VERSION GALORE: The Folkes Brothers Oh Carolina & Debut Release

Marco On The Bass blog dropped a nice little nugget of a post recently discussing the history of one of the first Jamaican songs recorded and Prince Buster’s first “Oh Carolina” which has a long and sordid history as a lot of JA material does. I thought it makes for a great Version Galore column.

Marco included this background on the song: In 1960, Prince Buster (then a relative unknown who was working as a DJ and bouncer for Coxsone Dodd) approached the legendary Rastafarian percussionist Count Ossie, who had established one of the first Rastafarian camps in Wareika Hill, to record for him. After much encouragement from Prince Buster that he would keep the essence of the Niyabinghi -style drumming intact on the recording, he booked Count Ossie and his drummers along with Owen Gray on piano and Ronnie Bop on bass drum into a small recording studio. Once there, Buster did handclaps and imitated horn riffs while The Folkes Brothers, a trio of teenagers, Miko, John and Junior, did the vocals capturing it in just two takes. Until this past week, it was the only recording the group ever did.

The result is arguably one of the most important records in Jamaican musical history and probably the most popular Jamaican dance oldie ever. According to Kevin O’Brien Chang the author of Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music:

“Early Jamaican recorded music was often just an attempt to duplicate American R&B songs. And the usual result was a third-rate copy on fourth-rate equipment of second-rate tunes sung in a quasi-American ‘twang’. It’s hardly an accident that not many pre-independence Jamaican tunes are played on the radio.”

“But ‘Oh Carolina’, whether by design or accident, contained distinctive elements not heard in any previous R&B copy. Count Ossie’s drum group had the most to do with it, but the song’s fresh sound wasn’t just due to the drumming. What was original was the way the drums played off the other instruments and the singers’ voices, trailing just a bit and almost play call and answer. Combining the energy of R&B with the hypnotic repetition of Rastafarian drumming, the throbbing beat was eminently danceable but not frenetic. If one song can be singled out as signifying the birth of reggae, ‘Oh Carolina’ is it.”

Continue reading more of this story at his blog including the court case involving reggae superstar Shaggy and his cover of the tune, the reunited Folkes Brothers and their long overdue debut release plus more about this essential piece of Jamaican recording history.

Interesting  as well is that the brothers didn’t do anything after that till now! They  just released their very first album ‘Don’t Leave Me Darling’ . In an interview with the Jamaican Gleaner (which you should read here) Mico Folkes had this to say that I thought was appropriate:

“We have lost some of our roots sounds in the reggae market because hip hop has swallowed up Jamaica’s beat.”

The World of Reggae site has a little more info as well on this new release. Maybe just maybe this might have some effect on getting the roots back into the beat of Jamaican music.

Now for the Version! Below are three classic cuts of ‘Oh Carolina’ including the original by The Folkes Brothers, followed by Count Ossie’s (who recorded his own version on his seminal 1973 album ‘Groundation’) and Shaggy’s version from 1993.

The Folkes Brothers

Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari



I've been involved in the Los Angeles music scene since at least 1995 going to shows, promoting, spinning records and running labels. Ska and Early Reggae are my passion among other things of course.