The Maytones were actually the duo of lead singer Vern Buckley and backing vocalist Gladstone "Son" Grant. The pair were neighbors in May Pen, a rural market town, a background that deeply influenced their vocal style.
Buckley moved to Kingston first and eventually began backing Trevor Lloyd, who seems to have introduced him to Alvin Ranglin. The timing is murky here, as is Grant's arrival, but late 1967 is a best approximation. In 1968, the group recorded a handful of singles, all self-produced by Buckley, credited to his name alone, and released mostly by the VB pre label. None was successful, and Ranglin decided to step in as their manager and producer. (Rumors that Ranglin was once a member of the Maytones--making them a trio--are apparently untrue.)
In 1968, Ranglin relaunched the GG's label, and with it the Maytones' fortunes. The new-look duo debuted with "Billy Goat," which proved popular, but it was "Loving Reggae" that gave them their first hit that same year.
Across the reggae era, the pair unleashed a deluge of popular singles. Ranglin's own rural sensibilities and his GG's All Stars laid-back stylings enhanced the Maytones' own. Buckley excelled at taking simple sentiments, cultural or romantic, and distilling them down to their lyrical essence, relying on his emotional honesty to give his words resonance. And it did. The duo's simple low/high harmony style may have been unsophisticated but equally resonated with Jamaican audiences.
1970 brought the huge hit "Funny Man," a year also highlighted by "Serious Love," "Gold on Your Dress," "Bowee Wowee," and "Cecilia," all major hits. More appeared in 1971, including such cultural classics as "Cleanliness," "Bongo Man Rise," "Wha Nu Dead," and "Little Boy Blue," the song with which Judge Dread versioned his way to fame.
1972 brought another coterie of masterpieces including "Born to Be Loved," "As Long as You Love Me," "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)," "Brown Girl," and "Hands and Feet." "All Over the World, People Are Changing" hit the following year.
The Maytones were well poised to reap their rewards in the roots years, especially with the success of 1976's "Madness" in the U.K. But their output had slowed, as Ranglin focused on other acts. Still, "Africa We Want to Go," "Holy Ground," "One Way," "Do Good," "Come Along," "Judgement Day," and "Money Worries," the latter included on the soundtrack from Rockers, remain crucial.
Their debut album, titled after their British hit was released in 1976, Greatest Hits arrived the next year, while Boat to Zion and the Buckley/Ranglin co-production One Way both followed in 1979. All did well at home and with the West Indian communities abroad, but the group failed to crack the international market. This lack of success sealed their fate, and the Maytones split upon Buckley's relocation to Canada in 1981.
In 1994 the duo briefly reformed, and unleashed the Madness 2 album. Buckley returned to solo work with 1997's Rocky Road and its follow-up, RAW. He continues to tour widely, while the Maytones' profile has risen visibly abroad, with the appearance of ever more hit-filled compilations. ~ Jo-Ann Greene