It is with sadness that we report the death of Hopeton Lewis, legendary Jamaican vocalist. He died on Thursday, September 4th, 2014 in his home in Brooklyn. Hopeton was a musical pioneer who ushered in the era of rocksteady with his iconic song, “Take It Easy.” So we devote today’s Foundation Ska blog post to the early days of Mr. Lewis’s career and share a few words about how he shaped Jamaican music.
“Take It Easy” is credited with being the first to employ the rocksteady rhythm, a slower version of the ska beat. The song featured Lynn Taitt on guitar and his band, the Jets on backup. Taitt went on to develop the rocksteady beat in his own repertoire thereafter. The lyrics of this song are a nod to the slower feel of the music. As rocksteady developed, horns began to disappear, although they still feature prominently in Hopeton’s classic hit. “Take It Easy” sold over 10,000 copies and was an instant hit on the charts and stayed there for many weeks.
In a December 15, 2002 article in the Jamaica Gleaner, the birth of rocksteady is charted with the recording of “Take It Easy.” The article states, “Someone suggested that the band slow it down. ‘And that’s when I could sing within the context of the rhythm. And then I hear Gladdy Anderson who was on piano say, “this one rocksteady, you know. This one a rocksteady.” And that’s when it came into being basically,’ Hopeton Lewis said.”
Hopeton Lewis was known as the originator of the rocksteady beat, as evidenced by this advertisement in the April 28, 1967 Daily Gleaner. He made his initial appearance in the live music arena, or one of them at least, in December 1966 when he performed as Mr. Hopeton “Sounds and Pressure” Lewis.
Hopeton Lewis began his career with a group called The Regals and throughout his career he recorded for Studio One, Duke Reid, and Byron Lee’s Dynamic label. He also sang as a vocalist for Byron Lee & the Dragonaires for four years in the 1970s. His hit “Cool Collie,” another slow rocksteady-style tune, was another ground breaker as it used herb as the subject of the song which was especially dangerous in these times. In 1970 he won the Festival Song Competition, Eddie Seaga’s creation, with the song “Boom Shaka Laka.” It was issued on Duke Reid’s eponymous label and referenced “the Lord” as he thanked him for many things including the “birds’ sweet songs,” and it was perhaps a glimpse into Hopeton’s future career as a gospel singer. He founded his own gospel label, Bay City Music, and led his own ministry, Songs 4Life Ministry. Hopeton Lewis will be greatly missed and we thank him for his crucial contribution to Jamaican music.