(with Bob Marley, mid.)
It all began with Coxson Dodd's soundsystem in 1950. After working as a plantation
worker in Florida for some time Coxsone earned enough money to buy an amp, speakers
and lots of records which he brought back with him to Jamaica. There he (and his
mother) set up a soundsystem in front of the family's record-shop to promote the
music they were selling and to play up for dances. This proved to be an extraordinary
success, and soon competition came in the person of Duke 'The Trojan' Reid, who set
up a similar soundsystem named 'TREASURE ISLE', and others. Each party sent out guys
to competing sets in order to find out what new records they were playing because the
greatest records drew the biggest crowd. So the DJs started to scratch off the labels
on the records to make them unidentifiable.
As competition grew the demand for new music was immense and soon the playback of
US- imported records alone wasn't enough. When Rock'n'Roll became big in the States
this new style didn't hit off very well in Jamaica, so Coxsone started to produce
music with his own new-found label, STUDIO ONE with an own studio located at
Brentford Road in Kingston. He hired musicians, who usually played in Hotel-Bars to
make a living but weren't really happy with it, to form a fulltime studio band and
worked for him on a regular basis. This band became later known as Sound Dimension or
Brentford Road Allstars and turned out many of THE classic reggae-riddims.
First this band didn't record anything special, just some Blues and R&B stuff
following an US-music pattern to sell records. But in 1962 the idea for SKA came: the
characteristic pronounciation of the offbeat. This driving kind of music was
completely new at that time, also due to the excessive use of percussion, the catchy
guitar riffs or the ever-present horn-section and proved to be a big success in
Jamaica. Bands like the Skatalites, The Wailers, The Gaylads and guys like Roland
Alphonso, Tommy McCook or Cedric 'Im' Brooks (just to name a few) brought out many
classic ska hits and also were the first Jamaican musicians who had some oversea
success in England.
Ska made the uniqueness of Jamaican music knwon in Europe and the States for the
first time and contributed gretaly to something like a national idendity for
Jamaicans after the newly gained independence in 1962.
When the SKATALITES, the most successful Ska-band, split up in 1965 and Ska as an own
music form was ever-present, it was time for a change: ROCKSTEADY came, which is
simply something like low-tempo Ska, but definitely still with an American R&B
feel to it. The bass is more prominent, nice harmony-singing is important, there's
not much use of horns and the allover fashion becomes more laid-back - a thing that
many people identify with reggae.
The records of that time sound actually like a Jamaican version of the 50ies and
starting 60ies US-"oldies" to me - but with the pronounciation already on the
offbeat. Since the tempo is quite slow most of the songs are lovesongs, but with
great sing-along qualities and strange harmonies that simply stick to the ear. Many
rocksteady-tracks are quite cheesy but after some time I caught myself humming one
tune or the other for days despite - or because of - this very 'cheesiness'.
A very good example for this effect present The Paragons, who turned out lots of
(often covered!) Rocksteady-classics on TREASURE ISLE, like "The Tide Is High", "On
The Beach", "Riding On A High And Windy Day" or "Wear You To The Ball".