Friday, June 17, 2011


John Holt is confounding. Seriously, I don't know where to start. He began his singing career in 1957 at the age of twelve, entering talent contests. By the time he was 16, he'd won 28 contests and was picked up by producer Leslie Kong. A couple years later, he joined the Paragons, who are best known for singing the Holt-penned original version of "The Tide Is High." Yes, that "The Tide Is High," the one that was a hit for Blondie. Better known to reggae fiends is the 1971 DJ version, by U Roy. It was Holt, in fact, who introduced U Roy to Duke Reid. Reid ended recording all of U Roy's early hits, including another Paragons song, "Wear You to the Ball."

Studio footage from 2009 (music starts at 1:08)

Back to Holt. He's had some mighty weird twists. When the UK label Trojan brought him to England, they schmaltzed him up real good. His output got sappier and sappier. His music became bathed in strings, culminating in the unthinkable, "Holt Does Disco" (an actual album title). Need I continue? Then, in 1983, there was a dramatic change, he became a rastafarian. Not just dreads, but the whole thing. His music got rootsier, with a load of songs about rasta and weed. Now you'd think that's where he would just sort of drift off into elder-rasta singer lore. But you know what? He's still got his WTF moments. One of the things that I can't seem to wrap my head around is the fact that, as late as 2001, he was still occasionally fronting a symphony orchestra. I'm not saying that something in the rasta faith should preclude one from doing that, but, come on. (Dude, you already survived, and came back from, the depths of schmaltz hell. Why risk it again?)

If all of that isn't even of moderate interest to you, let me ask you this: Can you name any reggae artist who sang through the ska, rock steady, reggae, and roots eras, (wait...), and covered a Slade song? (You can hear a snippet of his version of Slade's "My Oh My" here.) Without going into too much more detail (because frankly there's too much more detail to cover), I'd just advise avoiding anything of his that looks too glossy. Now, on to the goods...

The Paragons - The Tide Is High mp3 at Boogie Woogie Flu
The Paragons - Wear You to the Ball mp3 at DJNoDJ
The Paragons - Happy Go Lucky Girl mp3 at Brobots!
John Holt - A Love I Can Feel (Studio One!) mp3 at Slang Editorial
John Holt, King Tubby & Augustus Pablo - Ali Baba Riddim Dub mp3 at Fredeeky
John Holt - My Sweet Lord mp3 at Slang Editorial
John Holt - Hey Jude mp3 at Ska.Sk
John Holt - Mr. Bojangles (live, with orchestra) mp3 at Premium Wanadoo
John Holt - Police In Helicopter mp3 at Le Blog de la Grande Chose
John Holt & Big Youth - Leggo Beast mp3 at 4Shared
John Holt - Four LPs at Satta Massagana, including the dyn-o-mite I Can't Get You Off My Mind collection of Studio One material, and the questionable Holt Goes Disco.
Earlier reggae posts here

John Holt - Excellent bio at LastFM
John Holt at Wikipedia

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