Tag Archives: John Holt

Sly & Robbie meet The Paragons in dub

81yanrP5-0L._SL1500_Island Records did something strange last year. They reissued the album Sly & Robbie Meet The Paragons adding another ten tracks, of which nine are previously unreleased dub versions. But on the album sleeve they don’t mention anything about these added tracks. It looks like the original set from 1981.

They should of course have marketed this treasure chest much harder. I mean unreleased dub mixes of Sly & Robbie rhythms mixed by Steven Stanley in the early 80s. That’s pure dynamite. The dub album could easily have been a single album. Or better – a double vinyl album with one vocal set and one dub counterpart. Unfortunately Island didn’t do it that way. They released a CD and digital version with the added tracks while the vinyl only comes with the ten original cuts.

Flaws aside, this is a superb album remastered to perfection. When it was originally released in 1981 it marked the reunion of one of Jamaica’s premier vocal groups and harmony trios. They were led by the late John Holt, who is the essence of smoothness, and on this set they teamed up with Sly & Robbie to re-record some of their greatest tracks in an early dancehall fashion. Included are melancholic and uplifting masterpieces like On the Beach, My Best Girl, Riding On a High and Windy Day, Man Next Door and The Tide is High, which was successfully covered by both Blondie and Atomic Kitten.

Every track on this set is excellent and same goes for the dub versions, which showcases both Steven Stanley’s mixing skills and the strength of Sly & Robbie’s rhythms. Cuts like Riding the Rhythm, with its haunting bass line, Wear Out the Dub, with its picking guitar and hint of vocals, and Indiana James, with its eerie synths, are pure genius. Indiana James is actually the only dub version that has been previously available. It was featured on Sly & Robbie’s Raiders of the Lost Dub released in the early 80s.

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Memories by the Score shows several sides of John Holt

untitledIn 2014 one of reggae’s most beloved and enduring singers and songwriters left us. In August that year John Holt collapsed on stage during a show and two months later he succumbed to cancer. His musical legacy is vivid and almost difficult to grasp. But reggae powerhouse VP has decided to give it a try on the massive John Holt anthology Memories by the Score, a set collecting 100 (!) songs across five CDs.

John Holt came up via the Jamaican talent circuit in the late 50s and early 60s still in his teens. He soon joined The Paragons – an outfit that became almost the epitome of rocksteady – and together with his bandmates Howard Barrett and Tyrone Evans, John Holt enjoyed massive success with timeless classics like Happy Go Lucky Girl, Only a Smile and The Tide is High, all recorded with rocksteady mastermind Duke Reid.

The Paragons split in the late 60s when Howard Barrett and Tyrone Evans relocated to the U.S. Now John Holt started a long and fruitful career as one of Jamaica’s premiere balladeers with many sultry, often orchestral, love songs. He was an expert at covers – especially interpreting romantic songs – and skilled at penning three minute pop masterpieces. He was also recording lovers rock before the term was even coined. Never saucy or risqué. Always charming and positive.

From the early 70s and onwards he freelanced, but always returned to Bunny Lee; an acclaimed producer and a close friend to John Holt. And Memories by the Score is a Bunny Lee affair – which means no lush string arrangements – with Striker producing around 80 of the cuts. Other producers represented are, for example, Phil Pratt with the eerie Strange Things, Hugh “Redman” James with the digital scorcher Why I Care, Henry “Junjo” Lawes with several roots busters, including the immensely popular Police in Helicopter, and the monumental self-productions Got to Get Away, aka Man Next Door, and Left With a Broken Heart.

Over the years John Holt was blamed for recording bland music. Middle of the road stuff targeted at housewives. And there are some truth to that. But I can’t think of any singer or group that have produced albums praised by critics and fans alike for five decades. Every artist has his or hers poorer moments, just as John Holt had on an album like John Holt Goes Disco.

I’m not a huge fan of John Holt’s most sugarcoated side and his velvety covers, but those albums – like 1000 Volts of Holt – and singles – such as the Kris Kristofferson cover Help Me Make it Through the Night – sold like hotcakes in the 70s.

But John Holt wasn’t just the Luther Vandross of reggae. He had several sides and managed to reinvent himself two times. First time was in the mid-70s with the militant Up Park Camp and then again in the early 80s when he suddenly became a cultural warrior working with dancehall renegade Henry Lawes.

During his long career John Holt worked with almost every prolific Jamaican producer – Coxsone Dodd, Alvin Ranglin, Harry Mudie, Prince Buster, Leslie Kong, King Jammy etc – and his own compositions were also covered successfully by other artists. UK punk band The Slits enjoyed a chart triumph with their version of Quiet Place and Blondie conquered the charts in both the U.S. and the UK with their interpretation of The Tide is High. And in the year 2000 – 20 years after Blondie’s version – Atomic Kitten’s cover of The Tide is High climbed to the number one spot on the UK National Chart.

Memories by the Score isn’t the ultimate John Holt experience since it lacks tracks from a few important parts of his career. However, it certainly has enough striking cuts to make it the best John Holt collection on the market as well as a solid overview of how reggae developed from the 60s up until the late 80s.

In 2004 John Holt was well-deservedly awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his contribution to Jamaican music. He has been one of only a few Jamaican artists that have enjoyed lasting success for over five decades and with his timeless music John Holt’s legacy will forever live on.

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Yet another sophisticated set from Adele Harley

adeleharleytimeless250When looking at the cover sleeve of British-born singer and songwriter Adele Harley’s second album Timeless it doesn’t tell you anything about its content. The sleeve is suitable for almost any genre.

Timeless is however reggae, the lovers rock kind. And just as with her debut album album Come into My Life she has again collaborated with acclaimed riddim duo Mafia & Fluxy.

And together they have crafted a sweet and sophisticated album with a mix of popular covers and timeless originals. It also featured legendary sax man Dean Fraser and a combination with the late John Holt.

It’s a mature album and Adele Harley certainly has a sweet and beautiful voice tailor-made for slick lovers rock, but Timeless also glances at ska, Rose Garden, and sweet vintage po, as on Venus.

Timeless is reggae for grown-ups and it definitely has an appropriate title.

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John Holt has died

1970 - On The BeachLegendary Jamaican singer John Holt died yesterday evening in a hospital in London. He was 69 years old and had been ill for some time according to Jamaica-Gleaner.

John Holt was the essence of smoothness and made lovers rock before the genre was invented. He started his career – just as many of his peers – at Studio One and Treasure Isle in the mid-60s. He was one of the founding members of the highly successful vocal trio The Paragons, a trio that made immortal gems like On the Beach, Happy Go Lucky Girl and The Tide if High, later covered by U.S. pop rockers Blondie.

He soon left The Paragons to pursue a solo career and he put out several classics, including A Love I Can Feel and Strange Things. He also dabbled with disco and strings, but later moved on to dancehall. And it was with Henry “Junjo” Lawes he scored one of his biggest hits – Police in Helicopter, taken from the album with the same name.

John Holt continued to tour and perform almost up until the time of his death and he will be greatly missed.

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Fira första advent med reggaetema

Ända sedan reggaens begynnelse har covers varit en vital del av genren. Det har huvudsakligen handlat om covers på kända och okända soul- och RnB-låtar, men även en del Elvis Presley och Bob Dylan.

Ett kapitel för sig är de många julsånger som av någon anledning spelats in av berömda reggaeartister. John Holt och Jacob Miller är några av dem som till och med spelat in hela julplattor.

John Holt gav 1986 ut skivan The Reggae Christmas Hits Album med låtar som White Christmas och Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

1978 kom Jacob Miller med plattan Natty Christmas. Flera av låtarna, exempelvis All I Want For Ismas och On The Twelve Day Of Ismas, är duetter med deejayn Ray I.

Samlingsplattor finns det också gott om. Skivbolaget Studio One firar jul med Christmas Greetings From Studio One och Joe Gibbs önskar god jul med Wish You A Merry Rockers Christmas. Ras Records hälsar julen välkommen med Ras Records Presents A Reggae Christmas. Längst går dock skivbolaget Trojan med boxen Trojan Christmas Box Set, som innehåller hela 50 jullåtar i reggaetappning.

På skivan Yard Style Christmas från 1981 har man varit en smula finurlig med låttitlarna. Barrington Levy & Trinity bjuder på I Saw Mommy Kiss A Dreadlocks och Carlene Davis & Trinity gör Santa Claus Do You Ever Come To The Ghetto.

Det är svårt att föreställa sig julsånger i reggaetappning. Och faktum är att låtarna är mer roliga än bra. Av de reggaejullåtar jag hört är det få som går att lyssna på. Två som är helt okej är The Maytals Happy Christmas (The Christmas Song) och Natty No Santa Claus med Jacob Miller, men ingen av låtarna passar annat än vid jul.

Men för ett reggaefan som nödvändigtvis vill lyssna på julsånger är låtarna ett bra komplement till originalen.

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