@ the Indigo 02
31 July 2012
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John Holt died on Sunday morning, 20 October 2014 at the Wellington
Hospital, St John’s Wood. Holt’s family confirmed the
singer was suffering with cancer and was being treated at the hospital
months prior to his death.
John Holt was born in Kingston in 1947. By the age of 12, he was
a regular entrant in talent contests run at Jamaican theatres by
Vere Johns. He recorded his first single in 1963 with “I Cried
a Tear” for record producer Leslie Kong, and also recorded
duets with Alton Ellis. He achieved prominence in his home country
as lead singer of The Paragons, with whom he enjoyed a string of
hits, including “Ali Baba,” “Tonight,” “I
See Your Face,” and the Holt penned “The Tide Is High”
(later made famous by Blondie and also covered by Atomic Kitten).
“Wear You To The Ball” was another of his hits with
The Paragons, later covered by U-Roy. During his time with the Paragons,
he also recorded solo material for Studio One (including “Fancy
Make-up,” “A Love I Can Feel,” “Let's Build
Our Dreams,” and "OK Fred”) and Prince Buster (“Oh
Girl”, and “My Heart Is Gone”).
Holt left the Paragons in 1970 and concentrated on his solo career.
By the early 1970s, he was one of the biggest stars of reggae, and
his “Stick By Me” was the biggest selling Jamaican record
of 1972, one of a number of records recorded with producer Bunny
Lee. His 1973 album, “Time Is The Master,” was successful,
with orchestral arrangements recorded in London. The success of
the string-laden reggae led to Trojan Records issuing a series of
similarly arranged albums produced by Bunny Lee starting with the
“1000 Volts of Holt” in 1973, a compilation of Holt’s
reggae cover versions of popular hits (and later followed by similarly
named releases up to “3000 Volts of Holt”). 1000 Volts
spawned the UK Top 10 hit “Help Me Make It Through the Night”
(written by Kris Kristofferson), which peaked at number 6, and also
included covers of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”
and Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In The Morning” Among
Holt’s style, notably slower and more romantic than most
of his contemporaries, is a recognisable forerunner of the lovers
rock style which developed in the UK during the 1970s. “Don’t
Want To See You Cry” was one of Holt’s many Jamaican
hits. The lyrics about “moving to a far away land” and
leaving loved ones behind must have rung true for many Jamaicans
in the 1960s.
While Holt became well known internationally for these lushly produced
ballads, in Jamaica he also recorded more roots-oriented material
such as “Up Park Camp,” as well as a short-lived attempt
at crossing over into disco. Holt further explored his more rootsy
side on the album “Police In Helicopter” from 1983,
the title song from which became a hit. “His Song, “Man
Next Door,” has been covered by numerous other reggae artists
including Dennis Brown and Horace Andy. The latter sang in a more
electronic vein for the Massive.