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MR. ROCKSTEADY : ALTON ELLIS!

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL—-

 Alton Ellis —

 

IF Sam Cooke is the doyen of soul singers, Alton Ellis is reggae’s equivalent. The music’s best vocalists have pointed to this rocksteady colossus as a major influence.

Like Cooke, Ellis set the standard during the 1960’s. Unlike his American counterpart, he did not have the luxury of recording in ‘proper’ studios or making thousands of dollars from his hit songs.

In a 2004 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Ellis summed up his career in 1969.

“I was making all these hits for all these different producers an’ still live inna one bedroom inna Trench Town,” he said.

Those challenges forced him to leave Jamaica for Canada, then the United Kingdom. It was not until the 1990’s when there was a rocksteady revival in Jamaica that a new generation of fans discovered his greatness.

Alton Ellis - "Girl I've Got A Date"

Alton Ellis – “Girl I’ve Got A Date”

Many of Ellis’s songs, including You Make Me So Very Happy and I’m Just A Guy, are covers, but his songwriting was up to par. Dancecrasher, Cry Tough, and Lord Deliver Us perfectly captured the rude boy scene and woes of ghetto life he experienced in 1960’s Trench Town.

While Ellis settled in the UK during the 1970’s, a new wave of reggae singers hailed him. Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor and Sugar Minott are just some of the artists he influenced.

AltonEllis2

Alton Ellis ‘made’ the US pop chart in 2004 when Sean Paul and Sasha covered his I’m Still In Love With You. That year, he was given the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to Jamaican music.

He died from cancer, in London, in 2008.

 

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