Long before the Itals were a spark in their producer’s eye, Keith Porter recorded his first hit single, “Hitey Titey”, with the Westmorelites on the Studio One label in 1967. Around 1969, Keith became lead singer for a band named Soul Hermit, backed by Eugene Gray and Wignal Henry on guitars, and Reginald Seewell and Nash on base and drums. They played in numerous entertainment sectors of Jamaica until Owen Sinclair put together a new band in 1971. Called Future Generation, the band was composed of Dalton James and Roy Hilton on drums, Devon Henry on keyboards, Eugene Gray, guitar, Scott on sax, and Keith on vocals. They performed all over Jamaica for X amount of years, singing all styles of music, American R&B and love songs and native Jamaican songs.
Tiring of the club scene around 1975, Keith ran into Ronnie Davis on Orange Street in Kingston and asked him who was auditioning. Ronnie gave him a cassette with a rhythm he’d just had a hit on. “I was so happy with that rhythm I didn’t look any further,” says Keith. “In less than a week I had written Ina Dis Ya Time and came back to Kingston to record it for Lloyd Campbell’s SpiderMan label. Lloyd felt it needed some harmonies with my lead, so Ronnie and I both added harmony parts. There was no intention of forming a group called the Itals; the record first came out as Keith Porter. After the song was on its way to becoming a hit in Jamaica, we all went out to do some promotion. Lloyd, Ronnie, myself and Brian Thomas of RJR were sitting out back in the cantina, when Brian said ‘why not call them the Itals’, because now there was more than one person singing. Everyone liked that name. It sounded good, so all of a sudden, Itals was a group. It was never intentional. I’ve always wondered if the name was the result of Brian noticing how strict I was about the food I ate, strictly Ital.”
Campbell quickly repressed the record as ‘the Itals’ to meet demand. Today the song remains the Itals’ signature tune, and has been described by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones as “the perfect reggae track”. It is included on the Rolling Stones’ Artist Choice CD, released in 2003, available through Starbucks Coffee from Hear Music, a division of EMI, and in selected major chains.
The success of “Ina Dis Ya Time” saw the group return to the studio with the addition of Lloyd Ricketts singing a third harmony part on a series of superb recordings for the SpiderMan label. Tunes like “Don’t Wake The Lion,” “Brutal,” and “Temptation” followed on 7″ release in Jamaica and New York in ’77 and ’78, establishing the Itals among the best Jamaican singers and songwriters. The Itals were twice finalists in the Jamaica Festival Song Competition, and their 1981 tune, “Jamaican Style,” earned them a place at Reggae Sunsplash that year. 1982 saw the release of the first Itals’ album, “Brutal Out Deh” on Nighthawk Records. The Itals toured the US and Canada backed by the Roots Radics. Their second album, “Give Me Power,” was released to critical acclaim and hit #1 on CMJ’s Reggae Route chart. In 1985, Pollstar Magazine placed them in the top 100 artists of the year.
Their third album, “Early Recordings,” gathers together all the Itals’ early singles and several rare pre-Itals tracks for a collector’s feast from Nighthawk. The Itals’ fourth recording, “Rasta Philosophy,” won a Grammy nomination for best reggae album in 1987, followed by “Cool And Dread.” Next came the Rhythm Safari album “Easy to Catch”, followed by “Modern Age” on Ras Records. The Itals continued touring throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Over the years, the Itals have performed countless shows worldwide. Although the background harmonies sometimes change, they always sound as sweet as ever, backing the original Itals lead vocalist, Keith Porter. Now, with the release of “Mi Livity,” Mr. Porter steps a little further out front and demonstrates why good reggae music allows no labels or limitations.