Leroy Sibbles (born January 29, 1949) is a reggae musician from
Jamaica. He was the lead singer for The Heptones in the 1960s and 1970s.
In addition to his work with The Heptones, Sibbles was a session bassist and arranger at Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio and the associated Studio One label during the prolific late 1960s.
Sibbles and Heptones’ co-founders Barry Llewellyn and Earl Morgan met in the mid 1960s, around the time Sibbles’ first group auditioned for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio. Reid declined the opportunity to record that group. Llewllyn and Morgan recruited Sibbles and formed the Heptones, and Ken Lack of Caltone accepted the trio for a session.
The trio’s initial recordings for Ken Lack were “School Girls” and “Gun Man Coming to Town.” Though the songs didn’t achieve hit status, the latter composition made the playlists at Radio Jamaica Rediffusion (RJR).
The Heptones were among the most influential groups of the rock steady era, along with The Pioneers, The Gaylads, The Paragons, The Uniques, and The Techniques. Signature Heptones songs included “Baby”, “Get in the Groove”, “Ting a Ling”, “Fattie Fattie”, “Got to Fight On (To the Top)”, “Party Time”, and “Sweet Talking”. The group’s Studio One output has been collected on albums The Heptones, On Top, Ting a Ling, Freedom Line, and the Heartbeat Records anthology, Sea of Love.
Beyond his work as a singer-songwriter, Sibbles contributed to the collective output of Studio One as a bass player during the late 1960s. Keyboardist and arranger Jackie Mittoo encouraged Sibbles to play the bass.
When Mittoo left full time duties at Studio One, Sibbles arranged sessions, sang harmony, and played bass as a part of the studio group variously known as the Sound Dimension. These musicians, with engineering supervision Sylvan Morris, played backing tracks used by vocalists Bob Andy, Alton Ellis, Horace Andy, Carlton Manning, The Abyssinians, The Gladiators, Willi Williams, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Burning Spear, Dennis Brown, Slim Smith, and scores of others.
Sibbles was a contributor to tracks including “Freedom Blues” by Roy Richards, “Love Me Forever” by Carlton & The Shoes, “Satta Massa Ganna” and “Declaration of Rights” by the Abyssinians, “Stars” and “Queen of the Minstrels” by Cornell Campbell, “Ten to One” by the Mad Lads, “Door Peep (Shall Not Enter)” by Burning Spear, and the instrumental “Full Up”.
Because of the Jamaican process of versioning and the liberal recycling of rhythms in subsequent years, many of the songs, rhythms, and melodies written and recorded during the rocksteady era, the aforementioned in particular, continue to be referenced today. The most frequently referenced of Sibbles’ bass lines is that found on the instrumental “Full Up”, popularized internationally by Musical Youth’s recording of “Pass the Dutchie”, an adaptation of The Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Kutchie”. Sibbles’ legacy also endures in Horace Andy’s tribute to him, “Mr. Bassie”. (While Sibbles has been credited with the original “Real Rock” bassline, this was more likely performed by Boris Gardiner). The bass parts Sibbles and others developed in rocksteady utilized a rhythmic space found in later roots reggae, where the notes were not necessarily played or sustained on each downbeat of a 4/4 measure. Sibbles has explained that his style was to lag the downbeat slightly.
Other musicians involved in the Studio One rock steady sessions included Richard Ace and Robbie Lyn on keyboards; Bunny Williams, Joe Isaacs, and Fil Callendar on drums; Eric Frater and Ernest Ranglin on guitar; and the horn section of Felix “Deadly Headley” Bennett on saxophone and Vin Gordon (a.k.a. “Don D. Jr.”) on trombone.
Work with other producers
After Studio One, Sibbles and the Heptones recorded for other producers including Lee Perry, Harry Johnson, JoJo Hoo Kim, Niney The Observer, Clive Chin, Gussie Clarke, Lloyd Campbell, Prince Buster, Ossie Hibbert, Phil Pratt, Harry Mudie, Geoffrey Chung, Danny Holloway, Rupie Edwards, and Joe Gibbs.
Other Heptones releases from the early 1970s were Book of Rules (Trojan Records) and the Harry Johnson-produced album Cool Rasta (Trojan), recorded just before the group benefited from the internationalization of reggae via Island Records. The Danny Holloway-produced Night Food and Lee “Scratch” Perry-produced Party Time were the fruit of the association with Island. Sibbles left the Heptones from 1977 to 1995. In 1995, the group reunited with its original line-up.
As a solo artist, Sibbles worked with Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes, Lloyd Parks, Sly & Robbie, Augustus Pablo, and Lee Perry, but primarily produced himself. Sibbles moved to Canada in 1973. In Canada, he won a U-Know Award for best male vocalist in 1983, and a 1987 Juno Award for best reggae album… Also in Canada, he recorded an album for A&M and licensed several albums to Pete Weston’s Micron label, including Now and Strictly Roots.