Hopeton Lewis grooved out on lifeTuesday, October 19, 2021
BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk continues its month-long feature titled 'Cover Me Good'. It will look at songs covered by Jamaican artistes which became hits.
HOPETON Lewis is believed to have recorded the first rocksteady song (Take it Easy) , won the Festival Song Competition in 1970 with Boom Shacka Lacka, and made his name as a gospel act late in his career. However, he never gets his due among reggae's great singers.
Another song Lewis is known for is Grooving Out on Life, released in 1971. Produced by Winston “Merritone” Blake and distributed by Dynamic Sounds, it was originally recorded by American pop trio, The Newbeats.
Blake had a solid professional relationship with the Khouri family, owners of Federal Records, which released Take it Easy in 1966. That mid-tempo track, according to many musicologists, launched the rocksteady craze that lasted until 1968.
Due to Blake's knowledge of American music, he usually advised Federal Records about songs that could be covered in Jamaica and become hits. His Merritone label was new on the scene when The Newbeats, a group with roots in Texas and Georgia, recorded Groovin' (Out on Life) in 1969.
Their version peaked at number 82 on the Billboard pop chart, way off the top 20 success they had with songs like Bread And Butter and Everything's Alright during the early 1960s.
One year after winning 'Festival', Hopeton Lewis became lead singer of Byron Lee And The Dragonaires. With Blake in the director's seat, Grooving Out on Life was cut at Dynamic Sounds with an outstanding cast – Jackie Jackson on bass, Hux Brown (guitar), Radcliffe Bryan (guitar), Paul Douglas (drums), Winston Wright (organ) and Gladstone Anderson (piano).
Lewis was familiar with most of the musicians, having recorded with the majority of them at Treasure Isle studio. While The Newbeats's Groovin (Out on Life) had the teenybopper sound typical of late 1960s pop music in America, Lewis and crew went to town with a robust vocal and reggae beat that not only made Grooving Out on Life an instant hit, but one of the singer's showstoppers for many years.
He had another massive hit song in 1971 with Tom Drunk, a collaboration with U-Roy, but Hopeton Lewis never recaptured his glory days of the 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1997 he recorded Love, Life And Music, the first of many gospel albums. He died in 2014 in Brooklyn, New York, from kidney failure.
Winston Blake paid tribute to him, saying: “Hopeton was an excellent singer, very versatile.”