Al­ton El­lis against Rude Boy cul­ture

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT -

THE RE­CENT pass­ing of the leg­endary Ja­maican boxer Bunny Grant, re­vives me­mories of an­other great — Al­ton El­lis.

Both gentle­men grew up in Trench Town and rubbed shoul­ders dur­ing the ’40s and ’50s. The Boys’ Town Youth Club, which also housed a boxing gym, was a spot that nur­tured their re­spec­tive tal­ents. The wide ex­panse of play­ing area on the out­side af­forded Grant the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore his horse-rid­ing as­pi­ra­tions (as a jockey) be­fore he set­tled on boxing. El­lis, on the other hand, ex­plored the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing a great dancer on the pop­u­lar Vere Johns Op­por­tu­nity Hour Tal­ent show be­fore tran­si­tion­ing into singing.

RUDE BOY CUL­TURE

But out­side of those com­mon­al­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, to which should be added their com­mon birth month of Septem­ber, El­lis viewed Grant as a role model and a trend­set­ter who blazed a trail that very few could fol­low. Just about the time that Grant emerged as a force to be reck­oned with in in­ter­na­tional boxing, El­lis was on a mis­sion to desta­bilise the rude boy cul­ture that was spring­ing up in Ja­maica shortly af­ter In­de­pen­dence on Au­gust 6, 1962. Just two days ear­lier, Grant had given Ja­maica its first gift as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion, snatch­ing the Com­mon­wealth (then British Em­pire) Light­weight ti­tle from English­man Dave Charn­ley at the Na­tional Sta­dium.

In his ef­forts, El­lis recorded the song Dance Crasher, in which he men­tions Grant, and lauded him for his ef­forts in set­ting an ex­am­ple for the youth to fol­low. A big ska hit in 19651966, El­lis sang it to the beat of a Trea­sure Isle All Stars band. “Be a big fighter,

Be a prize fighter In­stead of a dance crasher, Let me tell you,

Be a gen­tle­man

You could be a cham­pion Like Mr Bunny Grant.”

El­lis fur­ther urged the dance crash­ers:

“Don’t break it up Please don’t make a fuss Don’t use a knife

To take an­other fel­low’s life Go to a gym

And get your­self in trim.”

His­tory has it that the record­ing was pri­mar­ily di­rected at a no­to­ri­ous ‘bad man’ named Buzz B, who fre­quented the Trench Town area and de­vel­oped a habit of crash­ing or mash­ing up dances. El­lis fol­lowed up with four other record­ings – Cry Tough, Don’t Trou­ble Peo­ple – The Preacher, and Bless­ing Of Love – all on the same topic, all done for pro­ducer Duke Reid, and all aimed at over­turn­ing the ef­forts of his ad­ver­saries. In the last cut, he urged the hood­lums to:

“Stop your shoot­ings,

No more killings Away with ratch­ets, Show some friend­ship Shoot­ings ev­ery­where and ev­ery day

Send us bless­ings of love.”

But, gen­er­ally speak­ing, Dance Crasher coun­ter­acted a set of other songs that were glam­or­is­ing the rude boy syn­drome and promis­ing rich re­wards for a mar­ket geared at im­moral mes­sages and prorude-boy songs.

In an in­ter­view with El­lis a few years be­fore he passed, he told me: “It was a pe­riod when I was anti bad boy. Never like the bad boy busi­ness that be­gan to creep up in the coun­try. It was a time when we were cry­ing for some love in the is­land.”

TRY­ING TIMES

The suc­cess of El­lis’ anti-rude boy songs be­gan cur­tail­ing the sales of com­pet­ing pro­duc­ers, and in short or­der, he be­gan re­ceiv­ing threats. It was the con­tin­u­a­tion of the many strug­gles that he had been through from the be­gin­ning of his ca­reer. In the early 1960s, he found him­self wan­der­ing the streets of Kingston in search of a ‘bread’ de­spite the suc­cess of his de­but song – Muriel – at home and in the United King­dom.

In a 2006 in­ter­view, he told me, “I left Cox­sone and walked the streets for about 18 months, and that’s why I didn’t have many ska songs. But friends kept en­cour­ag­ing me to get back into the mu­sic, and so I put a group to­gether, call­ing it Al­ton and The Flames, and went to Trea­sure Isle.”

Girl I’ve Got a Date, in late 1965, was his big­gest hit there. “It made Trea­sure Isle rule the busi­ness,” he said. But it drew the ire of Stu­dio One’s boss, Cle­ment Dodd, who, lit­er­ally, used ‘brute force’ to bring El­lis back into his fold, with a prom­ise to take him on an English tour. The tour, head­lined by The Soul Ven­dors Band in 1967, was a fi­nan­cial fail­ure and El­lis re­turned a dis­il­lu­sioned man.

Fac­ing sev­eral other sim­i­lar or­deals, El­lis de­cided to re­lo­cate to the United King­dom in 1973. He de­scribes the ini­tial pe­riod there as stress­ful. “My records were sell­ing like wild­fire, yet I was walk­ing the streets of Lon­don, hop­ing to get some herb or some­thing to sell. It was a very low point in my ca­reer,” he said.

The turn­ing point for El­lis came with the re­lease of Sho Bi Do I Love You for A & M Records. “It gave me a re­prieve as I signed a con­tract with them.” As it turned out, El­lis went on to forge a suc­cess­ful en­ter­tain­ment ca­reer in his later years with his UK-based ‘All Tone’ record la­bel turn­ing out a bar­rage of hits for him and oth­ers.

AL­TON EL­LIS

FILE

Bunny Grant and El­lis grew up in Trench Town.

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