Junior Byles

Born on 17th July 1948 in Kingston, Jamaica, Keith ‘Junior’ Byles was raised in devoutly religious family in Jonestown, gaining his early musical education from singing in church.

After finishing his schooling he worked alongside his father, a trained mechanic, serving an apprenticeship in engineering, buut his overriding passion was music and in 1967 formed the vocal trio the Versatiles alongside friend, Dudley Earl and Ben ‘Louis’ Davis.

The group subsequently auditioned for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, then in the employ of producer, Joe Gibbs, and after impressing the soon-to-be Upsetter, were invited to a recording session at which they cut a number of sides, including what would be as Festival Song Contest entry, ‘The Time Has Come’.

Further impressive sides swiftly followed, most noticeably ‘Trust The Book,’ ‘You Just Can’t Win’ and the risqu??, ‘Push It In’, but when Perry moved on to produce for Dorothy Barnett‘s Deltone Records label, the trio followed suit.

Subsequent sessions Duke Reid‘s Treasure Isle label and Scrath’s newest venture, Upsetter Records produced further fine works, but in 1970, while Junior was also holding down a job as a firefighter, the group disbanded.

Soon after, Junior embarked in earnest on a solo career, with his initial efforts including ‘What The World Is Coming To’ and ‘Live As One’, both of which were initially released in the UK through Pama, who credited both recordings to King Chubby, a reference to an early nickname for the singer.

In 1971, following the release of another song contest contender, ‘Rub Up Festival 71’, Junior scored big time with ‘Beat Down Babylon’, a song originally written, recorded and released in Canada by Harold Meikle & The Tropical All Stars as ‘Righteous Rastaman’. Junior’s interpretation of the song led to a series of versions such as Dennis Alcapone‘s ‘Alpha And Omega’, Max Romeo & Niney‘s ‘Babylose Burning’ and Jah T‘s ‘Informer Man’.

Junior followed up the success of the single with the equally impressive ‘A Place Called Africa’ which provided the rhythm for one of Dr. Alimantado‘s earliest hits, ‘Place Called Africa Version Three’ and the classic, ‘Africa Stand’.

The singer’s success led to further sessions with Scratch that produced the popular ‘King Of Babylon’ and the amazing double-header, ‘Pharaoh Hiding’ c/w ‘Hail To Power’,recorded in support of the Peoples National Party.

In 1972 Junior again entered the national Song Festival competition, placing third with ‘Festival Da Da’, the popularity of which maintained his high profile in Jamaica and led to the release of the album, ‘Beat Down Babylon‘.

Soon after, he recorded a version of Little Willie John‘s R&B classic, ‘Fever’, which once more provided the basis for a number of releases for a number of other artists on Perry‘s Upsetter Records roster.

By 1973, following the PNP victory in the Jamaican general election, Junior felt increasingly disillusioned with the policies of the party he had supported, a disappointment he demonstrated in his song, ‘When Will Better Come’. His irritation at the rising number of false Rastas was also reflected in another strong seller form the time, ‘Rasta No Pick Pocket’.

The following year, Junior cut one of his finest works, the lilting ‘Curley Locks’, the rhythm of which was promptly revisited on ‘Dreader Locks’, on which he was partnered by Scratch.

In the mid-70s Junior moved away from working with the Upsetter and recorded material for the Ja-Man label, Lloyd Campbell and Pete Weston, for whom he cut a version of ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ and a remake of the Folkes Brothers’‘Oh Carolina’.

Around this time, he also recorded the Jamaican chart topper ‘Fade Away’, which he later claimed was inspired from the Bible when Jeremiah questioned vanity. The tune, recorded at Channel One, was also featured on the soundtrack of cult reggae film ‘Rockers’.

Shortly after this time, he was reunited with Joe Gibbs for the Jamaican hits ‘Heart And Soul’ and ‘Dreadlocks Time’, but unfortunately was unable to maintain that winning formula after his health went into a steady decline, with death of Emperor Haile Selassie often cited as the trigger.

His troubled state of mind resulted in his admission into Kingston’s Bellevue Hospital, although treatment at the facility proved futile. While still a patient at the hospital he continued to record for the likes of Niney and Lloyd Campbell, while alongside Big Youth he recorded the noteworthy ‘Sugar Sugar’.

But by the early eighties, it was clear that he was far from well, despite a relatively productive recording session with Lloyd ‘Bullwackie’ Barnes, and the death of his mother and he destruction of his home following a fire further compounded his depressed state of mind.

In 1986 the US record company, Nighthawk Records issued Junior’s six-track ‘Rasta No Pickpocket’ release that featured a solid remake of the title track, but sadly the disc failed to illicit much interest and so failed to provide the funds for improvement in his lifestyle.

By the following year, Junior was living on the street and while he occasionally resurfaced with a few notable live appearances outside of Jamaica, alongside Earl ‘China’ Smith, signs of as prolonged recovery have yet to prove forthcoming.

Today, Junior is being supported by his family who do their best to look after him, although there has been a campaign to raise funds that would allow them to provide the household the support needed for effective respite care.