Rock Steady with the Queen of Soul

Friday, August 17, 2018

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Ace session drummer Bernard Purdie had been to Jamaica several times to record songs with The Wailers and Hugh Masekela in the late 1960s. In a 2002 interview with the Jamaica Observer , the amiable Purdie said he learned the rocksteady beat while hanging out at Randy's and Federal studios in Kingston.

He used that feel for Aretha Franklin on Young, Gifted and Black, her 1972 album. Franklin, who died yesterday at her home in Detroit aged 76, revelled in a beat that was new to her.

The song, Rock Steady, has a distinctive Jamaican drum feel that is complemented by Franklin's sassy vocals. Rock Steady went into the Billboard Magazine Top 10 and is one of the Queen of Soul's biggest hits.

Another song from Young, Gifted and Black driven by Purdie's Jamaican influence is the jazzy Day Dreaming. In his chat with the Jamaica Observer, he said Franklin being a musician, was never afraid to try new things as she regularly covered songs by white artistes, such as Bridge Over Troubled Water and ( You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman which were originally done by Simon and Garfunkel and Carole King, respectively.

Franklin performed Rock Steady and Day Dreaming at the Jamaican World Music Festival in November 1982 at Bob Marley Performing Arts Centre in Montego Bay.

Interestingly, the B-side to Rock Steady was a cover of Lulu's Oh Me Oh My (I'm A Fool For You Baby). It featured drummer Al Jackson Jr of the MGs, house band at Stax Records, who had also visited Jamaica during the late 1960s.

During a visit to Harry J studios in Kingston, Jackson was given two copies of The Liquidator by Harry J All Stars. He returned to Stax and used that beat for I'll Take You There, a massive hit for The Staple Singers.

— Howard Campbell

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