Many are called, but few are chosen
A J Franklin. Biography
One of the few true greats of Jamaican music, singer, songwriter, producer and above all, consummate performer
A.J. Franklin is one of the rare talents who can never give less than his best. Whether he’s fronting an international tour, supplying backing vocals for artists on stage or in studio, or teaching singing to disadvantaged kids as part of community programme, A.J. gives an equal level of commitment. And that’s what both his fans and people within the music industry appreciate – he delivers – and that is why, after 30 years in the business, he is still in big demand.
Though his roots are firmly in reggae, he somehow manages to transcend a single musical genre. You only have to be able to float on his mellifluous voice, underlying rhythms, and an appreciation of good music. But don’t be fooled by his gentle exterior, you can’t survive as long as he has in a tough business without having some sharp edges, and it is this facet of his character which is, perhaps, the key to his musical endurance – the seamless blending of the rough with the smooth. Maybe it was his early soul music influences which made melody so important to A.J, maybe it is something that’s always been in his head, whatever, a strong melody makes for a memorable song and a memorable song is a popular song. A.J. Franklin writes and sings them sweeter than most, which is why he’s going to be around for a long time yet.
Born Franklin Spence in Westmorland, but growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, A.J. began his musical career in 1969 as one third of ‘The Federals’. The band was regular performers around Kingston and were soon picked up by local musical entrepreneur Derrick Harriott and showcased as part of ‘Derrick Harriott’s Musical Chariot’. Harriott also put them in the recording studio and a couple of minor hits followed, with Penny For Your Song being the most notable.
‘The Federals’ evolved into ‘The Chosen Few’ the following year in 1970, with a change of line up. A.J. and David ‘Scotty’ Scott remained and were joined by Joel ‘Bunny’ Brown and Richard McDonald. Working with Derrick Harriott more hits like Ebony Eyes and Everybody Plays The Fool soon followed. It was during this period that the group’s trademark melodic vocals developed. ‘The Chosen Few’ began touring Canada and the United States. While in the USA they recorded for King Sporty in Miami, which included ‘KC and The Sunshine Band’ guest featuring on some of the tracks.
In 1974 the producer Tony Ashfield persuaded A.J and the band to go to the UK and sign a recording deal with Polydor. One album for Polydor and another for Trojan gave A.J the chance to refine his producing and song writing skills.
Through the late 70’s and 80’s ‘The Chosen Few’ enhanced their reputation as one of the best live shows around playing most of the big UK venues and made national TV with appearances on the then popular ‘Cliff Richard Show’. During this period the group received two awards, the first in 1983 for producing the best reggae song of the year and this was followed in 1987 with an award for their contribution to the development of reggae music.
Not content with all this, the group began work with the musical tribute show ‘Black Heroes’ portraying, among others, ‘The Temptations’. This provided A.J with a crash course in theatre studies which has helped him with his stage performance.
The 80’s were a hard time for many established reggae artists, due mainly to the public’s changing musical tastes and the Britpop explosion, but A.J managed to keep working on his own musical projects. By the end of that decade, having held the group together for 20 years, A.J. felt that the time was right to pursue a more personal route and, together with Jo Harper, formed Silver Edge Records. Apart from allowing A.J to record his own material, this gave him the opportunity to produce other artists, some of whom he worked with in ‘Black Heroes’. Silver Edge also negotiated licensing deals with the likes of Gregory Isaac, Boris Gardener and Tina Stuart.
The first A.J. Franklin solo single release, This Love, proved to be a steady seller. During this time A.J was also busy employing his producing talents in the studio and began work on another solo album. This turned out to be Taking It To The Limit, released at the end of 1998.
Today, as ‘the chosen one’, A J Franklin is embarking on a new, vibrant phase in simply great music; Ska – Rocksteady – Reggae - Lovers. So, whatever your taste, in 2015, A J Franklin will be injecting an ultra-high level of vocal excitement into Reggae Music not experienced on these shores for far too long.