Trojan Presents: Rock Steady - 40 Ground-Breaking Hits

Bend Down Low - Bob Marley & The Wailers
007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
Take It Easy - Hopeton Lewis
Buy You A Rainbow - Romeo & The Emotions
Hold Them - Roy Shirley
Sounds And Pressure - Hopeton Lewis
Oh Babe (Sick And Tired) - Ewan & Jerry
Mother's Young Gal - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
You're Gonna Need Me - Errol Dunkley
The Loser - Derrick Harriott
I'm In A Rocking Mood - Austin Faithful
Talking Love - The Paragons
Nice Time - Bob Marley & The Wailers
Walk The Streets - Derek Harriott
Please Stop Your Lying - Errol Dunkley
Julie On My Mind - Lyn Taitt & The Jets
Just Like A River - Stranger & Gladdy
Winey Winey - The Kingstonians
Stop That Train - Keith & Tex
Let Me Go, Girl - The Uniques
54-46 That's My Number - The Maytals
Penny For Your Song - The Federals
A Long Story - Rudy Mills
I Am The Upsetter - Lee 'Scratch' Perry
Silent River - The Gaylets
Ride Your Donkey - The Tennors
My Conversation - The Uniques
Long Shot - The Pioneers
Take 5 - Val Bennett
None Such Busted Me Be - The Mellotones
Jackpot - The Pioneers
Engine 54 - The Ethiopians
Ah It Mek - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
People Funny Boy - Lee 'Scratch' Perry
It Comes And Goes - The Melodians
Good Time Rock - Hugh Malcolm
Don't Look Back - Keith & Tex
Watch This Sound - The Uniques
Intensified '68 - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
Bim Today, Bam Tomorrow - The Maytals

For much of the early Sixties, Jamaica's musical landscape was dominated by the up-tempo sound of Ska, a style created by local musicians copying, then developing the Fifties shuffling style of American R&B popular on the sound system circuit. But by the particularly hot summer of 1966, the popularity of this energy-fuelled music was beginning to wear thin, resulting in a gradual, yet irrevocable slowing of its tempo, which by the close of the year had almost halved.

The cause of this change was manifold. The heat was certainly one factor, while the playing of slower songs at the end of dances also influenced the desire for a les frenetic style of music. but perhaps of even greater significance was the introduction of the Fender electric bass guitar. By the mid-Sixties, the instrument had largely supplanted the stand-up double bass that had been a hallmark of the Ska sound and its versatility allowed a greater degree of expression, resulting in more fluid and syncopated bass lines and an increased emphasis on the rhythm section.

The development resulted in the creation of a style clearly definable as a genre in its own right, with records such as Bob Marley & The Wailers' 'Bend Down Low' and '007' by Desmond Dekker & The Aces early examples of this new, rapidly evolving sound. Often cited as the first true Rock Steady track, however, was Hopeton Lewis' 'Take It Easy', the release of which followed soon after the aforementioned tracks, late in 1966. In a 1992 interview with the US journalist Hoagy, the singer recalled the session that produced the hit:

'We went to the [Federal] studio that day and the Ska was what was happening. I just couldn't sing that fast. I just could no keep up wit the beat. So then [guitarist] Lyn Taitt turned to [pianist] Gladstone [Anderson] and say 'Why don't you slow the rhythm down a little bit and see what happens?' Then the whole band began to play much slower. And that's when they found out they had a new thing happening... That's when somebody said 'Wow this one rock steady!' and then the whole thing started happening'.

Early in 1967, the Alton Ellis & The Flames' hit 'Rock Steady' officially named the new sound and for the next year or so, it was the sound of Jamaica. And while the period of its dominance was fleeting, its effect and influence on the island's music industry was nothing short of profound.

Free of Ska's structural constraints, musicians were granted greater freedom of expression, leading to a degree of sophistication previously unattainable. In addition, the large brass sections associated with the big Ska sound were no longer deemed essential, with small, compact units, consisting of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards considered the only necessary ingredients for making a hit record. Undoubtedly the most significant of these new bands were The Jets, a septet of gifted players led by Trinidadian guitarist Nearlyn 'Lyn' Taitt, who had led a succession of combos in Jamaica since settling on the island in 1962, introduced a new style that involved his playing in unison with the Jets bassist, Bryan Atkinson, so creating a sound that became widely imitated by rival combos during the remainder of the Rock Steady era. But try as they might, rival combos, most notably Bobby Aitken & The Caribbeats, were unable to create the effortless style of Taitt and the Jets, the core of which comprised Atkinson, pianist Gladstone 'Gladdy' Anderson and Joe Isaacs on drums.

Throughout '67 and much of '68, the group played on innumerable sessions for every producer of note, from established label owners, such as Richard Khouri and Leslie Kong, to up-and-coming operators who had previously been denied the possibility of making a hit record due to the cost of hiring large ensembles of session players. Now, the likes of Joel Gibson (aka Joe Gibbs), Edward 'Bunny' Lee, Derrick Harriott, Karl 'JJ' Johnson and even Bob Marley & The Wailers could afford to cut and release records on their own imprints, challenging the big three producers who dominated the Jamaican music industry throughout the Ska years: Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid and Prince Buster.

Another significant factor that affected the direction Rock Steady would take was the form of African-American music from which Jamaican artists and songwriters drew their greatest inspiration. Whereas the overwhelming influence upon the development of Ska had been 'Shuffle Blues', popularised by the likes of Rosco Gordon and Fats Domino, Soul was now the prevailing sound of black America, and while Motown, Stax and Atlantic all significantly affected Jamaican musicians, the prevailing influence was Chicago-based singer-songwriter, Curtis Mayfield. Indeed, Mayfield's work had a deep and profound effect on Rock Steady, with almost every performer of note absorbing elements of his music, whether it be his songwriting style or the sound of his group, The Impressions, whose three-part harmony was widely imitated by the growing number of local vocal trios. So it was that long established vocal groups, such as the Wailers, the Maytals, the Paragons and Desmond Dekker & The Aces began to face new competition from a growing number of singing threesomes, with the Melodians, the Kingstonians and the Uniques (all featured here) among the most successful.

The Rock Steady sound remained in favour for less than two years, yet during its brief tenure as Jamaica's national sound, a plethora of classic rhythms were created that would be revisited time and again over the next four decades. Prior to its demise, minor developments such as the introduction of more complex bass patterns, an increased use of organ and diminishing reliance on a brass section, ensured the music was never in danger of stagnating.

The first noticeable innovation was an increased emphasis on percussion, with attention drawn to the drummer's rimshots and hi-hat accents. In addition, slight variations in the rhythm guitar pattern emerged and a more cutting style became increasingly preferred to the sliding style popularised by Taitt. Although such changes seem inconsequential to most listeners, they marked the start of a progression that ultimately resulted in the creation of a whole new music genre.

But when, in mid-1968, the tempo of the music increased once more and the rhythm section took an even more dynamic role, it was apparent Jamaican music had embarked down a road from which there would be no turning back. It was around this time that the Maytals cut 'Do The Reggay', the title of which promptly supplied the generic name for the new style of music. As the weeks went by, further changes took place, with a heavier driving bass pattern favoured and the organ, piano or guitar frequently utilised to create a secondary rhythm, so producing a jumpy effect. But although clearly different to the Rock Steady sound, most of the records produced at this time were still not strictly Reggae as it is known today. The first true recording in the style was created by Coxsone Dodd's regular players at a session held at his famed Studio One operations in Kingston in the Autumn of 1968. For Larry & Alvin song 'Nanny Goat', rhythm guitarist Eric Frater selected to introduce a second stroke per beat, perhaps in an attempt to replicate the style prevalent in Mento music. Whatever the motivation or inspiration, by disregarding one of the key tenets of both Ska and Rock Steady, a new, exciting sound that would revolutionise the sound of Jamaican music was created.

It also proved the final nail in the coffin for Rock Steady, which although never successfully revived, has never been completely forgotten. In fact, proof there was still life in the sound was evident as early as October 196, when the Upsetters' 'Return Of Django' breached the UK Pop charts almost a year after the track's creation during the tail end of the Rock Steady era. The following year, Jamaican musicians widely revisited the old-style single stroke guitar rhythm, and did so again in 1974, since which time it has recurrently appeared on recordings, the most notable being Dawn Penn's 1995 reworking of 'No, No, No' which not only illustrated the timeless appeal of Rock Steady, but also its commercial viability.

This collection brings together 40 of the biggest hits from the golden age of Rock Steady, tracing its development from its beginning at the tail end of '66, through to the Summer of '68, when its time as Jamaica's national sound was fast coming to a close. featured are some of the genre's most skilled protagonists produced by many of its most successful producers. The net result is a celebration of intensified sounds from the most soulful era yet in the history of Jamaican music.
All material © Trojan Records