BBC - The Story of Reggae - Rocksteady

  • Soul based style that slowed the beat right down from ska – you literally rocked, steadily – and it put the emphasis on singing.
  • The Wailers had an act in the Rock Steady era entirely based on Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions, and even copied one of their album sleeves.
  • It’s said that the style was developed in 1966 when the summer in Jamaica was so hot people refused to dance to uptempo music.
  • Aretha had a hit called "Rock Steady" which explains how to do it.
Coxsone Dodd Ken Boothe
Rock Steady
For many, rock steady is the pinnacle of Jamaican music – indeed, so many recent dancehall tunes are built of classic rock steady rhythms from the mid-1960s. The rock steady era followed directly from ska to contrast it in several ways: it slowed the beat down; it was essentially a vocal style; and it was deliberately American as opposed from ska which had worked hard to establish a Jamaican identity. Rock steady was a much cooler, soulful, lovers rock type of music that began life as a means of giving the crowds a bit of a breather and, due to public demand, took over to dominate dancehalls for several years.

The backbone of rock steady was the singers as, after years of ska’s accent on musical virtuosity and general volume level, the Jamaican love of singing could come to the fore. Groups like The Heptones, The Melodians, The Uniques, The Techniques, The Paragons and, of course, The Wailers took their lead from the American soul of The Impressions (who regularly toured Jamaica) and The Drifters to produce a uniquely Jamaican approach to harmonising – the lead constantly swapped within the group. While solo stars such as John Holt, Slim Smith, Bob Andy, Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis all came to prominence with this very melodic style.

The top producers were Leslie Kong (Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, The Melodians), Duke Reid (The Paragons, The Tehniques, Phillis Dillon) and Coxsone Dodd (The Heptones, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson). They altered the sound of Jamaican music forever by introducing the electric bass and building their backing tracks on that and drums. Today, many of those original rock steady backing tracks remain so strong that they form the basis for a wide range of dancehall hits.

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