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Stylistic origins
Cultural origins
Mid-1960s Jamaica
Typical instruments
Mainstream popularity Late 1960s, varied
Derivative forms Reggae
Other topics
Music of Jamaica

Rocksteady is a music genre that was most popular in Jamaica, starting around 1966, and its reggae successor was established around 1968.[1]

The term rocksteady comes from a dance style that was mentioned in the Alton Ellis song "Rock Steady". A successor to Jamaican ska, and a precursor to reggae, rocksteady was performed by Jamaican vocal harmony groups such as The Gaylads, The Kingstonians, The Maytals and The Paragons. Dances performed to rocksteady were less energetic than the earlier ska dance moves. Rocksteady differs from ska musically as the tempo is slower and more relaxed. The bass is heavier and more prominent in the mix and in addition, the bass lines abandon the earlier "walking" style of the ska period in favor of more broken, syncopated figures. The ska-style back beat and the emphasis on the offbeat carried over into rocksteady.


[edit] History

Rocksteady arose at a time when young people from the Jamaican countryside were flooding into the urban ghettos of Kingston — in neighborhoods such as Riverton City, Greenwich Town and Trenchtown. 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.

The rude boy phenomenon had existed in the ska period, but was expressed more obviously during the rocksteady era in songs such as "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. Though Alton Ellis is sometimes said to be the father of rocksteady for his hit "Girl I've Got a Date", other candidates for the first rocksteady single include "Take It Easy" by Hopeton Lewis, "Tougher Than Tough" by Derrick Morgan and "Hold Them" by Roy Shirley. In a Jamaican radio interview, pianist Gladstone Anderson said that bandleader Lynn Taitt was the man who slowed down the ska beat in 1964 during a "Take It Easy" recording session to create Rocksteady.[2] The record producer Duke Reid released Alton Ellis' "Girl I've Got a Date" 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").

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. For example, the song "You Don't Care" by The Techniques is a cover of "You'll Want Me Back" by The Impressions. "Ilya Kuryakin" by Ike Bennet and The Crystalites is lifted from "Theme from A Summer Place". Musicians who were crucial in creating the music included guitarist Lynn Taitt, keyboard player Jackie Mittoo, drummer Winston Grennan, bassist Jackie Jackson and saxophonist Tommy McCook. As a musical style, rocksteady was shortlived, and existed only for about two years. For this reason original recordings in this genre are often harder to find than those from the ska and reggae era. In contrast to rocksteady, the Jamaican ska trend lasted several years, and classic reggae lasted for over a decade.

[edit] Transformation into reggae

Several factors contributed to the evolution of rocksteady into reggae in the late 1960s. The emigration to Canada of key musical arrangers Jackie Mittoo and Lynn Taitt — and the upgrading of Jamaican studio technology — had a marked effect on the sound and style of the recordings. Musically, bass patterns became more complex and increasingly dominated the arrangements and the piano gave way to the electric organ in the mix. Other developments included horns fading farther into the background; a scratchier, more percussive rhythm guitar; the addition of African-style hand drumming, and a more precise and intricate drumming style. The use of a vocal-free or lead instrument-free dub or B-side "version" became popular in Jamaica.

By the late 1960s, as the Rastafari movement gained in popularity[3], many reggae songs became focused less on romance and more on black consciousness, politics and protest. The release of the film The Harder They Come and the rise of Jamaican superstar Bob Marley brought reggae music to an international level that rocksteady had never been able to reach. Although rocksteady was a short-lived phase of Jamaican popular music, it was hugely influential to the reggae, dub and dancehall styles that followed. Many bass lines originally created for rocksteady songs continue to be used in contemporary Jamaican music.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ The Origins of Ska, Reggae and Dub Music
  2. ^ Official website of Lynn Taitt
  3. ^ Walker, Klive, (2005) "Dubwise". Page 20. Insomniac Press.

[edit] External links

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