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Treasure Isle Presents: Rock Steady - 40 Ground-Breaking Hits

CD1
Girl I've Got A Date - Alton Ellis & The Flames
Don't Stay Away - Phyllis Dillon
Here I Stand - Justin Hinds & Dominoes
Happy Go Lucky Girl - The Paragons
Inez - Lester Sterling & Tommy McCook
The Tide Is High - The Paragons
Cry Tough - Alton Ellis & The Flames
Save A Bread - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
On The Beach - The Paragons
Do It Right - The Three Tops
Rock Steady - Alton Ellis & The Flames
Things You Say You Love - The Jamaicans
Only A Smile - The Paragons
I Will Get Along With You - The Melodians
You Don't Care - The Techniques
It's Raining - The Three Tops
Ain't That Loving You? - Alton Ellis & Flames
Perfidia - Phyllis Dillon
You Don't Need Me - The Melodians
All My Tears - Alton Ellis & Flames
CD2
Why Birds Follow Spring - Alton Ellis & Flames
You Have Caught Me - The Melodians
Queen Majesty - The Techniques
The Same Song - The Paragons
Soul Serenade - Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
Baba Boom (Festival '67) - The Jamaicans
Wear You To The Ball - The Paragons
Love Is A Treasure - Freddie McKay
Heartaches - Vic Taylor
Once A Man - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Come On Little Girl - The Melodians
I'm A Loving Pauper - Dobby Dobson
In The Midnight Hour - The Silvertones
Last Train To Expo '67 - The Melodians
Ooh Wee Baby - Alton Ellis & The Flames
Travelling Man - The Techniques
Willow Tree - Alton Ellis
Angel Of The Morning - Joya Landis
I Wish It Would Rain - The Techniques
I'll Be Lonely - John & Joya

We're not quite sure how to broach this subject... it's a bit delicate. Might as well say it outright: it's a bit sexy, this collection.

That doesn't mean gross, dirty, slutty, filthy, slack or that this is a CD that would make your mum fling a shoe at you the second you play it. It's not that kind of sexy. We're talking sensuous, romantic, liable to set the heart a-flutter. the kind of sound that makes two bodies rock in a hot clinch. Call it Wine, call it Rub-A-Dub, call it Rhumba if you like. The Rock Steady beat will male it happen. For many lovers of Jamaican music, this is as good as it gets. And the best of Rock Steady - that most elegant, unhurried and deceptively simple groove - undoubtedly came from the Treasure Isle label.

Treasure Isle, run by an uncompromising chap called Arthur Stanley Reid, known throughout Jamaica as Duke Reid, got the formula for Rock Steady right. It used the sweetest, most soulful singers the band, nominally the supersonics, but in fact an aggregation of session men with a fluid line-up, were about as good as Jamaica had to offer (and that made them the best worldwide at this kind of rhythm). the music was arranged by saxophonist Tommy McCook or guitarist Lyn Taitt - sometimes both - and they displayed a delicacy of touch that suited the requirements of a music practically designed to induce a romantic flush in its female fan-base and soothe their male partners. The studio, on Kingston's Bond street, suitably adjacent to the Treasure Isle Liquor Store that Mr. Reid also owned and which helped keep the sessions rocking, was overseen by the engineer Byron Smith, who knew how to capture the music on fairly primitive equipment. Smith's skill at the board made the balance of the music heavy enough to rattle the walls and yet not overwhelm the sweet soul of the singers. And what soul they had: Alton Ellis, Phyllis Dillon, the Paragons, the Techniques, the Jamaicans, the Three Tops... all poured their hearts out in their individual styles, giving voice to the passions that the music stirred up. Love, loss, freedom, heartache, longing... even that underrated emotion, having fun. It was a music of a young, optimistic Jamaica, and the songs reflected that.

'On The Beach'; 'Girl I've Got A Date'; 'Happy Go Lucky Girl'; 'Ba Ba Boom'; each captures an intensity of feeling at a particular moment. And all are sincere expressions of the heart, recorded because these things needed to be said, not from some agenda dreamt up by a marketing man. It was a pure music, uncontaminated by commercial concerns. These singers sang it because they felt that way, not for money. Which is just as well, because the Duke had little intention of paying them. Singers could do it for fame, for the hope of making some money at live shows, to build their names, but Mr. Reid was not about to make them rich, no matter how many records he sold on his Treasure Isle, Trojan, Dutchess or Sure Shot labels. Singers came in, sang their song, and if they were lucky, got a few dollars for it. There is a quote from Tommy Cowan of the Jamaicans, who said that after one session, Mr. Reid brought in a crate of beer, and the group could hardly believe it - the Duke must have really liked them. This is the contradiction of Rock Steady - and much of Jamaican music in general.

This deeply emotional sound was lorded over by men who were hardly in the music trade for love. powerful local businessmen who were risking a certain amount of money to produce records, they were not exactly the most easy-going of guys when it came to dealing with their artists. Duke Reid, a former Kingston policeman (and if that's not a sign he was a tough guy, what is?), famously negotiated with a gun to hand. He was not always in the studio while 'producing' the tracks, but if he was in the liquor store or in his office and heard something he thought was a bit dodgy, he would fire a volley as a reminder that there were certain standards to be maintained. That's not to say that the Duke didn't love music: he maintained those standards because he knew when a groove was good, and spent almost two decades taking them to people via his 'Duke Reid The Trojan' sound system. His methods worked: Treasure Isle's Rock Steady was nigh-on perfect, with every nuance and elegant rhythm finished to a T. In terms of quality, the Duke's sound was every bit the equal of the American R&B, Jazz and Blues that the Duke had originally played on his sound system in the 1950s.

Where did Rock Steady come from? it grew out of Ska, the wild music that greeted Jamaica's independence in 1962, which you can hear on another CD in this series, 'Treasure Isle Presents Ska'. The island's original home-grown sound, it lasted from circa 1960 to 1966, although Ska records were still being made as late as '67. Fast, tough and jumpy, Ska was destined to burn out as its audience matured and started to seek romance. Throughout the Ska era singers were happy to deliver the odd smoochy ballad, and by 1965 some Jamaican records were clearly aiming to match the sounds of US Soul. In 1966, Ska began to mellow, and early Rock Steady records were being made. This new style combined the romance of Soul with a rhythm that retained the choppy guitar of Ska, but which was in no hurry to get to its destination. Alton Ellis' 'Girl I've Got A Date', Phyllis Dillon's 'Don't Stay Away', the Paragons' 'Happy Go Lucky Girl'; here was a music dancers could smooch to, with a sophisticated soulfulness that melted the heart. By 1967 this music was the dominant sound in Jamaica, with all the major producers providing it. None did so with the skill of Duke Reid, who made sure that even if he didn't bother paying the young singers who worked for him, he certainly hired the best musicians. And McCook, certainly, gained due reward as Jamaica's equivalent of Willie Mitchell or King Curtis, releasing records in his own name that remain among the greatest instrumentals Jamaica had to offer, such as the tender 'Inez', a duet with Lester Sterling, and his fabulous version of Curtis's Soul Serenade. This was music polished to perfection, yet it sounded effortless. McCook and the Supersonics made it sound easy because they did it day in, day out, each track awarded the stately beat that became the hallmark of a Treasure Isle release.

Reid was careful about who he allowed to voice these soulful symphonies. Alton Ellis, who had been recording since the birth of the Jamaican music business, was Reid's premier solo male act, mixing Gospel shouting with aching-heart sensitivity, as heard on 'My Willow Tree' and 'Oo Wee Baby'. He had a social conscience too, evidenced on 'Cry Tough', in which he warned the Rude Boys that they were hardly invisible.

The Paragons, fronted by John Holt with occasional lead outings for Tyrone Evans and support from Howard Bennett, were Reid's top vocal group, hitting with 'On The Beach', 'The Tide Is High' and 'Wear You To The Ball'. Their smoothness was almost matched by the Techniques, the Jamaicans, the Three Tops, the Silvertones, the Sensations and the Melodians, all of whom enjoyed massive sellers for the producer. 'Queen Majesty', 'Ba Ba Boom', 'It's Raining', 'Come On Little Girl'; these records still wear out rugs at house parties today. Reid stood by one his his major Ska vocal acts, Justin Hinds & The Dominoes, who continued to cut interesting tunes even though they were by no means as silky as the aforementioned groups. Phyllis Dillon and Joya Landis took responsibility for explaining the woman's point of view on record and became Jamaica's strongest female hit makers. Reid's lesser male lights, such as Dobby Dobson and Freddy McKay, scored local hits and may have won more had the company not been so focused on Alton Ellis and its harmony groups.

There's no doubt that Treasure Isle ran the Rock Steady era; other companies such as Crystal, Studio 1 and Tip Top also displayed considerable expertise when it came to this particular rhythm, but Duke Reid ruled ok between 1966 and 1968. After that, the music changed to the more upbeat style known as Reggae, and the Duke's crown slipped while he got used to the new scene. However, once Treasure Isle adjusted to this fresh fashion, Reid again began to rule the nation. But that's a story for the next collection in this series, 'Treasure Isle Presents Original Reggae'. In the meantime, imagine it's the mid-60s, the tunes are soulful, sexy and sensuous, and romance is firmly on the agenda. can you feel it? Then you are ready to do the Rock Steady.

Ian McCann
Editor, Record Collector Magazine
Trojan
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