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Artist Hall of Fame

Alton EllisText by Harry Hawks

Alton Ellis was, beyond any doubt, Jamaica’s most soulful singer ever and his influence on the development of Jamaican music through his matchless singing and song-writing is profound.
Date Added: Jul 29, 2010, Date Updated: Apr 17, 2020 Copyright (C) 2020 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Real Name: Alton Nehemiah Ellis
Sep 1, 1938 - Oct 10, 2008
Place of Birth: Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Ken Boothe
John Holt
Hortense Ellis
Derloy Wilson
Mr Soul Of Jamaica, born Alton Nehemiah Ellis in Western Kingston 1st September 1938, not only possessed one of the most expressive voices in Jamaican music full of emotion, exuberance and love but also wrote some of the finest and most memorable songs in the history of reggae. He regarded himself primarily as an interpreter of other people's material although Alton's self deprecation was typical of a man who did more to fashion the fabric of reggae music than many other, more celebrated, performers.

Alton came from a musical family and his younger sister, Hortense Ellis, appeared in six semi finals and four finals of the Vere Johns Opportunity Hour. Alton also triumphed in Vere Johns' legendary talent contests but for his dancing prowess rather than his singing skills.

"I win a couple of contests dancing and then switch to singing... in those days you have a lot of harmony singers in pair: Higgs & Wilson, Blues Busters, Charmers, Clarendonians, Melodians."

In the early sixties Alton formed a partnership with Eddy Perkins; the pair wrote a heart rending ballad, 'Muriel', and took the song to Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd) who recorded it and released it on his Worldisc label. It was a huge hit which they followed up with 'My Heaven'. Alton and Eddy also recorded 'Let Me Dream' and 'Love Divine' for Vincent Chin(VIncent 'Randy' Chin)'s Randy's(Randys) label in a similar lachrymose style. At this time no-one saw the nascent Kingston music scene as a long term prospect and these fledgling singers, with their shared love of music, wanted nothing more than to become well known local personalities.

"You are a guy from the ghetto and you want to be on the radio, the TV, to be on the Christmas morning big concert. It really was the recognition."

Eddy Perkins departed for a solo career and Alton started to work for Dodd's arch rival Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label as lead singer of Alton & The Flames. As rock steady came to prominence in 1966 Alton became the undisputed leader in this brand new musical field and Treasure Isle the undisputed top studio and record label. Rock steady allowed singers, influenced by American harmony groups such as The Impressions, to express themselves in a uniquely Jamaican way. Alton's 'Rock Steady' seven inch release was one of the first ever records to use the term and his long playing 'Mr Soul Of Jamaica' for Duke Reid is rightly regarded by the cognoscenti as the definitive rock steady album.

He was one of the first Jamaican singers whose songs reflected local social issues and, while others remained ambivalent towards the lawless behaviour of the rude boys, Alton put himself in the firing line and issued a series of records, including 'The Preacher' and 'Blessings Of Love', that condemned their anti social behaviour. In 'Dance Crasher' he urged the rude boys to do something constructive with their lives and, instead of committing acts of negative violence, to be more like local hero boxer Bunny Grant. But taking a stand like this in the volatile area of Kingston where Alton lived only served to make him another rude boy target.

"Then I got threatened a couple of times. Living in Trench Town and being in that environment amongst the people and being an artist I'm easy to get at. So I tell Duke Reid I would refrain from singing these types of songs..."

In 1967 Alton was persuaded by Coxsone, now running his powerful Studio One organisation, to become the featured vocalist, alongside Ken Boothe, for The Soul Vendors UK Tour and Alton left Duke Reid and re-recorded many of his Treasure Isle hits for Coxsone. The tour was an unqualified success and Alton, Ken and The Soul Vendors returned to Kingston in triumph. Alton now began work on a series of recordings at Studio One that would enhance his reputation still further; some of his best work from this period can be found on three essential Studio One albums: 'Alton Ellis Sings Rock & Soul', 'The Best Of Alton Ellis' and 'Sunday Coming'. Many were autobiographical love songs about his wife Pearl and the heartbreak he endured when they broke up: one his most beautiful songs, 'I'm Still In Love With You(I'm Still In Love)', was sung as a direct appeal to Pearl.

"I back off from that type of recording and go back to more loving sounds. But of course love is a fact too and a serious fact... It's easier for me to sit down and write a song about love than about other situations. I feel it more and express it more. I think it's in my nature... And most of these songs are a story I'm telling about my life... it's personal."

As the sixties drew to a close Alton began to freelance for a number of different producers. He interspersed romantic songs including 'I'll Be Waiting' for Winston 'Techniques' Riley(Winston Riley) and 'Too Late To Turn Back Now' for Clive Chin at Randy's(Randys) with more socially conscious 'reality' lyrics such as 'Back To Africa' and 'Deliver Us' for Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley(Lloyd Daley). He returned to his anti rude boy stance and admonished them once again in 'Big Bad Boy' for Keith Hudson's Mafia label.

He came to England in 1972 to record for Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss' prestigious A & M label and, after the release of 'Sho Be Do Be Do (I Love You)', Alton took up permanent residence in London where he added immeasurably to the capital's reggae scene. He recorded sparingly but nurtured the careers of others including Janet Kay at the beginning of her rise to 'Queen Of Lovers Rock'. Alton also organised annual Rock Steady Gala shows held at the Hammersmith Palais over the Easter holidays in the nineties which showcased the cream of sixties Jamaican talent in a superbly sequenced setting. In 2004 Alton was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in recognition for his services to the music business. Four years later, on 10th October 2008, he died of cancer of the lymph glands in West London's Hammersmith Hospital.

He continues to inspire a singular love and devotion amongst reggae devotees but, outside of reggae, people are aware of his music but remain unaware of the creator. 'I'm Still In Love With You(I'm Still In Love)' inspired Althea & Donna's 1977 worldwide smash 'Uptown Top Ranking' for Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson) and the song was returned to in 2004 by Sean Paul and Sasha; their version remained on the Billboard charts for six months. 'Mad Mad' another huge hit from Alton's Studio One sojourn became a dance hall staple in the eighties after Michigan & Smiley deejayed the rhythm as 'Diseases' for Henry 'Junjo' Lawes. In the nineties it went on to become a hip hop staple sampled by KRS One and The Notorious B.I.G. amongst many others. To call his work influential, even seminal, barely hints at the truth.

Alton Ellis is a giant but a giant who is nowhere near as well regarded as his myriad musical achievements deserve. During his lifetime he learned to accept this lack of recognition with a proud yet world weary resignation but, had he worked in any other musical genre, he would be universally revered as a towering presence for shaping and making music as we now know it .
Jul 29, 2010 (Apr 17, 2020 Update) Text by Harry Hawks
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Debut title(s)
Alton Ellis, Eddy - Muriel
7" Alton Ellis, Eddy - Muriel / Owen Gray - Walk All Over Studio One
  
¥850 (US$8.15)
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Hit titles
Alton Ellis - Best Of Alton Ellis
CD Alton Ellis - Best Of Alton Ellis Studio One
  
¥2380 (US$22.82)
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Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis - Alton & Hortense Ellis (Side A-1: Skip)
LP Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis - Alton & Hortense Ellis (Side A-1: Skip) Studio One
  
¥3280 (US$31.45)
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Alton Ellis - Sings Rock And Soul
LP Alton Ellis - Sings Rock And Soul Studio One
  
¥3280 (US$31.45)
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Alton Ellis - Mr. Soul Of Jamaica
LP Alton Ellis - Mr. Soul Of Jamaica Treasure Isle
  
¥3280 (US$31.45)
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Alton Ellis - Sunday Coming
LP Alton Ellis - Sunday Coming Studio One
  
¥3280 (US$31.45)
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Alton Ellis, Flames - Cry Tough
7" Alton Ellis, Flames - Cry Tough / Baba Brooks - Spit Fire Treasure Isle
  
¥850 (US$8.15)
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Alton Ellis - I'm Just A Guy
7" Alton Ellis - I'm Just A Guy Studio One I'm Just A Guy
  
¥1800 (US$17.26)
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Alton Ellis - Duke Of Earl
7" Alton Ellis - Duke Of Earl / Paragons - Riding High Treasure Isle (other) Duke Of Earl B: Riding High
  
¥570 (US$5.47)
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Alton Ellis - Mad Mad
7" Alton Ellis - Mad Mad Studio One Mad Mad/Diseases
  
¥1800 (US$17.26)
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Alton Ellis - Rock Steady
7" Alton Ellis - Rock Steady Treasure Isle (other)
  
¥850 (US$8.15)
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Alton Ellis - La La Means I Love You
7" Alton Ellis - La La Means I Love You / Melodians - Passion Love Treasure Isle UK La La Means I Love You/Precious
  
¥1280 (US$12.27)
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Alton Ellis - Can I Change My Mind
7" Alton Ellis - Can I Change My Mind Studio One Can I Change My Mind
  
¥850 (US$8.15)
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Alton Ellis - Breaking Up
7" Alton Ellis - Breaking Up Treasure Isle (other) Breaking Up
  
¥570 (US$5.47)
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Alton Ellis - You Make Me Happy
7" Alton Ellis - You Make Me Happy / Unknown - Unknown Ska Treasure Isle
¥570 (US$5.47)
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Alton Ellis - Too Late To Turn Back (Coloured Vinyl)
7" Alton Ellis - Too Late To Turn Back (Coloured Vinyl) / Augustus Pablo - Too Late Impact US Too Late
  
¥900 (US$8.63)
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Alton Ellis, Doreen Schaffer - I'm Still In Love
7" Alton Ellis, Doreen Schaffer - I'm Still In Love Studio One I'm Still In Love
  
¥850 (US$8.15)
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Recent arrival(s)
Alton Ellis - Pumping In
7" Alton Ellis - Pumping In Harlem Shuffle EU
  
¥1780 (US$17.07)
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Best selling CD(s)
Alton Ellis - Mr. Soul Of Jamaica (CD-R)
CD Alton Ellis - Mr. Soul Of Jamaica (CD-R) Treasure Isle UK
  
¥2580 (US$24.74)
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Best selling LP(s)
Alton Ellis - Legendary Alton Ellis
LP Alton Ellis - Legendary Alton Ellis All Tone UK
  
¥2680 (US$25.70)
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Alton Ellis - Coutinuation
LP Alton Ellis - Coutinuation All Tone UK
  
¥2680 (US$25.70)
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Alton Ellis - Man From Studio One
LP Alton Ellis - Man From Studio One All Tone UK
  
¥2680 (US$25.70)
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Alton Ellis - Family Vibes
LP Alton Ellis - Family Vibes All Tone UK
  
¥2680 (US$25.70)
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Best selling 10/12"(s)
Janet Kay; Jo Jo Bennett - Loving You
12" Janet Kay;Jo Jo Bennett - Loving You / Alton Ellis, Larry Foreigner;Alton Ellis - Jah Is The Leader/Extacy (No Cover) All Tone UK
  
¥1680 (US$16.11)
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Alton Ellis - Woman (B面センターずれ)
12" Alton Ellis - Woman (B面センターずれ) All Tone UK B: Let Him Try
  
¥1680 (US$16.11)
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Alton Ellis; Augustus Pablo - Too Late To Turn Back Now; Too Late
12" Alton Ellis;Augustus Pablo - Too Late To Turn Back Now; Too Late All Tone UK Tisha'n - Prodigal Son (Bside)
  
¥1680 (US$16.11)
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Adjin O'neil - Sunshine Of My Life
12" Adjin O'neil - Sunshine Of My Life / Alton Ellis, Puppa Stori - Father & Son Apartheid Done All Tone UK B: Perfidia
  
¥1580 (US$15.15)
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Alton Ellis - I'm Still In Love
12" Alton Ellis - I'm Still In Love / Soul Vendors - Just A Bit Of Soul Soul Jazz Records UK/Studio One I'm Still In Love
  
¥2180 (US$20.90)
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Best selling 7"(s)
Alton Ellis - It's A Shame
7" Alton Ellis - It's A Shame / Lloyd Charmers - Dub Of Shame Splash UK
  
¥1480 (US$14.19)
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Alton Ellis - Live & Learn
7" Alton Ellis - Live & Learn / Sound Dimension - Version Studio One Live & Learn
  
¥850 (US$8.15)
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Johnny Osbourne - Niah Man
7" Johnny Osbourne - Niah Man / Alton Ellis - Soul Groover Techniques/Dub Store Records JPN
  
¥1480 (US$14.19)
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Alton Ellis - It's Your Thing
7" Alton Ellis - It's Your Thing / Vin Gordon - It's Your Thing Inst. Techniques/Dub Store Records JPN
  
¥1480 (US$14.19)
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Augustus Pablo - Stabiliser (Single Take)
7" Augustus Pablo - Stabiliser (Single Take) / Alton Ellis - All We Need Is Love Stamma/Dub Store Records JPN
   The true genius Keith Hudson introduced highly mutational sounds and sound effects at the time and this Pablo organ cut of “Peter & Judas” is no exception. Slightly different cut to the one included in “Flesh of My Skin Blood of My Blood” known as the monumental and arguably the first reggae concept album that is rated as important as “Blackboard Jungle Dub” in dub music. This cut is the fat original take mixed prior to the LP.
¥1480 (US$14.19)
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