Time for some serious reggae legend. John Holt is one of the classics from Jamaica. Holt’s style, notably slower and more romantic than most of his contemporaries, is a recognisable forerunner of the lovers rock sub-genre. If you have read my reggae her/history post you will see that Holt almost passes through all reggae genres: Rocksteady, roots reggae, dub, ragga and lover’s rock.
Even though he made his first production some 50 years ago Mr. Holt is still going strong as can be seen on this 2009 clip:
Not bad for a man who started his career in 1958!
Holt was born in Kingston in 1947. By the age of 12, he was a regular entrant in talent contests run at Jamaican theatres by Vere Johns. He recorded his first single in 1963 with “I Cried a Tear” for record producer Leslie Kong, and also recorded duets with Alton Ellis. He achieved prominence in his home country as lead singer of The Paragons and they cut a succession of singles for Duke Reid at his Treasure Isle Studio and enjoyed a string of hits, including “Ali Baba”, “Tonight”, “I See Your Face”, and the Holt penned “The Tide Is High” . “Wear You To The Ball” was another of his hits with The Paragons, and hit the charts again when U-Roy added a Deejay verse to it. During his time with the Paragons, he also recorded solo material for Studio One (including “Fancy Make-up”, “A Love I Can Feel“, “Let’s Build Our Dreams”, and “OK Fred”) and Prince Buster (“Oh Girl”, and “My Heart Is Gone”).
1960s as part of the group the Paragons
Holt left the Paragons in 1970 and concentrated on his solo career. By the early 1970s, he was one of the biggest stars of reggae, and his “Stick By Me” was the biggest selling Jamaican record of 1972, one of a number of records recorded with producer Bunny Lee.
His 1973 album, Time Is The Master, was successful, with orchestal arrangements recorded in London. The success of the string-laden reggae led to Trojan Records issuing a series of similarly arranged albums produced by Bunny Lee starting with the 1,000 Volts of Holt in 1973, a compilation of Holt’s reggae cover versions of popular hits (and later followed by similarly named releases up to 3,000 Volts of Holt). 1,000 Volts spawned the UK Top 10 hit “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (above info borrowed from w-pedia)
If symphony orchestras are your taste you can listen to that thing here, sounds like Frank Sinatra to me. This part of his career in the 70s he spent in the UK.
Fortunately he did not stick to that style alone and went back to Jamaica in 1976. He lost his grip and turned to disco in 1977 which was a catastrophe in my opinion. Fortunately he turned to the Rastafarian belief and started to let his dreadlocks out. U-Roy, Al Capone and Yellowman did some toasting rub-a-dub dancehall versions of Holt’s classics and the boosted him back into the game again. He had at that time done some reggae cover of music like the country song If I were A carpenter (1982)
This type of pop-reggae was not a big hit and he really surprised people when he finally took the full step into deep roots reggae with the album Police in helicopter which got him out of the british family entertainer role and into a jamaican roots hero:
The jamaican Deejays were taking over the scene and some vocalists (although earlier and later cooperatons with the deejays and toastaers) like dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Keen Boothe and others simply flooded the music scene with vocal reggae (of various quality unfortunately)
Holt then took to the ragga dancehall scene in 1989 with the album Why I Care
After a more militant ragga dancehall this man ventured into R& B, Hip house and you name it co-operations (not always a sucess). He still is a great live artist and have continued to make reggae sunsplash appearances and as you could see in the first video he still has an outstanding vocal capacity.
Some Holt classics: