Soul Vibes — News and Views

Desmond Dekker

Born Desmond Dacres in Kingston 1941, he spent the early part of his orphaned childhood near Seaforth, St. Thomas before returning to Kingston where he worked as a welder. Usually singing on the job, his workmates encouraged him to seek an audition. Receiving rejections from Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid, he found a mentor in Leslie Kong of Beverley’s Records.

In 1963, the newly renamed Desmond Dekker teamed up with backing group, the Aces (James Wilson and East Barrington Howard) together they enjoyed a great deal of success during the mid-’60s with songs like “King of Ska”, “That Woman”, and “Mount Zion”.

The emergence of rocksteady in the latter half of 1966 propelled Dekker’s James Bond–inspired “007 (Shanty Town)” into the UK charts the following year. A catchy, rhythmically infectious articulation of the Rude Boy street gang exploits, the single presaged Dekker’s emergence as an international artiste.

In 1967, Dekker and the Aces placed second in the Jamaica Festival Song Contest with “Unity”, and continued their chart topping run in their home country with songs such as “Music Like Dirt”, “Rudie Got Soul”, “Rude Boy Train”, and “Sabotage”.

In 1969 Dekker, achieved his greatest international success with the seminal “Israelites”, which became the first reggae tune to top the UK pop charts. Even more astonishing, was the fact that it broke into the Top Ten of the US charts which had been previously been out of bounds to Jamaican vocalists.

Dekker took up residence in the UK in 1996, and became a regular club performer. He continued voicing tracks over rhythms laid down in Jamaica. Another minor hit was realized with “Pickney Gal”, which was followed by a massive hit version of Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It if You Really Want” taken from the film The Harder They Come.

When longtime manager and producer, Leslie Kong, died in 1971, he joined the Cactus label and had minor success with a reissue of “Israelites”, but the experiment was not commercially successful. Dekker declared bankruptcy, ending a chapter in the career of one of reggae’s best known personalities. He continued touring regularly before he died of a heart attack in 2006.

Dekker’s unmistakable falsetto remains one of Jamaica’s most memorable while his importance as the first major reggae artiste to achieve international success deserves wider acknowledgment.

Ben E. King (September 2, 1938-April 30, 2015)

Born Benjamin Earl Nelson, King was an American songwriter, soul and R & B singer and record producer. He was born in Henderson, North Carolina and moved to New York with his family at the age of 9 in 1947. He began singing in church choirs, and in High School formed the Four B’s, a Doo Wop group that sometimes performed at the Apollo Theater. He had a cameo with the Moon Glows and the Five Crowns.

In 1958 George Treadwell, owner of the name the Drifters, fired the group and hired the Five Crowns to be the new Drifters. The new group found instant success with King on lead vocals, singing a song he co-wrote, titled “There Goes my Baby”. By adding orchestral strings to the vocals, a bold move for a soul/pop song at the time, it vaulted the track to #2 on the Pop and #1 on the R& B charts. Other hits followed with King singing lead, including “Dance with me”, “This Magic Moment, and “Save the Last Dance for Me”, the only Drifters song to reach #1 on the R & B and pop charts.

After a contract and royalties dispute, King moved on with his own solo career under the name Ben E. King. He scored a top ten hit in 1961 with the enchanting “Spanish Harlem”, a song he co-wrote with Phil Spector. He then released a song later that year entitled “Stand by Me”, which has become an enduring classic. The #1 R & B track was again co=written by King, and also reached #5 on the pop charts. Over the ensuing decades, “Stand by Me” has been covered countless times by everyone from Otis Redding, John Lennon, Seal and Tracey Ullman to Bachata singer Prince Royce. Licensing agency BMI has listed “Stand by Me” as the fourth most recorded song of the 20th Century. The song again reached the top ten in the 1980s on the soundtrack of the Rob Reiner coming of age film of the same name.

King continued to have hits throughout the 1960s with songs like “Amor” and “I Who Have Nothing” before the British invasion changed the musical landscape.

He ultimately recorded twenty-one songs that entered the 50top 1200 of the Billboard pop charts. King was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Drifters. Succumbing to an unidentified illness King died at the age of 76 in Hackensack, New Jersey on April 30, 2015. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty, three children, and several grandchildren.

An Englishman in New York: Interview with Digital English

A conversation with the mysterious Brooklyn-based UK dub producer.

Born in the Harlesden area of London, Valentine Saunders has always been a mysterious producer: able to release a string of heavy digital steppers hits before completely flying under the radar for years. Who is he? Is he in the UK, or in NYC? Why is his roster of artists so diverse, from Trevor Sparks to Glen Brown, to Karen Morrisson (of Studio One ‘Frenemies’ fame, under her K-Vibes moniker), to Ken Abert, and Lloyd D. Stiff? One bright day, I decided these questions were too much and I needed to know who was behind ‘Mix Up’ and ‘I Don’t want to be a Shotta’. After tracking him down, we ended up meeting one evening in 2007 in an unusual location, at least in reggae circles: Manhattan’s financial district. Why there? Let Digital English explain…

Visit for the full interview.

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