In 1958, a 12-year-old singer named John Holt entered his first contest, the popular “Opportunity Hour” series run by legendary journalist/promoter Vere Johns. Over the next four years, the youngster became a staple of these shows, notching up a record-breaking 28 titles.
His sweet tones were soon familiar to a much larger audience, as a number of these contests were broadcast on radio. For his final victory in 1962, young Holt performed Solomon Burke’s “Just Out of Reach” and soon after, the talented teen was quickly snapped up by producer Leslie Kong, who recorded Holt’s two first singles, “Forever I’ll Stay” and “I Cried a Tear.”
From there, the youngster began working with producer Clive Chin (Randy’s), debuting the partnership with “Rum Bumper,” followed by “Mouthamassy Liza, two ska duets with another rising Opportunity Hour product Alton Ellis … More singles followed, but none really captured attention.
That all began to change in 1964 when Holt joined the vocal group The Paragons, replacing founding member Leroy Stamp. Another founding member, Junior Menz, also soon departed and his place was taken by Howard Barrett. Holt, Barrett and founding members Bob Andy and Tyrone Evans, then recorded “Good Luck and Goodbye” for Coxsone Dodd and ironically, this is precisely what Andy said to his colleagues soon after the single’s release, as he quit the group to pursue a solo career. Now reduced to a trio, and with both Evans and Barrett holding full-time jobs, Holt was entrusted with the dual role of composer and arranger, positions for which he turned out to be ideally suited.
He gained prominence as lead singer of The Paragons and they cut a succession of hit singles for Duke Reid at his Treasure Isle Studio (1965 – 1968) — hits such as “Happy Go Lucky Girl”, “On The Beach”, “My Best Girl”, “Same Song”, “Only A Smile”, “Silver Bird” and “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, and it hit the charts again in1970 when U-Roy added a deejay version to it.
The Paragons also recorded solid hits for other producers including “Danger in Your Eyes”, “Have You Ever Been In Love”, “My Satisfaction”, “Darling I Need Your Loving”, “Hooligan, Change Your Style” all for Coxsone Dodd; “Talking Love” for Richard Khouri; “Memories By The Score”, “My Number One”. Man Next Door”, “Left With A Broken Heart” and “Equality and Justice”.
During his time with the Paragons, John also recorded solo material for Studio One including “Fancy Make-up”, “Stranger In Love”, “Why Can’t I Touch You”, “A Love I Can Feel”, “Do You Love Me”, and “OK Fred” as well as “Tonight”, “Ali Baba”, “I See Your Face” and “Stealing Stealing” for Duke Reid; and”Strange Things” and “My Heart Is Gone” for Phil Pratt.
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”produced by Harry Mudie, was the very first reggae album to have beeen recorded with strings and ground-breaking orchestral arrangements, recorded in London.
The success of the string-laden reggae album led to Trojan Records issuing a series of similarly arranged John Holt albums, produced by Englishman Tony Ashfield in collaboration with Bunny Lee, starting with “The Further You Look …John Holt Sings For I” followed by the monumental “1,000 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 “3,000 Volts of Holt”.
“1,000 Volts” spawned the UK Top 10 hit single “Help Me Make It Through the Night” written by Kris Kristofferson, which peaked at number 6, and also included covers of Shirley Bassey’s “Never Never Never” and Lobo’s “I’d Love You To Want Me” among others.
Holt’s style, notably slower, smoother and more romantic than most of his contemporaries, is a recognizable forerunner of the lovers rock sub-genre. His solo songs, and songs with the Paragons, have been covered by numerous other reggae artists including Dennis Brown, UB40 and Horace Andy.
Across the decades, Holt has made numerous acclaimed appearances internationally with fully conducted orchestras; and is is considered the leading artist in vintage Jamaican music, consistently filling venues around the world.“
John and his “1000 volts” performance will be unleashed in all it’s glory during Startime’s highly anticipated return at the Mas Camp on Saturday July 13.