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Jamaican Rocksteady
5 Rocksteady Artists For A Groovy Sunday Afternoon

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Jamaican RocksteadyJamaican Rocksteady

by Venesha Johnson | Associate Writer

Music is a big part of who we are as Jamaicans. Iโ€™m sure you have heard about Reggae and or dancehall (or both), but before they came along, we had rocksteady.

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Rocksteady spent a short time at the peak of the musical pinnacle in Jamaica but, what an impact it had in merely two years.

Rocksteady can be traced back to the diverse musical landscape of 1960s Jamaica. Influenced by jazz, R&B, and Caribbean rhythms, a generation of musicians began experimenting with a slower tempo, departing from the frenetic pace of ska.

It drew inspiration from genres like mento, calypso, and US soul artists such as Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, and Bob Andy pioneered the soulful sounds that would define rocksteady.

Rocksteady's hallmark was its slower tempo compared to ska, allowing for a deeper exploration of musical intricacies. Bass lines took on a prominent role, with bass players delving into fat, dark tones that resonated with a newfound sense of groove.

Guitar and piano players experimented with accents, adding layers of complexity to the rhythm. The muted picking style, popularized by Lynn Taitt, became synonymous with the genre, with lead guitars often mirroring the bass lines.

While love ballads were prevalent in rocksteady, the genre (like most Jamaican music genres) also tackled a range of social issues. Songs reflected the realities of life in the ghetto, from the rise of the "rude boy" subculture to themes of religion and black consciousness.

Artists like Prince Buster and the Techniques used their music as a platform to address the complexities of Jamaican society, shedding light on both the struggles and resilience of marginalized communities.

Key Figures and Contributions

At the heart of rocksteady's success are key figures such as producer Duke Reid and musicians like Jackie Mittoo and Tommy McCook. You canโ€™t think of Reisโ€™s Treasure Isle label without immediately thinking of Rocksteady.

Reid's Treasure Isle label became fearless. releasing timeless hits and shaping the vocal sound of rocksteady. Artists like Phyllis Dillon, known as the "Queen of Rocksteady," also left a mark on the genre with their soulful performances, while instrumentalists like Jackie Mittoo and Winston Grennan pushed the boundaries of musical innovation.

5 Notable Rocksteady Artists

Rocksteady, though short-lived, fostered the rise of several iconic Jamaican musicians whose contributions were irremovable from the genre's legacy. Here are five notable rocksteady artists:

  1. Alton Ellis (1938โ€“2008): Renowned for his sweet voice and prolific songwriting, Alton Ellis is often hailed as the "Godfather of Rocksteady." His seminal track, "Rock Steady," not only lent its name to the genre but also encapsulated its soulful essence. Ellis's career extended beyond rocksteady into reggae, where he continued to influence the global music scene with his distinctive style.

  2. Lynn Taitt (1934โ€“2010): Guitarist and bandleader Lynn Taitt is credited with the innovation of slowing down ska to create the smooth grooves of rocksteady. His band's work on tracks like "Tougher Than Tough" by Derrick Morgan exemplifies Taitt's role as a pioneer in shaping the genre's musical landscape.

  3. Delroy Wilson (1948โ€“1995): A prodigious talent from a young age, Delroy Wilson rose to prominence with his soulful vocals and infectious energy. His rendition of "Dancing Mood" stands as one of the earliest rocksteady recordings, showcasing Wilson's ability to captivate audiences with his dynamic performances. Wilson's collaborations with the Wailers further solidified his status as a rocksteady luminary.

  4. Phyllis Dillon (1944โ€“2004): Revered as "the queen of rocksteady," Phyllis Dillon's interpretations of American folk-pop songs infused the genre with a newfound elegance and sophistication. Her renditions of classics like "Perfidia" and "Picture on the Wall" became enduring anthems of the rocksteady era, showcasing Dillon's remarkable vocal prowess and emotive delivery.

  5. The Techniques: Led by Winston Riley, the Techniques emerged as a powerhouse of vocal rocksteady, captivating audiences with their harmonious melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Comprising talents like Franklyn White, Frederick Waite, and Slim Smith, the group produced timeless hits such as "Queen Majesty" and "It's You I Love," cementing their legacy as one of Rocksteady's most beloved acts.

These five artists, each with their unique contributions and musical stylings, played an instrumental role in shaping the sound and spirit of rocksteady.

Although its reign was brief, rocksteady's influence on our music culture cannot be overstated. As the 1960s drew to a close, the genre paved the way for the emergence of reggae, as artists began to experiment with new sounds and styles.

The migration of key musicians and advancements in studio technology further propelled this evolution, marking a shift towards a more complex and aggressive sound. Read more about the music genres that came before reggae here.

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References & Sources For Jamaican Rocksteady

  1. Origins of rocksteady (no date a) Available at: (Accessed: 07 March 2024).
  2. Origins of rocksteady (no date b) Available at:,the%20offbeats%20of%20the%20measure (Accessed: 07 March 2024).
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