Jamaica's music industry of the 1960s was a story of Svengali producers operating gang-like, cutthroat studio stables. While some of the 20th century's most influential popular music came out of those studios, the number of careers left languishing in each boss man's wake is as legendary as the few who made it. So it's astounding that the vocal trio The Melodians survived not one, but most of the ska, rocksteady and early-reggae era's big-name labels: Coxsone Dodd's Studio One, Duke Reid's Treasure Isle, Sonia Pottinger's Gayfeet and High Note. That the group still exists today is nothing short of a miracle.
The Melodians' importance to Jamaican music history can be summed up in a few singles. "Swing and Dine" is simply the divine definition of rocksteady. Their genre-defining collaboration with U-Roy, "Everybody Bawlin'," is a landmark of dancehall-style "deejaying" (rapping). "Sweet Sensation" is rocksteady's rhythmically challenging bridge to reggae, while "Rivers of Babylon," included on the breakthrough soundtrack to The Harder They Come, is one of reggae's foundation records.
But historical ramblings don't help illustrate the indescribable: the clear-water purity of The Melodians' harmonies -- comparable only to the likes of the Impressions or Drifters -- which defined Jamaican music's mid-'60s glory and helped create a musical legacy still drawn upon today. Sadly, Melodian Brent Dowe passed away in early 2006. But his original cohorts, Tony Brevett and Trevor McNaughton continue on, with a new album due out this year produced by reggae star Willie Lindo.
The Melodians with full band and guest DJ. Doors at 8 p.m. Fri., April 6. PD's Pub, 5832 Forward Ave., Squirrel Hill. $15. For information and advance tickets, contact The Culture Stop, 412-223-2654