Desmond Dekker and The Aces was one of the early star in Rocksteady and had one of the finest international hits in “Poor Me Israelites.” Rocksteady singers continued to write songs whose lyrics observed or commented on Jamaican society. One of the finest most poignant examples is 1968’s “Everything Crash” by The Ethiopians. The song called attention to the spate of strikes being experienced in the country only six years into independence…. “Down to the police them too…” This song earned the dubious distinction of being one of the earliest Jamaican recordings to be restricted from airplay, and not because of immoral or suggestive lyrics. This period also saw the introduction of the Festival Song Competition at Independence celebration time in the summer. Toots and The Maytals took the lead with winners like “Sweet and Dandy” while Desmond Dekker and The Aces scored with “Intensified Festival”. Toots and The Maytals also made some social commitment/observation records as in “5446 That’s My Number” – a recap of time spent in prison, apparently for ganja possession. A song/record of a personal experience so powerfully conveyed it became one of the biggest hit songs of the day. Even though the period created so many truly memorable and classic songs it almost totally obscured the fact Rock Steady was only around for about three years. Around late 1968 into early 1969 Rock Steady began its’ decline, while Reggae was being birthed.
The major music producers at the time were directly in touch with the true originators of the music. The most successful was C.S. “Coxsone” Dodd. In 1963, Dodd opened the first African owned recording studio in Jamaica on Brentford Road in Kingston. Officially called the Jamaican Recording and Publishing Studio, it came to be known as Studio One, which also served as the name of Dodd’s signature label from then on. With the Skatalites serving as the house band (and cutting plenty of instrumental hits of their own), Studio One turned out some of the era’s best and biggest hits, with records by Delroy Wilson, Toots & the Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bob Andy and Bob Marley & the Wailers, whose “Simmer Down” was chart-topping debut smash hit. In the process, Studio One became an invaluable training ground for an entire generation of Jamaican musical talent. Dodd was constantly scouting for new talent, holding weekly auditions, and often provided vocal training for talented but raw singers. The studio’s prolific recording pace kept its stable of arrangers, producers, and musicians heavily occupied. It gave them the practical know-how that would help some set up their own operations in the years to come, and provided a strong foundation for the continued development of the country’s recording industry. The Rocksteady period remains the most often sampled portion of Dodd’s extensive catalogue. Helped out by new multi-track recording capabilities, which allowed for richer vocals and leaner, subtler arrangements, Dodd honed a signature sound that was soulful, organic and rootsy. It grew into a sonic blueprint that would endure to the Reggae age.
Duke Reid, who went from being a police officer to grocery/liquor store owner and dancehall DJ, built a recording studio directly above the Treasure Isle Liquor Store, and began releasing original material starting in 1959. He formed a house band and issued singles by Derrick Morgan and the Jiving Juniors as well as many Ska hits by the Skatalites, Stranger Cole, the Techniques, Justin Hinds & the Dominoes, and others. It was with the beginning of the Rocksteady beat in 1966 that Treasure Isle was able to overtake Dodd’s Studio One. The peak years of Rocksteady (1966-1969) witnessed many of Reid’s finest productions. Alton Ellis, Phyllis Dillon, the Melodians, the Paragons, the Ethiopians and the Jamaicans, all recorded for him backed by Reid’s new house band, Tommy McCook & the Supersonics.
The Paragons scored with a string of hits like “Memories by the Score,” “On the Beach” and “Wear You to the Ball,” indicating the significance attached to vocal groups at this stage. Slim Smith and the Techniques also crafted Curtis Mayfield hits in songs like “Little Did You Know.” Alton Ellis, Under Duke Reid’s production, made a great contribution to this era with the classic “Girl I’ve Got a Date,” “Breaking Up” and “I’m Still in Love with You,” on his Treasure Isle label, as well as recordings by The Techniques, The Silvertones, The Jamaicans and The Paragons. Reid’s work with these groups helped establish the vocal sound of rocksteady. Notable solo artists include Delroy Wilson, Bob Andy, Ken Boothe and Phyllis Dillon (known as the “Queen of Rocksteady”).
Reid also had a hand in the new dancehall music: DJs were starting to insert their own rhyming patter, dubbed “chatting” or “toasting,” over popular records. U-Roy was pioneer in this area (“I originate, I don’t imitate) by chatting over the “Wear You to the Ball” rhythm. Reid hit upon the idea of simply having the DJ chat over preexisting rhythm tracks from past Treasure Isle hits. The results were wildly popular; at one point, four of U-Roy’s early singles hit the Jamaican Top Five all at once. Reid continued to record U-Roy through the early 1970s, using his back catalogue for material, and also released records by other early DJs, most notably Dennis Alcapone.