Jamaica Gleaner / Numbered among the unsung heroes in early Jamaican music is Lloyd ‘Parrow’ Clarke, who is also among Jamaica’s most gifted vocalists and songwriters.
When Clarke wrote and recorded the slow piece I Know The Reason , in 1962, many thought it was a foreign recording. I actually heard one critic remark, “Boy, me think it was Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers.” That remark bears testimony to the quality of Clarke’s voice because Lymon was regarded as one of the best voices to emerge on the international pop music scene of the 1950s and 1960s.
Born in Linstead in 1937, Clarke was taken to Kingston at age four to live with his aunt in Jones Town, west Kingston. He attended the Jones Town Primary School and continued his education at Kingston Senior School (now Kingston Secondary), situated at the northern section of King Street in downtown Kingston. The institution became somewhat of a musical storeroom at the time, having produced other outstanding entertainers like Derrick Morgan, Slim Smith, Winston Riley, and Carlton Manning of Carlton and The Shoes fame. Many thought that school concerts, which were a regular feature of the school’s curriculum, contributed in no small way to the immense talents that flowed from the school and to Clarke’s emergence as a class act.
Those, however, were not Clarke’s earliest exposure to music as he was already groomed as a member of The Regent Street Seventh-Day Adventist Church Choir and was influenced by budding stars like Alton Ellis, Bob Marley, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, and Stranger Cole from his community. People kept telling him about his fantastic voice, and he soon fancied his chances on the popular Vere Johns Opportunity Hour Talent Show and decided to give it a try.
Clarke’s entry into the show came under very unusual circumstances. Vere Johns heard him singing one day and promptly invited him to one of his shows. Clarke defeated a number of big names in the early 1960s. According to him, it was the first time that a performer had appeared on the show at the instigation of the promoter.
Clarke’s success triggered a jostling among record producers eager to cash in on the young man’s talent and get him under their wings. Duke Reid was the first to get the break and recorded Clarke’s first song, Parapinto Boogie , a bluesy-ska number about a dice game, which requires a player to throw three, six, and five in order to win. The recording gave Clarke his nickname, ‘Parrow’.
The singer, who developed a reputation for writing songs based on personal experiences, claims that as his next effort, Girl’s Rush was a result of the many girls who kept rushing him because of his growing popularity. In the recording, Clarke sings:
“Many a girls who never dig a guy
Until they realise that he is on top
Then it’s a girls rush.”
He went on to record a plethora of songs during the 1960s, the majority of which were written by him, which carried a message and were released abroad, which explains why many Jamaicans did not know about him. Sadly, though, he bemoans the fact that although his recordings sold heavily abroad, he has not received any royalties.
This overseas record blitz by Clarke was triggered by his third recording in 1962, Good Morning , done for producer Clifford ‘Little Wonder’ Smith. The popularity of the song on the overseas circuit earned him a call from an English record company to do a promotional tour.
Clarke told me: “A man named Emile Shalit invited me to do recordings at Earland Street and to do shows at the Ronnie Scott Jazz Club in London”. According to Clarke, the trip was financially successful. Returning to Jamaica in the early 1960s, he wasn’t earning enough money from singing and so transitioned into being a bus conductor and driver for the then Jamaica Omnibus Service Company.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Clarke’s story is the inspiration behind his compositions. His association with a young Japanese girl, who almost broke his heart, and another woman, who became involved in necromancy, led him to write and record Japanese Girl and She’s Living Among The Dead . So affected by the things that he said women did to him, Clarke wrote and recorded The Devil Is A Woman aka Serpent Shuffle .
Highlighting the musical confrontations between soundmen Prince Buster, King Edward and Duke Reid, Clarke wrote and recorded Three Men Went To Hunt , for producer King Bismark:
“Then two men turned on one and tried to pen him up,
but the man was smarter than them,
him load him pocket before them”.
Penitentiary Shuffle told the story about conditions in the Tower Street Correctional Centre, while Sixty Years From Now correctly predicted current happenings in Jamaica. Clarke exhibited his patriotic nature in My Fellow Jamaicans : “Arise from your sleep, take off your slumber and stand on your feet”.
In his composition, Conditions In Life , he philosophises:
“Hell and Heaven are conditions in life
The preacher knows the truth
The rich man, he knows it too”.
Enjoying good health in the twilight of his years, Clarke currently lives in Rema, a section of Trench Town, but hangs out daily, playing draughts with his friends in the St William Grant Park in downtown Kingston.