The aptly named Jiving Juniors were one of the most popular vocal ensembles of the Jamaican R&B period, with some historians ranking them as one of the top three artists of the "pioneer years." More romantic than the driving boogie of Laurel Aitken or Derrick Morgan, the Jiving Juniors withered teenagers' hearts with ballads and doo wop love songs on such chartbusters as "Lollipop Girl," "Over the River," and "Sugar Dandy." However, their split at the dawn of ska and their absence from this crucial period sealed their fate as a musical footnote and they are remembered today as little more than the vehicle for lead singer Derrick Harriott's early success.
Formed in 1958 by students at Excelsior and Kingston Colleges, the teenaged members included Eugene Dwyer, Herman Sang, Maurice Winter, and, of course, Derrick Harriott (born 1942). In the late '50s, the group recorded for many of the period's major producers, including Edward Seaga, Duke Reid, and Clement "Coxsone" Dodd. In 1960, Reid released "Lollipop Girl" and the quartet rocketed to the top of the newly established Jamaican pop charts. The R&B ballad characterizes the romantic tone of many of their tunes and that same year, "My Heart's Desire" also hit big.
The spiritual doo wop "Over the River" was their next major success. An important route marker on the road of Jamaican music, the song is a laid-back boogie with a guitar offbeat so heavily accented it sounds nearly indistinguishable from ska. Although Dodd didn't release the record until 1961, it was possibly recorded much earlier -- perhaps as early as 1959 -- and features trombonist Rico Rodriguez's first solo. Their last major hit came with the 1962 release "Sugar Dandy." While hugely popular, the track proved the swan song for the group's doo wop style, saccharine lyrics, and Harriott's sometimes shrill falsetto.
Later that year, as Jamaica won its independence and ska began to dominate the music scene, the Jiving Juniors split up without scoring a major hit in the new genre. Harriott departed to form his Crystal label and the rest of the group left Jamaica a few years later for destinations north. While still in Jamaica, Eugene Dwyer tried to start two groups, one called Zodiac and another called the Pacesetters, but neither had much success and he, too, left Jamaica in 1980. Harriott was clearly the most successful talent to emerge from the group, both as a solo singer on "Solomon" and "Loser" and as a producer, recording dozens of artists up through the 1990s. ~ David Colon