Around the same time, Dillon
discovered a street-corner singing duo consisting of Taylor and singer/guitarist Aston Morris. At first, he invited them to sing backup for him, then decided to form a full-fledged group dubbed the Ethiopians. Together they cut several excellent singles for Studio One in 1966, including "Free Man," "Live Good," and the ska/rocksteady-bridging "Owe Me No Pay Me." Morris, a songwriter in his own right, elected to leave the group by the end of 1966, reducing the Ethiopians to a duo. Meanwhile, Dillon
was working a day job in construction and met another singer there named Albert Griffiths (who would later found the Gladiators
). Together they convinced their boss to finance a recording session, and the result for the Ethiopians was the breakthrough smash hit "Train to Skaville," which even managed to scrape the lower reaches of the U.K. Top 40.
With this success under their belt, the Ethiopians recorded prolifically over the remainder of 1967, cutting hits like "Engine 54," "Train to Glory," "Stay Loose Mama," and another big smash in the percussion-driven "The Whip"; all but the former were recorded for rocksteady producer Sonia Pottinger, and they also worked a bit with Lee "Scratch" Perry
. 1968 saw the release of their first LP, Engine 54, and the arrival of a semiofficial third vocalist, Melvin Reid. Toward the end of that year, the group teamed with producer Carl "Sir J.J." Johnson in what would become their most celebrated association. Their first hit for Johnson was the proto-reggae "Everything Crash," a socially conscious, rhythmically jerky juggernaut that became arguably the group's signature tune. Through 1970, Johnson and the Ethiopians collaborated on numerous other groundbreaking hits, including "What a Fire," "Gun Man," "Hong Kong Flu," "Woman Capture Man" (the title track of their third LP), and "The Selah," all of which helped keep them popular in the U.K. as well as Jamaica.
The restless Dillon
subsequently moved the Ethiopians to a succession of other labels and producers; over 1969-1971, they recorded popular material for Harry Robinson ("Fire a Mus Mus Tail"), Lloyd Daley ("Satan Girl"), Derrick Harriott
("Lot's Wife," "No Baptism"), and Duke Reid
("Good Ambition," "Pirate"). As the group evolved into a rootsier reggae outfit over the next few years, all the producer-hopping grew even more frantic over the next several years, with Vincent Chin, Prince Buster
, Joe Gibbs
, Bob Andy
, and Rupie Edwards
numbering just some of the group's collaborators. Part of the reason was that Dillon
hadn't been receiving his fair share of past royalties and was forced to record constantly just to make money. Reid left for good in 1974, by which time Dillon
and Taylor had taken day jobs once again. Sadly, Taylor's day job would turn into tragedy in September 1975: he was working at a gas station when he was killed by a van while crossing the street.
Taylor's untimely death effectively spelled the end of the Ethiopians' golden age. Dillon
, understandably distraught, took a hiatus from music for a time, returning home to Port Antonio for two years. Eventually, he contacted charter member Aston Morris and revived the Ethiopians name, cutting the rootsy, political album Slave Call in 1977 with producer Winston "Niney" Holness. Dillon
toured off and on under the Ethiopians name afterwards, sometimes with Harold Bishop and Neville Duncan, and recorded occasionally as a solo act in the '80s and '90s. Toward the end of the millennium, he formed a new Ethiopians lineup with female backing vocalists and arrangers Sister JiJi and Gina Murrell, who appeared on the 1999 album Tuffer Than Stone. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi