Eleven years ago, reggae-rocksteady lost its godfather, Alton Ellis – the man that sang the 1967 hit I’m Still in Love – but his son, Christopher, is determined to preserve the legacy.
As a pioneer of rocksteady music, Alton managed to keep the music centred on love, consistently flirting with the average female listener. To put it simply, the crooner loved the music and the apple does not fall far from the tree, said the youngest of the Ellis sons.
Branded by his birth name Christopher Ellis, the UK-based singer has developed a following even though he has not flooded airwaves with one hit after another. Ellis admits, “I have not released the amount of records I would have liked to release (though there may have been a few unofficial tracks circulating), but I am hungry to be successful, to live gloriously and happily, so I have dedicated a lot of time to recording.”
With the number of reggae-rocksteady artistes being few and far between, he adds: “It is not uncommon for someone to say to me, it’s been a long time since they heard authentic-sounding songs, similar to my father’s and the singers of his generation.”
No derogatory songs
It is no secret that the Ellis family is filled with entertainers who span from music to comedy; all lovers of their art, by nature, and applying lessons passed on from one generation to the next.
“There are morals to uphold across the board, and if it is one thing I learnt from my own father is, no slackness or no derogatory songs – not that we have the desire to do anything like that – the standards are to be valued,” Ellis explains to The Gleaner about one lesson he has learnt.
The other was humility. Although, ironic, he says, “I don’t think it is humble to say I am humble but that I exercise humility.”
The 37-year-old Ellis has clearly been exercising modesty, noting that before last Tuesday’s release of his song, titled Only Want You Naked, the most current track was Here We Are from two years ago, and Left Unsaid five years prior to that.
He shares: “It was the first song that I did not write anything down for, only went into studio and started singing with the engineer’s motivation to keep going. Within 20 minutes, the whole song came together and I knew from there what the title had to be, to sort of trick people that it was something explicit.”
Tap into a niche
He will say there is no pressure to be on par with the noteworthy musical lineage, having found a distinctive sound that the likes of Stephen, Julian and Damian ‘Jr Gong’ Marley recognised approximately one decade ago and with that, signed him to their Ghetto Youths International label. But, in the same breath, the singer will also explain that it takes a body of people to keep any genre going.
“As an artiste resolute on carrying on the music I grew up on, and who people will say has it embedded in my DNA, I agree that there are not many rocksteady singers living in this world now, but the listeners still exist, so I am able to tap into a niche.”
Ellis continues: “The feedback when I put out music is generally, ‘Keep it going, Ellis’; so it is encouraging me to press forward with more rocksteady tunes. The other side to it, though, is that things cannot stay stagnant; the music is continuously growing branches.”
The sound and feel of Only Want You Naked stays true to the root of rocksteady and reggae-soul music as Ellis’ smooth vocals record over the musical composition of producer Matthieu Bost (same producer who contributed to Skankin’ Sweet by Chronixx) with the greatest ease.
The singer-songwriter recalls touring with his father as a teenager, describing it as a school of music that prepared him for his own career and where he gathered most of the knowledge on songwriting, recording and performing.
“My first stage show was at 11 years old, those five minutes changed my whole life. I did not just know what career path I wanted to take, I knew I would be a singer – I went to school the next day and told the teacher I need not come anymore. That same attitude followed me to the first day of college … . I literally only spent orientation day.”
During his learning curve years, Ellis found himself perfecting his songwriting talents and passion for music by performing regularly at venues such as the jazz café near his home in London where, to this day, he hosts a one-man show. The next staging is slated for Sunday, December 22.