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"When it comes to music we don’t make jokes. We are very serious about music," says singer Carlton Manning. Though Manning is not a household name in reggae, his contribution to the genre is incalculable both as a vocalist and the de facto godfather of the Abyssinians group. He has been lauded by The Rough Guide to Reggae as "composer of several of the greatest love songs in the history of Jamaican music."

"That’s what I’m very good at, writing love songs," says Manning. "If I do an album with ten or twelve songs, you can bet your sweet life that seven of them are love songs, maybe nine."

Manning is known for his work with the rock steady harmony group The Shoes (with younger brother Linford Manning and Alexander Henry), which landed a signature hit, "Love Me Forever," for Coxson Dodd’s Supreme (Studio One) imprint in 1968. The rhythm is one of the most versioned (remade) in reggae, having been the musical compliment to dozens upon dozens of remakes from the 70s to today.

Most of The Shoes’ small but essential output for Studio One is collected on the album Love Me Forever (Studio One), which historian Steve Barrow notes as "the ultimate album for both sweet harmonies and original Jamaican love songs."

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Carlton Manning

Photo forthcoming...

Carlton Manning developed a taste for music by listening to American artists of the 50s and 60s including Brook Benton, Nat King Cole, Billy Epstein, Roscoe Gordon, and Smiley Lewis. Manning sang in the school choir and became a talent show standout, working the circuit of talent shows that regularly took place at the Majestic, Palace, and King’s Theaters in Kingston from the early to mid-60s.

The eldest Manning brother, Neville, was Carlton’s first musical spar and later became a bishop in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Jamaica, officiating at Bob Marley’s funeral in 1981.

Manning began approaching various producers in the mid-60s for auditions, including Duke Reid of Treasure Isle and Sonia Pottinger of Gay Feet, recording his first track for the latter in 1966. Manning’s first single at Studio One was "You and Me" with "This Feeling" on the flipside. His fourth effort for Dodd would be the breakthrough. "Every time Coxson Dodd drive by, I heard ‘Love Me Forever’ playing in his car. When it was released, it went straight to the top." The song spent weeks at the top of the charts in the spring of 1968 and nearly five months in the top ten.

Manning recalls that his understanding of the guitar became essential to his ability to write songs and arrange harmonies. "Playing an instrument helps you a lot [as a singer]. It helps you with notes, the scales, and helps you with time."

Manning spent 18 months in 1970 and 1971 as a resident musician at Coxson Dodd’s Jamaica Recording Studio at 13 Brentford Road in Kingston. His mentor and colleague was Ernest Ranglin, formerly of the Skatalites. "I was copying Ranglin’s work. Everything Ranglin create, I took my guitar home, and I never go to sleep until I could play what I heard him play [during the day]. Then the following day, the very first chance I get to use that phrase, I play it back and make an addition to it."

Manning’s other signature tune is "Sweet Feeling," recorded at Randy’s in 1971 and released independently. The song became a major underground seller in the UK. Manning’s next album would collect deeper roots reggae cuts from the mid-70s. This Heart of Mine was released on the singer’s Quality Records imprint in 1981.

Arguably, Carlton Manning’s greatest contribution to reggae was as mentor to the Abyssinians. Manning helped his younger brothers Donald and Linford and their associate Bernard Collins as they launched what would become a storied career in Jamaican music. In addition to coaching their harmonies, Carlton taught Donald how to play guitar. The harmonic elements of The Shoes became the signature of the Abyssinians, as Carlton Manning explains. "[My] harmonies are mainly minor chords on a 7th, 9th, 13th [tertian (3rds)] harmony. If you know the instrument, you deal with the chords and formulate the harmonies from there if the artists can take it. Minor chords are intricate, you have to know what you’re doing musically. The scales are not the regular scales. [That’s how] you get the Far East sound."

As has been often noted, the Abyssinians first recording "Satta Massagana," was in fact directly adapted from Carlton & The Shoes’ "Happy Land," the b-side to "Love Me Forever." Carlton Manning explains that despite his inherent rights to authorship, he declined to take "Satta" from his brothers. "The only reason I didn’t take it away, is because my brothers wanted to be members of the performing rights society in London. I could have claimed the song."

Manning also recorded for Lee "Scratch" Perry, Dennis Brown, and the UK Fashion label in the 70s and 80s.

Manning currently fronts The Abyssinians with Donald Manning and David Morrison singing harmonies. He will make rare appearance as Carlton & The Shoes at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.

by Carter Van Pelt, May 2001

 

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