Looking back at Neville Lee's legacy

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

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Neville Lee was never as famous as his older brother Byron, but he made his mark in the Jamaican music industry as a major distributor for some of the biggest names in reggae through his Sonic Sounds company.

Lee, who died July 31 in Kingston at age 80, operated Sonic Sounds for over 30 years. Ironically, it was the biggest Caribbean rival to Byron's Dynamic Sounds in terms of record distribution.

Jason Lee, one of Neville's four children, told the J amaica Observer, “Dad and Byron were close just like most brothers.” They played on the St George's College football teams that won the schoolboy Manning Cup in 1956 and 1957 and shared a passion for music.

Two years younger than Byron, Neville moved to the United Kingdom after leaving high school and served in the Royal Air Force. His first real job in the music industry came in 1969 when he returned to Jamaica to work with his brother.

“Byron brought him from England to be the managing director of Dynamic Sounds. However, a conflict of interest made Dad move on and start his own company,” Jason Lee explained. “We were competitive rivals, wanting our companies to have the hit songs.”

Dynamic was a powerhouse, especially in the late 1960s and 1970s when they distributed for Atlantic and Columbia Records. Their recording studio was also used by major artistes including The Rolling Stones and Paul Simon.

Neville was part of that successful period at Dynamic but left to start Sonic Sounds in 1978, operating from Retirement Crescent in Kingston. They were Jamaican distributors for major American record companies such as RCA/EMI/Capitol, Sony/BMG and the BMG Music conglomerate.

His children, Stephen, Gordon, Jason and Susan, worked at Sonic Sounds which had the biggest names in reggae on its distribution roster, including Bob Marley and The Wailers and Black Uhuru.

According to Jason, the company hit its stride during the 1980s by releasing some of that decade's biggest hit songs. They included the instrumental, Taxi by the Taxi Gang; Diseases (Michigan and Smiley); Night Nurse (Gregory Isaacs); Girlie Girlie (Sophia George); Stealing Love (Carlene Davis); Greetings (Half Pint); and Murder She Wrote by Chaka Demus and Pliers.

In terms of overseas songs, Lady in Red by British singer Chris de Burgh, Whitney Houston's Greatest Love of All and Lady by Kenny Rogers were the biggest sellers for Sonic Sounds.

Steven Lee said his father never forgot the message of benevolence he learned while at St George's where one of his classmates was Richard Ho Lung, who today is arguably Jamaica's most respected spiritual leader.

He encouraged his children to always help people including the less fortunate, as he and his wife had come from a poor family and knew what it was not to have,” said Stephen.

Byron Lee died in 2008 at age 73. A younger brother, Paul Stewart, also pre-deceased Neville. He is survived by two brothers, Gene Lee and Willie Stewart (former drummer of Third World), his widow Winnifred, children, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The thanksgiving service for Neville Lee is scheduled for Sts Peter and Paul Church on August 28.

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