The Gleaner continues its series on the persons who died in Reggae Month after making a significant contribution to Jamaican popular music. So far, we have focused on William ‘Bunny Rugs’ Clarke, former lead singer of Third World band, and Wayne Smith, who was integral to the digital transformation of Jamaican popular music through the Sleng Teng song and riddim. Today, it is the turn of Winston ‘Merritone’ Blake, who died on February 27, 2016.
Winston Blake was synonymous with the name of the family-owned sound system and business, Merritone. Merritone, holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously active sound system in the world, having celebrated its 67th year of curating and presenting music in October 2017. Winston Blake was 75 years old when he died at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). Merritone was founded by Val Blake in St Thomas and continued by his sons Monte, Trevor, Tyrone and Winston.
Merritone has not only been active through all the stages of recorded Jamaican music – from mento to dancehall – but plays a wide variety of music forms from outside Jamaica, including R&B and jazz. From its sound system roots, Merritone branched out into talent contests and music production, Winston having an especially close connection with both, as his wife, Cynthia Schloss (who died in 1999), participated in the competition and songs like her Love Forever were produced by Merritone. Winston was also a consistent presence at the Turntable Club on Red Hills Road, St Andrew, with Merritone’s signature night on Thursday (Turntable Thursday) for 28 years. The Thursday parties have since continued at Waterfalls in Liguanea, St Andrew, making for a 45-year of the weekly event.
An advocate of quality, Blake, a founding member of the Jamaica Association of Vintage Artistes and Affiliates (JAVAA), was outspoken on issues affecting the Jam-aican music business. In 2007, speaking at a CD launch, he said: “To get a record consistently played, I am reliably informed you have to pay the jocks in the major areas that carry major listenership. There are still some jocks who are excellent people who will play a record on its merit. Unfortunately, there are not that many of them. That is the unfortunate part of the industry that I am not sure how we are going to take care of that. This has been happening in the industry for quite a few years. For that reason, the record business has got very hard for people trying to get a record out there. Thank God for the Internet.”
His official send-off on Saturday, April 2, 2016 at Hope Gardens was a combination of a service, a concert and a party. Fab Five Band ended the concert with, Amen, and bass guitarist Frankie Campbell said, “We hand you over to the sound of Winston … ” and paused. “I was about to say the sounds of Winston Blake and Merritone.”