singer, songwriter, arranger, performer
Few Jamaican artists can expect to receive the level
of appreciation afforded to Alton Ellis. For 40 years now he has continued
to gain admiration from fans, critics and fellow artists alike, but sadly
international stardom and financial reward have undeservingly eluded him.
Alton was born in Kingston Jamaica in 1940, and by the age of 17 was winning local
amateur competitions as a dancer. He didn't start singing until he was 18, and it
wasn't until he teamed up with a neighbour from 7th Street, Ed Perkins, that he
achieved any form of success. The duo enterd Clement Dodd's recording studio for
the first time in 1959, recording a song written by one of his friends, the soul
The record was a massive hit on the Island, but neither Alton or Eddie made any real
money from it. Around this time another talent show started in Jamaica, 'A Star Is
Born', but as the pair were now know as a professional act, they couldn't enter as
a duo. Alton stepped aside and let Eddie enter the show, which he duly won. The first
prize was tickets for two to appear on the Ed Sullivan show in America, but two weeks
after his victory, Eddie told Alton that he was going alone.
Alton was really hurt by this, but after a while in the doldrums, he returned with his
new vocal group, Alton & The Flames. The group started recording for Duke Reid, and
soon hit big with the classic 'Dance Crasher' in 1965. Alton spent the next two years
with Reid, in which time he recorded some of the most popular rocksteady sides ever
made, including 'Cry Tough, 'Girl I've Got A Date' and of course 'Rocksteady'
(AKA 'Get Ready Rocksteady').
By 1967, Ellis was probably the most popular singer in the country, so when Clement
Dodd was arranging a tour of England by the Soul Vendors, Alton was his number one
choice to front the band. Out of this renewed partnership came further Studio One
recordings, 'I'm Just A Guy', 'So Much Love' and 'I'm Still In Love' are all rightly
regarded as classics.
Dodd put these new Ellis tracks together with three recordings in England on the tour,
and issued them on the appropriately titled 'Sings Rock & Soul' set. The album also
features versions of tracks previously recorded for Duke Reid ('Rocksteady',
Why Birds Follow Spring', 'Ain't That Loving You'), and is an essential item for
any collector of Jamaican music.
Alton returned to Jamaica in January 1968, he left Dodd and resumed recording at
Reid's Treasure Isle studio. This was in breech of the contract he had signed with
Dodd, so Reid sent him to America to escape any law suits. Ellis stayed there for
4 months and also had a lenghty stay in Canada, after which he once again returned
to his homeland.
Back at Studio One, he recorded one of his most popular ever records, a 1969 version
of Tyrone Davis' 'Can I Change My Mind', which was included on the excellent Studio One
'Best Of' album alongside other classics. He recorded 'Blackmans Pride' for Studio One
and 'Back To Africa' for Lloyd Matador Daley, and in 1970 released the classic
'Sunday Coming' album for Dodd.
He then went to Clive Chin at Randys, and produced possibly his most popular record
ever, a cover of 'Too Late To Turn Back Now'.
Alton then came back to England , where he was given a deal with A&M records, but
sadly this fell through after only one release.