In Jamaica, a whole generation of singers, players of instruments and MCs had grown up in thrall to the sounds of 1960s black America. In the 1950s, Jamaican music in the dance halls had evolved by adapting shuffle-based r&b and boogie woogie. The link continued in the early 1960s with singers and vocal groups, who participated in local contests, singing material that was drawn from the catalogues of US artists such as The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter and the ever present Impressions. When soul replaced r&b in the affection of black American listeners, so rocksteady and later reggae developed as Jamaican popular music kept pace with innovations in the US.


Through the 1960s, as US soul began increasingly to reflect the social concerns and political aspirations of the black working class, the same phenomenon began to register in Jamaican music. By the end of the 1960s, Jamaica could boast the presence of several singers who equalled in emotional intensity their US contemporaries, among them singers like Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, John Holt, Slim Smith, Pat Kelly, and Delroy Wilson as well as vocal groups such as The Sensations, The Uniques and The Techniques.

Jamaican artists have continued to cover or transform American r&b and soul tunes up to the present day. In a series of articles, of which this is the twelfth one, we focus on noteworthy cover versions, mostly being the initial ones, recorded by well known and lesser known Jamaican singers and vocal groups.

Prince Buster - Are You Lonely

Prince Buster – Are You Lonely

Freddie Scott – Are You Lonely


The catalogue of singer/songwriter and producer Prince Buster, regarded as one of the most important and influential figures in the history of ska and rocksteady music, features a number of covers from pop, soul and r&b tunes. His gorgeous rocksteady version of “Are You Lonely For Me Baby”, Freddie Scott’s powerful and soulful r&b anthem, was released in Jamaica on Olive Blossom Records in 1967. The original song, released in late 1966 on the Jay Boy label, sat at the number 1 spot on the US r&b charts for 4 weeks. Background vocals were provided by Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations. “Are You Lonely For Me Baby” was written by Bert Berns aka Bert Russell and jointly produced by him with Freddie Scott. The song was the singer’s highest charting single on the r&b chart, hitting the number 1 spot for four weeks, in early 1967.

Busty Brown - Aware of Love

Busty Brown – Aware Of Love

Jerry Butler – Aware Of Love


Busty Brown’s immaculate version of Jerry Butler’s 1960 tune “Aware Of Love” is an early reggae stomper produced by Bunny Lee and put out on the Tramp label in 1969. Busty Brown, real name Clive Smith, started as dancer before he emarked on a career as a singer. He did his first recordings for Coxsone Dodd snd also recorded for producers such as Clancy Eccles, Derrick Hariott and Lee Perry. After a stint with the Messengers, he replaced Scotty in the Chosen Few in 1972. In the early ’80s the Mighty Diamonds recorded a reggae version of “Aware Of Love” for producer Gussie Clarke. Jerry Butler started as a member of the group The Roosters which later became Jerry Butler & the Impressions. He then left the group to embark on a successful solo career and co-wrote “Aware Of Love” with his friend Curtis Mayfield, whom he had met while singing in the same Chicago church choir.

The Techniques - I Wish It Would Rain

The Techniques – I Wish It Would Rain

The Temptations – I Wish It Would Rain


Backed by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics, The Techniques recorded a wonderful version of The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain”, which came out in 1968 on the B-side of their Treasure Isle single “Run Come Celebrate”. The Jamaican vocal group was formed by Winston Riley in 1962 with the initial line-up also featuring Slim Smith, Franklyn White, and Freddie Waite. Their very first single was “No One”, released only in the UK in 1963. Their Jamaican debut came in 1965 with Duke Reid as the producer. Slim Smith left the group in 1966, to pursue a solo career at Studio One. The group’s line up changed regularly with Winston Riley the only constant member. Later reggae versions were done by Pat Kelly, Jimmy Riley, The Cougars, The Tamlins, and Mafia & Fluxy. The original song is one of the most melancholy in the Temptations repertoire, with lead singer David Ruffin delivering, in a pained voice, the story of a heartbroken man who wants to hide his sorrow. His woman has just left him, and he wishes that it would start raining, to hide the tears falling down his face because “a man ain’t supposed to cry”.

Delroy Wilson & Hortense Ellis - We're Gonna Make It

Delroy Wilson & Hortense Ellis – We’re Gonna Make It

Little Milton – We’re Gonna Make It


Coxsone Dodd combined the voices of Delroy Wilson and Hortense Ellis (Alton Ellis’ younger sister) for a late-ska version of Little Milton’s song We’re Gonna Make It”. Released in 1966 on the Coxsone imprint the song was credited to Delroy Wilson with the wrong title. However, the next year the names of the artists and the song title were correctly featured on the label when it was issued in the UK on Rio with the Soul Bros’ horns-led instrumental “Ska Shuffle” on the flip side. ‘Little’ Milton Campbell had been a respected blues singer and guitarist for years before turning to more soul-oriented material in the early 1960s. “We’re Gonna Make It”, a 1965 R&B single written by Gene Barge, Billy Davis, Raynard Miner & Carl William Smith, was the only Top 40 entry of Little Milton’s career and his highest charting R&B single, spending three weeks at number 1 on the US R&B chart. The lyrics of the song offer a civil-rights metaphor, depicting the signs of the time period in which the song was released.

Alton Ellis - Willow Tree

Alton Ellis – Willow Tree

Chuck Jackson – My Willow Tree


Alton Ellis with Tommy McCook & The Supersonics recorded a magnificent rocksteady interpretation of the Chuck Jackson R&B ballad “My Willow Tree”. Produced by Duke Reid at his Treasure Isle studio in Bond Street, Kingston, the song – backed by “Can’t Stop Now” – was released on 7″ single on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle imprint in 1968. Alton Ellis recorded another version of “Willow Tree” for Coxsone Dodd, who put the song on the singer’s 1969 album “Best Of Alton Ellis”. The song was performed by different artists including Gregory Isaacs, Yami Bolo, Michael Black, Colin Roach, Hortense Ellis, and Christopher Ellis. Between 1957 and 1959, Chuck Jackson was a member of The Del-Vikings. After leaving the group, he scored his first hit in 1961 with the single “I Don’t Want To Cry”. The same year “My Willow Tree” was released on the B-side of “The Breaking Point”.

John Holt - Stealing Stealing

John Holt – Stealing Stealing

Percy Sledge – Thief In The Night


Percy Sledge’s 1966 song “Thief In The Night” was covered by Jamaican singer John Holt in late 1969. It was recorded for Treasure Isle Records and re-titled “Stealing Stealing”. This wasn’t the only version John Holt recorded. John Holt re-recorded this song about four times throughout his career. In 1975 he did a take for producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, which was followed by versions for Prince Jammy in 1979, Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes in 1984 and Jack Scorpio in 1990. Furthermore he gave producer George Phang a version of the song on the “Three Blind Mice” riddim. Percy Sledge, one of the most recognizable voices in the ‘country-soul’ genre, began his singing career as a member of gospel quartet the Singing Clouds, which also featured his cousin Jimmy Hughes. In late 1965, Norala Sound Studio owner Quin Ivy saw Percy Sledge performing at the Elks Club in Sheffield, and arranged to produce a record with the singer. Backed by members of the FAME Studios rhythm section the singer recorded “When A Man Loves A Woman”. In 1966 the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became Atlantic Records’ very first gold single. Percy Sledge never managed to replicate the success of his debut single.

The Uniques - Out Of Love

The Uniques – Out Of Love

The Manhattans – Out Of Love


The Uniques, with the great Slim Smith as lead singer, did a stunning adaptation of The Manhattans’ “Out Of Love” for producer Bunny Lee in 1968. It was released in Jamaica on the Tramp label with “Watch This Sound” on the B-side. In the UK the single was issued by Trojan Records. Whenever The Uniques delivered a song, whether a bright or a sad one, they managed to impress with their tremendous projection of soul, on this one sung in rocksteady style. The Manhattans’ great soul ballad “I’m The One That Love Forgot”, a song from 1965 on which the Doo-wop influence was still present, was a huge hit in Pittsburgh PA. It was one of the group’s early recordings for Carnival Records and became one of their major ballads at the time. “I’m The One That Love Forgot” is a good example of the creamy sound the group could achieve in this period.

The Jamaicans - Dedicated To You

The Jamaicans – Dedicated To You

The Impressions – Dedicated My Song To You


One of The Jamaicans’ best rocksteady tunes is their solid cover of The Impressions’ “Dedicate My Song To You”, which was recorded for Duke Reid in 1967 and was paired on the 7″ single with “How Can I”. The vocal group had its first hit in 1967 with “Things You Say You Love” and in the same year took first place in the Island’s Festival Song Contest with probably their best known song, the rocksteady classic “Ba Ba Boom”. The group, consisting of Tommy Cowan, Norris Weir, Derrick Brown and Martin Williams. split up in 1972. The Impressions, at the time a trio consisting of Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash, scored their first big hit in 1962 with the single “Gypsy Woman”, hitting number 2 on the R&B charts and number 20 on the pop chart in the US. In 1964 they released their Top 10 hit album “Keep On Pushing”, which featured “Dedicate My Song To You”, an irresistible love song that once again displayed the trio’s impeccably smooth harmonies.

Ernest Wilson - Sentimental Man

Ernest Wilson – Sentimental Man

The Unifics – Sentimental Man


Ernest Wilson’s great interpretation of the Unifics’ “Sentimental Man” for producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, was released in Jamaica on a blank label, before it was issued in the UK on the Crab label in 1969. Ernest Wilson, affectionately called Ernest ‘Soul’ Wilson, found fame as a member of the Clarendonians and was also briefly a member of The Techniques before he embarked on a solo career in 1967. Among the cover versions he did are “Storybook Children”, and “If I Were a Carpenter”. both produced by Coxsone Dodd, and “Private Number” for Joe Gibbs. In 1966 a group of students at Washington D.C.’s Howard University formed the group Al & the Vikings. The soul group changed its name during its first year to the Unique Five and later to the Unifics. In 1968 Kapp Records put out their single “Sentimental Man”, which was paired with “The Beginning Of My End”.

Ken Boothe - Thinking

Ken Boothe – Thinking

Garnet Mimms – Thinking


Ken Boothe was one of the most popular and soulful singers of the rocksteady era. His vocals were deep and gritty, earning him a reputation as Jamaica’s answer to Wilson Pickett. First rising to popularity as part of a ska duo with Stranger Cole, Ken Boothe began a solo career at Studio One, building a generous part of his repertoire on American soul covers. One of them was a version of Garnet Mimms’ 1964 song “Thinkin'”. The song was released on the Studio One label in 1969 and had a wicked version by New Establishment on the flip. A few more cuts were done by Ken Boothe such as a Herman Chin Loy produced faster version on the Aquarius label and a Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes produced sort of cheesy version on a Greensleeves 12″. Although underrated, one of the earliest true soul singers Garnet Mimms surely was an influential figure in soul music and R&B. He first achieved success as the lead singer of Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters, and is best known for the 1963 hit “Cry Baby”. As a solo artist he recorded songs like “It Was Easier to Hurt Her”, “As Long As I Have You”, “Looking For You”, and “I’ll Take Good Care Of You”, his final Top 40 hit in 1966.