Barry Llewellyn, a founding member of the popular Jamaican harmony trio the Heptones, died on Nov. 23 in St. Andrew, Jamaica. He was 63 and lived in Brooklyn.
The cause was pneumonia, said his wife, Monica.
Founded by Mr. Llewellyn and his schoolmate Earl Morgan, the Heptones rose from singing on the streets of Trenchtown to take their place alongside the Wailers and the Maytals as one of the island’s most important vocal groups. As Jamaican popular music shifted from the hard-driving ska beat to a dreamier sound known as rock steady, the Heptones were among the most consistent hit makers in reggae, with romantic records like “Sweet Talking” and “Party Time.”
Barrington Llewellyn was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on Dec. 24, 1947, began singing around the age of 14, and formed the Heptones with Mr. Morgan shortly afterward. Inspired by American R&B groups like the Drifters and the Impressions, the Heptones progressed from lighthearted love songs to weightier themes on records like “Equal Rights” and “Sufferers Time.” During a prolific five-year run with Clement S. Dodd’s Studio One label, they created a deep catalog of hits that has been re-recorded over and over by successive generations of musicians.
They went on to work with the visionary producer Lee (Scratch) Perry at the height of his powers, and released the classic album “Night Food” on Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label in 1976.
Although Leroy Sibbles wrote and sang lead on most of the group’s songs, he credited Mr. Llewellyn — also known to friends and fans as Barry Heptones — for his creative influence. “He was more than a member of the group,” Mr. Sibbles said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “Barry had more talent than the other guys who were singing with us. He was more musical. He added more inspiration.”
Usually responsible for singing harmonies, Mr. Llewellyn took the lead on songs like “Nine Pounds of Steel” and “Take Me Darling” as well as the Heptones’ biggest international hit, “Book of Rules,” which he adapted from “Bag of Tools,” a poem by R. L. Sharpe. The song was included in two movie soundtracks.
Mr. Llewellyn was not prone to boast about the song’s success. “He was a very humble person,” Ms. Llewellyn said. “He would just do what he had to do to make others happy.”
Though he lived in Brooklyn, he was in Jamaica working to establish a learning center to help young people in his native Kingston. “The youth need that father figure,” Ms. Llewellyn said. “That’s what he was really focusing on.” He also recently recorded an album of his own music titled “On the Road Again,” which has yet to be released.
When Mr. Sibbles left the group to pursue a solo career in 1978, Mr. Llewellyn and Mr. Morgan recruited another lead singer, Naggo Morris, and continued to record, but with diminished success. The original Heptones lineup reunited in 1995. Mr. Sibbles said that he and Mr. Llewellyn toured Europe together for the past five years. “We actually did a tour about three months before his passing,” he said. “The last date was in Germany, and he was still singing as strong as ever. We never foresaw a problem with him.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by several children and grandchildren, as well as four brothers and four sisters.