Words by Kieran Meadows
Hopeton Lewis, the Jamaican singer who recorded one of the the earliest rocksteady songs in 1966’s “Take It Easy,” passed away Thursday evening at his home in Brooklyn, New York, at age 66.
“Take It Easy” is one of the most definitive rocksteady songs, and is often credited as the first song of that era in Jamaican music, which lasted from the the mid to late 1960s. Although its lifespan as a genre was short lived, rocksteady, which featured a slower tempo when compared to ska, was crucial in the evolution from that genre to reggae. Lewis, with his unmistakable baritone, recorded “Take It Easy” at age 19 with guitarist Lynn Taitt and the Jets in 1966, at Federal Records studio in Kingston. It was even advertised by label Merritone as having the “new ‘Rock Steady’ beat.”
Lewis worked for Duke Reid as an arranger during this period and had a few other hits including “Sounds and Pressure”; the 1970 Festival Song winner “Boom Shaka Laka,” and “Grooving Out On Life,” a 1971 hit as lead singer with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. He also recorded perhaps one of the first herb tunes, “Cool Collie.” Another significant track is the early deejay tune “Tom Drunk” with U-Roy, which was later sampled by Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek) for their 2000 single “Fortfied Live” featuring Mos Def.
Lewis became less prolific after the early ’70s, but continued to record. A born-again Christian, in recent decades he became known for making and producing gospel music. Here’s a sampling of some of Hopeton Lewis’ most notable recordings, beginning with his timeless classic “Take It Easy,”