1973's Holt and Still in Chains
both helped Holt establish himself as a reggae artist extraordinaire.
In 1974 he released three albums — The Further You Look, Dusty Roads, and
Sings for I — that showcased his penchant for ballads. Many of the tracks
were self-penned, an exception to the cover-heavy records he'd previously
released. Presenting the Fabulous John Holt is also comprised of ballads,
but Duke Reid slathers them in a wondrously rootsy production, while Coxsonne
Dodd gave the ballads Holt cut for him a superbly earthy atmosphere on
Love I Can Feel. That same year, the singer released the Harry Mudie-produced
Time Is the Master. The title-track was another smash and the album
spawned a clutch of further Jamaican hits.
It was obvious to Trojan that a crossover
success was in their sights. The label brought Holt to the U.K. later in
1974, and set him to work with pop producer Tony Ashfield, who had arranged
the strings on Time Is the Master. The end result was the collection 1000
Volts of Holt, which gave Holt his first U.K. hit with "Help Me Make
It Through the Night."
Eventually, he called it a day and headed
home. He announced his return with 1976's Up Park Camp, which boasts
both superbly re-cut classics and equally sublime new songs. The album's
title-track was a fabulous take on the Heptones' "Get in the Groove," with
new cultural lyrics, and set the singer on the path for dancehall success.
For the rest of the decade, Holt continued making the studio rounds, working
with the likes of JoJo Hookim, and most notably reuniting with Bunny Lee.
As rocksteady had shifted into reggae,
the singer had no trouble in transforming his songwriting toward the new
genre. But as roots had taken hold, his own penchant for pop, and particularly
love songs, no longer connected with younger fans. With age had come
rebellion. In a rather belated conversion, Holt admitted to his Rastafarian
beliefs in 1983 and began growing dreadlocks. The previous year,
the singer had performed at Reggae Sunsplash to much acclaim and had seen
chart success with such fare as "If I Were a Carpenter" and covers
of the Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine" and Lou Rawls' "You'll
Never Find a Love of Mine," but at the same time, Holt was also turning
his attention back to the dancehalls. His intrigue with the DJ scene dated
back over a decade, when the singer had attended a King Tubby sound system
dance and was blown away by U-Roy toasting over his own classic hit "Wear
You to the Ball."
Holt immediately introduced the DJ to Duke
Reid, who launched U-Roy to stardom ("Wear You to the Ball" was the singer's
third single for Reid, and his third number one). Linking up with
producer Junjo Lawes, the singer cut a number of dancehall singles across
1982, including the hit "Fat She Fat," and DJ superstar Yellowman
also versioned a number of Holt's classics this same year. But none of
this really prepared audiences for the Police in Helicopter album.
The title track, a Jamaican smash, set
the defiant tone, threatening, "If you continue to burn up the herbs,
we're going to burn down the cane fields." "Last Train From the Ghetto"
and "Reality" are cultural/Rastafarian statements of intent, while "I Got
Caught" is a warning about the consequences of isdeeds. Lawes' deep roots
rhythms turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for Holt's songs, from
the lightest pop to the heaviest hitting roots numbers. In one fell swoop,
Holt had shed his family entertainer image and reinvented himself as a