R.I.P. John Holt

The Guardian reports that John Holt, the longtime reggae star, died in a London hospital yesterday. No cause of death has been announced. Holt was 69.

Holt was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and he started singing in talent shows at age 12 and recording singles before he was out of his teens. In the early ’60s, he joined a vocal trio called the Paragons, who had a number of hits throughout the ’60s. Holt wrote their song “The Tide Is High,” which was also a hit for Blondie when they covered it in 1980. Meanwhile, Massive Attack and Horace Andy covered “Man Next Door,” another Paragons song that Holt wrote, on Mezzanine. The group’s slower, ballad-heavy approach helped transition reggae from its ska beginnings to the rocksteady style that followed, and Holt’s smooth, confident tenor turned out to be perfect for that new style.

In 1970, Holt left the Paragons and went solo. Two years later, he recorded the single “Stick By Me” with producer Bunny Lee, and it became a massive Jamaican hit. Holt kept working with Lee through the ’70s, and they landed UK hits by covering unlikely artists like Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joel, and Diana Ross. Holt continued working through the ’80s and released Peacemaker, his last album, in 1993. Below, listen to a few of his songs.