Lyn Taitt may not be as important a figure in music history as George Jones or Les Paul, but he shares a similarly dwindling significance. Like Jones’s style of singing or Paul’s advances in multi-tracking and guitar design, Taitt’s involvement in the origination of the rocksteady sound (half-speed ska with greater emphasis on bass, guitar, and harmonies) has been routinely overshadowed by nothing more than the very existence and dissemination of the genre. History has taken the unassuming architect for granted and chosen, perhaps inadvertently, to pretend as if rocksteady had always existed, as if there were never a moment in time where it was introduced.
But there was a very specific moment when it was introduced as a stylistic and creative possibility: Taitt suggested a slowing of the tempo while working on a Hopeton Lewis ska record (Lewis’s “Take It Easy” is often credited as the first rocksteady record). The rest, they say, is history. Hold Me Tight: Anthology 65-73 is the first collection of Taitt’s music to be issued on CD, compiling his rare Federal Records releases (Sounds Rock Steady and Rock Steady Greatest Hits) with some of the many uncredited studio dates his band performed on: a brief history of rocksteady’s birth and infanthood in one convenient two-disc set.
Taitt grew up in Trinidad, first as a steel pan player and later a guitarist. He first traveled to Jamaica with one of his early bands, at which point he decided to stay, playing in bands like the Sheiks, the Cavaliers, the Comets, and the Skatalites before forming Lyn Taitt & the Jets in 1966. The Jets’ incredibly tight sound (so succinctly described by the term “rocksteady”) is evident mostly in their instrumental sides: songs like “Nice Time” and “Soloman” highlight the unrushed grooves and sweet melodies, while “Intensified ‘68” and “Rainbow Valley” demonstrate the fuller sound the band would realize with the addition of keyboardists Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson and Theophilus “Easy Snappin’” Beckford.
Taitt’s guitar work was subtle but important. He oiled the chord transitions, sliding up or stuttering down on the hinges of song structures; doubled the bass on songs like “You Have Caught Me” to not only thicken the groove but bring more attention to it; and, most importantly, played with a fluttering pick style that echoed the steel drums he grew up on. His style of guitar playing would come to be as crucial an element to rocksteady’s sound as its mid-tempo groove, often imitated and often reproduced.
Besides constructing and perfecting the rocksteady sound, the Jets were some of the most sought-after session musicians in late ‘60s Kingston. Of the thousands of records the Jets reportedly played on (many days were comprised of four or five three-hour sessions for different producers), a handful are collected on Hold Me Tight‘s second disc, including Joe White’s “Rudies All Around”, Dermot Lynch’s “Cool It”, Nehemiah Reed’s “Family War”, the Overtakers’ “Girl You Ruff”, and Johnny Nash’s “Hold Me Tight” (the latter one of the anthology’s better-known tracks). The influence of American R&B is palpably present on these sides: Paulette & the Consomates’ “Stop the Wedding” courts ‘50s doo-wop, while the Kilowatts deliver a fairly straight cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home”.
There’s historical importance in Hold Me Tight, an importance that resonates in the musical landscape even if its origins have been neglected by indifference. But there’s more here than just fodder for leagues of historians—rocksteady’s name alone describes the pleasure that this consistently simmering music can stir up.