The great Black Ark mystery solved

Roots Rock ReggaeFor those of us who have marvelled at the footage of Scratch in action at the Black Ark in Jeremy Marre's excellent Roots Rock Reggae documentary, one segment in particular has always been a real thrill.

In the sequence, we see members of the Black Ark crew including Junior Murvin, The Congos, and The Heptones performing a song with the chorus of "play on, Mr. Music, play on" as Lee Perry madly mixes the recording. Many reggae fans have wondered what the tune is called, and was it ever released? We now have the lowdown on "Mr. Music", thanks to Perry fan Duane Sherwood in New York.

"Where I work in Brooklyn, there are a lot of Carribean factory workers. One of them is a guy named George Daley, who was involved in the Jamaican music scene in the 60s & 70s. He's a cousin of one of the Clarendonians and used to sing backing vocals with them. He's also released a few singles as Prince George".

"When I found out George had a connection to one of the Heptones, I remembered that we see the Heptones in the Roots, Rock, Reggae sequence in the Black Ark performing something called 'Play On Mr. Music'. So I made a cassette of the song, gave it to him, and asked him to play it for Barry to find out what it was."

"According to Barry, it was never released. The Upsetters and a handful of vocalists were at the Black Ark recording a radio commercial (which intrigues me – a radio commercial? Yet another part of Scratch's career that hasn't been explored). Soon after, the documentary film crew came to shoot what was happening at the studio, so the song was quickly written on the spot for their benefit. In fact, if you listen to the lyrics, at one point they sing the cameras are rolling, getting ready for the show... I love this song and would consider it a gift to the world if it was ever found and released."

Although the song was improvised for Marre's documentary, it turns out the tapes were rolling, however. We had to wait 37 years, but the good people at Rock-A-Shaka Records released "Play On Mr. Music" as a crisp 10" single in February 2014.

June 2000 (updated September 2014)