Ska desperately needed to move on. By the summer of 1966 it had been around
for more than half a decade, and while the songs had grown in sophistication,
the basic rhythm and arrangements hadn't. There was still the defining off-beat
emphasis over a walking bass pattern. The rock steady concept brought the
new idea ska sought.
"The rhythm was experimented with," noted Barrow, "and it was slowed down
because of what was happening with the rude boys in the dancehalls. Roy
Shirley says he made "Hold Them" in 1965. He could have done it as a slow
rhythm, but I don't think it was rock steady. Hopeton Lewis went in
to do a ska tune, "Take It Easy," and he couldn't manage it on the rhythm,
so he said to play it slow. They played it half-speed, and when it was done,
someone said to him,
?That rock steady, man, that's rockin' steady.' And that's
how the name came about. He claims he was before Studio One, Beverley's, everyone
with rock steady (the record was released on Federal)." That's one version of the history, and perhaps more likely than some others.
The advent of rock steady has also been attributed to an extremely hot summer,
which forced all the dancers to move more slowly - to rock, instead of move
wildly - and that was reflected in the new sides appearing. It's also been
said the sound came from musicians' dissatisfaction with the ska beat, and
the search for something new. Whatever the true reason, it was decidedly different
"It broke up the rhythm," explained Barrow. "It had the effect of making
the bass play in clusters, a pattern, rather than a continuous line. The drums
and everything fell in with that. [Guitarist] Lynn Taitt was the guy
who orchestrated that. Not enough people mention him. He was one of the great
unsung heroes of Jamaican music, and he was a Trinidadian."
Inevitably, the new rhythm proved very popular ("Take It Easy" sold 10,000
copies in a single weekend) party because it was new, and also because dancers
didn't have to expend so much energy and could stay on the floor longer.
Whereas Coxsone Dodd and his Studio One label had dominated ska, it now became
Duke Reid's turn in the pole position, as Treasure Isle quickly established
itself as the home of the new sound. He took Alton Ellis from Dodd, to add
to his stable, which included the Paragons and Dobby Dobson,
all backed by a new studio band, the Supersonics, led by Tommy McCook.
After the 1964 breakup of the Skatalites, McCook recalled, "Coxsone formed
the Soul Vendors, and I was asked to lead it. I said I didn't want
to right then, I needed some rest after being under pressure. About a couple
of weeks later I did say okay, and renamed the band the supersonics. All I
had to do was play music and rehearse the band, unlike the Skatalites, where
I'd had to do everything. We had a steady weekly gig, they were playing salaries,
and that made it easier. Then we became a Treasure Isle recording group. A
lot of the pressure was off me, and we were doing pretty good."
Among the vocal groups they backed for Reid were the Techniques,one
of the best of the era. With hits like "Queen Majesty" and "Love Is Not A
Gamble" they were a major force, and a training ground for a number of singers
who'd progress to solo careers, likeSlim Smith andLloyd Parks,who worked with the core of Winston Riley and Frederick Waite.
But the change hadn't edged Prince Buster out of the picture. Having scored
hits himself during the time of ska, as well as being one of its leading producers,
he continued to release material, with "Judge Dread" in particular becoming
huge, its castigation of the Rude boy style triggering a number of like-minded
songs from other artists.
Although ska had flared briefly in England, the flame didn't take full hold
until rock steady hit. After that the music's profile rose sharply, thanks
to two factors - the Trojan record label, which licensed a great deal of Jamaican
product, and an artist who enjoyed a string of hits. The budget-priced Trojan
Tighten Up compilations gave listeners volumes of Jamaican music, and
were vital listening to anyone with any degree of interest. Their sheer cheapness
brought a lot of the curious on board, many of whom proceeded to catch the
bug, and explore the music more deeply. But the person who became the face
of rock steady in the U.K. was Desmond Dekker(born Desmond Dacres).
He'd been a part of Leslie Kong's Beverley stable since 1962, but it wasn't
until 1967 that he scored his first real hit with "007 (Shanty Town)," one
of the many responses to "Judge Dread." In the U.K. the single (issued by
Trojan) went to #12, and began a string of hits for Dekker which would extend
into 1969, by which time Jamaica was already in thrall to reggae.
His biggest song, "Israelites," reached #1 in Britain, Canada, Sweden, West Germany, Holland,
and South Africa, and gave Dekker his only U.S. chart exposure, climbing to
The nascent skinhead movement, an outgrowth of the Mods, lapped up rock
steady, as well as a singles from the cusp as the genre grew into reggae,
like The Pioneers' "Long Shot Kick The Bucket" and the Upsetter'
"Return of Django," to the extent that in England the music became known as
The prime time of the style was brief, at least in Jamaica, however. It ran
from mid-1966 to the close of 1967 when, according to singer Morgan, "we didn't
like the name rock steady, so I tried a different version of "Fat Man" (one
of his early hits). It changed the beat again, it used the organ to creep.
Bunny Lee, the producer, liked that. He created the sound with the
organ and the rhythm guitar. It sounded like ?reggae, reggae' and that name
just took off. Bunny Lee started using the world and soon all the musicians
were saying reggae, reggae, reggae.'"
Again, it's up in the air as to who really invented reggae, although the
first record to bear the name was "Do The Reggae" (or "Reggay") by the Maytals
in 1968. According to historian Barrow, it was producer Clancy Eccleswho coined the term, taking street slang for a loose woman - streggae - and
changing it slightly. The music itself was faster than rock steady, but tighter
and more complex than ska, with obvious debts to both styles, while going
beyond them both.
And like any new music, it had its young guns, in this case producers Lee
Scratch' Perry, and Bunny Lee, and engineer Osborne King Tubby' Ruddock.
Perry had worked for Coxsone Dodd, often surpervising the production work,
without receiving the glory and money which went along with that.
had worked for Duke Reid, and also ran his own sound system, Home Town Hi-Fi.
His background as an electrical engineer meant that his system sported some
unique, home made gadgets, echo in particular, that helped set it apart from