Veteran crooner Errol Dunkley usually puts on a bashy birthday concert a day before his big day, but this year, he’s returning to his roots. The Black Cinderella singer turns 69 today, February 7, and says he’ll be spending the day in “Jungle”.
“I’m just gonna be having a get together with my friends, and a few artistes will be passing through,” Dunkley told BUZZ. “I grew up in Jones Town back in the 50s and 60s with my mom, but I also grow in Denham Town plus Waterhouse.”
The 60s saw the development of new genres like rocksteady and its heir, reggae, and a teenage Dunkley was a firsthand witness to its ascent. Though he had no musical ambitions of his own, he recognised his ability to sing and teamed up with sound system owner-turned-producer Prince Buster to no success. It was his time with Joe Gibbs that would truly start his career.
“I ensure I maintain my voice by going to bed early and eating good food.”— Errol Dunkley
“I started singing for Joe Gibbs while I was attending Kingston Senior School, and he produced my first hit song You’re Gonna Need Me in 1967 when I was 16,” he recalled. “My mom supported the singing cause it kept me out if trouble, and then came other hits like Please Stop Your Lying Girl and I’m Going Home.”
Migrating to the United Kingdom
But with political tensions rising among Kingston’s inner cities, trouble was abound. At 22, Dunkley opted to migrate to the United Kingdom, where his career took on new heights.
“I never wanted to take political sides. I was a wise kid for leaving,” he said. “In England, I started working with a record company named Shelley Recording Company for which I had the hit song OK Fred. That went on the British charts and went number one in France and took me all over Europe. I also decided to advance myself while there by setting up a sound system, having a record shop and even owning the rights to my music.”
But Dunkley said that his career was starting to take a nosedive, which inspired his return to Jamaica in 1997 at Heineken Startime.
“I left a good track record cause I had songs that people knew so that gave me a quick start,” he said.
Now a staple at reggae stage shows and festivals worldwide, Dunkley still records and has two albums up his sleeve. One for a British outfit, and another self-produced, titled Cool Runnings.
“It’s 12 songs on the album I’m producing and six songs have been mixed already,” he said. “I have some cover songs on it like My Baby Just Cares For Me by Nina Simone and Frank Sinatra’s My Way, plus I got some originals.”
As for his legacy, Dunkley said he hasn’t really given it much thought.
“I just wanna prolong and sing,” he said before belting the chorus of You’re Gonna Need Me, his favourite number to perform. “I ensure I maintain my voice by going to bed early and eating good food cause I just want to be able to sing, that’s it.”