Paragons give rise to great Jamaican music
After more than 50 years in the music business, John Holt is still one of the main draws at stage shows home and abroad. His name has become almost synonymous with the sweet-voiced rocksteady vocal trio of the 1960s - The Paragons, and he was indeed the main man behind the group's emergence as a major musical force at the time.
Surprisingly though, and unknown to many, he was not initially involved when the group was conceptualised at the back of the Kingston Parish Church, by Keith Anderson, better known as Bob Andy, and Tyrone Evans in the very early 1960s. Andy and Evans were members of the church and started singing as a duo on the church compound.
Andy, in an interview I did with him, explained the group's beginnings.
"There were lots of duos in the market at the time: The Blue Busters, Keith and Enid, Higgs and Wilson, Alton and Eddy, being a few. Tyrone felt that was kind of a strong field, so we started listening to groups with more than two, like The Drifters, The Four Tops, and The Temptations. While we rehearsed and played the piano, lots of people would join in. We tried many, until we settled with Evans, Howard Barrett and myself. Then someone told us about John, who was on his way to becoming a solo artiste after winning on Vere Johns, and so we got him into the group. He fit perfectly and we continued as four until I left, and they decided they'd remain a trio," he said.
Andy went further, explaining that at one point the group swelled to five, with the inclusion of Junior Menz, a future lead vocalist of the Techniques and the name Pentagon was contemplated, but when Menz left, they settled with the name, Paragons.
RISE OF THE QUARTET
The name Paragons was, interestingly, brought to the group by Menz himself, who lived in the United States and derived it from a street corner group there, that had become defunct.
It was about the time of Jamaica's Independence that the quartet (Andy, Evans, Holt and Barrett), took to the streets and began singing at various public venues, with Holt doing most of the lead vocals.
As Andy explained, "John was more developed, and had the sound of the day, so was ideal for that." They became the most famous group in Jamaica, even before recording, doing a lot of shows around the island with Bryon Lee and the Dragonaires and performing with The Mighty Vikings, at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel, and The Students' Union, (University of the West Indies).
The group's entrance into the recording business was smooth, according to Andy.
"When we went to Coxson [Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd, late owner of Studio One], he accepted us immediately. So the same week of that Sunday that we did the audition, we started recording. Our debut was a slow piece, titled I Was Lonely. Then we came to our differences and I left," said Andy.
Andy's departure meant the group found it difficult to recapture and balance its sound. The Paragons went on a temporary hiatus, much to the disappointment of legions of fans. However, the break seemed to have rejuvenated and re-inspired the remaining trio which re-emerged in 1965 with crisper and tighter harmonies.
Then came the realisation that the group was more efficient as a trio, more recording would follow, this time with legendary record producer Duke Reid. Happy Go Lucky Girl emerged from the change. Backed by Tommy McCook and the Supersonics band, with reliable assistance from the master rocksteady tactician - guitarist Lyn Taitt, the recording chided carefree women with the words:
Everyone in town knows about you, happy-go-lucky girl,
the life you live isn't too good, happy go lucky girl.
Done in 1966, Happy Go Lucky Girl was followed by a string of others between 1966 and 1967 that served to epitomise the best the rocksteady genre had to offer.
Not for a long time had audiences and listeners heard music so melodically sweet and harmoniously alluring, as The Paragons took rocksteady balladeerism to higher grounds. On The Beach, which followed, triggered the 'Hops' fad, and generated the sales of beer all over the island:
One more box of hops, says the man to the bartender,
One more box of hops, says the man, I won't surrender.
Wear You To The Ball, perhaps the most influential Jamaican recording of all times, was used to good effect by Deejay Uroy, to lay the foundation on which many of the more contemporary rappers stood. The group would continue raising the bar, exemplified by probably its sweetest sounding composition, Only A Smile.
These recordings, all No. 1 hits taken from their stellar Treasure Isle album The Paragons On The Beach, also included The Tide Is High, which gained worldwide recognition, after a 1980 worldwide No. 1 cover by the group, Blondie.
Returning to Coxson, The Paragons recorded the reggae pieces Satisfaction, Have You Ever Been In Love, and Change You Style.
The last of those titles spoke to the bad boys of the time.
Hooligans hooligans, stop for a while change your hooligan style
don't fight your brother, you must use your head,
give a helping hand instead.
On the same topic, the group gave producer, Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley, a piece of the action with Equality and Justice, the lines of which ran:
Every mouth must be fed,
that is what the good book said,
each and everyone must live,
the way that he desires to live.
Equality and justice stands for all
who know that Satan's kingdom must fall.
After several other No. 1 hits, including some self-produced ones like Memories By The Score and My No. 1 Girl, the group disbanded after Evans and Barrett exited via the migration route.
The late Tyrone Evans had a fairly successful solo career, while John Holt's post-Paragons years are well known. The group's farewell number was haunting, touching and fitting, as they sang in unison on the Duke Reid-produced 1967 recording, Maybe Someday.