Harry Zephaniah Johnson, the former insurance salesman, reggae producer and studio owner, better known as Harry J passed away on April the 3rd. It took DJ WrongTom posting his remix of Harry J’s most ubiquitous classic “Liquidator” to give me a gentle shove into posting a brief tribute.
Tom describes his remix as a “mess of synths, bleeps, and overlaid drum tracks” but keeps Winston Wright’s famous Hammond riff at its heart. To me at least the original is the sound of the Waltzers, stick it on and subconsciously I’m 15 and hurtling round with a disinterested youth whipping my neck back as he flicks the Waltzer into a spin. I’m not sure why I have this association… perhaps Cumbria’s funfair barons were reformed skinheads?
Some question whether Harry had his hands directly on the desk for “Liquidator” and the countless other “Harry J Productions” suggesting he was more of an instigator, arranger and entrepreneur. Drummer Carlton Barrett suggests the instrumental was originally meant for Tony Scott’s “What Am I to Do“ while Alton Ellis highlights its similarity to his own “Girl, I’ve got a date“.
Whatever the truth, it says “Harry J All Stars” on the label and that’s the name forever associated with one of the most well known reggae tunes of all time.
The unmistakable bass of the intro was also pilfered by The Staple Singers, after Booker T & The MG’s drummer Al Jackson visited Kingston in 1969 and was given two copies of “Liquidator” by Harry J. Three years later Johnson was horrified to recognize his opening refrain on the radio as what would become a soul standard “I’ll Take You There” was played.