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The Music Diaries | Talent pool makes Ska, rocksteady great

Published:Sunday | September 11, 2016 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Alton Ellis
John Holt in performance.
Dobby Dobson

Ska and rocksteady reigned supreme during the 1960s, pulling massive crowds to entertainment venues. The main protagonists were the producers, musicians, and singers. This article will focus on the contributions made by the more prominent players in the ska and rocksteady eras, which had their heydays from late 1961 until the mid-to-late 1968.

Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd had under his wings a slew of ska and rocksteady talent that included Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, Slim Smith, and Dobby Dobson. There were the groups The Wailers, The Maytals, The Heptones, The Gaylads and The Paragons.

The Paragons also worked for Duke Reid, along with The Melodians, The Techniques and The Jamaicans.

Of the set of solo artistes, only Ellis, Holt, and Dobson managed to establish cordial relationships with and record hits for the two archrivals, Dodd and Reid. Sonia Pottinger, the only female record producer at the time, produced two massive rocksteady hits for Ken Boothe Say You and Lady With The Starlight while she gave the Melodians Swing and Dine, Little Nut Tree, You've Caught Me Babe and No Nola.

I'm Still in Love, Willow Tree, and I'm Just a Guy are some of Alton Ellis' most enduring rocksteady cuts. Knowing the mood of the more diehard Jamaican vintage music lovers, they will surely be singing along to the lyrics of these songs, especially the last piece:

"I'm just a guy who will break your heart

If you.. break mine too, yeah yes

I'm just the kind who will stay far

If you.. stay far too

I hear rumours about you every day

Hear somebody, somebody say

You better leave and go away".

Delroy Wilson's Dancing Mood and Ken Boothe's The Train is Coming, both done for the Studio 1 imprint in 1966, gave two of the earliest glimpses of a musical shift from the ska to the rocksteady beat. When rocksteady got into full bloom by early 1967, Boothe came on strong with Don't Cry, I Don't Want To See You Cry, The Girl I Left Behind, Puppet On a String and Moving Away, earning the title 'Mr. Rocksteady'.


Fans were rocking


Wilson had dancehall fans rocking to Rain From The Skies, I'm Not A King, Feel Good All Over, and others.

Ska king Derrick Morgan and another legend of the ska era, Stranger Cole, have hits that made the genre so enduring that hundreds of ska bands sprang up around the globe in the last decade.

Morgan's best remembered hits are Forward March and Blazing Fire in 1962 and 1963 respectively, but his duets with Millicent Todd (Patsy) will remain his most treasured pieces. One in particular, You Don't Know How Much I Love You, became so popular among housewives that it was renamed Housewives Choice.

Stranger Cole also had several hits in duet with the lady, Gladstone Anderson, and Ken Boothe, but his solo cut Ruff and Tuff remains his signature song.

Looking back at the rocksteady era, we observe that Hopeton Lewis and Roy Shirley recorded two of the earliest cuts with Take It Easy and Hold Them, respectively. Dobby Dobson gave Duke Reid some of the action with Loving Pauper and followed up at Coxson's request with Seems I'm Losing You.

Most of Holt's rocksteady hits were done for producer Reid, but Stick By Me stood out for Bunny Lee. Bob Andy had My Time, Too Experienced, and Unchained for Dodd; Slim Smith came good with Born To Love You and Let Me Go Girl; while Marcia Griffiths and Phyllis Dillon ensured that the ladies were not left out, with Mark My Word and Don't Stay Away, respectively.