by Howard Campbell
KINGSTON, Jamaica – As the 1970’s dawned in Jamaica, politics and music combined for social change in that country. Black consciousness and a new sound called reggae suited a new wave of bands including the Fabulous Five Inc.
This year, the band celebrates its 50th anniversary. Such a milestone deserves the loftiest of accolades and celebration, but the champagne has been put on hold due to a devastating pandemic.
“The plans for our 50th has currently been put on hold because of COVID-19 but we had big plans for Jamaica and abroad including a gala event at Jamaica House. We are looking to resume later in 2020 into 2021,” said Frankie Campbell, Fab Five’s bass player and one of three original members still with the band.
Campbell is also Fab Five’s manager. Ashley “Grub” Cooper, their musical director, drummer and vocalist; and guitarist Junior Bailey are the other original members.
Though not as famous as several of their contemporaries, such as Inner Circle, Third World and Now Generation, Fab Five have stayed the course. They have recorded 28 albums that cover easy listening reggae, mento and soca; played on key reggae albums and helped develop the skills of a number of musicians who passed through their ranks.
Campbell points out that though they still record, Fab Five’s forte remains their live show. It’s what first brought them to attention.
“The early days we played at clubs like VIP, Sombrero,Tit For Tat and many others. Clubs were still popular and (impresarios) Derrick Harriot and Merritone had regular shows at those venues on weekends and we would play. Fab 5 currently is still very busy playing for the private sector, government and other functions, mainly for the adult audiences,” he said.
In the last 25 years, they have not only been an In-demand show band in Jamaica, but South Florida and the tri-state area, home to thousands of Jamaicans.
Like Inner Circle, Byron Lee and The Dragonaires and Now Generation, Fab Five’s genesis was high school. In their case, Kingston College, where Campbell, guitarist Steve Golding and singer Peter Scarlett were students.
Cooper, his older brother Conroy Cooper and Bailey completed the original lineup. The Coopers learned music at the Salvation Army School for the Blind in Kingston.
Within one year of forming, they had a number one song with the ballad Come Back And Stay, and backed American singer Johnny Nash on his monster album, I Can See Clearly Now.
Over the years, Campbell and company have had risque hit singles like Shaving Cream, Good Buddy and Feeling Horny. Their biggest hits are the soca favorites, Yu Safe and All Night Party, the humorous Jamaican Woman and the ballad, Asking For Love.
Grub Cooper established himself as an outstanding songwriter and producer. He produced Who Feels it Knows It, Rita Marley’s 1980 debut album that spawned the hit song One Draw, which he co-wrote. He also co-wrote Harambe, another of her signature songs. Cooper and Campbell are recipients of the Order of Distinction, Jamaica’s sixth highest honor.
They were recognized by the government for their contribution to the country’s music.
With all their accomplishments, Fab Five have had their share of grief. Scarlett, who led them on Come Back And Stay and Asking For Love, died in 1989. Conroy Cooper died in 2019.