the songs are familiar mento classics, including "Mattie Run", a track not listed on either the label or jacket. The sound is dance band, featuring jazzy electric guitar and trumpet. The songs have either a rock steady or a calypso rhythm.

The autograph is only partially legible. It's to Mark from
Count Owen. There's more, including the word 'music', that I
can't make out. From all the autographed mid-period jackets
floating around, it's apparent that the performers sold records
at their performances in the hotels. Here is a more legible
autographed jacket that reads:


"To Pam, with love, from Count Owen,
Calypso King of Jamaica, 1/6/79.

Although I only know of the five LPs listed above, this LP's liner notes state that there are six. But before you go on a holy grail like quest, please remember that mento LP liner notes are often erroneous. As the scan to the right shows, this LP was also released on the Kalypso label.

"Underneath The Mango Tree" from this LP is included on the CD 2006 compilation "Dip And Fall Back".

1970s, 1980s and Beyond

Owen also recorded at least two tracks for Coxsone Dodd's Studio One label in the early 1970s.

  Courtesy of Matthias Münchow of Germany, below is one of these records, "The End", along with its version, "Dub End", on the Money Disc imprint in 1972.

Matthias describes it as:

a reggae version of Earl Grant's (1933-1970) biggest hit  "The End" (1958, #7 US-Billboard Charts) (a.k.a. "At The End Of The Rainbow"). 

The vocals are performed in a more show-business pop-vocals style, sounding little like his other recordings.

I have also heard a version of "Soldering" attributed to Count Owen for Studio One. It is faithful to Stanley Beckford's original reggae recording of this song, right down to the mento style vocals.

Also in the aforementioned Vintage Boss article, Owen recalled:

"I performed during the 1970s and 1980s a lot on the North Cost hotel scene and places like Devon House in Kingston. I'm looking forward to to getting back into recording in the very near future."

The Vintage Boss article also revealed that in 2003, Count Owen performed to an appreciative crowd with the Rod Dennis Mento Band at the "Mento in May Concert". Dan Neely, who helped organize this concert -- a return to Devon house -- reports that Owen sounded great and that the audience reacted very positively to this mento great. 

 

Both 2003 Owen photos are from Vintage Boss magazine, taken by Roy Sweetland.

Finally, the Vintage Boss article concludes by describing the musical activity of Owen's daughters. They have performed as The Emanuel Sisters and Rare Essence. One sister, Judi, has since begun to perform as a solo artist.

Also see:

 

email me at:
mike@mentomusic.com

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