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Remembering Lynn Taitt

Published:Wednesday | January 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Nerlin 'Lynn' Taitt - Contributed

During a 1965 recording session at Federal Records, Trinidadian guitarist Lynn Taitt decided he wanted a different sound for Take It Easy, a ska song he and his band, The Jets, were cutting with singer Hopeton Lewis.

"When I went to Jamaica and started playing with Baba Brooks and those guys, everything was fast, but in Trinidad they had fast calypso and slow calypso," Taitt said in a 2003 interview. "So that day I told Gladdy (keyboardist Gladstone Anderson) to slow the tempo and that's how Take It Easy and rocksteady came about," he added. "Rocksteady is really slow ska."

There are many conflicting stories about the early days of Jamaican popular music, but not many persons challenge Taitt's claim to being the creator of rocksteady. He died January 20 from cancer at age 75 in Montreal, Canada.

Distinctive rhythmic riffs

Born in San Fernando, Trinidad, as Nerlin Taitt, he was one of the most prolific musicians in the rocksteady era, which musicologists say lasted three years. His arrangements and distinctive rhythmic riffs helped make hit songs for Alton Ellis (Girl I've Got A Date), Desmond Dekker (Israelites), 007 (Shantytown), Johnny Nash (I Can See Clearly Now), The Melodians (You Have Caught Me) and Keith and Tex (Stop That Train).

Derrick Harriott produced Stop That Train but also worked with Taitt on some of his own hits as a singer, including Do I Worry and Walk The Streets. He described Taitt's style as simple, yet effective.

"He used a piece of metal over four of his fingers (on his fret hand) and got this Hawaiian sound that every producer loved," Harriott explained. "If Lynn Taitt played on 10 songs, it was guaranteed eight of them would be hits."

Taitt said he was originally a steelpan musician who started playing guitar late, at age 17. He first came to Jamaica in July 1962 with his Nerlynn Taitt Orchestra to help celebrate the country's independence from Britain, the following month.

According to Taitt, the band was ripped off by their manager, and he was encouraged by bandleader Byron Lee to stay in Jamaica and play in a band called The Sheiks, alongside saxophonists Headley Bennett and Wilton 'Bobby' Gaynair and keyboardist Jackie Mittoo.

First hit song in jamaica

Taitt was among a handful of musicians from the Eastern Caribbean who settled in Jamaica in the early 1960s. Others of note were his countryman, singer Lord Creator and the Barbadian vocalist Jackie Opel.

In the 2003 interview, he recalled Chang Kai Shek by Brooks' band as the first hit song he played in Jamaica. As his reputation as a guitarist/arranger grew, Taitt began recording with super band The Skatalites, playing on many of their memorable cuts like Guns of Navarone, Confucius and Gun Fever.

Taitt is best known as founder and leader of The Jets, an in-demand band that also featured Anderson, Bennett, guitarist Lynford 'Hux' Brown, organist Winston Wright and bass player Brian Atkinson. They recorded mainly at Federal, but also for producers Clement Dodd, Arthur 'Duke' Reid, Joe Gibbs, Sonia Pottinger and Harriott.

Signature red guitar

Musicians from the 1960s remember Taitt and his red Hofner guitar as fixtures at recording studios. He said his roaming was largely commercial.

"Sessions back then paid one pound, 50 cents. I was living in a foreign country and had to make a living," Taitt recalled.

The Nash collaboration, which also yielded songs like Hold Tight, were among Taitt's last major sessions in Jamaica. He emigrated to Canada in late 1968, living first in Toronto before settling in Montreal.

Taitt said he last visited Jamaica in 1973, but continued to perform with reggae bands in Toronto and recorded at his Montreal studio. One of his last major gigs was with The Skatalites at the Montreal Jazz Festival six years ago.