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John Holt was born in the Greenwich Farm area of Kingston, Jamaica, on July 11, 1947, he took his first steps into the music business via the talent show circuit. Talent shows have always had a massive popularity in Jamaica and the top ones were initially broadcast live on radio and later on television. Many of the island's greatest artists (Gregory Isaacs amongst them) made their first appearances in talent shows, and it has proved an excellent training ground for young hopefuls.

In 1958, the 12-year-old Holt entered his first contest, run by promoter Joseph Verejohn. Over the next four years, the youngster became a staple of these shows, notching up a record-breaking 28 titles. His dulcet tones were soon familiar to a much larger audience, as a number of these contests were broadcasts of Radio Jamaica. For his final victory in 1962, Holt performed Solomon Burke's "Just Out of Reach." The talented teen was quickly snapped up by producer Leslie Kong, who recorded Holt's debut single, "Forever I'll Stay"/"I Cried a Tear." From there, the youngster began working with producer Clive Chin, debuting the partnership with "Rum Bumper," a duet with Alton Ellis.

More singles followed, but none really captured the island's imagination. That all began to change in 1964 when Holt joined the vocal group the Paragons, replacing founding member Leroy Stamp.  The group's lineup was completed by veteran members Bob Andy , Tyrone Evans, and Howard Barrett and it was this grouping that recorded "Good Luck and Goodbye" for Coxsone Dodd. Ironically, this is precisely what Andy said to his bandmates soon after the single's release, as he quit the group to pursue a solo career.

Now reduced to a trio, and with both Evans and Barrett holding full-time jobs, Holt was entrusted with the dual role of composer and arranger, positions for which he turned out to be ideally suited. And the timing couldn't have been more perfect. Ska was withering under the hot Jamaican sun, with Rocksteady rising to take its place. Its slower tempo was perfect for vocal groups and Holt's pen seemed especially cut for the easy going beat and pop flavor that the style embraced.

By 1968, the Paragons were Jamaica's premier vocal group, with virtually every one of their releases a hit.  Most of their material was composed by Holt and the popularity of his songs is evident by the number of other prominent vocalists who recorded their own cover versions of them. In 1968, Holt set off on a parallel solo career, recording for producers Bunny Lee and Harry J.  The group ended in 1970,  when Evans and Barrett both went to the U.S. after being awarded scholarships. Holt, however, merely picked up the pace of his solo recordings, cutting songs for a variety of different producers. His work with Dodd was particularly exemplary and boasts a slew of classics, including "Tonight," "Stranger in Love," and "A Love I Can Feel."

Like a Bolt, released in 1971, bundles up recordings done with Duke Reid, including the hit "Ali Baba," which quickly became one of Reid's most-versioned rhythms. Holt's biggest hits then was the release of "Stick By Me," deliberately arranged to take advantage of the latest dance craze, the John Crow. The song stuck to the Jamaican charts for an amazing 23 weeks and became the biggest-selling single of the year.
 

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 A 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 cultural hero.

The following year, the singer cut the equally strong "If You Were My Lover" for Prince Jammy, amongst a clutch of other recordings. 1985 brought a reunion with Bunny Lee for the Pure Gold album.  The next year, the singer joined forces with singer/producer Dennis Brown for the Wild Fire album. It was during this period that both Holt and Brown became involved in a plot by veteran singers to fight the DJ phenomenon by saturating the market with vocal material.  Then there was The John Holt Christmas Album in 1986 which is split between traditional numbers and covers of rock's festive best from the likes of Slade, Mud, John Lennon, and George Michael.  Equally effective is 1989's Why I Care, which finds Holt back in the dancehall, accompanied by producer Hugh "Redman" James' most militant rhythms.

In 1993, the singer decided to expand his musical horizons on Reggae Hip House R&B Flavour, and while not always successful, it is certainly intriguing. 1997's All Night Long features such guest stars as Johnnie Clarke, Screwdriver, and Latisha Vining, updating old hits and a few new numbers.  Across the decade,

On an island renowned for its superb vocalists and composers, John Holt still stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of Jamaica's sweetest singers and enduring songwriters. He has voiced and penned so many of the country's classics that in a way, Holt has defined the island's sound.  Holt made numerous acclaimed appearances at Reggae Sunsplash, and the singer continues to compose, record, and perform.  His songs not only take us back to our place in the sun, but continues to put us in the Rock Steady vibe!
 



 

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