Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Thing of the Past

In my musical recounting, alphabetically, I've reached P. Now, regular readers will say, "Of course! She's going to write about the Pixies." Shucks, I do that all the time. I thought about the Pretenders and Prolapse, Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers... but I have to write about Phyllis, because she was a gem and not enough people know about her. If I can convince just ONE of you to go buy something from her, a little ska angel gets a new pair of checkered socks.

Ladies and gentlemen, Phyllis Dillon.

During the course of her barely 5 year career, spanning 1966-1971, Phyllis Dillon was discovered by Duke Reid, had a string of Jamaican number ones consisting of originals and covers, co-wrote and sang with Alton Ellis and Hopeton Lewis, and became one of the few rocksteady women stars ever. Have you heard of her? Read on.

Within 2 weeks of the release of her first single, "Don't Stay Away," Phyllis Dillon hit the top of the charts in Jamaica. What makes her such a wonderful vocalist is her soul. Phyllis is a contemporary of the likes of Marlena Shaw (whose "Woman of the Ghetto" she covered incredibly), Dusty Springfield, Tammy Terrel, Barbara Acklin... Um, contmporary artists? Alicia Keyes, but doing ska. Maybe. Beautiful, romantic, and dreamy rocksteady. Doesn't sound quite right, does it? That's what rules about 60's era ska - it's soulful, sassy, and sweet, and groovy as hell. Phyllis Dillion takes the rhythms of her home and sings songs so lovely you may want to cry into your pina colada. Not only is she a great rocksteady artist, she is a great soul artist and an amazing vocalist, period.

She released a string of singles (mainly on Trojan) and one full length, as far as I can tell, called One Life To Live. And as she passed away last year (after decades of working as a bank teller in Long Island after she ditched the music biz in 1971), her stuff gets harder and harder to find. She shows up on random reggae/rocksteady/ska and sometimes on northern soul collections, but a few years back Westside Records (out of London) put together a really good collection of her stuff. There's a track or two missing, but it's totally worth hunting down Midnight Confessions, for those upcoming warm summer nights. For sure.