Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Underground Legends"

Alton Ellis (September 1, 1938 – October 10, 2008)

"The Father of Rocksteady" and "The Godfather of Reggae," as he was known, helped bridge the gap between Ska music and Reggae. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in the Trench Town district, he was the first singer to popularized the music genre.

Coming from a musical family, Alton learned piano at a young age and began his career, as a dancer at the age of sixteen on competing on Vere Johns' Opportunity Hour. After winning several competitions over a two year period, Alton switched to singing in 1959 as part of the duo Alton & Eddy (Eddy Perkins). Their first recording on the Coxsone label, 'Muriel', was a major RnB-styled hit in Jamaica. Other songs they recorded were "My Heaven". "Lullabye Angel", "I Know It All", "I'm Never Gonna Cry", and "Yours."

After Eddy left Jamaica to live in America, Alton formed a group named Alton and The Flames. They recorded a large number of hit songs on the Treasure Isle label, including 'Dance Crashers', Girl I've got a Date', 'Rock Steady' and 'Black Man's Pride'. By the mid 1960s, ska and its beat was slowing down to Rocksteady and becoming associated with the violent rude boy subculture in Jamaican dancehalls, although Alton was anti-rudie, unlike Bob Marley. His Mr. Soul of Jamaica album is regarded as one of the definitive Rocksteady albums. After three years with Alton and The Flames, Alton launched his career as a solo artist and joined the 'Studio One Label' in 1967.

The amount of hits that Alton created during this period made him even bigger than Bob Marley in Jamaica. Some of his hits included "I'm Still in Love", "Breaking Up," "Back to Africa," "Deliver Us," and "I'm Just a Guy." His first album 'Rock and Soul', released on the Studio One label was big, paving the way for the many other Rocksteady and Reggae artists. Alton left Jamaica in 1969 to spend two years in Toronto, Canada. In 1974, he made London, England a permanent home. Alton has received several awards for his achievements as an artist and his contribution to the Reggae Music Industry from the following: Order of Distinction from the Jamaican government, the International Reggae and World Music Hall of Fame, The Jamaican Cultural Development Commission, British Music Industry, Black Echoes, The Voice, Reggae Hall of Fame and KGFJ, a Los Angeles radio station.


1) The riddim from his song "Mad Mad" (1967) has been used in over a hundred other songs. From the song, many have sampled the recognizable three-note descending horn line, which was first reinterpreted by Henry "Junjo" Lawes and eventually became known as the "Diseases" reggae riddim. It is heard in Yellowman's hit song ""Zungguzungguguzungguzeng", which has in turn been sampled and reinterpreted by popular hip hop artists including KRS-One, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur and Blackstar, reinforcing the connectiong between Hip-hop and Reggae. This has made Ellis a major but little-known influence in the path of dancehall, reggae and hip hop.

2) Ellis has also had many children, over twenty, and two of them, Noel and Christopher are Reggae singers.

3) Sasha and Sean Paul did a cover of his song "I'm Still in Love With You" in 2004.

I'm Still In Live With You

I'll Never Fall In Love Again

I'm Just a Guy


Alton & Eddy

Ain't That Loving You (with the Flames)

Mad Mad

La La Means I Love You (cover of Delfonics' song)

Breaking Up (one of my favorites! One of the first songs I heard growing up.)

Girl, I've Got a Date (Another song I heard growing up.)

Dance Crashers

No comments: