THE ROCKSTEADY STORY
From 1965 to 1970 was the era when ROCKSTEADY music evolved in the history of Jamaican indigenous music. All history is a sequence thus everything that happens is in some way related to what has gone before. In the same manner MENTO and SKA preceded ROCKSTEADY so did REGGAE and later DANCEHALL [BASHMENT] succeed it. Nonetheless, it was with the advent of the ROCKSTEADY era that the melodramatic mood of the romantic ‘Lovers Rock’ and the Social and Cultural commentaries of ‘Roots Rock’ music became entrenched, reflecting to a great extent the psyche of the Jamaican people at the time. So, even though the music has evolved, it is still based on the original principal and concept therefore, ALL sub-genres - inclusive of the above - comes under the general heading of REGGAE - Jamaica’s popular music.
Since the epoch of the ROCKSTEADY reign, two generations have grown up therefore, for the mature audience, this story is reminiscent whilst for the contemporary generation, it is intended as enlightenment, a symbol of appreciation and an attempt to recognize the invaluable contribution made by artists, musicians and other related industry personnel. For the most part, these individuals’ work was a ‘labour of love’ that generated subsistence earnings with the exception of some amount of exploitation of the creators by the users. Notwithstanding, the aesthetics of the relation to production, we must acknowledge the pioneer labels and producers, prior to and during the Rocksteady time. In no particular order they are Duke Reid (Treasure Isle), Coxsone Dodd (Studio One), Kenneth Khori (Federal Records), Leslie Kong (Beverly’s Records), Chris Blackwell (Island Records), Lee Perry (Upsetters), Bunny Lee (Gorgon), Prince Buster (Orange Street), Byron Lee (Dynamic) and Sonia Pottinger (Tip Top), among many others.
From a certain perspective, the artists’ experiences with some of the above producers can be viewed as growing pains. Outside of the sacrificial lambs in the process, most of the artists (having paid their dues) have gone on to reap successes that they had never even dreamed of. What is even more rewarding and gratifying is the fact that in the 1990s, some thirty years later, those artists who are/were still active, experienced a resurgence and demand for old school vintage shows that gave them earnings like never before, equal to and in some cases, even more than some of their contemporary counterparts. Some of the most outstanding exponents of the ROCKSTEADY genre are:
Alton Ellis who, was dubbed ‘Mr Rocksteady’ with hits like ‘Girl I Have Got A Date’ and ‘I’m Just A Guy’.
Ken Boothe, simultaneously hailed as ‘Mr Rocksteady’ gave us hits such as ‘Puppet On A String’, ‘Everything I Own’ and ‘Moving Away’.
Hopeton Lewis had ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Grooving Out Of Life’.
Bob Andy hit with the transitional ‘I Have Got To Go Back Home’, a song comprising the then new Rocksteady Rhythm and the big band, Ska Horns arrangement.
Marcia Griffiths inspired with ‘Feel Like Jumping’ and ‘Melody Life’.
There were many other soloists but, this period also marked the predominance of vocal groups like The Gaylads, The Wailers, The Heptones, The Paragons, The Melodians, The Techniques, Desmond Decker & The Aces, The Sensations, Toots & The Maytals, Carlton & His Shoes - groups who gave us some of the sweetest harmonies and unison vocalising of all time - these are just a few of the groups who were seminal. It was this time (around the late sixties) that was regarded as the glorious days where popular venues such as Copacabana, Sombrero, VIP and Peyton Place were the premier entertainment hot spots. In addition, most Rocksteady artists would perform on the hotel circuit of the capital, Kingston and in other resort areas like Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. During that era, the presentation of the music in Jamaica became very sophisticated with the staging of a series of ‘Soulville Concerts’. Leading American artists were brought to Jamaica, performing at (seated venue) theatres billed alongside ‘local’ artists, as the Jamaican artists were called then. The ‘local’ artists were strongly motivated and rose to the occasion in attire and presentation. Artists like The Blues Busters were recruited and brought back to the United States to tour with their American counterparts.
The following are quotations from some of ROCKSTEADY’S premier practitioners:
BOB ANDY - explains the virtue of Rocksteady - “With the evolution of Jamaican popular music, the Rocksteady idiom was a scaling down of the music tempo when the bass guitar became the highlighted instrument. Our music is ‘Onomatopoetic’ which, means each idiom is named off the sound of an instrument such as SKA - the name derived from the sound of the rhythm guitar (one stroke). ROCKSTEADY’S name derived from the sound of the bass guitar and the REGGAE idiom also got its name from the rhythm guitar (two strokes) whilst DANCEHALL [BASHMENT] is mainly about the drum pattern (beat). Rocksteady nurtured the conscious and protest lyrics as a natural out-growth of the Jamaican culture.
KEN BOOTHE - had Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae hits consecutively - “All the different changes in the music are a part of its development and, as technology increases, so too the music changes. The Dancehall was always a part of the Rocksteady hits that I have released because that is where (in the dancehalls) they first became popular”.
ALTON ELLIS - “The roots of Reggae and Dancehall evolved from SKA and ROCKSTEADY. Rocksteady was slower than Ska with the bass line having more time to play around. During the Rocksteady period it was a vibrant time with a loving and nice music, a sound of emotion. In 1965, I recorded a special song called ‘Get Ready To Rocksteady’, released on the Treasure Isle label. That song summed up the signs of the times”.
[All Respect is due to the late Alton Elton for his massive contribution to Jamaican music. His music will live on eternally.]
MARCIA GRIFFITHS - the crowned Empress of Jamaican popular music - “Rocksteady was well appreciated from its inception because at the time, that was what was happening. It was really a beat that you could just relax to because it was so cool and easy. Most of the Rocksteady music is now being duplicated. The innocence and the purity that went into that music is what made it so wonderful and everlasting. There is something special about it. It is full of substance that even the next generation and generations to come will still be appreciating Rocksteady music”.
HOPETON LEWIS - ‘Mr Take It Easy’ - “The song ‘Take It Easy’ is synonymous with Rocksteady itself. Lyn Tate and myself are amongst the first musicians and singers to record Rocksteady music. Rocksteady is a very important component in Reggae as it provides the drum & bass and, the guitar is from Ska. Rocksteady mostly feature lyrics based on love, life and music”.
DOBBY DOBSON - “I was into the music before both Ska and Rocksteady came into being. In my opinion, Rocksteady was the real burst of Jamaican music; it slowed down from Ska which was a fast and erotic kind of dance music whilst Rocksteady was a more sensuous, melodic music and dance that was beautiful to watch. This suited me fine because being a ballad singer, it just fit right into my thing and from that medium some of my biggest hits evolved such as ‘Loving Pauper’, ‘Seems To Me I’m Losing’ and ‘Endlessly’”.
DWIGHT PINKNEY - “The transition between Ska and Reggae was the stage of the music when the bass line played an integral part. The music was designed as a dance form rather than a platform for lyrical commentary. A kind of ‘one drop’ beat with a lot of improvisation on the ride cymbal that played different patterns and phrases. Rocksteady’s slowing down was a natural evolution from Ska. People started to think and write more about the environment and it naturally evolved into Reggae which has a mixture of everything”.
BORIS GARDNER - “Rocksteady is music with melody and nice changes.Rocksteady has been our most successful beat and feel to date. It is the most attractive and appeals mostly to the mature crowd, even the young people as they approach middle-age, they start listening to and appreciating the Rocksteady beat. It is a feel for when you want to relax and slow down, a beat you can dance to all night”.