Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Desmond Dekker: First to Spread Ska, Rock Steady, Reggae Around Globe

Reggae legend Desmond Dekker dies

The official web site for Desmond Dekker, 'King of Ska' can be accessed by clicking on the following URL:

The King of Ska

Reggae singer Desmond Dekker has died suddenly from a heart attack, aged 64.

Dekker, whose 1969 hit Israelites was the first reggae song to top the UK charts, collapsed at his Surrey home.

Manager Delroy Williams said the Jamaica-born performer had seemed fine when they met a day earlier, adding: "I don't think I will ever get over this."

Reggae DJ Daddy Ernie, of Choice FM in London, said: "Any history book that you pick up on reggae, Desmond Dekker's name will have to be in there."

He added: "People like Desmond Dekker only come along once in a lifetime. This is one of the pioneers that has passed away -his place is definitely cemented in reggae history."

Mark Lamarr, presenter of BBC Radio 2's Reggae Show, said: "He probably was the first reggae superstar to have hits outside Jamaica in the US and UK.

"I saw him live dozens of times and he couldn't do a bad show - he was always magnificent."


Mr Williams said Dekker had led the way for reggae stars such as Bob Marley.

"Desmond was the first legend, believe it or not," he said.

"When he released Israelites nobody had heard of Bob Marley - he paved the way for all of them."

The star was divorced with a son and daughter.

He had been due to perform at the Respect Festival in Prague on 2 June, and numerous dates across Europe during the summer.

His last concert was at Leeds Metropolitan University on 11 May.

"He was at his peak fitness, he had this big tour coming up for this summer and he was looking forward to it - and then that was it," Mr Williams said.

"He died peacefully but it still hurts. I was his manager and his best friend. I don't think anyone knew how close we were -we go back so far."

He added: "I didn't even get the chance to say goodbye properly."


Dekker was born on 16 July 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica, and began his working life as a welder before turning to singing full-time.

His band Desmond Dekker and the Aces topped the UK charts with Israelites, which also made the US top 10.

He moved to the UK in the '70s, later recording the hit You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff.

The musician's popularity waned in the late '70s and '80s, and Dekker was declared bankrupt in 1984.

But a new version of Israelites was released in 1990 and used in television commercials, boosting the star's popularity.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/26 12:53:03 GMT

'His work will live on for years'

Brinsley Forde, BBC 6 Music DJ and former frontman of reggae band Aswad, reflects on the enduring influence of the late Desmond Dekker.

It is a sad loss. I had met him a few times and had a lot of respect for him.

He was one of the first reggae artists to really make a mark on the European market.

You have got to say that his success really inspired a lot of other artists that they could actually do it.

I would imagine that Bob Marley was influenced by Desmond Dekker.

In the scheme of things, he is very important.


Because songs like Israelites became so popular we regard them as classic pop songs, but they were very political in their time - they were talking about the conditions that people were finding themselves in.

He was still touring, and was just about to go on tour.

I think there were a lot of young people who were getting into his music.

The last time I saw him perform live would have been a few years ago, and he was absolutely incredible.

He was up and down the stage like nobody's business - I was actually quite shocked at his energy.

He was still commanding the audience - half of them probably weren't born when those songs were popular, and they were totally into him.


People I have spoken to since his death, you mention Desmond Dekker and they say, 'Who?' Then you start singing the songs and they go, 'Yes, I know that song'.

The work that he has left will live on for years and years.

There is great wealth of musicians and artists that we listen to now but don't recognise that they listened to Desmond Dekker's music and were influenced by it.

It may never fully be recognised and appreciated, but I am sure he has done a great service for music.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/26 14:40:28 GMT

Obituary: Desmond Dekker

With the 1969 song Israelites, Desmond Dekker was one of the first Jamaican musician to enjoy a worldwide hit single and the song was the first number one reggae record in the UK.

The mixture of Dekker's falsetto singing with an underlying bass vocal line provided by his backing group, The Aces, proved so popular that it was a hit three times over.

Specifically, Desmond Dekker had introduced ska to the world outside Jamaica, a brand of music that combined the indigenous Jamaican mento folk music with American rhythm and blues.

Its upbeat feel reflected the optimism engendered by the newly-gained independence from Britain in 1962.

Many of Dekker's hits including Rude Boy Train, Rudie Got Soul and 007 (Shanty Town) echoed the violent street culture of Jamaican cities, in particular Kingston, to which there had been a large migration from the countryside.

Native beat

This in turn reflected the disillusionment after the expectations of prosperity that the spirit of independence had ushered in failed to materialise.

In the late '50s some Jamaican sound system operators, notably Duke Reid and Clement Dodd, had started producing their own records, developing a native Jamaican beat called ska.

From those origins came further beats, like rock steady, reggae, raga and dub.

Desmond Dacres, as he was born in 1942, worked as a welder in Kingston.

He was orphaned as a teenager but made a success for himself after signing with Leslie Kong's Beverley's record label and releasing his first single, Honour Your Father and Mother, in 1963, a paean to homespun wisdom.

By the time of his fourth hit, King of Ska, he had become one of Jamaica's biggest stars. The song is still revered among ska fans.

After 1967, he appeared on producer Derrick Morgan's Tougher than Tough which helped begin a popular trend of glamorising the violent culture of the "rude boys" in a similar vein to which American rap music was to follow decades later.

Club performer

Following his success with Israelites, Desmond Dekker moved to the UK where ska had developed a huge following among the mods. He remained in Britain for the rest of his life.

In the 1970s he recorded the hit You Can Get It If You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff.

But Dekker's success started to wane by the end of the `70s and early `80s as the "two-tone" music's popularity was no longer mainstream, and reggae artists like Bob Marley were in the ascendancy.

Dekker was declared bankrupt in 1984.

But he continued to attract a following and was a regular performer on the club scene in Britain and Europe.

Re-releases of Israelites in 1975 and again in 1990, kept his head above water and ensured his name continued to resonate with the public.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/05/26 10:58:42 GMT

Desmond Decker, 64, First Artist to Spread Ska, Rock Steady & Reggae Around the World

Courtesy of

Desmond Dekker (July 16, 1941 – May 25, 2006), was a Jamaican ska and reggae singer and songwriter. Together with his backing group, The Aces (consisting of Wilson James and Easton Barrington Howard), he had one of the first international Jamaican hits with “Israelites”. Other hits include “007 (Shanty Town)” (1967) and “It Mek” (1968). Before the ascent of Bob Marley, Dekker was the best-known Jamaican musician outside of his country, and one of the most popular within it.

Early days

He was born Desmond Adolphus Dacres in Kingston and was orphaned as a teenager. Dekker began working as a welder, singing around his workplace while his co-workers encouraged him. In 1961 he auditioned for Coxsone Dodd (Studio One) and Duke Reid (Treasure Isle). Neither were impressed by his talents and the young man moved on to Leslie Kong's Beverley record label where he auditioned before Derrick Morgan, then the label's biggest star.

Early recording career

With Morgan's support, Dekker was signed but did not record until 1963 because Leslie Kong wanted to wait for the perfect song, which "Honour Your Father and Mother" was felt to be.

“Honour Your Father and Mother” was a hit and was followed by “Sinners Come Home” and “Labour for Learning”, as well as a name change (from Desmond Dacres to Desmond Dekker). His fourth hit, however, made him into one of the island's biggest stars. It was “King of Ska,” a rowdy and jubilant song on which Dekker was backed by The Cherrypies (also known as The Maytals). The song remains well known among ska fans. Dekker then recruited four brothers, Carl, Patrick, Clive and Barry Howard, who became his backing band, The Four Aces.

Dekker and the Howards recorded a number of hits including
“Parents,” “Get Up Edina,” “This Woman,” and “Mount Zion.” Until 1967 Dekker's songs were polite and conveyed respectable, mainstream messages. In that year, however, he appeared on Derrick Morgan's “Tougher Than Tough,” which helped begin a trend of popular songs glamourizing the violent rude boy culture. Dekker's own songs did not go to the extremes of many other popular tunes though he did introduce lyrics which resonated with the rude boys starting with one of his best-known songs, “007 (Shanty Town)”. The song established Dekker as a rude boy icon and also became an established hero in the United Kingdom's mod scene. “007 (Shanty Town)” was a Top 15 hit in the UK, and he toured that country with a posse of mods following him.

Dekker continued with songs in the same vein such as “Rude Boy Train” and “Rudie Got Soul”, as well as continuing with his previous themes of religion and morality in songs like “It's a Shame”, “Wise Man”, “Hey Grandma”, “Unity”, “It Pays”, “Mother's Young Girl” and “Sabotage.” His “Pretty Africa” is a long-standing favourite among his fans and may be the earliest popular song promoting repatriation. Many of the hits from this era came from his debut album, 007 (Shanty Town).

In 1968 Dekker's “Israelites” was released, appearing on both the U.S. and UK singles chart, and eventually topping the latter and peaking in the Top Ten of the former. He was the first Jamaican performer to enter U.S. markets with pure Jamaican music, though he never repeated the feat. Equally, the track became the first reggae song to top the UK chart. That same year saw the release of “Beautiful and Dangerous,” “Writing on the Wall,” “Music Like Dirt”, “Bongo Girl,” and “Shing a Ling.” In the same year, Dekker was mentioned as "Desmond" by his friend Paul McCartney in The Beatles' song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", when it was released on 'The White Album'.

1969 saw the release of “It Mek,” which first saw only lukewarm success but was re-recorded and became a hit both in Jamaica and the UK. He also released “Problems” and “Pickney Gal,” both of which were popular in Jamaica but saw only limited success elsewhere.

Mid career (the 1970s)

In the 1970s Dekker spent most of his time touring and moved to the UK, where he continued to record. Among his best known releases of this period was “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” written by Jimmy Cliff, which Dekker had not wanted to record but was convinced to do so by Leslie Kong. Kong, whose production had been an instrumental part of both Dekker's and Cliff's careers, died in 1971 and both his proteg├ęs lost direction for a period before returning to music.

Dekker continued recording, but with only limited success until he began working with the production duo Bruce Anthony in 1974. His first hit with the pair was 1975's “Sing a Little Song” which climbed in to the British Top Ten. Dekker was unable to follow its success, however, and did not chart in the UK for some time (except for the Top Ten re-charting of “Israelites” in 1975). Dekker also found only a limited audience in Jamaica.

At the end of the 1970s Dekker signed with Stiff Records, a punk label linked with the Two-Tone movement, a fusion of punk and ska. He recorded an album called Black & Dekker which featured his previous hits backed by The Rumour, Graham Parker's backing band. His first single was “Israelites,” a Top Ten Belgian hit, and was followed by “Please Don't Bend,” Jimmy Cliff's “Many Rivers to Cross” and “Book of Rules.” His next album was Compass Point, produced by Robert Palmer. Though Compass Point did not sell well, Dekker was still a popular live performer and he toured with The Rumour.

Later life

In the early 1980s, as the Two Tone movement died out, he saw his fortunes dwindle and he was declared bankrupt in 1984. Only a single live album was released in the late 80s, but a new version of “Israelites” reawakened public interest in 1990, following its use in a Maxell advertisement. He re-recorded some old singles, and worked with The Specials for 1992's King of Kings', which used hits from Dekker's musical heroes, including Derrick Morgan.

He also collaborated on a remix version of his classic “Israelites” with reggae artist Apache Indian.


Desmond Dekker died of a heart attack on 25th May, 2006, at his home in Thornton Heath in the London Borough of Croydon , England, aged 64. He was preparing to headline a world music festival in Prague. Mr. Dekker was divorced and is survived by a son and daughter.


He is referenced in the Rancid song "Roots Radicals" in the lyric: "The radio was playing/Desmond Dekker was singing/On the 43 bus as we climb up the hill."

He is also mentioned in the Common Rider song "Classics of Love" in the lyric: "Midnight Marauder spinning on my stereo/Mr. Desmond Dekker has a crown made of gold/The kids are alright a-what a-what I hear."

In the 1991 Gulf War, US troops stationed in Saudi Arabia were told not to play certain songs, including Dekker's Israelites, to avoid inflaming the sensitivities of their hosts.


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