Desmond Dekker (1942-2006)

Silver-voiced rude boy scored first international reggae hit with "Israelites" in 1968; influenced Clash, Sex Pistols

May 26, 2006 4:37 PM ET

Desmond Dekker, the Kingston singer whose haunting, strident "Israelites" was the first Jamaican reggae hit to cross over to international success, died May 25 of a heart attack in his Surrey, England, home. He was 64, and was to begin a European tour the following week. "He had a nice spirit -- very soulful and a very good songwriter," says Toots Hibbert of the Maytals, who befriended Dekker while recording in Kingston in the '60s. "Of course, he should have gotten a lot more credit, but that's the way it goes sometimes."

Born Desmond Dacres in Kingston, Dekker was an orphan who found early work as a welder. He passed an audition with the Beverley's record label in 1961 and had a string of regional hits, such as "King of Ska," before reinventing himself as a rebel "rude boy" in 1967. His hits in that vein, including "007 (Shanty Town)" and "Tougher Than Tough," made him a key influence on the Sex Pistols and the Clash. "Punkers identified with that. When they used to go dancing, there were no punk-rock records. They were listening to King Tubby and early Jamaican toasters -- Desmond Dekker, for sure," says Moss Raxlen, a Montreal reggae expert and dub producer.

Flush with the success of 1969's "Israelites," Dekker moved to England and signed with influential new-wave label Stiff Records, putting out the "Black & Dekker" album with Graham Parker's band, The Rumour. Dekker was divorced with a son and daughter, returning to Jamaica only sporadically to see his family. He went bankrupt in 1984, but toured regularly until his death, playing festivals all over the world; his last show was May 11 at Leeds University in England. "He was pushing himself really hard. It just kind of caught up to him," Raxlen says. "To me, that's not such a bad way to go -- you're 64 years old, touring the world and doing what you love doing."

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Santa Monica”

Everclear | 1996

After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

More Song Stories entries »