By Rich Lowe
The following includes excerpts from the forthcoming book titled “Two Kings - King Edwards ‘The Giant’ Sound System.” *Also refer to “Jamaica Way Reggae Podcast at Soundcloud” for a King Edwards Podcast:
Any Jamaican involved in music in the 1950s is now - at minimum, in their late seventies. Many artists are now in their eighties and nineties, and others have passed; Toots Hibbert, U-Roy, most of The Skatalites players, Coxson Dodd, and Bunny, Bob, and Peter. The music from Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s is often considered a Golden Era of music. It has now been sixty-six years since King Edwards – The Giant started playing sound system in Jamaica.
Many years ago, I found an old photo of King Edwards on the Internet. The photo displayed a blurry, black-and-white image of George “King” Edwards sitting in a chair, out in the Jamaican sunshine. This image appeared ancient. George looked very old, and I imagined that he must have long since passed away. Years later, I read an article posted on the Roots Knotty Roots Jamaican music website by Michael Turner with an interview he conducted alongside filmmaker Brad Klein, with King Edwards himself! Vincent “Vin” Edwards was alive and living in Jamaica. It struck me that Turner and Klein had spoken with Vin Edwards, so the photo I saw must have incorrectly listed King Edwards as “George.” It was not uncommon for names to be listed incorrectly. With further research, I realized there were two King Edwards: Stanley George Edwards and Vincent Lorenzo “Vin” Edwards.
With considerable preparation, I made a pre-COVID visit to Jamaica to meet with both brothers and take the ride of my life as we moved throughout Kingston’s roads and lanes, touring famed dance halls, lawns, and yard locations where they played music. We spent two weeks - with Vin’s expert driving, visiting Foresters Hall, Jubilee Tile Garden, Chocomo Lawn, Carnival, S-Corner, and many others. Vin said – “Record everything! I want you to know everything, and I want you to see where we played music.”
When asked about George’s nickname of “Big Man,” Vin responded, “Him did fat y’know. At the time, he weighed about two hundred pounds. George is the best man I could have dealt with because our relationship was so great.” With this response, there was an inkling that the brothers had a special relationship.
In time, King Edwards assembled five complete sound system sets and played throughout the island of Jamaica. When King Edwards began their sound system in 1955, rhythm and blues music from America was a sensation. King Edwards played the most exclusive records by artists that a Jamaican ear preferred. King Edwards was the talk of the town, and they were loved by their followers and feared by opposing sounds. As the sound system evolved, tracks by Shirley and Lee and Roscoe Gordon were playing, along with recording sessions by the pre-Skatalites and Higgs and Wilson. From here, George and Vin Edwards pick up the conversation:
(George Edwards) I love American rhythm and blues, but I didn’t deal with much of the white stuff anyway. You have Shirley and Lee “Feel So Good” and “Got You On My Mind.” Smiley Lewis “Ooh La La” is another good one. You remember “One, Two, Three Boogie?” that was a bad tune here in Jamaica. Ya have one called “Hen Pecked Papa,” but only one man in Jamaica has it, man! Those records was the records we used to play until we couldn’t get no more, and we have to make it out here. “Feel So Good” by Shirley and Lee was a big hit here in Jamaica. All the jukeboxes used to play the good artists like Shirley and Lee. There was a jukebox in every little bar all over Jamaica. Remember Nat Cole? Them is the best singer in the record business. So, Jamaica just imitate. I’m a Jamaican, but I don’t like Jamaican records so much. Rhythm and blues – that’s my stuff. Mi love the American tune, man! Good music is good music, though, so I am not biased. If you listen to the instrument blowing on Louie Jordan songs, you will understand that the Americans feel their saxophone and trumpet instruments more than Jamaican men. Jamaica a little lighter. Most of our music is the same Louie Jordan style of play. When our boys go to America in 1943, Louie Jordan was a popular man. When I was young, I go to Alterry Beach in Saint Ann to listen music played by sound systems like Michelin and Howell, and I go to Bournemouth and Silver Slipper. I go to all of them, cuz I wouldn’t get the music experience if I don’t do that.
(Vin Edwards) My favorite music is jazz. Reggae is our music in Jamaica, but the whole concept of reggae originate and come out of the American culture. Definitely. Our music was influenced by all of those artists and musicians, like Louie Jordan, Joe Turner, Shirley and Lee, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Big Joe Turner - who was the first rock and roll man! They can’t argue with me on that. Duke, Coxson, and King Edwards were the authors of reggae. The tunes that I was looking for were made as early as 1940, and we establish them with the Jamaican audience. We moved music from English classical music to American rhythm and blues. There was a transition, and Coxson, myself, and Reid did it.
(Vin Edwards) When I get my visa on 14 October 1954, I was twenty-one, going on twenty-two. It didn’t have anything to do with sound. My sister Evelyn – we used to call her “Tiny.” She passed her exam, left school, and went to live in America for the rest of her life. She and George were near in age. My sister send for me, and I went on a vacation, but I didn’t have sound system in my mind.
(George Edwards) While Vin was in Philadelphia, I keep listening to Tom the Great Sebastian, and that inspire me to bring Vin into the record business with me. But him never respond to me, but afterward, him get to like it. Him say no, but two month after, I get the sound an’ he say yes man, we ah play out the records man! Vin bring down the first amplifier.
(Vin Edwards) With every letter George wrote - every time saying, “Bring me down a sound. Bring me down a sound. Bwoy when you come home, the sound thing ah make money.” I say what kinda sound? George say, “Bring a hundred-watt.” In those days, our guys them used to make the power transformer on the output and a fifty watt an’ a twelve-inch and bruk up this house. They move from this tube to transistor in America, so I buy the hundred watts, believing I bigger than the rest. I bought it at a radio shop on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. At that time, it was only black and white television, no color television.
(Vin Edwards) When we came on a Sunday, we stop out at Bournemouth to test it out. George brought a roll of speaker wire, and we plug it in. When George hear the amplifier I bring from America, he say, “Boy, this sound not too heavy, y’know.” A sound can be good in a room, but it doesn’t have the weight when you’re out there. I said, “No man! This is a new thing – this is an American thing.”
(George Comments) “We doubt it, man!”
(Vin) When we carry it home and put it in the house, it sound nice! We give our new sound the name “Rock and Roll.” That night we first play out as a sound system; Chung’s Cavalier Sound play first, and it was advertised as a “Cavalier” dance. When you have a double sound, you play from start to twelve, and then the next sound go from twelve. The first to play is always the heavy [superior] sound. That night Cavaliers played first because, at that time, he was more popular than us. We didn’t play against Cavaliers; we play with him. This was not a clash. Them no know how good my sound was, but they know we have some good music.
(George) It’s raining here in Jamaica now, and my health is not good, but I’m still here. I’m the older one, and I’m proud because it’s through sound system where I know my wife. It’s through sound system where Vin met his wife of sixty years now. Sound system get us popular. Everybody know King Edwards. It wasn’t a bad life, although money-wise, I don’t get much.
Rich Lowe, May 2021
The forthcoming book titled “Two Kings - King Edwards ‘The Giant’ Sound System” has an expected release date of December 2021 with distribution via Amazon.com.