Leroy Sibbles, the charismatic singer, bass player, arranger, and songwriter is best known for his work as lead vocalist of The Heptones, but a closer look at his session career reveals an enormous contribution to the feel and direction of Jamaican music through one of its most creative eras.
The Heptones were among the most prolific and influential groups of the rock steady era. Signature Heptones songs included “Baby,” “Get In The Groove,” “Ting A Ling,” “Fattie Fattie,” “Got To Fight On (To The Top),” “Party Time,” and “Sweeting Talking.” In addition to his work with The Heptones, Sibbles was a session bassist and arranger at Studio One during a time that much of Jamaica’s most enduring popular music was recorded.
In the early years, Sibbles did welding during the day and managed to buy a guitar with the money he saved. “The guys were still doing their day jobs, and I stayed home and start writing almost every night. I was writing and arranging, and I loved it. Putting all those ideas [that] I didn’t know I had in me — just pouring out like water. Everyday I wrote a new song and every night the guys would come to rehearse . . . I started picking up [guitar] lessons from this Rastaman named Huntly. He was the first to show me the scales, and [I] started [to] learn chords and positions. I was so hungry to learn . . . The more I learned, the bigger songs I could write. The whole thing was a new life, a new world . . . Everywhere you saw me I had my guitar back then. I wouldn’t go nowhere without it. I would be writing songs, and inspiration would be flowing like water, anywhere — daytime, nighttime, wherever I am.”
Sibbles retains fond memories of the time The Heptones first tasted success. The first time I heard my song on the radio was the thrill of my life . . . I run out of my yard down the lane. ‘Listen! That’s me!’ Yeah, like ‘the British are coming,’” recalls Sibbles. “We felt that we were a part of something. And that felt really good. We had a purpose in the world. That was one of the greatest things, the greatest feelings. We were somebody . . . We had a say for once in our lives. And that was the most important thing. We weren’t even thinking of money. When we did these songs, . . . and we see how people respond in our community all around us. That was the most important thing. ” “When I started playing professionally, I created my style. I realized that most musicians start before the [down] beat or on the beat. So I created a thing after the beat. And that took off, and right now it makes me stand out in the history of reggae music as a bass man.”
The best known of all of Sibbles’ collaborations is probably 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.”. Other Heptones releases from the early ’70s were Book of Rules.
In recent years Sibbles has been working on new material at his studio in Kingston. He’s also producing for popular artists, up and coming lyricists, and composing new songs. In the near future, he plans to release more original material.