The Pioneers are a Jamaican reggae vocal trio, whose main period of success was in the 1960s. The trio has had different line-ups, and still occasionally performs.
Founding and early years: 1962-67:
The Pioneers were formed in 1962 by brothers Sydney and Derrick Crooks, and their friend Winston Hewitt. Their early recordings "Good Nanny" and "I'll Never Come Running Back to You" were self-produced at the Treasure Isle studio using money lent to the Crooks brothers by their mother and appeared on Ken Lack's Caltone label.
Several other singles followed, none of them hits, before Hewitt immigrated to Canada in 1966. Hewitt was replaced for around a year by former Heptone Glen Adams.
The Pioneers' early singles were not successful, and Sydney began promoting concerts, while Derrick took up a job with the Alcoa bauxite company. The group broke up in mid-1967.
The Pioneers revived: 1967-68:
Sydney began working at Joe Gibbs' record shop, and through Gibbs, returned to recording. At his first session (to record "Give Me Little Loving"), with the other members of The Pioneers gone, Crooks recruited Jackie Robinson, who he found outside the studio just before recording began. Crooks later said of the encounter:
"When I was about to voice the song I looked outside the studio and I saw a little boy sitting on a stone. I said 'Hey, come here man, you can sing?' He sang the harmony for 'Give Me Little Loving' and his name was Jackie Robinson. After that I said to him 'You are one of the Pioneers from today' and he became the lead singer of the Pioneers".
The new version of The Pioneers enjoyed success with singles such as "Longshot" (a track written and produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry on Gibbs' behalf about a long-lived but unsuccessful racehorse), "Jackpot", "Catch the Beat", and "Pan Yu Machete" (an attack on Perry, who left Gibbs in 1968 to start working on his own productions). Crooks and Robinson also recorded as The Soul Mates in 1967. The group parted ways with Gibbs after an argument and moved on to work with Leslie Kong, the first recording for Kong being "Samfie Man", a song about a confidence trickster, which topped the Jamaican singles chart.
The classic trio, and the move to the UK: 1969-77:
After a few further singles with Kong, the group recruited Desmond Dekker's half-brother George Agard to become a trio again. Sydney Crooks and his former Pioneer brother Derrick, along with Winston Bailey also recorded as The Slickers, recording "Nana" for producer Neremiah Reid. The Pioneers scored again with a sequel to "Long Shot", "Long Shot (Kick De Bucket)". When Kong heard that the horse had died (during its 203rd race), he insisted that the group write a song about it; The song was written and recorded quickly and became an instant hit.
The band was popular in the United Kingdom, particularly among skinheads. "Long Shot Kick de Bucket" was a big hit in 1969, and led to a tour of the UK, during which they resolved to relocate there. Their cover of Jimmy Cliff's "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" made #5 as a single in 1971.
The band did indeed move to the UK in 1970. Their third UK hit was "Give and Take", which reached #35 in January 1972. In 1975 they were the first reggae band to tour in Japan.
Soul years: 1976-79:
In 1976 the Pioneers teamed up with Eddy Grant for an album for Mercury Records called Feel The Rhythm. Grant preferred to produce them as a soul group and they released a number of singles in that idiom, including "Broken Man", "Feel The Rhythm" and "My Good Friend James"
The change of style was a critical but not a commercial success and the band split up for a time in the late 1970s, with Crooks concentrating on production work and continuing with his brother in The Slickers, while Agard and Robinson continued to record, together on the album George & Jackie Sing, and separately.
First reformation: 1979-89:
The group reformed in the late 1970s and continued until 1989, when they split again to concentrate on separate careers. "Long Shot Kick de Bucket" was a minor UK chart hit again in 1980 upon re-issue. At the same time, "Long Shot Kick de Bucket" was covered by The Specials on their The Special AKA Live! EP, which was a UK #1 hit in 1980.
The Pioneers song "Starvation" was also covered on the "Starvation/Tam Tam Pour L'Ethiopie" charity single released in 1985, which peaked at UK number 33. The Pioneers shared lead vocal duties on the single with members of UB40, with backing vocals by General Public.
Second reformation: 1999-present:
In 1999, the group reformed again and have continued to perform together since.
In 2005, the Pioneers performed at the Maranhão Roots Reggae Festival in São Luís, Brazil before 15,000 fans. The following year they appeared at the Godiva Festival in the War Memorial Park, Coventry, England. "Long Shot Kick de Bucket" was used in the 2008 film, The Wackness.