By: Brian Jahn
Guitarist Ernest Ranglin has long been considered to be Jamaica’s Wes Montgomery. Ranglin’s career spans more than sixty years starting in Jamaica’s big band days. By the late 1950’s he was touring overseas and even recorded the first single for a new record label run by a young Chris Blackwell.
Back in Jamaica Ranglin was playing “uptown” gigs while doing studio session work in Jamaica’s budding music industry. He worked for Coxone at Studio One and was also musical director for Duke Reid at Treasure Isle. Ranglin was also instrumental in developing the distinctive sound for Ska music. In 1964 he was the one who arranged the music and played guitar on the hit song “My Boy Lollipop” by Mille Small. The 1960’s were busy for Ranglin, he also did some soundtrack work for none other than James Bond, his work can be heard in the Bond classic “Dr. No” which was filmed in Jamaica. He’s said at that time in his career he had to keep his “downtown” music life a secret from his “uptown” music patrons, since downtown and uptown didn’t mix if they found out he wouldn’t get anymore gigs uptown.
Throughout the 70’s & 80’s and still today Ranglin was always an in demand session musician. In 1973 he was awarded the Order of Distinction (O.D.) from the Jamaican Government for his contributions to Jamaican music. In the mid 70’s he also toured with Jimmy Cliff and can be heard on Cliff’s 1976 live recording “In Concert The Best Of Jimmy Cliff”. As a composer and arranger he was responsible for the arrangements of many of reggae musics classic hits like The Melodians “Rivers Of Babylon”. Recently in 2004 he did a string of recordings with the Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander.
In 2003 I was fortunate to record the jazz CD, “Earth Tones”, with him and Jamaica’s other guitar legend Earl”Chinna”Smith, plus 8-string jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter. One of the reggae songs we covered on the CD was a smooth reggae/jazz version of “Rivers Of Babylon” forty + years later, in the studio he was commenting how he had not played this song in ages. He was a true professional doing almost all the songs in one take, it was indeed a thrill to do a recording with him.
This photo was taken in 2003 in Jamaica in Chinna Smith’s yard a few months before we went into the studio to record “Earth Tones”.