Tarrus walks down memory lane

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

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THE rocksteady beat of Alton Ellis' Too Late To Turn Back Now recently rocked the rehearsal room at Penthouse Records where singer Tarrus Riley and the Blakk Soil Band fine-tuned songs from his Love Situation album.

Riley pays tribute to the rocksteady era on the 13-track set which dropped yesterday. On it, the band reworks classic beats from the mid-1960s to original lyrics.

Only one of the songs, My Story, written by his father Jimmy and originally recorded by singer Slim Smith, is a cover.

Standing on a balcony during a break from rehearsal, the dreadlocked Riley says he was exposed to rocksteady at an early age through his father's link to harmony groups like the Techniques and Uniques. He added that Love Situation has been in the pipeline for a while.

"I came up with the concept two years ago while touring 'cause wi do a little a everything, 'cause mi get bored fast. So, mi sey to Dean (Fraser), 'yow, yuh know wha' woulda wicked, if wi do a rocksteady album'."

Riley, Fraser and Blakk Soil guitarist Mitchum 'Khan' Chin selected the beats for the songs which are a nod to a genre that came after ska and ruled Jamaican dancehalls from 1965-67.

Sail Away, one of the songs from Love Situation, features veteran deejay U Roy whose toasts helped make rocksteady jams like Wear You To The Ball by the Paragons and Hopeton Lewis' Tom Drunk, chart-toppers.

Although he was born long after the rocksteady period, Riley says he has great respect for his father's contemporaries including Smith, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe and John Holt.

She's Royal, his breakthrough hit from 2006, is driven by the beat of Money Love, a rocksteady hit for Wilson. Riley believes the rocksteady greats do not get their due in Jamaica but are revered abroad.

"Mi go Hawaii an' the youths dem a play lovers' rock an' rocksteady. Wi have so much music inna Jamaica but wi limit wiself," he said.

Rocksteady not only produced great vocalists, but also outstanding musicians like bass players Boris Gardiner, Brian Atkinson and Leroy Sibbles, keyboardists Jackie Mittoo and Aubrey Adams, drummer Fil Callender and guitarist Eric Frater.

During the roots-reggae craze of the 1970s, the Revolutionaries band at Channel One recorded numerous hits by putting their spin on rocksteady rhythms. The Roots Radics band followed suit in the 1980s working out of the same studio with producer Henry 'Junjo' Lawes and singer Barrington Levy.

Tarrus Riley started a promotional tour of the United States last Saturday with a show at the Howard Theatre in Washington DC.

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