Paying Homage to John Holt

John Holt

John Holt

It is with sadness that Foundation Ska pays homage to John Holt today as he passed away on October 19th. Today’s post is by no means an exhaustive look at the life and career of this legendary vocalist, as that would prove almost impossible since he was a prolific performer, but instead it is a snapshot of a few articles from the archives.

Let us first start with Roy Black, contributor to the Jamaica Gleaner, who wrote the following this week:
Jamaica has lost another stalwart in the field of popular music with the passing of John Holt in England last Sunday, October 19. His passing has left an irreplaceable void in the Jamaican recording industry. Going the full gamut, from rocksteady to reggae and dancehall, Holt proved to be one of the most enduring singers in Jamaican music, packing a voice that has lasted for 51 years.

Taking a different route to success than most of his contemporaries, who began in groups before going solo, Holt did quite the opposite when he recorded for producer Leslie Kong, his debut solo recording, Forever I’ll Stay, on the Beverley’s record label in 1963. Like many others before him, Holt’s earliest exposure came by way of The Vere Johns Opportunity Hour Talent Show, where he won an award in 1962. The win led to an association with record producer Leslie Kong, resulting in his debut recording. Concurrently, Holt recorded for producer, Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin, a cut titled Rum Bumbers.

His next move was perhaps the most important one of his career: That of linking with the Paragons vocal group, which was already in existence. The group actually began with Bob Andy and Tyrone Evans at the back of the Kingston Parish Church, sometime in 1962, before they added a third member, Howard Barrett. In an interview I had with Holt, he explained: “I was on King Street one day with my friend Lloydie Custard, and he told me there were some guys up by the Parish Church doing some singing. So we took a walk there, and that’s where I really got in touch with The Paragons”.

With Holt assuming the role of lead vocalist, the quartet of Andy, Evans, Barrett and Holt, first recorded as The Paragons, for late Studio One owner Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd, debuting with I Was Lonely (Love at Last) and Play Girl in 1963-64. The group soon came to their differences and Andy left, reducing them to a trio. A temporary hiatus followed as the group searched to recapture their ‘quartet sound’.

However, the break seemed to have re-inspired and rejuvenated them, and they re-emerged at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle Studios in 1966, with crisper notes and tighter harmonies, and Holt gradually emerging as the star, with his mellifluous tenor.
Although he had not yet gone solo, many musicologists consider this the brightest period of his career, as he crafted some never-to-be-forgotten gems, beginning with Happy-Go-Lucky Girl, a recording that chided carefree women with the words: “Everyone in town knows about you, happy-go-lucky girl, the life you live isn’t too good, happy-to-lucky girl”

On The Beach, which followed, triggered the ‘hops’ fad, and generated beer sales all over the island. Wear You to the Ball was used to good effect by deejay U-Roy to lay the foundation on which many present-day rappers built. The Tide Is High gained worldwide recognition after a 1980 number one cover by the group Blondie, while Only a Smile, was a big favourite among Jamaicans. All number-one hits, they owed a lot to Holt’s lead vocals. The group tasted further success while working with other producers, including a return to Dodd’s Studio One with several top-class reggae hits.

The departure of Evans and Barrett via the migration route left Holt in limbo, and it is believed that this played a part in his decision to go solo. He was headed in that direction by early 1967 with his solo efforts, Stick By Me, Strange Things and My Heart is Gone, before making his third entry at Studio One with the very successful album Love I can Feel, which contained the hits Fancy Makeup, Do You Love Me, Stranger in Love and the title cut.

Now a solo artiste in his own right, Holt, by the turn of the decade, was one of the biggest reggae stars, making appreciable inroads on overseas charts while continuing to make hits during the 1970s and 1980s. Up to this point, Holt’s voice seemed unscathed by the passage of time. Earlier in 1968, he returned to Treasure Isle Studios with some of his best reggae cuts, which included, Ali Baba, Tonight, I’m Your Man, and the romantically charged ‘I’ll Be Lonely, in duet with Joya Landis.

By the mid-1970s, Holt was in the United Kingdom working with overseas producers who introduced string arrangements to his recordings. Help me make it through the Night, from the cover collection 1000 Volts of Holt, gave him his first UK hit. Returning home, he continued his hit run with Up Park Camp and others while proving his versatility and contemporariness with the dancehall song Fat She Fat. In 1982, he had chart success with If I were a Carpenter and Police Inna Helicopter. Although showing signs of ill health in recent years, Holt continued to compose, record and perform up to the time of his death.

The next interesting bit of John Holt history comes from a Daily Gleaner article, November 21, 1974 with the headline, “John Holt Entrances Cabaret Audiences.” The article reviews his performance at the Top-O-The-Sheraton in Kingston, and the author provides a brief history as well as an interesting projection from Holt on the future of reggae worldwide. The article states:
John started his singing career in the traditional way that so many other Jamaican singers started with the Vere Johns’ Opportunity Show in 1962. Since that John has not looked back but has made hit after hit. Who can forget such memorable songs as On the Beach, Happy Go Lucky Girl, Wear You To The Ball, one that U Roy later did over and many more rockers that placed John Holt in the Hall of Fame of Jamaican Music. . . . John sees Reggae as constantly improving and feels that it will be breaking big internationally any day now. He says Reggae is firmly rooted in England and that the English people as well as Jamaicans are big purchasers of Reggae records. This he feels makes England more encouraging to artistes singing Reggae because there is more, to gain there financially than in Jamaica. To improve the local situation, John suggests that our Radio Stations play more Reggae so that money sent abroad to pay performing rights for foreign artistes could be paid instead to our own local artistes. This, he feels, would allow for a better standard of living for local performers and above all there would be more recognition by foreign stations for our music, especially in the U.S.A. John Holt feels that Bob Marley and the Wailers, Ken Boothe, and Nicky Thomas are making the biggest contribution to our music for they have brought Reggae to the attention of people throughout Europe and the United States and have been constantly bringing about improvement to our music by setting a very high standard, forcing other artistes to do likewise.

The Daily Gleaner on Wednesday, January 28, 1998 stated, “The history of Jamaican music is replete with some fascinating stories of how some artistes came, into the limelight. One such story is that of two of the major players of Jamaican music, U Roy and John Holt. The story is told that it was Holt who heard U Roy ‘kicking up a storm’ at the controls of King Tubby’s Hi Fi and told legendary producer, Duke Reid, about the young ‘toaster’ who was packing in the crowds. The rest is history.”

Add your memories and thoughts about John Holt in the comment section below. Let’s continue the dialogue about this iconic artist whose music will never die.

Here are a few of my favorite John Holt/Paragons tunes:

The Tide is High

Ali Baba

On the Beach

Stick By Me

Monty Alexander

Monty Alexander from the Daily Gleaner, August 19, 1961

Monty Alexander from the Daily Gleaner, August 19, 1961

Monty Alexander’s recent album, Concierto de Aranjuez, was recently named a finalist for a 2014 Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performance along with Kenny Garrett, Audra McDonald, Wynton Marsalis and Gregory Porter. The Jamaica Gleaner ran an article in Wednesday’s paper on this honor and stated, “It is the first Soul Train nod for 70-year-old Alexander, who has worked with greats such as Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. In recent times, he has worked with contemporary reggae artistes such as Chronixx. . . . The Soul Train Music Awards have been held annually since 1987. It takes place November 7 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada and airs November 30 on Centric and BET.”

Monty Alexander was born in Kingston in 1944 and he was privileged enough to begin taking piano lessons at age six. He and his family left for America at the end of 1961, but not before he had already set foot on stage in Jamaica. Two years later he would be performing with the greats in the U.S., including Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Count Basie as he was hired to perform as a pianist at Jilly’s in New York City.

I went back through the Gleaner archives and found the first mention of Alexander’s performance in the Sunday Gleaner, December 10, 1961 which was a review from a jazz “jam session” upstairs at the Regal Theater, presented by the Skyline Club on the previous Monday. “There were some more top drawer moments. These came when the personnel was augmented with Carlos Malcolm, trombone; Monty Alexander, piano; Jackie Willacy, trumpet; Sonny Bradshaw trumpet; Jasper Adams, alto; Ansel Johnson, bass; Lennie Hibbert, drums; and Karl McLeod, drums. They ran through four numbers which included “Moanin,” “Walking,” and two originals by Malcolm. It was an exhilarating set that offered spirited solos by Alexander, a young pianist with a lot of up and come, Carlos Malcolm and Jackie Willacy.”

To learn a bit more about Monty Alexander, why not hear it from the man himself as fellow skamrade and author Charles Benoit interview him for the blog Reggae Steady Ska a few months ago: and have a listen to some of Monty Alexander’s music as well and watch him play in this fine jazz clip: Monty Alexander. This is a favorite of mine: Monty Alexander Africa Unite and here he is with Ernest Ranglin performing the classic Abyssinians song, Satta Massagana: Monty and Ernest–Satta Massagana.

First Lady of Song–Hortense Ellis

The lovely and talented Hortense Ellis

The lovely and talented Hortense Ellis

If ever there was a talent worthy of recognition that hasn’t had an ounce of it, it’s Hortense Ellis. This is why I feature Hortense Ellis on the cover and devote a lengthy chapter to her in my book Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music which has just been released and is available at I hope you will check it out, as there are dozens of women featured prominently in this book, which was a labor of love for the past two years.

But on to Hortense Ellis. The following are excerpts from this chapter in my book–a chapter I call, “The First Lady of Song.”

“I’m the very first female singer in Jamaica. I’ve been through the R&B, rocksteady, and ska eras. When I began my singing career, there was no Marcia, no Rita, no Judith, there were only singers like Totlyn Jackson and Sheila Rickards, and they were jazz and cabaret singers. I was the first, whose voice was heard on the radio all over the island,” said Hortense Ellis to Jamaica Gleaner reporter Claude Mills in 1997 just three years before her death. She was born on April 18, 1941 in Trench Town. Owen “Blakka” Ellis, Jamaican comedian and Hortense’s nephew remembers, “I lived on first street with my mother’s family but I’d visit my dad who lived on third street.” His dad was Leslie Ellis, Hortense’s brother. There were also Alton Ellis, the successful vocalist; Irving; Mertlyn; Lilieth, who went by the nickname Cherry; Veronica; and Hortense, who went by the nickname Tiny. Their father, Percival, was a railroad worker, and mother, Beatrice, ran a fruit stall. “It was a musical family, but more of a musical community than household,” says Blakka. “Trench Town was designed with very small houses so everything spilled out into the yard and onto the streets. And Hortense was not so much a singer in those times but was more a comedian. She would be going wonderful spectacles imitating people, doing a belly dance, more a humorist than a singer in the early days. Yes.”

When Hortense turned 18, she decided to try her hand at showbiz, not as a comedian, although there would have been room for that in Jamaica’s pantomime and variety show venues, but as the singer we know and love. She got her start through the same means as so many other great musicians and artists, the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. Blakka says, “She won Vere Johns. It was like a monthly competition and she won one month and Alton won another month, then she won the grand finals over him.” The song that Hortense Ellis wowed the crowds with in 1959, the same crowd that cheered her on the loudest to win her the championship, was “I’m Not Saying No At All,” by Frankie Lymon, and according to writer David Katz, it was Alton Ellis who chose the song for her to sing. She continued to compete at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour and racked up six semi-finals and four finals. “I used to perform at the Majestic Palace, Ambassador, and Odeon Theatres in the 50s at the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour, but I began singing professionally in 1961,” she said.

Before she recorded a single tune, Hortense had her first child, Christel, in 1960, but she was already singing on the stages of Kingston. “She had me in 1960 and she told me she sang Saturday night and she had me the next morning at five o’clock. She was 19 when she had me,” Christel says. Then in 1961, Hortense Ellis recorded her first three songs for Coxsone Dodd on his Worldisc label—“Eddie My Love” and “Loving Girl” billed as Hortense Ellis and the Blues Blasters, and “All By Ourselves (All By Myself)” billed as Lascelles Perkins and Hortense Ellis. It was her ability that made her desirable. “She had a massive massive range, a very very high pitch and she could come down to a deep baritone,” Blakka says. Christel says, “She was a beautiful singer. Anybody I tell Hortense Ellis was my mother, they say, ‘That girl could sing!’ I remember one time she got an award, the First Lady of Song.” That award, given by the Jamaica Star, came in 1964, but she had been using the moniker on her advertisements a year earlier while performing at the State Theatre with the Mercuries.

You can read more about the life of Hortense Ellis in Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, including her struggles of balancing a career and being a mother–she gave birth to nine children (eight girls and one boy)! Hortense Ellis died on October 1, 2000 of a lung ailment from years of smoking. Her funeral was held on November 9, 2000 at the Andrew’s Seventh Day Adventist Church on Hope Road in Kingston. Bunny and Scully, Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole and Alton Ellis gave musical tributes at the service and Desmond Young, president of the Jamaica Federation of Musicians, Marcia Griffiths, and Derrick Morgan were in attendance along with dozens of others. Her legacy lives on in her music and in the spirit of Jamaica.

Enjoy my favorite Hortense Ellis song, “Woman of the Ghetto,” a remake of the Marlena Shaw tune produced by the brilliant Clive Chin.

Jerry Dammers pays tribute to Spaceape

Ghost Town is by far my favorite 2Tone song. Here, at 4:20 in the Youtube video, Spaceape, who passed away yesterday, performs the song in a way that brings extra poignancy and significance to the poetics of the lyrics. Rico is on trombone. That is all.

Skanking Models Part Deux

When I first started Foundation Ska over a year ago (my how time flies when you’re talking ska), I wrote about a magazine spread that appeared in the September, 1964 issue of Mademoiselle. Ronnie Nasralla himself told me about this photo shoot since he was directly involved (Ronnie & Jannette, the two dancers who showed the world how to do the ska at the World’s Fair in 1964, and Ronnie who was assigned by Edward Seaga to come up with a brochure of danceable steps for the ska).

At the time that I posted photos of this photo shoot, I only had access to page copies that I obtained from the Harold Washington Library in Chicago and they were less than desirable. First, the shelf copy had pages razored out, so only the first two pages of the shoot were left intact. Second, the microfiche copy was, well, a microfiche copy and the resolution was pretty awful. So, after about two years of searching, I have finally found and obtained an original copy for my collection, and here today I post these beautiful photos for you, to share it with the world in the spirit of Ronnie Nasralla and Eddie Seaga all those years ago.

But first, a little more info. After all, it’s a blog, not flickr.

The September, 1964 issue of Mademoiselle featured a six-page spread of models “doing the ska,” however in June, 1964 Mademoiselle made references to ska being the latest hottest dance craze, as seen below:

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

From Mademoiselle Magazine, June, 1964

Ska was presented by Mademoiselle as hip, posh, “ye-ye,” whatever that is, and they carried this flavor over into the September, 1964 photo spread. The September photos were accompanied by some text that makes the dance, and hence the music, sound like the newest hippest thing. Here are a few excerpts from the text:

“What’s it like in the discotheques these nights? There’s a new dance, the Ska–like the Game, set to music.”

“The Ska-step, Riding the Horse.”

“Where the music goes round and round (on records), where the dance is the thing and the Ska’s the limit, what’s going on. Rowing the beat, one of the characteristic steps.”

“The step–pulling the rope–another subdivision of the Ska.”

“The basic ska and a far-from-basic dress.”

The article from Ronnie Nasralla and Eddie Seaga’s standpoint was a way to further promote Jamaican ska, and therefore Jamaican culture and tourism. The person standing behind the cameraman on all of these shots, teaching these models to skank, is none other than Ronnie Nasralla, he told me himself. Nasralla said they also performed with their troupe of Jamaican ska dancers, including Jannette Phillips when she wasn’t performing at the Peppermint Lounge, and Sheila Khouri Lee, before she became wife of Byron Lee, on American Bandstand and at hotels and clubs all up and down the east coast. Performing music for these stints was Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. The dance, “the Ska,” was nothing like the “skank” during the 2Tone years when the pogo and other forms came into the mix, but it was a dance with “steps” designed to capitalize on the success of similar dances, like the frug, the twist, the watusi and others. You can read an extensive account of these days from Ronnie and Sheila Khouri Lee themselves in my new book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music which is now available here, (shameless plug).

Without further ado, here are the pages of that iconic spread:

mademoiselle1 mademoiselle2 mademoiselle3 mademoiselle4 mademoiselle5 mademoiselle6

The Great Wuga Wuga, Sir Lord Comic

sir lord comic (2)

Sir Lord Comic, whose real name was Percival Wauchope, began as a dancer, a “legs man.” He began toasting for Admiral Deans’ sound system on Maxwell Avenue in 1959.  In Reggae: Deep Roots Music by Howard Johnson and Jim Pines, they explain how Sir Lord Comic got his start at the microphone. “It was Count Machuki from Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat who inspired him to become a deejay. He started following the selector Willy Penny closely and would occasionally play records when Willy Penny wanted to dance. The Christmas of 1959 Willy Penny had drunk too much and the boss of the sound, Mr. Dean asked Sir Lord Comic if he could manage it. He said yes and enthused he went to Spanish Town Road to borrow a mic from a man called Nat King Prof. Nat King Prof lent him a Grampian mic.”

Johnson and Pines say that Sir Lord Comic’s first song was a Len Hope tune called “Hop, Skip, and Jump.”  Sir Lord Comic recalls, “When the tune started into about the fourth groove I says, ‘Breaks!’ and when I say ‘Breaks’ I have all eyes at the amplifier, y’know. And I says, ‘You love the life you live, you live the life you love. This is Lord Comic.’ The night was exciting, very exciting.” Lord Comic’s first toast, he says, was “Now we’ll give you the scene, you got to be real keen. And me no jelly bean. Sir Lord Comic answer his spinning wheel appeal, from his record machine. Stick around, be no clown. See what the boss is puttin’ down.”

One article in the Daily Gleaner on May 1, 1964 advertised Sir Lord Comic’s performance at the Glass Bucket Club, an upscale establishment frequented by tourists, barristers, and the upper crust. It said that Sir Lord Comic would be presented “an authentic sound system taken from western Kingston where the Jamaica Ska was born. Sir Lord Comic will be at the controls with his authentic sound system calls.” Some of his recorded songs include “Ska-ing West,” “The Great Wuga Wuga,” “Rhythm Rebellion,” “Jack of My Trade,” and “Four Seasons of the Year,” among many others.

From the Daily Gleaner, May 1, 1964

From the Daily Gleaner, May 1, 1964


Sir Lord Comic chimed in on ska in a Daily Gleaner article on May 3, 1964 after a group of musicians, including Prince Buster, had tried to launch the sound in the U.S. “Sir Lord Comic of 33 Alexander Road, Whitfield Town, Kingston 13 says: As a local Ska M.C. for 1964, in my opinion Wash Wash is an imitation Ska cooked up by Prince Buster and the Blue Beats. It is not really a Ska done by Jamaicans. It’s some kind of beat they are trying to catch and call it Ska, but where I am concerned about Ska, “Sammy Dead” is the new Ska beat sung by our top artist, Eric Morris, and backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires and for a long time in record releases, “Sammy Dead” is expected to be the first million-disc of Jamaica.”

Check out some of Sir Lord Comic’s toasting and vocalizations:

Audio Clips

Video Clips:

Frankie Bonitto

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Frankie Bonitto, photographed in 1998

Could there be a cooler name than Frankie Bonitto? As I comb through archives of the Daily Gleaner from the 50s and 60s, this name keeps popping up like a bad episode of the Sopranos, so of course I had to find out, just who was this guy? Turns out, Frankie Bonitto was a classical pianist who performed in the big band era, had his own orchestra, and he performed with everyone like Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Tommy McCook, and visiting American artists of high acclaim. He performed mostly live at all of the popular clubs in Kingston, and I was unable to find any recordings, so if anyone knows of any, please do post below.

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, July 26, 1969

Daily Gleaner writer Bob Babcock in his “Around and About” column on March 26, 1967 wrote, “Our good old friend Frankie Bonitto is still holding his own at Kingston’s favourite Flamingo Hotel. I can recall when Frankie and I took a show to Guantanamo Bay alone, with Lord Power, Irene the Sex Queen and a dance troupe. From the reaction of the residents of Guantanamo, Frankie was the Number One.”

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

Ad from the Daily Gleaner, October 19, 1951

In 1998, Frankie Bonitto performed at a tribute held in his honor at the Kingston Hilton called “Ecstasy with Frankie Bonitto: A time to remember.” The tribute concert featured musical performances from jazz singer, Myrna Hague and legendary band leader (and her husband) Sonny’ Bradshaw, along with Boris Gardiner, Ernie Smith, and Ernest Ranglin. The Daily Gleaner article on the tribute stated, “Frankie Bonitto himself will also perform. This gentleman’s music has earned the respect of his peers and also a wider, younger generation of artistes for his unstinted dedication to excellence in a career that spans over 40 years. According to information reaching The Gleaner, Mr. Bonitto has played in most music hall and nightclubs in the island, including, the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper and Bournemouth clubs, among others. Like his peers in the early ’50s and ’60s he came under the influence of Vere Johns Opportunity Hour live shows at the Carib, Tropical, Palace, Gaiety and Ambassador cinemas. Over the years, Mr. Bonitto developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for top local and foreign stars, including ‘Nat’ Cole, Gladys Knight and Harry Belafonte.”

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

From the Daily Gleaner, November 4, 2000

The Gleaner, on Saturday, November 4, 2000, ran an article with the headline, “Frankie Bonitto, musical giant, is dead.” It stated, “ONE OF Jamaica’s musical giants, pianist, Frankie Bonitto, died yesterday at the Kingston Public Hospital. The late musician succumbed to injuries sustained in a car accident on Mountain-View Avenue at about 7 p.m. on Thursday. He was resident pianist at the Hilton Kingston Hotel. The accident occurred on the way to work. He had been playing at that hotel for over two years. Frankie Bonitto was a product of the 1950s when Jamaica’s best musical talents mushroomed. He began playing the piano at a very early age and later received professional tutoring. In the 1950s and 60s he played in the Big Band along with Roy Coburn, Eric Deans , and Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Billy Cook, Carl Masters, Raymond Harper and Donald Jarret. In the 1960’s he was a regular feature, of the music halls around Kingston, including the Glass Bucket, Silver Slipper, The Colony and Bournemouth clubs. In December of 1998, a musical tribute was held at the Hilton Kingston hotel in his honour. Quite a gregarious character, over the years he developed his own style of playing the piano and has provided accompaniment for international stars such as Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Johnny Matthis and Harry Belafonte. He was one of the most revered pianists in Jamaica. Bonitto who lived in East Kingston and was a pivotal figure in that community, was married to Yvonne. His maxim in life was, ‘if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.’ He leaves behind four children.”

Hopeton Lewis Dies, Leaves Legacy

It is with sadness that we report the death of Hopeton Lewis, legendary Jamaican vocalist. He died on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 in his home in Brooklyn. Hopeton was a musical pioneer who ushered in the era of rocksteady with his iconic song, “Take It Easy.” So we devote today’s Foundation Ska blog post to the early days of Mr. Lewis’s career and share a few words about how he shaped Jamaican music.

“Take It Easy” is credited with being the first to employ the rocksteady rhythm, a slower version of the ska beat. The song featured Lynn Taitt on guitar and his band, the Jets on backup. Taitt went on to develop the rocksteady beat in his own repertoire thereafter. The lyrics of this song are a nod to the slower feel of the music. As rocksteady developed, horns began to disappear, although they still feature prominently in Hopeton’s classic hit. “Take It Easy” sold over 10,000 copies and was an instant hit on the charts and stayed there for many weeks.

Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1967

Daily Gleaner, January 8, 1967

In a December 15, 2002 article in the Jamaica Gleaner, the birth of rocksteady is charted with the recording of “Take It Easy.” The article states, “Someone suggested that the band slow it down. ‘And that’s when I could sing within the context of the rhythm. And then I hear Gladdy Anderson who was on piano say, “this one rocksteady, you know. This one a rocksteady.” And that’s when it came into being basically,’ Hopeton Lewis said.”

Daily Gleaner, April 28, 1967

Daily Gleaner, April 28, 1967

Hopeton Lewis was known as the originator of the rocksteady beat, as evidenced by this advertisement in the April 28, 1967 Daily Gleaner. He made his initial appearance in the live music arena, or one of them at least, in December 1966 when he performed as Mr. Hopeton “Sounds and Pressure” Lewis.

Daily Gleaner, December 16, 1966

Daily Gleaner, December 16, 1966

Hopeton Lewis began his career with a group called The Regals and throughout his career he recorded for Studio One, Duke Reid, and Byron Lee’s Dynamic label. He also sang as a vocalist for Byron Lee & the Dragonaires for four years in the 1970s. His hit “Cool Collie,” another slow rocksteady-style tune, was another ground breaker as it used herb as the subject of the song which was especially dangerous in these times. In 1970 he won the Festival Song Competition, Eddie Seaga’s creation, with the song “Boom Shaka Laka.” It was issued on Duke Reid’s eponymous label and referenced “the Lord” as he thanked him for many things including the “birds’ sweet songs,” and it was perhaps a glimpse into Hopeton’s future career as a gospel singer. He founded his own gospel label, Bay City Music, and led his own ministry, Songs 4Life Ministry. Hopeton Lewis will be greatly missed and we thank him for his crucial contribution to Jamaican music.

The Real Rhyging

Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin in the classic movie "The Harder They Come," 1972.

Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin in the classic movie “The Harder They Come,” 1972.

The movie “The Harder They Come,” written and directed by Perry Henzell in 1972, made popular the story of Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin, a fictional character played by Jimmy Cliff which further solidified his iconic status in Jamaican music. Ivan may have been fictional, but was largely based on the real-life Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin who lived from 1924 to 1948. Rhyging, sometimes spelled Rhygin, was born in 1924 in Linstead and through his gunslinger, desperado, rude-boy-on-the-run image, he became a folk hero—the subject of not only Henzell’s movie, but referenced in Miss Lou’s poem “Dead Man,” Bim and Bam’s comedy show “Rhygin’s Ghost,” Bob Marley’s song “Keep On Moving,” and plenty of other lyrical forms that celebrate the working man, the wronged regular guy, the rude boy.

The real Rhyging

The real Rhyging

Here is a four-part series that ran in late 2000 in the Jamaica Gleaner, written by freelancer C. Roy Reynold that reveals the real Rhyging.

C. Roy Reynolds writes in the November 3, 2000 Jamaica Gleaner:
Seldom in the history of Kingston has there been such a time of acute fear and tenor as in early September 1948 when the infamous Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin was shooting his way into legend. He was indeed the city’s first gunman desperado. But before rehashing his exploits as chronicled by The Gleaner, a little explanation is in order.

The word “Rhvging” does not appear to have been a noun as much as an adjective. In fact it was a distant forerunner to the latter-day “irie,” and was used to describe someone or something stylishly out of the ordinary or daring. So the name really meant Ivanhoe Martin who was rhyging.

Like many other killers who were to follow his footsteps, Martin was an escapee from the General Penitentiary. He had escaped by jumping from one of the windows of the prison in early April. He had been serving a five-year term for burglary and larceny; and in spite of an island-wide manhunt he managed to elude the police until that fateful night of August 31 when acting on a tip, the police thought they had at last cornered their man in the Carib Hotel on Regent Street, Hannah Town. According to The Gleaner of September 2, shortly after 10:00 o’clock that Tuesday night a group from the Criminal Investigation Department went to the hotel to make the arrest.

The two detectives, Earle and Lewis, must have been surprised when they were greeted by gunfire which they returned arid the fugitive was seen to fall to the floor. Before they could take cover there was another burst of gunfire.

The fugitive then emerged from the hotel, his two guns blazing away in a scene The Gleaner described as reminiscent of “Chicago gangster days.” Though he managed to escape into a block of tenements bounded by Regent Street, Trinity Lane, Blount Street, and Dumfries Street, police were confident that he would not much longer elude them.

After he had escaped from the hotel wearing only, an underpants and ‘barefooted,’ how far could he get! A bullet also struck an ex-Sergeant Gallimore who had been roused from his bed to give assistance. The three, policemen hit were taken to the Kingston Public Hospital but for Sgt Lewis it was too late.

The police cordoned off the area and continued their search into the morning but the fugitive had eluded them and his reign of terror was just beginning. While the police were pursuing ;their empty hunt the gunman had already taken another victim.

According to reports he had reason to believe that an erst-while friend, Eric Goldson. Had informed on him and he now sought revenge. At about 1:30 a.m. he managed to enter a home at 257 Spanish Town Road where Goldson lived. Goldson’s friend Lucilda Tibby Young answered a knock on the door and was confronted by the gunman. She informed him that his quarry was not there, where upon he is alleged to have declared that, if he couldn’t get Goldson he would get her. He fired a bullet in her chest killing her on the spot.

Now the whole city was in a state of fear and the police intensified their search, especially after they received a letter purportedly written by the desperado in which among other things was a declaration that he “had ten bullets left and would make at least nine of them count.” The letter also declared that “I have made crime history,” and went on to name a number of detectives he intended to kill.

As if to lend credence to the police assertion that he had been hit the letter ended: “I am hurt in the shoulder, and I can’t write anymore. Detective Sgt. Scott of the Half Way Tree police created much apprehension among the police to the extent that one office in the station barracks and alleged that he had been awakened by martin who turned the light on and spoke to him, then turned off the light and disappeared. Speculation was that this was all a dream or a hallucination.
But by then many including the police had come to believe that Martin could do almost anything. He had escaped from the Carib Hotel when police had occupied several of the rooms adjacent to his and according to The Gleaner his daring escape from that secondary storey room was even more dramatic than had been his escape from prison.

Almost- simultaneous with the alleged letter from him to the police was a phone call purported to have come from him. In that call made to the Espeut Avenue home of a Government minister Martin was said to have threatened the life of both him and then Chief Minister Alexander Bustamante.

Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1948

Daily Gleaner, September 5, 1948

ON SEPTEMBER 9, 1948 the beleaguered police thought they might have their man at last, (it wasn’t due to any direct action by them but by then they would welcome assistance from any source. Rumour ran through the city that the dreaded Rhyging’s body had been found in Hunt’s Bay. Dead or alive it wouldn’t have mattered and for a police force which had faced off with the fugitive before and come up short, dead would have been a more welcome state.

But, as The Gleaner of September 10 reported “Upon discovery of the body sub-inspector H.M. Wellington and CID fingerprint experts rushed to the scene took fingerprints and comparing them with those of the wanted man found that the dead man was not the two-gun killer for whom the police and volunteer vigilantes have been looking for since last week, Tuesday. Thus while height and other physical features of the body matched the dreaded Rhyging James Baker of 170 Spanish Town Road had not found the body of Rhyging as was so fervently hoped for.” Whatever Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin might have been, he also seemed to have been a man of letters, and be used the medium to give his alleged side of the story.

On September 12 The Gleaner published the contents of a letter supposedly sent in by him. The letter was addressed to The Gleaner Office, Kingston. That letter contained a chilling warning for several people including Eric “Mosspan” Goldson who Martin alleged had betrayed him to the police; Detective Sgt. R.L Scott Selvin Maxwell and a photographer named Brown who was alleged to have furnished the police with a picture of the fugitive.

The letter said. ‘Sir, I have all kin’ of statement in your paper. I just seek to let the public know what has taken place on 31.7.48. I went to the hotel. I reached there 920. At around 10 I saw a flashlight from the other room over the gablin. I called out who is that and the answer was the sound of a gun. I called again. Another shot was fired, still no answer. I then know what has happened. I decided to make a dash. I ran to the door with my pistol in my hand. I did not even have time to reach for my close [sic.]. I looked outside. I heard the sound of another shot- I see the men mean to make the end of me tonight, but I intend to carry someone with me. At that time I only had five shots with me. I can’t say which hand but I took them out of my pocket and put them away. I put myself outside. I was hit on my right shoulder. That did not mike much. I made my way for the airway. Reaching there I saw a lot of people. I just could not say if they were men or women ([Gleaner]Editor’s note: Some of the detectives present at the Carib Hotel had been dressed as women). One shot fired from the crowd struck the gun butt of my gun. I fired back.’

The letter went on to give the details of the escape. The letter was judged to have been authentic, either written by Rhyging himself or by someone under his dictation since it included details that were not hitherto made public. But though police followed up this and many other spurious letters the situation settled into what The Gleaner of September 6 had called “a war of attrition.”

That war was to continue into the month of October. The fear might not have subsided but press coverage of the extraordinary police effort faded from the day to day news for the rest of September and into the first week of October 1948. Then on October 8 The Gleaner carried the story of how the fugitive barely escaped the police at the Ferry River swamp. He had been tipped off, the story alleged by “tree top lookouts.”

The story said: “Ivanhoe “Rhyging” Martin, two-gun killer at large for six weeks now flashed back into the news yesterday morning when he barely squeezed through a police cordon which was closing in on him in the treacherous, swampy lands that abound the Ferry River on the road to Spanish Town. When the police reached his lair they found only his provisions and camping gear. He had fled. The desperado escaped in the nick of time, but all through the vigilance of one of his team of spies who was believed to have passed the word around while the police operation was in progress… A man named Clarke and woman have been detained by the police.”


Daily Gleaner, 1948

Daily Gleaner, 1948

From the December 4, 2000 Gleaner, C. Roy Reynold writes:
NEVER HAD the security forces been under such pressure. Never had they been so frustrated in their effort as that first week in September 1948 when the diminutive Ivanhose “Rhyging” Martin held the people of Kingston in fear and terror.

As sighting after sighting in almost every area of the city failed to yield positive result by police checkout the legend of his seeming ability to appear and disappear at will mounted. He now appeared possessed not only of a murderous malevolence but of supernatural powers.

Among the claims being made to the police was that now instead of a bicycle he was going around in an Austin car. The implication was that nobody in the city was therefore beyond his reach.

According to The Gleaner of September 6 he ‘skulked’ underground most of yesterday. “But he hardly seemed to have been “skulking” by other accounts. Other reports put him in the Tower Street/Fleet Street area wearing ‘iron blue’ trousers, shirt, a black felt hat and a shoes.” And “in a motorcar attended by four women”.

Another story put him in West Kingston and in a 1937 Ford car without licence plates. But frenzied scramble after frenzied scramble by the police turned up nothing.

Suspicious characters
An idea of the mood of the population can be gleaned from a paragraph in The Gleaner of September 6: “Yesterday householders kept round-the-clock watch for all suspicious characters. Telephones in city stations jangled unceasingly as many leads were turned in, some false, some well-meaning. But bypassing no calls police fanned out east and west to Mountain View Gardens, Denham Town and Jones Town. Carloads of detectives and constables combed the crime-haunted west end all of last night slipping through the maze of mean streets and cactus-lined lanes where the gun-mad killer might be hiding out.”

As the magnitude and intensity of the police effort rose they were hard put to find enough vehicles and private citizens tried to meet the deficiency by loaning their cars to the lawmen.

In one operation some 300 policemen cordoned off Springfield Gardens in eastern Kingston while water police craft patrolled the adjacent water. But no Rhyging.

According to The Gleaner, “Another report is that the ever-spitting 5’5″ slayer visited the vicinity of the home of Detective Sergeant Scott on Friday night. Martin is purported to have threatened the life of the officer in a letter received by the police. He did not attempt to enter the house.” The terror quotient had been ratcheted up still further!

Citizens who could, armed themselves and The Gleaner reported that “armoury stores have been broken out and brand new Webley revolvers issued to most of the rifle-armed constables. All leave passes have been cancelled and all stations alerted”.

But apparently Rhyging was not the only threat to the citizens of Kingston at that time. A city clerk travelling on the Stony Hill Road reported having encountered another gunman, but managed to disarm him and took the weapon to the police. Even more ominous was a Gleaner story of September 8 headed: “Underworld Shelters Rhyging, Police Hampered”.

Criminal elements
According to this report the 200 pounds reward offered had brought no result and “the whisper went the rounds in Kingston’s west end yesterday that criminal elements of the city’s population had declared war against the police and were actively aiding the two-gun killer in evading the police.”

Acting on this assumption there was a police round-up of several suspects who were taken in for questioning. Then, as now, the police was reported to have had no co-operation.

All day on September 7 the police were kept hopping from spot to spot as they followed up tips.

But if the fugitive had been lying low the reports did not reflect this. The sporty little man was reported to have been visiting several places of entertainment, including a movie theatre. Some of the sightings were remarkably detailed. For instance he was said to have been sighted along Waltham Park Road one early morning, standing by a shiny chrome-plated bicycle at which time he had been spoken to by a friend of his who was supposed to have told him: “Keep it up Rhyging. Don’t let them catch you.”

Then as now gun crime in Jamaica seemed to have had an American connection. Reports carried by The Gleaner said that since escaping prison Rhyging had been in the habit of emerging from hiding at night and only coming out in the mornings to buy a Gleaner and at times an American detective magazine “and reading up on police and crime methods in the United States.”

Piece by piece the police were building a personality profile of the dreaded ex-blacksmith little terror. But finding him seemed impossible.


On December 7, 2000, C.. Roy Reynolds continued:
AS SEEN in the last instalment, on October 7, 1948 the police again failed in their attempt to apprehend the escaped criminal Ivanhoe ‘Rhyging’ Martin, in the Ferry swamp where he and a few cronies had taken shelter. A Gleaner report the following day said the fugitives had been warned by a lookout in time to make their escape before the police moved in. The story suggested that Rhyging and company had made it out of the swamp and into the hills in the Ferry-Caymanas area, where they first took refuge in a cave and eventually made their way through the Red Hills area, to Molynes and finally to Greenwich Town.

Then the story took a strange twist, according to The Gleaner, and especially in the light of today’s police attitude… The police, it said, had been observing Rhyging on the night of October 9 in the vicinity of the Greenwich Town bridge, together with a character the newspaper identified only as “The Gleaner’s special photographer-reporter undercover man”.

The story went on: “No attempt was made to hold Rhyging then as the police were under instructions to the effect that Rhyging must be caught but no other person was to be killed or injured. It was dark also and it is difficult to capture a dangerous criminal in the dark.”

Intelligence reports said that Rhyging would have been taken to a cay outside Kingston harbour and from there attempt to board a boat which would take him out of the island or to someplace on the south-western coast of the island. But the police now had a clear drop on their quarry, and as we have already seen the next morning it was all over.

Before the body was buried in a plain pine wood coffin in a pauper’s lot in May Pen cemetery people besieged the mortuary in a bid to get a last look at one who must have been Jamaica’s most resourceful violent criminal. Among those blamed for his downfall was Eric “Mosspan” Goldson. According to The Gleaner, Goldson insisted that he wanted to see him dead, no doubt to satisfy himself that the police had got the right man and he was no longer in danger. The report said that after seeing the body Goldson remarked: “The race is not for the swift. Rhyging you gone at last!”

Then a small detachment consisting of two constables: R.A. Lindo and V.C. Morrison, undertaker Madden and his assistants set off for the cemetery with their grim cargo. To head off the vast crowd at the cemetery the party announced that they were heading for Spanish Town with the body. The body, clad in the same clothes in which he had been killed, was quickly interred without benefit of ceremony and with only a number to mark the spot.

Later, giving his account of the last hours of the chase the so-called “Undercover Gleaner Photographer-Reporter” said that after escaping from the police at Ferry they had crossed the Spanish Town Road into the hills above from which they were able to rest and observe the police activities. They made their way back to Kingston to Cockburn Pen where they separated with Rhyging going in search of a new hideout.

According to this account Rhyging’s friends managed to secure a canoe called “Gloria Again” to take him to the cay. “The boat was drawn up two chains west of East Avenue, Greenwich Town, but on arriving at the beach Rhyging had the boat removed to face East Avenue so that he could see up the street. Rhyging was undecided whether he should take the trip as he thought it would have been difficult for two men to row so far. He remained at the spot for some time not knowing that four pairs of eyes were focused on him.”

In the aftermath of the grim finale, the question on everybody’s lips was, who was Rhyging, this little man who had mocked the efforts of the entire police establishment for so long and who had either coerced or inspired so much loyalty from his friends. Was he truly “rhyging” in terms of the meaning of the word or just an over-dramatised character? The Gleaner would try to answer these queries.


Jazz in Jamaica from Sonny Bradshaw

sonny bradshaw


Sonny Bradshaw, the “Godfather of Jamaican Jazz,” wrote an article before he died in 2009 titled “Black History All Jazzed Up.” It ran in the Jamaica Gleaner during Black History Month, on February 10, 2008. Because Sonny lived through so much Jamaican music history, I reprint his words of gold here:

JAZZ-CLASSICAL black music – once taboo in Jamaica and referred to as ‘devil music’ by the churches, was not to be played on Sundays.
We had the popular music of North America and Europe played by what were called road bands in dancing halls like PORA (Prison Officers Relief Association) on Laws Street, The Jamaica Success Club (63 Upper Wildman Street), the Jubilee Tile Gardens (Upper King Street), the Forrestors Hall (North Street), the Progressive Lawns (North & Church Streets) and later Bartleys Silver City on East Queen Street, all in what is now called downtown Kingston.

But things and times changed along the way and the same churches were having fund-raising functions using the music of the day, ‘a little jazz’, now getting respectable, handed down from the North – those same slave-oriented sounds coming out of the brothels in the Caribbean Port of New Orleans in the USA.

The black music was getting white and the technology afforded more widespread dissemination and popularity in the ‘black’ neighbourhoods on the US mainland and in islands like Jamaica.

But we in Jamaica, land we love, are a different lot in many ways, culturally and otherwise. So much later and lots of water under the bridge, when the farm work project started, people like jazzman Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd spent a lot of his cotton-picking earnings to bring back records (78 rpms) of the music from Florida with the distinctive blues as well as rhythm and blues sounds to play on his box, called a sound system.

In time, these sound systems moved from their local surroundings of Pound Road (now called Maxfield Avenue) and South Race Course (home of Lord Koos) and eventually took over the dancing halls everywhere – and not just in Kingston.
The sound systems began substituting for road bands as they could play very long hours (without tiring) and the music was for both dancing and listening, as they played what could be called jazz and blues (what a term!).

The jazz part really got respectable when bandleader Milton McPherson promoted a two-night concert at The Ward Theatre called Fashions In Jazz (I can’t remember the year). But what gave jazz an extended popular music life was the series of Jazz Concerts – Carnegie Hall Style also at The Ward Theatre, devised by me and piano player civil servant land surveyor, Lloyd Adams. We kept up this series from 1954-58 with no foreign act, just Jamaican musicians and artistes.

It can be remembered that on the day of the first concert of the series only one ticket was booked, that by jazz lover Dudley Ball, but at showtime the 900-seat Ward Theatre was bursting at its seams, including the fowl coop gallery.

Jazz, the classical black music, was at the top of its game, later being included in Stephen & Dorothy Hill’s Celebrity Concert Series which first brought mostly white classical music. But later came international acts like the legendary Louis Armstrong, fantastic piano virtuoso young Oscar Peterson, breathtaking jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, a new (at the time) sensation, jazz singer Carmen McRae, who reportedly has Jamaican roots and the top of the modern jazz singers, the Divine Sarah Vaughan. These top acts could not be accommodated at The Ward Theatre alone, so the new Russell Graham ran 1900-seater Carib Theatre and even the open air Tropical Theatre on Slipe Road had to be pulled in to satisfy the jazz audiences of the day.

Underneath the music goings-on in North America, ‘the jazz’ as a dancing music was being undermined by the new young set of musicians of bebop as more so listening music (as Perkins would say, for the thinking persons) while in Jamaica a cultural sleeping giant was aroused with the advent of a second radio station, the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC).

Disbanding lofty ideas of a studio orchestra, arranger Carlos Malcolm and I were delegated to stay on board, thus promoting Jamaican music on air through the vehicle TADP (Teenage Dance Party), and the Jamaican Hit Parade Top 30 (popular music) from the stage of The Regal Theatre weekly.

The Jamaican recording industry got a real push, having more people being aware of the new cultural music, ska, rocksteady and reggae, on their doorstep. Our early ‘record producers’ also discovered that they could make money not just from royalties (they didn’t pay the artistes)
but also revenues from ‘publishing’ piling up in the outside world.

Jazz, the classical black music in Jamaica had lost ground and struggles today to stay in its rightful place through the dedication of the handful of musicians who do make their living from live music.

But jazz is taking another beating from persons and organisations, not excluding the church, that promote anything under the name of ‘jazz’ to make what Eric Coverley had described as ‘filthy lucre’, carrying the great masses along with the misleading idea of what this classical black music is. The Caribbean area is fraught with these jazz festivals that are made up of programmes of the popular music of the time of day, and any non-jazz megastar like the US$300,000 troubled Ms. Diana Ross, who recently visited Jamaica in our tourist city, Montego Bay, home of the past Reggae Sunsplash and current Reggae Sumfest.

With Black History Month at hand, it is hoped that the jazz renaissance will be assisted by the series of jazz & blues films being shown through the efforts of The United States: Embassy Public Affairs Division at RedBones the Blues Cafe throughout the month and also that other presentations will reflect, the true meaning of jazz, the black classical music that started its upward climb from the Caribbean port of New Orleans.