Island Presents: Rock Steady - 40 Soulful Classics

On A Saturday Night - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Rock Steady - Hopeton Lewis
Dance All Night - The Tartans
Judge Sympathy - The Treasure Isle Boys
People Get Ready - The Uniques
A Thing Of The Past - Phyllis Dillon
I Don't Want To See You Cry - Lynn Taitt & The Jets
Gypsy Woman - The Uniques
Tonight - Keith & Tex
Solomon - Derrick Harriott
Conquering Ruler - Derrick Morgan
Red Bum Ball - Lloyd & Devon
Lip And Tongue - The Viceroys
Hold Down Miss Winey - Glen Adams
Leaving On That Train - Keith & Tex
Gimme Back - Derrick Morgan
Do It Now - The Consomates
Somebody's Baby - Pat Kelly
The Beatitude: Blessed Are The Meek - The Uniques
Once Upon A Time - Delroy Wilson & Stranger Cole
Will You Ever Be Mine - Delroy Wilson
Over And Over Again - Stranger & Gladdy
One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer - Alfred Brown
You Hurt My Soul - Joe Higgs
Cleopatra - The Tennors
Ilya Kuryakin - Ike & The Crystalites
Do I Worry - Derrick Harriott
Hypnotizing Eyes - Keith & Tex
Memories By The Score - The Paragons
Napoleon Solo - Lynn Taitt & The Jets
I Like Your World - The Gaylettes
Someone To Love - The Versatiles
Live It Up - The Natives
Combination - Keelyn Beckford
Girl Of My Dreams - The Uniques
Born To Love You - Derrick Harriott
A Man's Temptation - Noel Brown
Once More - Errol Dunkley
Shocking Love - The Federals
Grampa - The Tennors

Some time in 1966 Ska, the pulsating, often frantic music that had carried the swing in Jamaica for five years, began to metamorphose. Tempos relented, bass (often electric now) became more prominent, and brass sections less predominant. The reason was explained succinctly by leading Jamaican artist and producer Prince Buster in an LP sleeve note: "Right now in Jamaica it's 90 degrees, which means it's very hot. So the tempo of Ska has to be slowed down". In other words, the sound system dancers who were the music's core audience just could not keep up with the upbeat tempo, so musicians moved the beat down a couple of gears to prevent mass dance floor heat exhaustion. By the end of 1966 the island's musicians had made a virtue out of necessity, creating more intricate arrangements, vocal groups revelled in the extra space for their harmonies, Ska was yesterday's thing and the sound of young Jamaica was Rock Steady.

Throughout the heyday of Ska, Island Records had been a major player in the UK market for West Indian music. Founded in Jamaica in 1959 by Old Harrovian, Chris Blackwell and initially known as R&B Records, the firm had scored local hits and spawned two subsidiary labels, Island and Blue Beat. In 1962, around the time of the island's independence, he had moved his labels to London where, initially operating from his mews house in stylish West London and later from premises in less fashionable Kilburn, he built Island Records into a force to be reckoned with. It helped that before leaving Jamaica he had got to know most of the music business heavyweights, several of whom, such as Duke Reid and Leslie Kong, were pleased to license their latest productions to the new British label for extra exposure and sales 'a foreign'. The determined efforts of Blackwell and his initially small staff, including salesman David Betteridge and star Jamaican crooner, Jackie Edwards, saw the label expand rapidly to a position where it was challenging the established Blue Beat label for the pound in the expat West Indian's pocket.

By 1967, when the earliest music on this album was released, Island was well on its way to becoming a major player in a broader market. Not only did their Jamaican recordings sell well, but they had scored two British-recorded Pop hits by Jamaican teenager Millie Small, and a fistful of chart successes by Blues-influenced Pop combo, the Spencer Davis group, though these had been amongst numerous Island productions licensed to the major Fontana label for more effective national distribution. However, Island's core business remained Jamaican music - and by 1967 that meant Rock Steady. With the astuteness he had demonstrated so often during Island's rise and rise, Chris Blackwell chose to license hot new sides from the producer who was dominating the Rock Steady style back in Jamaica, the formidable Duke Reid, who had been active in the music business as sound system operator, producer and latterly studio owner since the mid-'50s.

Fittingly, it's a Reid production that kicks off this set, with one of his most reliable acts, Justin Hinds & The Dominoes' typically moral tale 'On A Saturday Night' backed by the characteristically neat and efficient Treasure Isle studio band, though without the customary horn section. 'Judge Sympathy', which inaugurated Island's new 'Trojan' imprint in the UK, was credited to Duke Reid himself on the label, though the Jamaican issue suggests that the artists were the Treasure Isle Boys, apparently featuring in there somewhere Alton Ellis and John Holt. The track is probably based on Prince Buster's hit courtroom drama, 'Judge Dread', although a bit of Jerry Butler's 'I Stand Accused' also sneaks in as well. More typical of Reid's work is Phyllis Dillon's Rock Steady take on the Shirelles' 1961 hit, 'A Thing Of The Past', sweetly sung and immaculately backed by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics.

One of Duke Reid's early artists was Derrick Harriott who, with his group the Jiving Juniors, scored local hits such as 'Lollipop Girl' for the producer in the early '60s. In 1962 he founded his own Crystal label, later followed by Move & groove, and his own record shop. Derrick was always clued up on the best American R&B and Soul records and often waxed his own versions of them, to which his high warm voice was well suited. His 'Born To Love You' started life as a Temptations LP track, while 'Do I Worry' dates back to one of the first popular black US vocal group, the Ink Spots, who first performed it in the early '40s. 'Solomon' is an original song, penned by Junior 'Soul' Murvin, and boasts one of Rock Steady's most distinctive bass lines, probably played by the late Desmond Miles. Derrick scored also with sides by Keith (Rowe) and Tex (Dixon) who had something of his own vocal sweetness, as illustrated on 'Hypnotising Eyes', 'Leaving On That Train' and the subtly rhythmic 'Tonight'. Noel Brown, too, displays a Harriott influence on his cover of 'Man's Temptation'. a Curtis Mayfield composition that had been a 1063 US hit for Gene Chandler. Noel later achieved success as a member of the Chosen Few. Derrick was also noted for a run of grooving instrumentals by his band the Crystalites, such as 'Illya Kuryakin'. This takes its title from the character played by David McCallum in the TV series 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.', although the melody played by organist Ike Bennet is based on the film tune 'Theme From A Summer Place'.

Island was also the outlet for a number of productions from the venerable Federal records that had been founded by Ken Khouri in the '50s before growing into a self-contained business with its own studio, mastering and pressing facilities. Many Federal productions had a middle-of-the-road style (he sold a lot of albums to tourists), but Hopeton Lewis' 'Rock Steady' is a basic, raw call to dance. The Tartans' 'Dance All Night' displays a more uptown soul group influence, and 'I Don't Want To See You Cry' introduces a man who crops up often on almost all the best Rock Steady records, Lyn Taitt, a Trinidadian-born guitarist whose cool, crisp styling's were ideal for the genre, as can be heard as he leads his jets through an instrumental version of a tune that was recorded by both Ken Boothe and John Holt at Studio 1. The band steps into the spotlight on 'Napoleon Solo', a breezy Jazz0tinged instrumental that takes its name from the main character in the abovementioned 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' - a character created by long-time Jamaican resident, Ian Fleming. Needless to say, Taitt's tune bears no resemblance to the music from the TV series! Female trio, the Gaylettes, led by future solo star and I-Three Judy Mowatt, offer the melodic, sweetly harmonised 'I Like Your World', and that urbane Federal sound persists in the easy, jog-along rhythm provided by Lyn Taitt & The Jets on Joe Higgs' 'You Hurt My Soul', despite the songs lyrics.

Derrick Morgan is yet another major Jamaican musical figure who owes some of his early fame to Duke Reid, the producer that issued some of his successful early '60s singles such as 'Lover Boy'. In the mid-'60s the towering singer launched his own Hop label and licensed the best of his work for the imprint to island for release in the UK. Some tracks featured Morgan's own cool, hip vocals, like the confident braggadocio of 'Conquering Ruler' and the more trenchant 'Gimme Back' in which he asserts his rights of property in no uncertain terms: "I got to stop fatten chicken fe mongoose". Morgan produced one of 1968's biggest Jamaican hits with 'Red Rum Ball', an impossibly catchy (and, for this writer, impossible to understand) ditty by Lloyd Robinson and Devon Russell; 'Do It Now' by male duo, the Consomates didn't achieve comparable success, but its measured, stately but hip-jiggling rhythm and harmony vocals are the essence of Rock Steady. Lyn Taitt and co. are on hand to provide a similarly strong rhythm as Wesley Tinglin leads the Viceroys through 'Lip And Tongue'.

A comparative new boy in the producer's circle. Edward 'Bunny' Lee was yet another who owed his success in part to Duke Reid, for whom he started working as a record plugger in the early '60s. A natural salesman, Lee hustled his way into several music-related jobs before launching into production during the Rock Steady era. his golden decade would be the '70s, but his early sides show his ear for a good song and for real talent. The Uniques, led by the beautiful high tenor of Slim Smith backed by Jimmy Riley and Lloyd Charmers, had the perfect harmony blend for Curtis Mayfield songs like 'People Get Ready' and 'Gypsy Woman' and could tackle dreamy Doo Wop tracks like The Cliques' 'The Girl In My Dream' with equal aplomb. In contrast, 'The Beatitude' is lifted from the Sermon on the Mount, which, in typical charming Jamaican fashion, Smith misquotes. Again showing his ear for a good voice, Lee recorded Herman 'Pat' Kelly whose delicately soulful tones are heard on 'Somebody's Baby', a Buzz Cason / Mac Gayden song that first appeared on the B-side of Robert Knight's smash 'Everlasting Love', while he also cut a few vocals by organist Glen Adams, including the catchy 'Hold Down Miss Winey'.

Another newcomer to the producer's chair, Eric Barnett is an enigmatic figure. He ran his Deltone label for some years, probably with his sister Dorothy and perhaps with the involvement of keyboards veteran Theo Beckford, whose group plays on most Deltone releases. In 1968 Island issued a trio of Barnett singles: the Versatiles' lilting 'Someone To Love', with future solo star Junior Byles singing lead; and Native's obscure and very rare (it is uncertain if it was actually released on an Island single, though it was scheduled) 'Live It Up', possibly by the same group with a different lead singer, and the popular 'Combination' by Theo's nephew, the youthful Keelyn Beckford. Barnett scored a few hits in the Reggae era, notably with the driving organ / sax instrumental 'The Horse', but appears to have dropped out of music in the early '70s. Another novice was radio repairman-turned-producer, Joel 'Joe Gibbs' Gibson, who laid down a pleasing, rippling rhythm for 'Once More' credited to Errol Dunkley, but in fact a group vocal throughout. Gibbs would go one to become a towering figure in the Reggae world in the next decade.

From time to time artists, seeking better financial rewards than some established producers were prepared to offer, produced their own recordings. Such ventures were often short lived, like W&C Records, owned by Delroy Wilson and Stranger Cole which nonetheless released a superb two-sider coupling Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells 'Once Upon A Time' with Donnie Elbert's 'Will You Ever Be Mine', here retitled 'I Want To Love You'. Backed by Lyn Taitt & The Jets, this is Rock Steady at its best, and another W&C production, 'Over Again' by Stranger and Gladdy Anderson, with Taitt on hand once more, is not far behind.

Alfred Brown revived the perennially popular Amos Milburn number 'One Scotch One Bourbon One Beer', produced by his sometime singing partner Melmouth Nelson; and the paragons, fresh from a couple of years as top vocal group at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio, formed their own short-lived Supertone label to release their typically smooth and tuneful 'Memories By The Score'. Vocal group, the Federals enjoyed a big hit with the catchy 'Penny For Your Song', on their own Scotty label named after leader David Scott, who later reinvented himself as the DJ, 'Scotty'. Here is their follow-up 'Shocking Love': one internet commentator describes this track rather eloquently as "evil narco drone Rock Steady", and who are we to argue? Finally, Albert George Murphy and Norman Davis of the Tennors group formed their own Tennors label and enjoyed possibly the biggest-selling Rock steady record ever  with 'Ride Your Donkey'. If it hadn't been released simultaneously on the Island and Fab labels in Britain, thus splitting the sales that were counted by the compilers of Pop charts, it could have been a Top 50 hit. The Tennors specialised in simple, hummable and rather short tunes like 'Cleopatra', the B-side of 'Donkey', and 'Grampa', both of which are included here.

Within a few weeks of the release of 'Grampa', Island Records would virtually bow out of Jamaican music for five years, concentrating on 'progressive' Rock and Folk groups, such as Free and Fairport Convention, so becoming in the process a label that was, in the words of David Betteridge, "so hip, it hurt". they would make a dramatic and triumphant return to the Reggae arena in the '70s with the greatest star Jamaica has ever produced - but that's another story.

Mike Atherton (Echoes / Record Collector)
All material © Trojan Records