The beginning

Rocksteady lyrics mainly dealt with love and the rude boy culture, but most of the songs are simply music for dancing. Rocksteady singers regularly covered American soul recordings. The style of music rose at a time when young people from the rural areas (country) were flooding into the urban areas of Kingston — in neighborhoods such as Riverton City, Greenwich Town and Trench town. Though much of the country was optimistic in the immediate post-independence climate, these poverty-stricken youths did not share this sentiment. Many of them became delinquents who exuded a certain coolness and style. These unruly youths became known as rude boys (rudies or rude bwoy). Rocksteady music also saw the increase in social comment/message type songs. “Rudie” songs were recorded which were actual comments on the impoverished urban realities of the day. “Rudies” were really unruly gangs that tantalized the young people on the Island (in every era and area on the planet, new movements have always been because of their youthful creative energies). The rude bwoy phenomenon was cinematized in the movie Harder They Come, which introduced the rest of the world to Jamaican music. Incidentally all the sound track in that movie comes not from the reggae era as erroneously stated, but from the Rocksteady era. Still the storyline of Ivanhoe Martin was as real a tale for so many “suffarahs” leaving “country” to seek a job, fame, fortune or infamy in “Town”, which is the Capital of Kingston. The rude bwoy was a romantic outlaw and his lifestyle was as refreshing as it was dangerous and was augmented by Jamaica’s fixation with our love for action movies; spaghetti westerns, gangster movies and martial arts films. Some of the music of that time included warnings against the rude bwoy culture.  Some famous hits included “Rude Boy Gone A Jail” by The Clarendonians; “No Good Rudie” by Justin Hinds & the Dominoes; and “Don’t Be A Rude Boy” by The Rulers; “Take It Easy” by Hopeton Lewis, “Hold Them” by Roy Shirley and “Tougher Than Tough” by Derrick Morgan. This last song incidentally was actually written for a notorious rude boy named “Buzby” who threatened Morgan with grievous physical harm if he didn’t make a song about him. Just after the song was released Buzby was killed, gunned down in a fight.

 

In a Jamaican radio interview, pianist Gladstone Anderson said that bandleader Lynn Taitt was the man who initially slowed down the ska beat during a recording session to create what was the Rocksteady beat. Singer Hopeton Lewis explained that the Rocksteady sound came about mostly by accident. In 1966, during a recording session of “Take It Easy,” Hopeton Lewis was finding it difficult to keep pace with the fast moving Ska. Studio personnel like bassist Jackie Jackson, pianist Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson as well as one of the major pioneers of the music, guitarist Lyn Taitt, were present. This is how Lewis tells the story: “The song was written to the popular beat of the time, Ska. But I could not follow the Ska beat – it was too fast. I asked Gladdy to slow it down. Gladdy said ‘This boy here is a Rocksteady.’ The word stuck. The song (take it easy) caught on so fast I couldn’t believe it.”

 

Everyone in Jamaica was singing “Take it Easy.” Many believed that “Take it Easy” was actually the first Rocksteady song, but others claim that  the actual name came from “Get Ready to Rocksteady” performed by Alton Ellis.  None the less, the major switch was from Ska’s profusion of percussive instruments, catchy guitar riffs and the abundance of horns, to Rocksteady’s bold bass lines, conveyed in a laid back fashion. Along with this change came a contraction in the size of orchestras, with an increase in the number of solo and group performers. The Gaylads, Desmond Dekker & The Aces, The Paragons, The Techniques emerged and then the Uniques, The Maytals and the Wailers. Bob Andy, Roy Shirley, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson and Alton Ellis were the hit makers of the day, as well as newcomer Hopeton Lewis, who maintained his popularity.

Continued

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3 thoughts on “Rocksteady the bridge to Reggae!

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