Sun | Dec 4, 2016

One Thousand Volts

Published:Tuesday | October 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The purest, cleanest voice in local music history is no longer with us. Winston 'John' Holt, CD, was born in Greenwich Farm on July 11, 1947, and was singing in amateur competitions from the age of 12. It's the stuff of legend that he won between 21 and 28 Vere Johns Opportunity hour contests, depending on who is doing the counting, but it was with the Paragons, who recruited him in 1965, that he made his name. In a collection of powerful lead singers including Tyrone Evans, Bob Andy and Howard Barrett, he stood out like a shining beacon and became the undisputed lead singer of the group.

I never thought you'd be

the number one for me.

Now you prove yourself to be

the number one for me.

John Holt's voice was so distinctive and clear it cut through any accompaniment; any distraction; and any competition. As a lead singer of a group, he was Jamaica's Tony Williams. As a recording artist, he was prolific, producing hit after hit at a time when the best of the best was available to compete for places on the charts. His catalogue was so extensive, so excellent, so popular that one sometimes got the impression that he had no time in live performances to intrude upon the music with idle chatter. The crowd wanted to hear John sing, and sing for them he did.

I'm really a lucky guy

to have you by my side.

Anything that I want to do

it's all right with you.

His career was so intertwined with Treasure Isle that it's a little-known, and long-forgotten, fact that his first single (Forever I'll Stay/I Cried a Tear) was recorded for Leslie Kong's Beverley's label when he was only 16 years old. John wrote the Paragons' most commercially successful song, The Tide is High, which was covered by numerous artists but most notably by Blondie, who made it a global hit.

John's first album, On The Beach (with the Paragons), remains one of that era's best productions and his 1973 solo album, Time is The Master, with orchestral arrangements recorded in London by Tony Ashfield, was so successful that it led to the more well-known Trojan Records production 1,000 Volts of Holt (again with Ashfield's strings), featuring Holt's covers of popular songs. The Paragons' Man Next Door was repeatedly covered, including by UB40 and Dennis Brown. John Holt covered The Beatles' I Will and the horns from Holt's cover version were sampled by Jay-Z in his 2003 track, Encore.

I was alone; then you came along.

Now you're gonna be

the number one for me.

No buts, no maybe, about our love.

You for me and me for you.

John Holt invented lovers' rock. Nobody understood romance like John, who seemed to know exactly what women of his time wanted. He appreciated they wanted one thing - to be made to feel they were their guy's Number One. Jamaican men are often forgiven informal polygamy once they can make each girl believe she's Number One.

Number one you will be for me.

No one can ever let us part.

We have joined our hands and hearts.

Music is very personal (often connected to personal memories), so it's impossible to proclaim which was John's best song. But here, in David Letterman reverse-style order, are my top 10 John Holt songs.

10. Stealing (1984), backed by Roots Radics, includes a complicated vocal arrangement that Holt handles with aplomb.

9. Left With a Broken Heart (1968) with the Paragons; highlights Holt's clarity and phrasing.

8. A Love I Can feel (1970). An example of Holt's emotive vocals capturing romance like none other.

7. Wear You to the Ball (1967), recorded first with the Paragons on the seminal On The Beach album, then covered with U-Roy as a monster hit in the early DJ days.

6. The Tide is High (1967) needs no introduction.

5. Sweetie (Come Brush With Me) (1980), again backed by Roots Radics. This song revived Holt's career in the 1980s.

4. Happy Go Lucky Girl (1967) with the Paragons. Everybody knew this girl (and 'Sweetie') from their own neighbourhoods.

3. Stick by Me (1972) probably John's biggest hit and the biggest seller of 1972. Vintage John; romantic and mellow.

2. Memories by the Score (1968). Holt's vocals are smooth as silk and the Paragons harmonies out of the very top drawer.

And my all-time favourite John Holt song is:

Number One for Me (1967)

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.