Reality Time #128 Tribute to Alton Ellis Sunday October 19th
Reggae great and music pioneer Alton Ellis is dead. A legendary member of the international reggae community Alton Ellis came to fame in the late 50’s as a part of the early era duo, Alton and Eddie.
The two recorded for the late Coxsone Dodd on the Studio One imprint recreating a slew of covers and churned out their first hit "Muriel". However the fame was short-lived as the two parted ways when Eddie Perkins migrated to the U.S in the late 50’s.
Originally a dancer, Alton Ellis is reputed to be the first dancer/singer in the Reggae music business. Way before Bogle, John Hype, and the latest sensation Chi-Ching was even born; Alton made the lucrative transition from Dancer to Singer and eventually combined the two to become one of Reggae’s most prolific entertainers.
As the soundscape changed in the 60’s to the slow and simple Rocksteady, Alton took the art to form and made it his own. By the time the groove now known as Rocksteady became radio ready, Alton scored his first hit song with the single "Girl I’ve Got A Date", now considered a classic. Backed by the haunting harmony group "The flames", Ellis continued churning out hits such as "Cry Tough" and the dance warmer "Ready, Rocksteady".
A short lived sub-genre of Reggae music, Rocksteady soon became synonymous with Alton Ellis as he carried the new flavor of music through Europe and the UK in the late 60’s and early 70’s adding fuel to the flame that sparked the UK reggae scene. During this period he released the critically acclaimed debut album "Mr. Soul of Jamaica" cut on the Duke Reid treasure Isle imprint.
But yet, of all his accomplishments it is his most unrecognized achievement that has solidified his place in history. His mid 60’s recording of the "Mad Mad" riddim is one of the most revised riddims in Jamaican music history, and was reborn in the eighties as a catalyst that drove the dancehall music to the frontline of the Jamaican music scene. The riddim is one of the most reused, revised, and remixed in Jamaican music history and has over 100 recordings on the original track alone.
Pioneer Producer, Junjo Lawes is credited with revising the "mad mad" riddim to create the widely popular "Diseases" riddim, which was annealed in history by King Yellowman’s 1982 classic hit "zungazeng", setting the platform for the burgeoning Dancehall sub-genre.
This constant reinterpretation and referencing has made Ellis a major but little-known influence in the trajectory of dancehall, reggae and hip hop.
Like many vintage artists at the time, Alton established a second home in the UK and opened a record store in South London. Throughout the mid 80’s and into the early 90’s Alton toured periodically and made guest appearances at Reggae shows in Europe, UK and the US and premiered the vintage soundscape of reggae in Scandinavia.
But it was the resurgences of the Ska/Rocksteady Live showcase initiated by the Bisasor Brothers with their historic "Rocksteady Roll Call", that pushed Alton Ellis to the forefront of the Jamaican music scene once again. He remained an active member of the touring music scene with bookings as far as Japan, Sweden and Germany.
In 2000 he release a fresh full length album entitled "Change My Mind" for Orchard Records, and followed up in 2001 with "More Alton Ellis" on the T.P imprint.
His historic live album with Euro Ska band Aspo in 2006 has been regarded as one of his most memorable performances to date.
In 2007, after a rigid tour schedule and troubled by intermittent health issues, Alton Ellis took a sabbatical from his busy routine. In December of that same year, it was made public that he suffered from a rare cancer, and was admitted for chemotherapy treatment in a London Hospital.
He bounced back for the summer show season in 2008 and in August of that year collapsed at a live show, and was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment.
On The week of October 10th 2008, Alton Ellis slipped into a coma, and despite the efforts of Doctors, and prayers from around the world, he passed away peacefully at age 68, leaving behind a legacy of music and a wealth of cultural history.
He is survived by his brother Hortense Ellis, and fifteen children.
Find out more here.