With his celebrated career spanning an incredible seven decades, guitarist Ernest Ranglin is one of the undisputed godfathers of Jamaican music. Ranglin's nimble guitar wizardry has enhanced innumerable recordings and defined several indigenous Jamaican styles from late-'50s/early-'60s ska through mid-'60s rocksteady through the development of reggae in the late '60s.
A passionate jazzman, Ranglin's immeasurable contributions to Jamaica's rich cultural landscape emerged from an economic necessity. Jazz impacted profoundly upon the Jamaican musicians who played in the dance bands that proliferated in the late '40s and early '50s in the economically depressed but musically thriving Kingston, as well as Jonestown and Trenchtown.
Ranglin, born June 19, 1932 in the rural district of Harrywatch in the island's central parish of Mandeville, hailed from a family of gifted guitarists. Ernie's talents so impressed his uncles that they bought him a ukulele when he was just four years old. By 14, Ranglin had already set his sights on becoming a professional musician, so he moved to Jamaica's capital of Kingston, where he received his primary music lessons from guitar instruction books and by watching dance band musicians. By the early 1950s, he was recruited as a member of Jamaica's best known dance band, the Eric Deans Orchestra. He later joined the house band at the Jamaica Broadcasting Company.
Shortly thereafter, he launched his solo career, and in 1958, he formed his own group. There he met Blackwell, who was developing a label specializing in the music of Jamaica, the legendary Island Records. Blackwell offered Ranglin the opportunity to make an instrumental jazz recording that became Island's inaugural release. Indeed, Blackwell was so impressed with Ranglin's talents he hired him as A&R man and arranger for his fledgling company. Ranglin played a major role in popularizing Jamaican music internationally by arranging singer Millie Small's 1964 ska single "My Boy Lollipop," which sold more than seven million copies worldwide.
With the proliferation of ska, Ranglin's seasoned expertise became invaluable to Kingston's burgeoning recording scene. Besides his work with Blackwell, Ranglin divided his time between Kingston's major recording studios of the day: Treasure Isle, Studio One and Federal Records. Ranglin arranged and played bass on several seminal ska recordings, but his guitar solos were ostensibly confined to an exclusive contract with Federal Records.
Ranglin's Midas touch has not only embellished popular Jamaican music but has helped secure its roots-rock solid foundation. Ranglin was awarded the Jamaican government's third highest citation, the Order of Distinction, in 1973. He remains active today, recording for Telarc Records. Patricia Meschino, Courtesy Global Rhythm Magazine: www.globalrhythm.net