Desmond Dekker came one nice guy away from spending his life as a welder. After his habit of singing while he blowtorched won his co-welders' encouragement, Dekker figured he'd give a real musical career a shot. But one of reggae's biggest and best-known stars was told to keep on walking after auditions at Coxsone Dodd's standard-setting Studio One and Duke Reid's Treasure Island (on the way to becoming the just-as-standard-setting Trojan Records). Good thing there was one more guy releasing reggae records back in 1961, and at Leslie Kong's Beverley Records studio, current label star Derrick Morgan listened to Dekker—then going by his original and clunkier name Dacres—and made the decision that would color the rest of reggae history.
Maybe Morgan saw—well, heard—something of himself in Dekker, whose soon-to-be-famous doo-wop falsetto shared Morgan's own slow, soulful delivery because it was Morgan's confidence that persuaded Beverley owner/producer Leslie Kong to keep young Dekker around. Of course, they made him wait two years to record—tedious, sure, but a nice thing to do for a kid in an industry in which an early flop could truncate an entire career—and in 1963, Kong finally decided Dekker had developed enough as a songwriter. "Honour Your Mother and Father," which wound Dekker's distinctive lilt through aw-what-a-nice-boy lyrics and a perky reggae shuffle—had modest success and marked the real beginning of a career that would lead this Kingston-born kid through Jamaica's armed and vicious rude-boy gangs and later to England's trendier punk rockers, detouring even to a few releases alongside the Damned and Elvis Costello on Stiff Records in the early 1980s, on his way to worldwide-ish fame.
Without Bob Marley, Dekker probably would have settled majestically into comfortable iconhood; instead, freshman dorm-room walls across America turned away—maybe he sounded too polished and classy to tap into mass-market play rebellion. Dekker declared bankruptcy in 1984 because critical credibility among three or four youth subcultures wasn't much for paying bills. But on his way toward 60, Dekker's career—revived in part by a 1990 commercial that featured his biggest hit, "The Israelites"—began to put on a little muscle, and thanks now to a steady stream of rereleases by powerhouse Trojan Records (who'd eventually realized what they were missing), he reinflated the reputation he deserved. Which was good because it probably would have been pretty awkward to go slinking back to the guys at that Kingston metal shop after forty-some years.
ALSO:SO.CAL.SONICEXPERIMENTALMUSICFEST:Which reinforces the usual suspects who bounce sine waves off the ceiling in the Lafayette Dome Room (like I Heart Lung and Spastic Colon) with new local and non-local artists and a menagerie of venues, from the OPEN Bookstore to the Gatov Gallery at Cal State Long Beach. The festival begins Tuesday and concludes Sunday with a gallery show featuring Aaron Ximm, whose in-the-field recordings as the Quiet American track his sound-finding trips to Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, China and more, recontextualizing everyday life in another culture into a deep listening experience. Waiting as a steam engine hauls a passenger train past a Vietnamese village—music to quiet American ears.
DESMOND DEKKER AT THE VAULT 350, 350 S. PINE AVE., LONG BEACH, (888) 80-VAULT; WWW.VAULT350.COM. WED., 8 PM. $22. ALL AGES.
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SO.CAL.SONIC AT A VARIETY OF VENUES, BEGINNING WITH KRAIG GRADY AND THE ENSEMBLE OF 31 BIRDS, SPASTIC COLON, KADET, ALBERT ORTEGA, AND LIAM MOONEY AT THE DOME ROOM, 528 E. BROADWAY, LONG BEACH, (562) 499-OPEN. TUES., 8 P.M. FREE. ALL AGES. VISIT WWW.CSULB.EDU/~GBACH/SOCALSONIC.HTML FOR MORE INFO ON ALL SHOWS.