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Laurel Aitken

Known as "the Godfather of Ska," Laurel Aitken was Jamaica's first real recording star. He was a pioneer in many other respects as well: he was one of the first artists ever to release a ska record, the first to work at promoting his music in the U.K., and one of the first to record for the seminal Island label, itself a major force in the international popularity of Jamaican music. Cutting his teeth on the sort of jump blues and boogie shuffles popular during the early days of American R&B, Aitken recorded numerous hits for a variety of labels over the years, enjoying his heyday during the '60s. His continued presence in the U.K. made him an elder statesman to the Two Tone ska revival movement of the punk era, and he continued to tour even into the new millennium.

Aitken was born in Cuba on April 22, 1927, and moved to his father's homeland of Jamaica in 1938. At age 15, he won a prominent talent competition with his rendition of "Pennies From Heaven"; around the same time, he also sang as part of a calypso group that performed for tourists arriving on the island from cruise ships. Aitken developed his singing and songwriting chops on a wide variety of material: jump blues (especially those of Louis Jordan and the young Nat King Cole), New Orleans R&B, calypso, and the indigenous Jamaican folk style mento. He became a popular nightclub performer around Kingston, and officially joined the nascent Jamaican recording industry in 1957, when he recorded (and produced) the R&B/calypso spiritual "Roll Jordan Roll." The following year, he began recording for producer Chris Blackwell's fledgling Island label; his double-A-sided "Little Sheila"/"Boogie in My Bones" was the first single ever released on Island, as well as one of the earliest ska records. It was also a massive hit in Jamaica, topping the charts for nearly three months, and went on to become the first Jamaican record ever issued in the U.K.

Aitken scored another hit with 1959's gospel-informed "Judgement Day," an early production by the legendary Duke Reid, and repeated his success with 1960's "Boogie Rock." In the meantime, he recorded for several prominent producers, including Reid, Leslie Kong, and Ken Khouri. In 1960, spurred by the popularity of his records in England, Aitken moved to London, specifically the heavily West Indian area of Brixton. There he began recording for Blue Beat, the first British-based label to cater to Jamaican immigrant tastes. Blue Beat's first single was a reissue of "Boogie Rock," and not long after, "Mary Lee" became the first song Aitken recorded specifically for the label. As a prominent Jamaican who'd chosen to make his home in Brixton, Aitken's popularity among the U.K.'s West Indian immigrants soon exceeded the stardom he'd enjoyed back home.

Aitken cut more than 15 singles for Blue Beat, then temporarily returned to Jamaica in 1963 for a recording binge that often found him backed by the Skatalites. Some tracks, like "Weary Wanderer" and "Zion," were produced by Reid; another, the hit "Bad Minded Woman," was released by Aitken's new U.K. label, Rio. Aitken remained with Rio through 1966, issuing around 20 singles and also recording for several other small labels. Rio went bankrupt, and during the late '60s, Aitken signed a new deal with the Pama family of labels (Nu Beat, Doctor Bird, etc.), partly because the company helped him out with his overdue child support payments. This arrangement resulted in some of his biggest U.K. hits, many of which he penned himself: "Fire in Mi Wire," "P**sy Price" (both early slack numbers), "Landlord and Tenants," "It's Too Late," "Jesse James," "Rise & Fall," "Woppi King," and "Skinhead Train," to name the biggest. This material was among Aitken's most enduring, and broadened his appeal to white audiences (mostly skinheads and mods).

The ascent of Bob Marley and the new Rastafarian emphasis on culturally relevant reggae made Aitken's music seem somewhat outdated in the '70s. He moved to Leicester, well outside of London, and while he performed occasionally, he was effectively retired from recording. However, the Two Tone ska revival of the late '70s made Aitken's style hip all over again, and the English Beat rewrote the lyrics of "P**sy Price" for their own "Ranking Full Stop." Aitken returned to the recording studio and came up with "Rudy Got Married," which became his first ever U.K. chart single in 1981. Aitken resumed his regular U.K. tours during the '80s, and spent a year and a half working with a band called the Potato 5, with whom he recorded on Gaz's Rockin' Records. In 1986, he appeared alongside David Bowie in the mod film Absolute Beginners; additionally, UB40 covered Aitken's single "Guilty" (recorded under the name Tiger) on their hit Labour of Love album, further increasing his visibility. Aitken performed with several third wave ska bands over the '80s and '90s, and although his recording activity dropped off substantially, he continued to tour into the new millennium, even documenting and releasing a performance titled Live at Club Ska, issued in 2004. After six decades of recording and performing, Laurel Aitken's reign as the Godfather of Ska came to an end on July 17, 2005 when at the age of 87 the singer suffered a heart attack and passed way. ~ Steve Huey
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Voodoo Woman

1. Voodoo Woman

2. Last Night

3. Baby Don't Do It

4. You Can't Stop Me From Loving You

5. Seven Lonely Nights

6. I Believe

7. Bewildered And Blue

8. Jamaica

9. Looking For My Baby

10. You Left Me Standing

11. I'm In Love With You Baby

12. Glory Hallelujah

13. I've Been Weeping & Crying

14. I Need You (Aka Indeed I Love You)

15. Let's Be Lovers (Aka I Can't Stand It)

16. Don't Play With Fire

17. The Mule

18. This Little Girl Of Mine

19. I Want To Love You Forever

20. Pack Your Bundle And Go

21. Bongo Jerk

22. Don't Break Your Promise

23. Never You Hurt (The One You Love)

24. Sweet Precious Love

25. Darling

x

Track List: The Original Cool Jamaican Ska

1. Fire

2. Freedom Train

3. Peace Perfect Peace

4. Bad Minded Woman

5. Devil Or Angel

6. You Are My Sunshine

7. Hometown

8. Life

9. Adam And Eve

10. Mary

11. I Shall Remove

12. We Got To Move

13. What A Weeping

14. Zion City Wall

15. One More River To Cross

16. Lion Of Judah

17. Remember My Darling

18. The Saint

19. Go Gal Go

20. Rock Of Ages

21. You Left Me Standing

22. Bag A Boo

23. Jericho

24. Yes Indeed

25. Let My People Go

26. Bachelor Life

27. You Was Up

28. Don't Stay Out Late

29. Be Mine

x

Track List: The Pioneer Of Jamaican Music

3. Nebuchadnezzar

5. Tribute To Collie Smith

6. West Indian Cricket Test

7. Aitken's Boogie

8. Come Back Jeannie

9. Mary Lee

11. If It's Money You Need

12. Low Down Dirty Girl

15. Judgement Day

16. Mash Potato Boogie

17. Bossa Nova Hop

18. Zion

19. Mary Don't You Weep

20. Bachelor Life

21. You Was Up

22. We Shall Overcome

23. Green Banana

24. Looking For My Baby

25. I Believe

x

Track List: The High Priest Of Reggae

1. Jesse James

2. Mr. Popcorn

3. I Got To Have Your Love

4. (Sloop) John B

5. Shoo Bee Shoo Bee

6. Hailes Selaise

7. Landlords And Tenants

8. Save The Last Dance

9. Walk Right Back

10. Don't Be Cruel

11. Woppi King

12. Suffering Still

13. Reggae 69

14. Donkey Man

15. Blues Dance

16. Lawd Doctor

17. Babylon Gone

18. Everybody Sufferin'

19. Freedom

20. P**sy Price (Gone Up)

21. Gimme Back Me Dollar

22. Skinhead Train

23. Kent People - The Gruvy Beats

24. Skinhead Invasion (Aka Apollo 12)

25. Bendwood Dick

x

Track List: Laurel Aitken Says Fire

1. Fire (In Your Wire)

2. Worried Over Me

3. Halfway To Paradise

4. Coconut (Water)

5. Quando Quando Quando

6. If You Need Me

7. La La La (Means I Love You)

8. Rice And Peas

9. Stand By Me

11. Mr. Lee

12. Gonna Get Married

13. Birmingham Girl

14. Reggae Prayer

15. Deliverance Will Come

16. The Rise And Fall (Of Laurel)

17. If You're Not Black

18. Heile Heile (The Lion)

19. Carolina

20. Kingston Town

21. Think Me No Know

22. Loch Ness Monster

x

Track List: Ska With Laurel

1. Street Of Glory

2. Lonesome Traveller

3. Madam Sorosie

4. We Shall Overcome

5. Call The Doctor

6. Freedom

7. Hallelujah Train

8. Looking For My Baby

9. Woman Sweeter Than Man

10. It's Coming Down

11. Take Off My Pyjamas

12. Leave My Women Alone

13. Mary Don't You Weep

14. Ring Don't Mean A Thing

15. Come Let Us Go

16. How Cab I Forget You

17. Clap Your Hands

18. Revival

19. Jumbee Jamboree

20. Propoganda

21. Shake

22. Green Banana

23. Clementine

24. Shame And Scandal

25. Coconut Woman

26. I Don't Want No More

27. Last Night

x

Track List: Meets Floyd Lloyd & The Potato 5

1. Tear Up

2. Jesse Jackson

3. Spin On Your Head

4. Big City

5. Western Special

6. Sally Brown

7. Mad About You

8. Sahara

9. Long Time

x

Track List: Rocksteady Party

1. Rocksteady Party

2. That Was Then

3. Do The Jerk

4. Burnin' Fire

5. Pancho The Mexican Bandit

6. Bluebeat Suit

7. Things That I Do

8. Dial M For Murder

9. Re-Burial

10. Car Chase

11. Got To Go

12. He Man Versus Skeletor

Comments

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Good stuff!
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nunnayobiz42 0
Respected forever, with gratitude. {{}}
Report as inappropriate
boss sounds on the GRAPE Label from Laurel recording KING HORROR
Report as inappropriate
Miss Laurel....
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aquarianmusi c
Thank you pandora, found a new calypso artist.
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dellroyander s o n
rough

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