Sam Cooke, Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd, Elvis Presley and David Ruffin – all have two things in common. They were all early outstanding performers in the entertainment business and they were all born in the month of January. So, as we progress further into the month, we are again reminded of the outstanding contributions made by them to the development of popular music.
Dodd, a Jamaican record producer and creator of the famed Studio 1 record label, first came to public attention as a sound system operator with his ‘Coxsone Downbeat’ sound system in the mid-to-late 1950s. He became the heartbeat of Jamaican dancehalls like Forrester’s Hall and King’s Lawn along North Street, and The Jubilee Tile Gardens on King Street in Kingston, as he dished out a rocking blend of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues to his ardent fans.
Dancehalls then were physical spaces – covered or uncovered. Today, the term refers to a music genre that has been in existence since 1983, and Dodd, who by 1962 had transitioned into record production, continued to influence the genre, even at this late stage. Many of the beats that have rocked dances and parties over the past 25 years have either been copied or influenced by his rhythms. And what is interesting is that many of the current artistes who ride on these rhythms are unaware how much they owe to this man and his musicians, who created hundreds of classic rhythms at Studio 1.
Dodd displayed the third area of his entertainment skills when he recorded as a rapper, alongside the sweet-voiced Delroy Wilson on the recording Prince Pharaoh. His voice can clearly be heard on the recording as he rapped in reference to Prince Buster:
“When I say get down, I mean get down
I have no use for you
Your father was King Pharaoh and you are Prince Pharaoh
You must go down as your father did go down
Go down and drop your crown.”
And he didn’t stop there. He went on to sing in duet with keyboard maestro Jackie Mittoo as The Soul Agents on a cut called Get Ready It’s Rocksteady. Dodd’s voice can also be heard on the instrumental El Pussy Ska and The Burning Spears’ Rocking Time. Born January 26, 1932, Dodd died of a heart attack at the Medical Associates Hospital on May 4, 2004.
Sam Cooke’s repertoire of hits belies his short lifespan, which lasted from January 22, 1931, to December 11, 1964. His earliest recordings were with gospel groups – The Highway Q.C.’s and The Soul Stirrers – that stirred a massive following, to the extent that when he decided to transition into secular recordings, his fans were offended.
BEST IN THE BUSINESS
Emitting a smooth, crystalline vocal delivery, which music connoisseurs rate as the best in the business, Cooke’s run of popular hits seemed unending: You Send Me (1957), Only 16 (1959), Everybody Loves To Cha Cha (1959), Wonderful World (1960), Cupid (1961), Bring It On Home (1962), Another Saturday Night (1963), and his posthumous release – A Change Is Gonna Come (1965). The last cut – a spiritually charged revolutionary gem, is said to have helped a US presidential aspirant to get into the White House, as Cooke sang:
“I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like the river I’ve running ever since
Its been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come.”
Elvis Presley joins the ranks of January stars by virtue of his January 8 birth in 1935. He has the distinction of being the first recording artiste to put three consecutive No.1 hits on the Billboard charts, the first being Heartbreak Hotel in 1956. He also ranks second behind the Beatles as the artiste with the most No.1 singles (18 in all). Dubbed the King of Rock and Roll, Presley’s earliest million sellers in the Rock ‘n’ Roll style include Heartbreak Hotel, I Want You, I Need You, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog, Love Me, All Shook Up, Teddy Bear, Jailhouse Rock, and Treat Me Nice. Presley died August 16, 1977, at age 42, incidentally at the same age as Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown. The cause of death was given as a heart attack, occasioned by an overdose of prescription drugs.
David Ruffin’s lead vocals with the Temptations and as a solo artiste made him into a star almost overnight, while propelling Motown Recording Company to the pinnacle of recording entities. Beginning with the group in 1965, Ruffin proved to be an astonishing singer with a throaty vocal that made him very effective on the Temptations first million seller – the bittersweet ballad My Girl in that same year. He followed up in a similar vein with Since I Lost My Baby and I Wish It Would Rain, and then proved his versatility with the soul screamers Beauty Is Only Skin Deep, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, and I Know I’m Losing You. As a solo artiste, Ruffin had massive hits that included Walk Away From Love, Everything’s Coming Up Love, My Whole World Ended, and his self-penned Status Of A Fool in the early 1970s. The last cut well and truly described the degradation into which he had drawn himself through his association with hard drugs. On June 1, 1991, Ruffin self-overdosed on cocaine and his whole world had, in fact, ended on that day. He was 50 years old.