Jamaica Gleaner

Many claim to be rock­steady’s first

... As Ja’s in­de­pen­dence wel­comed new mu­si­cal era

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BY LATE 1965, the ska beat, which had dom­i­nated Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic since late 1961, and which was high­lighted in last week’s ar­ti­cle, was giv­ing way to a smoother, slower, and more rhyth­mic form of mu­sic, which by year-end 1966, would be­come known as rock­steady. The stage was be­ing set for a plethora of such songs that would trans­form the Ja­maican mu­si­cal land­scape for­ever. All of a sud­den, there was a rhyth­mic shift in the fo­cus of record­ings from the fast horns-dom­i­nated songs to more em­pha­sis be­ing placed on the bass and the drum. This fea­ture, which has re­mained a ma­jor in­gre­di­ent of Ja­maican pop­u­lar mu­sic, last­ing into the dance­hall era, has helped tremen­dously in bring­ing to the fore sev­eral vo­cal­ists, some of whom found the fran­tic pace of ska too fast for them to keep tim­ing with the lyrics they had.

Many mu­si­col­o­gists tend to agree that the man most re­spon­si­ble for this change was the Trinida­dian-born gui­tarist Lynn Taitt. Quite in­ter­est­ingly, Taitt was in­vited to Ja­maica by the pop­u­lar Ja­maican band­leader By­ron Lee to par­tic­i­pate in Ja­maica’s In­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions of 1962. He got caught up in the eu­pho­ria, fell in love with the is­land and its mu­sic, and de­cided to stay. Taitt, a guitar ge­nius, played with sev­eral lo­cal bands be­fore form­ing the Comets in the mid-1960s. Putting to­gether his clas­sic ag­gre­ga­tion – Lynn Taitt and The Jets – shortly af­ter, he man­aged to ac­quire a ma­jor slice of the rock­steady mar­ket with a slew of in­stru­men­tal hits, while do­ing mu­si­cal ar­range­ments and back­ings on hits like Hold Them by Roy Shirley, Talk­ing Love by The Paragons, Silent River by the Gaylettes, Stop

that Train, and Tonight by Keith and Tex, Been so Long,

Solomon, and Walk the Streets by Derrick Har­riott. On the last cut, Har­riott ex­pressed to me his con­fi­dence in the gui­tarist: “I didn’t like it at first, and then I brought Lynn Taitt in, and im­me­di­ately, you could feel the dif­fer­ence.” Taitt’s in­tro­duc­tory guitar strum­ming on the song was fol­lowed by Har­riott’s haunting lyrics: “Walk the street at night look­ing for some­one you’ll never find. Whoa dar­ling, you might as well for­get him for he’s gone, he said his last good­bye.”

Lyn Taitt and The Jets also helped to pop­u­larise other rock­steady clas­sics like Roy Shirley’s Mu­sic Field, The Uniques’ Let Me Go Girl, The Ethiopi­ans’ Train to Skav­ille, The Kingsto­ni­ans’ Winey Winey, The Melo­di­ans’ Swing and Dine, The Gay­lads’ Abc Rock­steady, Ken Boothe’s

Lady with the Starlight, and Johnny Nash’s Hold me Tight, which climbed to No. 5 on the UK charts in the sum­mer of 1968. But per­haps Taitt’s great­est mo­ment was spent with Hopeton Lewis at the Fed­eral Stu­dios back in late 1966 as both men cre­ated what was ar­guably the first rock­steady record: Take it Easy. Ac­cord­ing to Taitt, “Lewis came to the Fed­eral Stu­dios with a song called Take it Easy, and I find the beat was too fast for the song. So I told them, ‘Let’s do this one slow’, and as the mu­sic got slower, it had spa­ces.”


Apart from Taitt and Lewis, there were no fewer than five other artistes-pro­duc­ers who claim that they cre­ated the first rock­steady record. Un­doc­u­mented ev­i­dence, which plagued early Ja­maican mu­sic, has how­ever, made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to credit the true orig­i­na­tor. Roy Rush­ton (stage name Roy Shirley), dubbed the high priest of reg­gae, was per­haps the main con­tender with

Hold Them on Joe Gibbs’ Amal­ga­mated la­bel. Ac­cord­ing to Shirley, he cre­ated the ‘one drop’ beat with this song, which he said was some­what sim­i­lar to the rock­steady.

Pro­ducer Bunny Lee claims that it would be a toss-up be­tween his pro­duc­tion of

Peo­ple get Ready by The Uniques and Tougher than

Tough by Derrick Mor­gan. Alton El­lis also staked a claim with Girl I’ve got a Date. Notwith­stand­ing all of this, the winds of change were blow­ing in the early to mid-1960s when pro­ducer Cle­ment ‘Cox­son’ Dodd re­leased a num­ber of slowed-down ska songs, which had el­e­ments of rock­steady. Peter Tosh’s first solo hit, I’m

the Tough­est, was one such record­ing. It was an un­com­pro­mis­ing de­scrip­tion of him­self, which pointed in the di­rec­tion which his ca­reer would take. The Wail­ers group, which in­cluded Tosh, also used this tran­si­tional ska beat to record

Let Him Go in sup­port of the rude boy syn­drome, which sprung up shortly af­ter In­de­pen­dence. They sang:

‘Rudie gone a jail but rudie get bail. You frame him, you say things he didn’t do. You re­buke him, you scorn him, you make him feel blue. I beg you, let him go’.

Bob Andy, em­ploy­ing the same pace – some­where be­tween ska and rock­steady – cre­ated the an­themic mas­ter­piece I’ve Got to Go Back Home in 1966. It was per­haps the first call for repa­tri­a­tion in pop­u­lar mu­sic as Andy forth-

rightly sang:

‘This couldn’t be my home it must be some­where else or I would kill my­self. Cause I can’t get no clothes to wear Can’t get no food to eat Can’t get a job to get break That’s why I’ve got to go back home.’

The Ethiopi­ans were in there too with I’m Gonna Take


Then Del­roy Wil­son came with some­thing closer to au­then­tic rock­steady when he recorded I’m in a Danc­ing

Mood. He fol­lowed that with Un­grate­ful Baby, Im­pos­si­ble, Rid­ing for a Fall, and Close to Me. Ken Boothe had The train

is Com­ing, I Don’t Want to See You Cry, and Don’t Cry Lit­tle Girl, while the Gay­lads’ Stop Mak­ing Love Be­side Me,

No Good Girl, and You’ll

Never Leave Him were very pop­u­lar among Ja­maicans.

The rock­steady beat, which reigned supreme un­til mid-1968, saw the emer­gence of sev­eral solo artistes, but groups such as The Paragons ( Only a Smile and Happy Go lucky Girl), The Tech­niques ( You Don’t Care and Trav­el­ling Man), The Melo­di­ans ( I’ll Get Along With­out You), The Hep­tones ( Party Time and Pretty Looks isn’t All), and The Sil­ver­tones ( Smile) dom­i­nated the genre.


Lewis came to the Fed­eral Stu­dios with a song called Take it Easy, and I find the beat was too fast for the song. So I told them, ‘Let’s do this one slow’, and as the mu­sic got slower, it had spa­ces.

 ??  ?? LYNN
 ??  ?? BY­RON LEE
 ??  ?? Roy Shirley goes down on his knees as he wowed the au­di­ence at the Palace Theatre back in the 1960s.
Roy Shirley goes down on his knees as he wowed the au­di­ence at the Palace Theatre back in the 1960s.
 ??  ??

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