Thursday, March 26, 2009

Alton Ellis


O ne of the first vocalists to enter the Jamaican music business, Alton Ellis was generally revered as the greatest and most soulful singer the country ever produced -- that is, until Bob Marley came along.

Ellis had his first hit during the ska craze, but made his true lasting mark as the definitive solo singer of the rocksteady era. Sweet, smooth, and deeply emotive, Ellis was equally at home on Jamaican originals or reggae-fied covers of American R&B hits. He cut a series of ska singles for Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One label, but reached his prime during the mid- to late '60s, when he recorded some of rocksteady's signature tunes for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle imprint.

Ellis was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1944, and grew up in the Trenchtown area as part of a musically inclined family. As a youngster, he learned to sing and play piano, the latter often by breaking into a local youth center to practice by night. In his early teens, he teamed up with another singer, Eddie Perkins, to form the duo Alton & Eddie. In 1959, after winning a prominent talent show, they recorded the single "Muriel," which became a substantial hit in Jamaica. Not long after cutting the follow-up "My Heaven," Perkins left to try a solo career in the United States, leaving Ellis a solo act.Ellis recorded for Dodd's Studio One label during the early '60s, but made little money. Dissatisfied, he moved over to Reid's Treasure Isle in 1965, and formed a backup vocal trio called the Flames (the first incarnation featured his brother Leslie, and membership would fluctuate). Ellis quickly scored a major hit with the antiviolence plea "Dance Crasher," and the following year, he released what was arguably the first rocksteady single, "Get Ready - Rock Steady." Its innovative beat grew out of a session where the scheduled bassist didn't show up, forcing keyboardist Jackie Mittoo to play the bass part himself; Mittoo's left hand couldn't keep up with the frantic ska beat, so he elected to slow down the tempo. The result was a choppier rhythm that wound up allowing the vocalist to stretch out more, and soon the rocksteady sound had taken over Jamaican music, with Ellis leading the charge. He had several other major successes in 1966, including "Cry Tough" and the smash "Girl I've Got a Date," the latter of which became his biggest hit and signature song. He also cut several duets with Phyllis Dillon (making them Jamaica's answer to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell), as well as his sister Hortense Ellis (including a hit cover of Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"). The classic LP Mr. Soul of Jamaica (later reissued on CD as Cry Tough) gathered many of his best Treasure Isle tracks.

By 1968, Ellis had resumed working for Studio One in addition to his output for Treasure Isle, making him one of the few singers to bridge the gap between the two archrivals. Most of his biggest hits of the late '60s came on Studio One, including the American soul cover "Willow Tree," "I'm Just a Guy," and "Sitting in the Park." In 1970, he released the album Sunday Coming, one of his strongest Studio One sets. Ellis later teamed with producer Lloyd Daley for a brief period, which resulted in the more Rastafarian-tinged hits "Lord Deliver Us" and "Back to Africa"; he also worked with Keith Hudson. However, he was still not receiving proper financial compensation for all his success. Disillusioned, he spent some time in the U.S. and Canada, then relocated to England on a mostly permanent basis in 1973.

In England, Ellis established his own Alltone label, which he devoted to both new recordings and compilations of his early classics. The international popularity of Bob Marley and the rise of roots reggae meant that Ellis' considerable legacy was soon overshadowed, but over time, he remained a fondly remembered pioneer of Jamaican music. He made triumphant returns to Jamaica with well-received sets at the Reggae Sunsplash Festival in both 1983 and 1985, and recorded a new single, "Man From Studio One," for Dodd in 1991. Numerous compilations of his work appeared during the CD era, illustrating his stunning consistency.


Blog Archive

KING DJANGO


A seminal force in the American ska & reggae scene, KING DJANGO has made his name internationally as a singer, ragamuffin MC, songwriter, arranger, instrumentalist (trombone, ukulele, harmonica, melodica, etc.), producer, studio engineer and label owner (Stubborn Records).

On his newest album Roots Tonic, Django has enlisted an all-star cast of NYC's finest ska/reggae veterans. The result: twelve crucial roots reggae cuts utilizing tuff original riddims covering a wide range of styles including dark, sultry lovers rock, militant rockers, crisp rub-a-dub deejay, psychedelic dub and even niyabinghi, complex lyrical structures, and combinations with Rocker T and Dr Ring Ding. Musically, Roots Tonic harkens back to the positive, political reggae of the late 70's / early 80's spearheaded by legendary imprints Island, Frontline, Trojan, Heartbeat, On-U Sound and Greensleeves. That was a time when songwriting was key, conscious lyrics reigned supreme and reggae music was live and full of soul & Dancehall was in its infancy and still resembled reggae, unlike its mostly American hip-hop and R&B influences today. So sit back, take a heavy drink -- its 100% organic -- and soak up reggae's energy, strength, and soul with our cure-all: KING DJANGO's Roots Tonic on JUMP UP/Stubborn Records (USA)/Bacteria Buffet Records (Canada)/Ska In The World Records (Japan)!

King Django always keeps busy and always has a surprise or two up his sleeve. Drawing on such diverse influences as roots reggae, dancehall, ska, rock, soul, swing, and American and Yiddish folk music, he has always been a hard man to pigeonhole. His versatility within genres of punk, rhythm & blues, and Jamaican grooves is unmatched, starting early as the singer / trombonist of legendary NYC ska band The Boilers (1986-1988), evolving through reggae/soul/punk/jazz experimentalists Skinnerbox (1989-1998), and achieving mainstream recognition as the founder and leader of traditional ska supergroup Stubborn All-Stars (1994-1999). After the ska revival died down, King Django was able to devote his full energy to solo material: "Roots and Culture" (Triple Crown Records, 1998) combined ska, reggae and traditional klezmer music; while "Reason" (Hellcat / Epitaph, 2001) was an adventurous, eclectic self-produced album of rock deeply grounded in roots-reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, and drum and bass. In late 2003, King Django headed to Switzerland to record King Django Meets The Scrucialists, unleashing twelve brilliant slices of political roots reggae, rockers, dub, lovers rock, ska and dancehall, including two combinations with German ska/dancehall superstar Dr. Ring Ding.

In 2003 and 2004, Django hit the road in support of three releases on three different independent labels. A Single Thread, an 11-year career retrospective, which saw release in three countries (Megalith Records, USA/Ska In The World, Japan/Leech, Switzerland) presents an overview of Django’s range of style and capabilities. In 2003, King Django headed to Europe to record King Django meets the Scrucialists (Jump Up Records, Chicago/Leech, Switzerland). These sessions unleashed the true lyrical genius that has been inside Django all this time. The result was twelve brilliant slices of political roots reggae, rockers, dub, lovers rock, ska and dancehall, including two combinations with German ska/dancehall superstar Dr. Ring DingThe American release also includes two exclusive dancehall versions created with the hottest new riddims coming straight out of Jamaica. Version City Sessions (Asian Man Records, California) showcases Django’s talents as a producer, engineer and remix artist.


King Django has toured internationally many times over as a solo artist, as the leader of Skinnerbox and Stubborn All Stars and as trombonist for Rancid, The Toasters, and legendary New York City hardcore band Murphy's Law.In the studio, he has worked closely with fellow NYC pals the The Slackers and Skadanks and recorded with Tim Armstrong, Lars Fredrickson and Matt Freeman of Rancid and Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on Stubborn All Stars’ Back with A New Batch in 1997 (Triple Crown).

At about the same time, Django began collecting studio equipment and soon the legendary Version City was born. Within months, a steady flow of bands flocked to this NY mecca to create warm Jamaican vibes with Django's knowledge, production and engineering skills.<>

CHRIS MURRAY

Chris Murray is a unique force on today's music scene. As leader of influential Canadian ska group King Apparatus, Chris earned a strong reputation as a dynamic performer and gifted songwriter. Upon the band's breakup, he relocated to Los Angeles, emerging as a solo artist with his debut album The 4-Track Adventures Of Venice Shoreline Chris. This charmingly lo-fi collection of home recordings won high praise for its finely crafted tunes and the raw sincerity of its vintage production.
 

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