Harry Zephaniah Johnson (July 6, 1945 – April 3, 2013), known by the stage name Harry J, was a Jamaican reggae record producer of African, Sicilian and Scottish descent.HARRY Johnson, the former insurance salesman who became one of reggae’s top producers in the 1970s, died Wednesday at age 68.
Johnson died from diabetes at the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in his native Westmoreland, his daughter Tara Johnson told the media.
Popularly known as Harry J, Johnson launched his Harry J label in 1966 and had several big hits including The Liquidator by the Harry J All Stars and Young, Gifted and Black done by Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths.
Born in Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica, Johnson started to play music with the Virtues as a bass player before moving into management of the group. When the band split up he worked as an insurance salesman.
He first appeared as a record producer in 1968, when he launched his own record label, “Harry J”, by releasing The Beltones’ local hit “No More Heartaches”, one of the earliest reggae songs to be recorded.
His agreement with Coxsone Dodd allowed him to use Studio One’s facilities, where he produced the hit “Cuss Cuss” with singer Lloyd Robinson, which became one of the most covered riddims in Jamaica.
Johnson also released music under a subsidiary label, Jaywax.
In October 1969, he met success in the UK with “The Liquidator” (number 9 in the UK Singles Chart) recorded with his sessionband, The Harry J All Stars (it was also a hit in 1980, reaching number 42).
This single became one of the anthems of the emerging skinhead youth subculture; together with other instrumental hits released in the UK through his own subdivision “Harry J” on Trojan Records, on a compilation album of the same name.
In the beginning of the 1970s he enjoyed another big success with the vocal duo Bob and Marcia with the song “Young, Gifted and Black”. His productions also included Jamaican hits with DJs like Winston Blake or Scotty among others, and many dub versions.
The Liquidator’s opening guitar riff inspired the Staples Singers’ classic hit I’ll Take You There. Johnson also produced singer Lorna Bennett’s sultry Breakfast in Bed and the spiritual Book of Rules by the Heptones.
In the early 1980s, he produced Sheila Hylton’s cover of the Police’s The Bed’s Too Big Without You. Drummer Sly Dunbar and his long-time music partner, bassist Robbie Shakespeare, played on The Bed’s Too Big Without You. Dunbar said Johnson was “steady as a producer, wasn’t afraid to tell yuh what he wanted”.
The Harry J studios in Kingston was a popular recording spot in the 1970s.
Bob Marley and The Wailers recorded their first four Island Records studio albums (Catch A Fire, Burnin’, Natty Dread and Rastaman Vibration) there.
Johnson is mainly known for his Harry J Studio where Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded some of their albums in the 1970s. The studio was also a ‘must stop’ hangout of many British and other musicians including the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Grace Jones. In addition, Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, could be found hanging out in the sound room prior to moving to England in the early 1970s.
In 1972, Harry Johnson sold his record shop and set up his own recording studio “Harry J”, on 10 Roosevelt Avenue, Uptown Kingston, where he employed Sid Bucknor and later Sylvan Morris as resident recording engineer.Harry J Studio soon became one of the most famous Jamaican studios after having recorded several Bob Marley & The Wailers albums from 1973 to 1976 before the Tuff Gong era; such as Rastaman Vibration and Catch A Fire.
Johnson’s deal with Island Records led him to record artists such as Burning Spear and The Heptones. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, assisted by former Studio One sound engineer Sylvan Morris, he also recorded Ken Boothe, Augustus Pablo, The Cables and the American pop singer, Johnny Nash, and produced albums by Zap Pow and Sheila Hylton.
In 2000, after seven years of inactivity, Stephen Stewart who worked in the early years alongside Sylvan Morris, refurbished, re-equipped and reopened Harry J Studio. Since then under the management of Stewart the studio has seen the return of Burning Spear, Toots, Shaggy, Sly & Robbie, and newer projects of Shakira, Papa Sam/Kirk Franklyn, Luciano and Sizzla. The studio appeared in the film, Rockers.
Johnson married and divorced Murna Webley; he fathered several children: Paul Baines Johnson, Melanie Catanese, Harry Jermaine Johnson (deceased), Hayley Johnson (deceased), Tara Johnson and Dale Johnson.
Johnson died on April 3, 2013 after a long battle with diabetes. He was 67
Harry ‘Harry J’ Johnson is survived by four children and three grandchildren.