Safe Travel - The Rare Side Of Rock Steady
Safe Travel - Phil Pratt
No One To Give Me Love - Larry Marshall
I Used To Be A Fool - Milton Boothe
Sweet Song For My Baby - Ken Boothe
Black Man's Country - Horace 'Andy' Hinds
Time Is Getting Harder - Peter Austin
Reach Out - Phil Pratt
What Kind Of Man - The Cool Cats
Little Things - Hemsley Morris
Bigger Things - Tommy McCook
Money Girl - Larry Marshall
You Left The Water Running - Ken Boothe
Book Of Books - Charlie Ace
Dirty Dozen - Vincent 'Don D Junior' Gordon
Love Is Strange - Hemsley Morris
The One I Love - Ken Boothe
Bye Bye Bye - The Clarendonians
Caltone Special - Tommy McCook
Suicide (Hang My Head & Cry) - Alva 'Reggie' Lewis
Your Love - Peter Austin
I'm Restless - The Thrillers
Baby Baby - The Clarendonians
Victory - Phil Pratt All Stars
|"Jamaica's new dance
craze... this new rhythm and dance form, originating in Western
Kingston, has now spread to the tourist and resort areas of Jamaica's
Gold Coast, and it is due to the ever increasing demand for this music
that we proudly present this long playing album of Rock Steady music."
Rock Steady Intensified!
The Caltone collective of producers, musicians and artists was instrumental in creating some of the most beautiful, but less well known, Rock Steady music ever made. Their rarity and desirability amongst collectors would normally mean that it would now require an investment of thousands of pounds to own the original seven inch records and Pressure Sounds are proud to be able to present here in affordable long playing format, for the first time ever, a selection of some of Phil Pratt's most sought after sides from 1966 to 1968 brimful of musical honesty, lyrical sincerity and unadorned beauty.
In the many histories of Reggae now available Ska is invariably referred to as the original indigenous Jamaican musical form although it had always relied on its origins in Rhythm & Blues and Jazz. The Rock Steady explosion of 1966 provided the first truly seamless Jamaican music: its influence has subsequently proved to be pivotal and its rhythms, bass lines and melodies have been returned to and recycled during each successive phase in Reggae's development. At a time when the rest of the musical world was moving towards overblown and overlong concept albums with an extended cast list Jamaica's musical fraternity were busy stripping their music down to the bare necessities with half a dozen players saying all that had to be said in two and a half minutes on a seven inch single release. There were no hiding places on a Rock Steady record: everything was out in the open and the pressure to perform perfectly was inordinately intense.
George Phillips, also called Phillip Choukoe, but better known as Phil Pratt was born and brought up, the eldest of seventeen children, in Kingston 14 where he attended St Ann's Primary School on North Street. Phil's brother, Winston Harris, was a multi-instrumentalist who went on to become a teacher of music at Kingston's Roman Catholic Alpha Boys Home And School. Alpha was a noted charitable institution for underprivileged children where great emphasis was placed on musical tuition and whose staff had established a formidable reputation for both music and discipline:
"The fist thing you learnt at Alpha was the rudiments of music: lines, spaces and scales. Theory was a must. You were asked questions on a blackboard and you gave your answers verbally. You didn't start to play just so. You had to know what you were doing so our upbringing was very enlightening."Rico Rodrigues
Many of Jamaica's leading Jazz and Ska musicians of the fifties and sixties such as Don Drummond (who often returned to help out at the school), Bobby Ellis, Vincent 'Don D Junior' Gordon, Tommy McCook, Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore and Rico Rodrigues studied at Alpha under the guidance of band master Lennie Hibbert. Winston was a great influence on his brother and taught Phil to play guitar and Tommy McCook and Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore would soon both play their part in Phil's career as the lessons they had learnt in Alpha's schoolrooms were put into practice.
Phil formed a vocal group with his schoolmates Ken Boothe and Headly Foulding who performed at charities and school concerts although they never made any recordings. When he left school he started work as an upholsterer, French polisher and cabinet maker and after he had finished work he would go to Kingston's Sound System dances. Count C and Sir Coxsone The Downbeat became Phil's favourites on the circuit and he became a box carrier for Downbeat's Sound where he formed what would become a life long friendship with Lee Perry The Upsetter. It was not until 1966 that he produced and sang his first record 'Sweet Song For My Baby'. Ken Boothe had already begun to make a name in the music business and knew the influential characters on the scene; he introduced Phil to the great Roy Shirley who took him to Bunny Lee, who was at the time still working for KIG Car Parts Centre, and Bunny promptly introduced Phil to Ken Lack.
Born in 1934 as Blondel Keith Calneck (Ken Lack came from spelling his surname backwards) Ken Lack had, together with P.J. Patterson, briefly been the touring and road manager for The Skatalites but after the departure of Don Drummond from the band he returned to his business interests dealing in hardware and household goods. The love and lure of music proved too strong and in 1966 Ken started the Caltone label operating out of 15 Mark Lane using the connections he had built up while working with The Skatalites. Surrounding himself with some of the outstanding musicians and singers of both his own and the younger generation he became "a kind of father figure" and mentor to his protégé's. The members of The Skatalites had by now formed smaller studio based ensembles and worked as featured instrumentalists and musical arrangers on the slower, cooler rhythms of Rock Steady. Former Skatalite Tommy McCook began to work closely with Ken Lack at Caltone where both soloists and vocalists could perform to their peak potential for they no longer needed to force their way through Ska's 'zinc fence wall of sound'.
"I was fortunate. I had the ideas that the guys needed on their sessions and they respected my compositional skills to put music to the rhythms." Tommy McCook
According to Phil, Ken Lack had renamed him Phil Pratt simply because, at first, he could not remember his surname. However he was well aware of Phil's musical talent and his trust and faith in the young man's promise led him to make the unprecedented move of giving him his own label on which Phil could release his own productions. Named Jon Tom in honour of the talents of Johnny 'Dizzy' Moore and Tommy McCook Phil proudly states that any record released on Jon Tom can be classed as "pretty much exclusively my production" but with the fluid nature of the Mark Lane setup his works (and co-works) would sometimes appear on Caltone and also on Wiggle Spoon "a label I co-owned with a deejay from R.J.R. called Dave Daniels".
"Rock Steady was a great change from the Ska. Lynn Taitt. He's the man who changed Jamaican music right round from Ska to Rock Steady." Derrick Morgan
Caltone's musical arranger, Lynn Taitt, was a pivotal figure, "a partner and a great guy" and Phil remains full of admiration for Lynn's work on the Jon Tom releases. Lynn explained how in Rock steady the bass no longer gave equal emphasis to every beat but played a repeated pattern instead that syncopated the rhythm. The rhythmic focus shifted to the bass and the drums where it has remained ever since:
"For that tempo the tempo is very slow with the bass and guitar line playing the same thing. You used to have two guitars. Hux Brown and myself or another guitarist and myself. And it was very slow but with a definite bass line going straight through the song..." Lynn Taitt
Born in San Fernando, Trinidad in 1934 Lynn began his musical career when he was "eight or nine years old" as a steel pan player and arranger but, at the age of fifteen, he acquired a guitar which he first played in a group called The Dutch Brothers. After two years Lynn left to form his own group who in 1962 were given a contract by Byron Lee to go to Jamaica to play at the Independence celebrations. Lynn fell in love with Jamaica and decided to stay and he first joined The Sheiks and then The Cavaliers playing at school dances and functions. He then formed Lynn Taitt & The Comets who continued to play live dates and also began to record as a band although Lynn had already recorded as a guitarist with The Skatalites. Lynn Taitt & The Jets came together in 1966 and were quickly signed to Federal Records on the strength of their leader's transcendent musical abilities. Lynn Taitt rapidly became famous through his beautiful Rock Steady rhythms but he also began to feel the pressure of life as an outsider. It was almost inevitable that his popularity could not come without a degree of envy and he was jealousy referred to as a 'foreigner'. In the summer of 1968, after two years of unprecedented and unparalleled musical creativity, he was offered a contract to work as a musical arranger for the house band at The West Indian federated Club in Toronto, Canada. He "jumped at the chance" and left Jamaica in August never to return.
"We were just interested in creating beautiful music... (I'm) just an ordinary guitar player trying to continue the heritage of black music from the West indies" Lynn Taitt
Phil recalled "that much of the power was in the hands of the people who had got off the island and brought back music that could then be copied." Amos Milburn had been a major influence from the time when Phil listened exclusively to American Rhythm & Blues and fragments of half remembered melodies, tunes and songs can sometimes be recognised: 'Little Things' was "inspired by" Kitty Kallen's 1954 USA release 'Little Things Mean A Lot'. However Phil felt that originality was they key and the best way to "capture the hearts of the public was to give them good and refined music so I visited the various night clubs, dances and parties to see what kind of music the people appreciated most." The strength of the Jon Tom releases always came from a combination of ideas from the artists and the musicians that Phil worked with and, drawing on his own experience as a singer and musician, he was able to understand and empathise fully with them. Singers such as Peter Austin from The Clarendonians, who also recorded with Phil as a solo artists, and Milton Boothe were good friends and along with 'Buzzy' from The Thrillers, Glen Adams and Max Romeo from The Emotions would all meet up at Phil's yard to play, sing and write songs together. Many of Phil's best songs sprang from personal experience and 'Safe Travel' was written for a girl called Loiis when she left Jamaica for America. Phil had long regarded Ken Boothe as "the greatest singer in the world... he's a genius" and it was Ken's idea to cover the Southern Soul classic 'You Left The Water Running' which "was so successful that it gave even more encouragement to keep on producing". A very young Horace Hinds made his first ever record 'Black Man's Country' for Jon Tom. This precocious 'reality' lyric proved to be the prelude to the direction his music would take in the following decade although it was not until he reached Studio One that Mr. Dodd, in recognition of his songwriting ability, renamed him Horace Andy after Bob Andy. Horace lived up to his 'Sleepy' nickname at Caltone though and "fell asleep in the studio".
Bunny lee acted as the radio plugger for the Caltone set up and Ken Lack bet him that if he could get Roy Shirley's 'Get On The Ball' to Number One in the charts within two weeks he would give him his car. Bunny won the bet and he became the proud owner of Ken's gleaming white Ford Zephyr Zodiac as 'Get On The Ball' became the biggest selling record on the Caltone label. Another member of the collective was H.B. Robinson who acted as the "village lawyer - he was a kind of wise guy who was good for advice" although Phil never actually worked with him in the studio. Ken Lack had become used to working closely with musicians and artists while with The Skatalites and his business like approach to the music business ensured that he was always able to get secure the services of Kingston's greatest musicians:
"Musicians were paid a fixed rate of thirty shillings a side so the top quality musicians were happy to play for good session rates". Phil Pratt
Sydney 'Luddy' Crooks of The Pioneers had introduced The Heptones to Ken Lack and they recorded four songs together including the brilliant but bizarre 'Gunman Coming To Town' based around Rossini's 'William Tell Overture' with a Ska beat and the beautiful Rock Steady 'Crying Over You' also known as 'I Am Lonely' which they would later sing over for Lee Perry. The Heptones were keen to record again with Ken but because he did not want to rush them back into the studio they went to Studio One where they recorded 'Fatty Fatty' with Mr. Dodd and started a creative partnership that would last for five years. However The Clarendonians, Peter Austin and Fitzroy 'Ernest' Wilson, regarded by many as one of the top Ska vocal groups left Studio One to record for Caltone where their first record, in classic Jamaican style, waved farewell to Brentford Road as 'Bye Bye Bye' hit back at their allegedly unfair treatment at the hands of Mr. Dodd:
"Too long I've been his slave. Thought I was his till I'm buried in my grave... Now I'm free." The Clarendonians
As 1968 drew to a close Phil Pratt became fully independent and, as Rock Steady shifted towards the faster Reggae beat, he opened up his own offices and began the Sunshot and Terminal labels in premises at 118 Orange Street. Once again he was at the forefront of another musical revolution and, using the same ideals that had helped to establish Caltone, built a base on this rock solid foundation for the clamour of consciousness and cultural 'reality' recordings that would dominate the following decade. 'Phil Pratt Thing' (Pressure Sounds PSCD 27) features a selection of some of the best records released in the seventies on Sunshot and Terminal.
"Ever since he made it as a professional in the producing and recording business Phil Pratt has never taken a look more so a step behind." Evor Stone
The Rock Steady period lasted for less than two years yet the extent to which it influenced the sound of Reggae music is enormous and recognition for its elegant excellence is finally being somewhat belatedly bestowed. Hit records usually hit for a combination of different reasons but, unfortunately, Bunny Lee did not have the incentive of a Zephyr Zodiac every time Phil or Ken released a record and could not be expected to get every Caltone and Jon Tom release to the Number One slot. Some inevitably slipped through the net and this collection is a golden opportunity to catch the best of them while you can. The old argument about a 'collectors' record being considered good because it is rare rather than because it is actually good can be safely disregarded when it comes to releases on the Jon Tom label. Comprised completely of concentrated creativity these tunes are invariably guaranteed a rapturous reception whenever they are played out at dances on the UK revival circuit.
We would like to gratefully thank all the music lovers and record collectors who so generously assisted us with our research on this project. With their magnanimous contributions it could never have become a reality.
Harry Hawke - March 2005
|All material © Copyright Pressure Sounds|