Desmond Dekker (16 July 1941 - 25 May 2006) was a Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer-songwriter and musician. Together with his backing group the Aces (consisting of Wilson James and Easton Barrington Howard), he had one of the earliest international reggae hits with "Israelites" (1968). Other hits include "007 (Shanty Town)" (1967), "It Mek" (1969) and "You Can Get It If You Really Want" (1970).
Desmond Adolphus Dacres was born in Saint Andrew Parish (Greater Kingston), Jamaica, on 16 July 1941. Dekker spent his early formative years in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. From a very young age he would regularly attend the local church with his grandmother and aunt. This early religious upbringing as well as Dekker's enjoyment of singing hymns led to a lifelong religious commitment. Following his mother's death as a result of illness, he moved to the parish of St. Mary and then later to St. Thomas. While at St. Thomas, Dekker embarked on an apprenticeship as a tailor before returning to Kingston, where he secured employment as a welder. His workplace singing had drawn the attention of his co-workers, who encouraged him to pursue a career in the music industry. In 1961 he auditioned for Coxsone Dodd (Studio One) and Duke Reid (Treasure Isle), though neither audition was successful. The young unsigned vocalist then successfully auditioned for Leslie Kong's Beverley's record label and was awarded his first recording contract.
Despite having achieved his aim of securing a record deal it would be a further two years before Dekker would see his first record released. Eventually in 1963 Kong chose "Honour Your Mother and Father" (written by Dekker and the song that Dekker had sung in his Kong audition two years earlier), which became a Jamaican hit and established Dekker's musical career. This was followed by the release of the tracks "Sinners Come Home" and "Labour for Learning". It was during this period that Desmond Dacres adopted the stage-name of Desmond Dekker. His fourth hit, "King of Ska" (backing vocals by The Cherrypies, also known as The Maytals), made him into one of the island's biggest stars. Dekker then recruited four brothers, Carl, Patrick, Clive and Barry (surname Howard), as his permanent backing vocalists to perform with him under the name Desmond Dekker and The Aces.
Desmond Dekker and The Aces recorded a number of Jamaican hits, including "Parents", "Get Up Edina", "This Woman" and "Mount Zion". The themes of Dekker's songs during the first four years of his career dealt with the moral, cultural and social issues of mainstream Jamaican culture: respect for your parents ("Honour Your Mother and Father"), religious morality ("Sinners Come Home") and education ("Labour for Learning"). In 1967 he appeared on Derrick Morgan's "Tougher Than Tough", which helped begin a trend of popular songs commenting on the rude boy subculture which was rooted in Jamaican ghetto life where opportunities for advancement were limited and life was economically difficult. Dekker's own songs did not go to the extremes of many other popular rude boy songs, which reflected the violence and social problems associated with ghetto life, though he did introduce lyrics that resonated with the rude boys, starting with one of his best-known songs, "007 (Shanty Town)". The song established Dekker as a rude boy icon in Jamaica and also became a favourite dance track for the young working-class men and women of the United Kingdom's mod scene. "007 (Shanty Town)" was a Top 15 hit in the UK and his UK concerts were attended by a large following of mods wherever he played.
Dekker continued to release rude boy songs such as "Rude Boy Train" and "Rudie Got Soul", as well as mainstream cultural songs like "It's a Shame", "Wise Man", "Hey Grandma", "Unity", "If It Pays", "Mother's Young Girl", "Sabotage" and "Pretty Africa". Many of the hits from this era came from his debut album, 007 (Shanty Town).
In 1968 Dekker's "Israelites" was released, eventually topping the UK Singles Chart in April 1969 and peaking in the Top Ten of the US Billboard Hot 100 in June 1969. Dekker was the first Jamaican artist to have a hit record in the US with a form and style that was purely Jamaican. That same year saw the release of "Beautiful and Dangerous", "Writing on the Wall", "Music Like Dirt (Intensified '68)" (which won the 1968 Jamaica Independence Festival Song Contest), "Bongo Girl" and "Shing a Ling". 1969 saw the release of "It Mek", which became a hit both in Jamaica and the UK. Dekker also released "Problems" and "Pickney Gal", both of which were popular in Jamaica, although only "Pickney Gal" managed to chart in the UK Top 50. In 1969 Dekker took permanent residency in the UK.
In 1970 Dekker released "You Can Get It If You Really Want", written by Jimmy Cliff, which reached No. 2 in the UK charts. Dekker was initially reluctant to record the track but was eventually persuaded to do so by Leslie Kong. Dekker's version uses the same backing track as Cliff's original. Kong, whose music production skills had been a crucial part of both Dekker's and Cliff's careers, died in 1971. This had an impact on the careers of both artists for a short period of time. In 1972 the rude boy film The Harder They Come was released and Dekker's "007 (Shanty Town)" was featured on the soundtrack.
In 1975 "Israelites" was re-released and became a UK Top 10 hit for a second time. He had also begun working on new material with the production duo Bruce Anthony in 1974. In 1975 this collaboration resulted in the release of "Sing a Little Song", which charted in the UK Top Twenty; this was to be his last UK hit.
1980s and later
The 1980s found Dekker signed to a new label, Stiff Records, an independent label that specialized in punk and new wave acts as well as releases associated with the 2 Tone label, whose acts instigated a short-lived but influential ska revival. He recorded an album called Black & Dekker (1980), which featured his previous hits backed by The Rumour, Graham Parker's backing band and Akrylykz (featuring Roland Gift, later of Fine Young Cannibals). A re-recorded version of "Israelites" was released in 1980 on the Stiff label, followed by other new recordings: Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" and "Book of Rules". Dekker's next album, Compass Point (1981), was produced by Robert Palmer. Despite declining sales, Dekker remained a popular live performer and continued to tour with The Rumour.
In 1984 he was declared bankrupt. Only a single live album was released in the late '80s, although in 1990 "Israelites" was used in a Maxell TV advert that became popular and brought the song and artist back to the attention of the general public. He collaborated with The Specials on the 1993 album, King of Kings, which was released under Desmond Dekker and The Specials. King of Kings consists of songs by Dekker's musical heroes including Byron Lee; Theophilus Beckford, Jimmy Cliff, and his friend and fellow Kong label artist, Derrick Morgan. He also collaborated on a remix of "Israelites" with reggae artist Apache Indian. In 2003 a reissue of the The Harder They Come soundtrack featured "Israelites" and "007 (Shanty Town)".
Dekker died of a heart attack on 25 May 2006, at his home in Thornton Heath in the London Borough of Croydon, England, aged 64. He was preparing to headline a world music festival in Prague. Dekker was divorced and is survived by his son and daughter.
-- Courtesy (Wikipedia) --