"Jay Douglas - Singer is a treasure trove of Toronto - Jamaican musical history "

by ANUPA MISTRY

Spend 10 minutes with Jay Douglas, the Jamaica-born soul singer whose 2011 album, Lover's Paradise, earned him a Juno nomination in the reggae album category, and Toronto starts to look a little different. Sipping green tea on a black leather couch in his management's Niagara Street office, he reveals another layer beneath the city's musical history.

The teenage Douglas left Montego Bay for Toronto in 1963 to join his domestic worker mother, who had migrated north in the 50s. "It was Thanksgiving weekend and it was cold," Douglas says, island lilt intact, laughing and clutching the sleeves of his powder-blue jacket.

Little things eased the transition: playing soccer near his house at Christie Pits Park, singing – a talent honed since childhood – at Central Technical School functions, hanging out with other West Indian kids.

"Back then there was nowhere to go, so they opened the West Indies Federation Club at College and Brunswick," Douglas explains.

That's where he landed a gig fronting R&B band the Cougars. "It helped my career take off. We played some baaad funk," he says, grinning. "And we opened the door for a lot of local acts to play Le Coq d'Or, which wasn't hip at the time."

Situated at 333 Yonge (where an equally historic HMV stands today), Le Coq d'Or was "a haven for American acts like Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder" passing through town. The Cougars began opening for and backing Arthur Conley and Solomon Burke before moving on to gigs in and around Val-d'Or, Quebec, where the pay was better and competition was scarce. Eventually, says Douglas, still wide-eyed at the thought, they wound up in Montreal opening for Cissy Houston and Fats Domino, an early influence.

Since then, Douglas has recorded and performed abroad, though his heart beats fastest for the 416. He was a key collaborator on influential 2006 compilation Jamaica To Toronto, featuring reggae, funk and soul tunes recorded here in the 60s and 70s by Jamaican immigrants.

About that recording, Douglas lets another gem slip: for a time, legendary reggae keyboardist and Skatalites co-founder Jackie Mittoo, who lived and recorded here in the early 70s, helmed a record shop near Vaughan and Bathurst.

"The store was set up by a gentleman from Studio One called Coxsone Dodd," Douglas recalls. "He loved Jackie, [but] in order for his music to be distributed in Canada he had to set up the record store."

Original Article at NOW MAGAZINE