Cherry Red’s Doctor Bird imprint is shining the spotlight on arguably the most significant female artist of the rocksteady genre, Phyllis Dillon. Her story is a special one; she only released one full album during her recording career, but that album – 1972’s One Life to Live – laid the groundwork for the reputation which she enjoyed until her untimely death in 2004. Doctor Bird’s reissue, due on September 7, expands the original 12-song album to 28 tracks, making for a deep retrospective of her works for Duke Reid’s renowned Treasure Isle Records. (Note that a vinyl edition of the original album was recently reissued in the U.S. by Real Gone Music.)
Inspired by talents as diverse as Dionne Warwick and Patti Page, and gifted with a versatile, silky voice, Dillon began her solo career when she was signed in 1966 to Treasure Isle. She would record there for several years, releasing several notable rocksteady songs including “Perfidia,” “Don’t Stay Away,” and “It’s Rocking Time” – the latter two of which she wrote – on singles. (The Jamaican market was still singles-centric at the time.) It wasn’t an easy time for the singer. Beginning in late 1967, she commuted between New York, where she worked as a banker, and Jamaica, where she recorded.
In 1972, Reid released Dillon’s sole long-playing album, One Life to Live, blending new recordings with songs dating back to 1967. She would have a hit with the nominal title track, Teddy Randazzo and Victoria Pike’s “One Life to Live, One Love to Give,” and a cover of Bob Marley’s “Long Time No Nice Time.” Dillon had also frequently recorded versions of American hits throughout her career and this album was no exception with interpretations of George Harrison’s “Something,” Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” Jerry Butler’s “I Can’t Forget About You Baby,” and Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Close to You.” The latter stays in a sweet vein, clearly inspired by the Carpenters’ hit version but with a touch of Warwick in the vocals. Dillon’s eclectic sensibilities were further reflected with a reinvention of Marlena Shaw’s fiery “Woman of the Ghetto” and the sweet Detroit soul of The Honey Cone’s ‘We Belong Together.”
Doctor Bird has appended 16 bonus tracks, most of which predate One Life to Live. These include “Perfidia,” “Don’t Stay Away,” “It’s Rocking Time,” and The Shirelles’ “A Thing of the Past” (written by Bob Brass and Irwin Levine). Her reggae-fied cover of The Grass Roots’ “Midnight Confessions,” which was released slightly after the album, is also included along with duets featuring Hopeton Lewis, Alton Ellis, and Boris Gardiner.
Upon completing her recording duties to Reid, Phyllis Dillon moved to New York full-time and raised a family. She retired from recording and would not return to performing until 1998 when invited to perform at a Kingston hotel. This coincided with the resurgence of ska’s popularity in the United States. She continued to record and tour internationally until her death in 2004.
Doctor Bird’s expanded One Life to Live includes a 12-page booklet with new liner notes by Mike Atherton; Andy Pearce has remastered. Look for it on September 7 at the links below!
- One Life to Live, One Love to Give
- Love the One You’re With
- Long Time (a.k.a. Nice Time)
- I Can’t Forget About You Baby
- Picture on the Wall
- Woman of the Ghetto
- Close to You
- Eddie Oh Baby
- We Belong Together
- The Love That a Woman Should Give to a Man
- You Are Like Heaven to Me
- Midnight Confession (Treasure Isle TI-7070, 1972)
- Boys and Girls Reggae – with Hopeton Lewis (Trojan TR-651, 1969)
- Perfidia (Treasure Isle TI-7015, 1967)
- Love Is All I Had (Trojan TR-651, 1969)
- Don’t Stay Away (Doctor Bird DB-1061, 1967)
- Remember That Sunday – with Alton Ellis (Duke DU-72, 1970)
- Don’t Touch Me Tomato (Treasure Isle TI-7041, 1968)
- Get on the Right Track – with Hopeton Lewis (Trojan TR-671, 1969)
- I Wear His Ring (Treasure Isle TI-7041, 1968)
- Tulips (And Heather) – with Boris Gardiner (Trojan TR-651, 1969)
- Take My Heart – with Hopeton Lewis (Trojan CD TJACD-208, 2004)
- A Thing of the Past (Treasure Isle TI 7003/Trojan TR-006, 1967)
- Walk Through This World with Me – with Hopeton Lewis (Duke DU-76, 1970)
- It’s Rocking Time (a.k.a. Rock Steady) (Treasure Isle TR-7015, 1967)
- Why Did You Leave Me – with Alton Ellis (Westside CD WESA-856, 2000)
- Boys and Girls Reggae (Take 3) – with Hopeton Lewis (Trojan CD TJDCD-560, 2017)