The quintessential soulful Jamaican band the Paragons were a pioneering rocksteady group known for smooth harmonizing. The Paragons enjoyed huge popular success in their native Jamaica as well as in the United Kingdom from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. Fronted by John Holt, the band performed many hits that have become reggae standards, including "My Best Girl," "On the Beach," and perhaps their best-known song, "The Tide Is High."
The Paragons formed in the early 1960s and were originally comprised of four members: Leroy Stamp, Bob Andy, Tyrone Evans, and Junior Menz. The band got its start in Kingston, Jamaica, at a time when the Jamaican music scene was evolving from ska to rocksteady. A slowed-down tempo from the quick syncopated rhythms of ska, rocksteady was influenced by American R&B and soul and was well-suited for the vocal harmonizing that became the band's signature sound. When the band first started out, Bob Andy, who was 16 at the time, arranged the songs and Stamp sang lead vocals. In 1964 both Stamp and Menz left the band and were replaced by upcoming reggae greats John Holt and Howard Barrett. As the lead vocalist, Holt brought some recognition to the band, as he had previously won Joseph Verejohn's talent contest more than 30 times.
As a quartet the band gained the attention of Coxsone Dodd, Jamaica's renowned producer who, along with Duke Reid, established the reggae music industry in Jamaica. The Paragons recorded their first singles, "Love at Last" and "Good Luck and Goodbye," at Dodd's Studio One under the direction of Reid for his Treasure Isle label in 1964. Both songs were instant hits on Radio Jamaica. Soon after their initial success, however, Andy left the band to pursue a solo career. Early on there was some rivalry between Andy and Holt over who should lead the band, as both were strong songwriters and arrangers, and both sang tenor. In a 1990 interview with Marc Hutsebaut for Etna Magazine, Andy discussed his relationship with Holt: "I had started the group, but the other guys preferred John's voice on lead. I wanted to do some of the singing myself. I didn't want to spend my whole life doowapping. So I said, 'For a peaceful life, you go your way and I'll go mine.'" Following his departure from the band, Andy gained recognition as a singer and soloist with such reggae standards as "Feeling Soul," "My Time," and "Going Home," among many other hits. In 1970 he teemed up with Jamaican singer Marcia Griffiths to form the popular duo Bob & Marcia, whose version of Nina Simone's "Young, Gifted and Black" became a top-seller in the United Kingdom and Europe and remains a perennial favorite.
After Andy left the Paragons, the band established itself as a trio. Under Holt's leadership as the primary arranger and songwriter, the group evolved from a strong soul influence to more of a rocksteady sound. In making this transformation, the Paragons' popularity soared in Jamaica and Great Britain, and they became the vocal act of the time. During the height of the rocksteady era, which peaked from 1966 to 1968, the Paragons, backed by legendary tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook and the Supersonics, recorded prolifically with Reid for his Treasure Isle label, and each song they released became a number one hit.
While nearly all of the Paragons' songs were penned by Holt, one notable exception is their 1967 cover of the Harry Belafonte/Lord Burgess calypso tune "Island in the Sun." According to All Music Guide critic Jo-Ann Greene, the Paragons' remake of this calypso classic is delivered "as an alternative Jamaican anthem," and "Holt's performance is sublime and rings with reverence for his island home." A list of the Paragons' other hits—"Happy Go Lucky Girl," "On the Beach," "My Best Girl," "Riding High on a Windy Day," and "The Tide Is High"—reads like a catalogue of rocksteady reggae standards, and most have found new life as dub and dancehall remixes by such later artists as Yellowman and U-Roy. The Paragons' best-known song is, of course, Deborah Harry's cover of "The Tide Is High" that she popularized with Blondie in 1980. Like many of the Paragons' most famous songs, "The Tide Is High" was actually released as a B-side single.
The Paragons released two compilation albums during their heyday: On the Beach with the Paragons (1967; later reissued in 1999) and Riding High with the Paragons (1968). A third compilation CD, My Girl Wears My Crown (Rock Steady 1966-1968), was released in 1994. In these collections the band's interpretation of American R&B and soul is evident. While several critics have noted a comparison between the Paragons and such Motown acts as the Four Tops, the Delfonics, and the Miracles, their work has achieved its own quality. In a review of My Girl Wears My Crown for All Music Guide, Stephen Cook remarked that the Paragons "blended American soul with some of the island's burgeoning roots sounds to forge one of the most unique vocal harmony styles of the rocksteady and reggae years."
Despite the group's enormous popular success, they still struggled financially, as was common among Jamaican artists of the era, because there were no copyright laws to protect their creative and financial interests. In 1970 Evans and Barrett received scholarships to study in the United States, and Holt began what proved to be a highly successful solo career. The split was amicable, and the trio even attempted to reunite to record another album in the early 1980s, but the project was never completed. While Holt continued to rise as an evolving roots reggae star, Evans and Barrett lived their own lives in New York. In 1993 the two reunited to perform at a Rocksteady reunion show in Jamaica, and soon re-formed as the Paragons to record Heaven & Earth in 1996. All of the songs on the album credited Barrett and Evans as songwriters, and typically evoked the smooth, sweet vocals of their early work. The album did not achieve commercial or popular success, but was well-received by critics. Rick Anderson of All Music Guide declared that Heaven & Earth offered "solid, warm roots and lovers reggae ... Everything is sung in the group's trademark rich, creamy harmonies and the production quality is surprisingly fine."
The Paragons' enduring place in Jamaican music seems solidly established, and their work has appeared on countless reggae compilations. Yet one Rolling Stone correspondent succinctly concluded, "As is often the case with originals, [the Paragons have] made it into the history books, but only as a footnote." As a group they may not have received worldwide recognition, but their influence has reached well beyond their Jamaican shores.
For the Record . . .
Members include Bob Andy (born Keith Anderson; original member; left group, 1966; solo career, 1966–; duo career with Marcia Griffiths, 1970-1974), tenor vocals; Howard "Barry" Barrett (replaced Junior Menz, 1964; left group, 1970; reformed group with Tyrone Evans, 1993), vocals; Garth "Tyrone" Evans (died on October 19, 2000; original member; left group, 1970; reformed group with Howard Barrett, 1993), vocals; John Holt (replaced Leroy Stamp, 1964; left group, 1970; solo career, 1970–), lead vocals; Junior Menz (original member; left group, 1964); Leroy Stamp (original member; left group, 1964), lead vocals.
Group formed in Kingston, Jamaica, early 1960s; worked at Studio One with Coxsone Dodd as well as with Duke Reid; released first hit single, "Love at Last" in 1964, Treasure Isle label; group disbanded, 1970; Holt, Evans, and Barrett attempted a reunion album in the early 1980s; band reunited for Rocksteady Reunion show in Jamaica, 1993; Evans and Barrett recorded Heaven and Earth on the House of Reggae label, 1996.
Addresses: Record companies—(John Holt) Trojan Records, Sanctuary House, 45-53 Sinclair Rd., London, W14 ONS, United Kingdom. (Bob Andy) I-Anka Records, P.O. Box 917, Ladbroke Grove, London, W10 5FA, United Kingdom. Website—Bob Andy Official Website: http://www.bobandy.cwc.net.
On the Beach with the Paragons, Jet, 1967; reissued, 1999.
Riding High with the Paragons, Treasure Isle, 1968.
Sly & Robbie Meets the Paragons, Island, 1981.
Golden Hits, Lagoon Reggae, 1994.
My Girl Wears My Crown (Rock Steady 1966-1968), Trojan, 1994.
Heaven & Earth, St. Clair, 1996.
Etna Magazine, June 30, 1990.
"Bob Andy," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (December 7, 2004).
Bob Andy Official Website, http://www.bobandy.cwc.net (December 21, 2004).
"John Holt," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusicguide.com (December 7, 2004).
"The Paragons," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (December 7, 2004).
"The Paragons," RollingStone.com,http://www.rollingstone.com (December 7, 2004).
"The Return of the Paragons," About.com, http://ska.about.com/library/weekly/aa121297.htm (December 7, 2004).
"The Paragons." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/paragons
"The Paragons." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved February 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/paragons
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