Of all the many obscure roots reggae vocalists, I Kong is one of the most enigmatic. Born Errol Kong in 1947, as a nephew of ace producer Leslie Kong, it was perhaps natural for the man to launch a career in music, and although he passed through the Jamaicans harmony group in the early 1960s, working on a cruise ship for a few years kept him out of the limelight in Jamaica. In the early 1970s he began recording under a variety of aliases, cutting ‘Family Man’ at Dynamics as Ricky Slick, ‘From Heaven Above’ in deejay mode as Ricky Lee Kong, and a number of others as Ricky Storme. In 1975, he teamed up with Bunny Rugs at Lee Perry’s Black Ark for the excellent ‘Bushweed Corntrash’ and ‘Freedom Fighter,’ continuing his solo career via Tommy Cowan’s Talent Corporation. Recorded with perceptive co-producer/arranger Geoffrey Chung of the In Crowd band, ‘Zion’s Pathway’ and ‘Take A Hold (Break The Man’s Hold)’ are easily the most outstanding works he ever recorded. A-side ‘Zion’s Pathway’ first surfaced as a seven-inch on the Earth label in 1977, the result of a scorching Channel One session, voiced and mixing at King Tubby’s studio with Pat Kelly in the engineer’s chair (Philip Smart was also apparently involved). The B-side, ‘Take A Hold,’ which dates from 1978, is Kong’s rendition of his own composition, which Max Romeo had voiced the previous year for his Reconstruction album; Kong’s version took its form at sessions conducted at the Black Ark with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and other work recorded at Dynamics with engineer Jerome Francisque. The musicianship is truly stellar here, featuring players such as Family Man, Horsemouth and Lloyd Parks in the rhythm section, Winston Wright and Cat Coore in the treble spectrum, Sticky and Skully on percussion, Judy Mowatt, Candy McKenzie and Anecia Banks on harmony on the B-side (and Augustus Pablo on xylophone), with an uncredited horn section on A-side, all harnessed at their most rootsy, yielding the best of all possible worlds, as heard in both Kong’s emotive vocal work, and their attendant extended dub portions. Issued first in 12-inch form on the Cav Lip label with a delightful picture sleeve, as well as on Top Ranking, the disc has never been easy to find, being all the more precious for its rarity. This is deep roots reggae at its magnificent best—a must-have for all roots connoisseurs.
David Katz ©