Neville Lee is dead

By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter

Thursday, August 02, 2018

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Yet another stalwart in the local music industry has transitioned. This time it's renowned producer, manufacturer and distributor Neville Lee, who died at the Medical Associates Hospital in St Andrew on Tuesday after a battle with leukaemia and diabetes. He was 80 years old.

Lee returned to Jamaica from London in 1969 at the invitation of his brother, renowned musician Byron Lee, to work at Dynamic Sounds, the record-manufacturing and distribution company he had started. He remained with his brother until he branched out, forming his own company, Sonic Sounds, in 1979.

Lee's son Jason recalled his father's strong sense of business and commitment to develop the local industry.

“From the early days Sonic Sounds pretty much controlled the distribution of all the major reggae artistes — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailers, Rita Marley, Gregory (Isaacs), you name them. Daddy also had the Volcano music label during this time. All the artistes loved him as he was very generous with his time and knowledge. He eased out of the business in 1989.”

The younger Lee also reminisced on the personal side of the man he called 'Daddy'.

“He was a great man. Very much on the quiet side, but we, his children — my three brothers, my sister and myself — could go to him and discuss anything. Everything he did was about family. He lived for his wife, children and grandchildren. My parents celebrated 58 years of marriage on Monday, the day before he passed. My mother spent the day with him at hospital. He had a special heart and because he lived with me and my family, I looked forward to waking up to that ray of sunshine everyday,” said Jason.

Tributes have been coming in since Lee's passing was announced. Culture Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange said she felt a personal loss with death of a giant in the music industry.

“Neville Lee helped me to start my own record label called Orange, and his company — Sonic Sounds — distributed many of the songs I produced, notably the hit Like Old Friends Do by Carlene Davis. Neville Lee mentored and guided may young artistes and musicians during his time. His contribution to Jamaica's music industry was indeed monumental.”

Meanwhile, film-maker Lennie Little-White is calling for the main studio at CVM TV to be renamed in Lee's honour.

In a letter to CVM Chairman Wayne Chen, he explained that Lee was an initial investor in the station and when there was difficulty in getting the station off the ground, Lee gave up the ground floor of the Sonic Sounds building on Retirement Road to house the first cadre of employees without charge.

“When we acquired the current space on Constant Spring Road, he and I were totally responsible for converting an empty warehouse into a TV studio. He provided some of his own staff to help in the construction phase. Given his major contribution in the creation of the current main studio, I am recommending that the board names the primary studio as The Neville Lee Studio,” said Little-White.

On Tuesday morning, former Third World percussionist and songwriter Irvin “Carrot” Jarrett passed away, while singer Suzanne Couch died on July 9.

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