Sierra Nevada World Music Festival - 2004

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2004 Performers

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Alton Ellis
Photo by Diane 'Livonn' Adam

The Godfather, Mr. Soul, Soul of Jamaica, Alton Ellis has been wailing and crying his distinctive songs of love and strife for nearly 40 years. A champion of both Studio One and Treasure Isle studios in the mid-late sixties, Alton's songs have practically become anthems in Jamaica. There is a conviction and urgency within Alton's voice which both expresses the joy and pain of affairs of the heart, and the indignation of injustice.

Alton recorded "Muriel" with vocal partner Eddy Perkins (Alton & Eddy) in1959, making him one of Jamaica's early recording pioneers. For this recording, Alton and the band gathered around one microphone to record the song. In 1965, during the peak of the Ska era, Alton scored with "Dance Crasher," imploring hooligans to cease wrecking dances with their thuggery. This song cemented his close relationship with producer Duke Reid of Treasure Isle studios.

Ska's evolution into the slower, more sensual Rocksteady proved to be the ideal musical framework for Alton's material. In 1966, he hit with the smash"Girl I've Got a Date," and shortly thereafter was one of the first artists to coin the phrase "Rock Steady" in his seminal song of the same title. He was a star and enjoyed hit after hit during the next few years at Treasure Isle, both solo or accompanied by his harmony group, the Flames. Alton was as equally adept at penning and delivering his own fine songs as he was in adapting American material, completely naturally and seemingly all his own.



Alton was one of the few Jamaican singers on Treasure Isle to simultaneously establish another very successful relationship with Duke Reid's arch rival and principal competitor, Coxsone Dodd of Studio One. For Coxsone, Alton continued to wax highly memorable material, which was collected on the lp"The Best of Alton Ellis." As well as recording for Studio One, Alton toured England with the Soul Vendors, the band who accompanied Alton on the lp.

As Reggae dawned in 1968, Alton began recording for other famous and well-thought of Jamaica etc. producers such as Lloyd Daley and Keith Hudson, with whom he cut the conscious "Back To Africa," "Lord Deliver Us," and "Big Bad Boy."

In 1972, Alton, disillusioned with the recording scene in Jamaica, moved to England in search of a better way of life. There he started his own label, Altone Records. He continued to record throughout the seventies and eighties, and even though there was little drop in the quality of his output, he drifted from the limelight and many fans wondered what happened to him.

In 1990 Heartbeat Records released "Soul Groover," a fine collection of his work for Treasure Isle, and throughout the '90s Alton began performing to excellent note in both Europe and the U.S.

The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival welcomes Alton, one of the Founding Fathers of Jamaican music.

--Mark Gorney

Alton Ellis Links:

Listen To The Music of Alton Ellis - Track List


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