Trojan
 

Soon after taking his first steps on the road to stardom more than thirty years ago, Gregory Isaacs - Reggae music's self-proclaimed Cool Ruler -  acquired a reputation as one of the hardest men in the music industry. And not without reason, a genuine 'Johnny Too Bad', born and raised in the Kingston ghetto, his legendary fondness for firearms and recreational substances has resulted in numerous clashes with the so-called forces of law and order and frequent spells behind bars. He is a man who demands respect and pity the fool who dares cross him. And yet, for all this, there is clearly another less intimidating side to his character, as reflected in much of his recorded work; the original Mr. Loverman penning and performing some of the sweetest and most romantic Reggae songs ever put to wax. Many of these are included on this, the most comprehensive anthology of his work ever compiled.

Born in Fletcher's Land, Kingston on July 15th 1951, Gregory was raised in the Denham Town district of the island's capital, attending the local All Saints School before finding gainful employment in his mid-teens as an apprentice carpenter. Throughout this time, he had been exposed to a myriad of musical styles, with American R&B singers such as Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and Sam Cooke proving particularly inspirational role models. By the age of seventeen, Gregory had developed the distinct, vocal delivery that was to bring him such success in later years, but it seemed the Jamaican record-buying public was not quite ready for his soulful tenor and his debit disc, 'Another Heartache' bombed. In fairness, the failure of the single had been largely due to the lack of money available to its producer, Winston Sinclair who was still very much a novice to the industry. But whatever the reason for its lack of success, the indifferent response to the record was a major disappointment to the aspiring singer and as a result, Gregory changed the strategy for his prospective singing career. Early in 1969, he teamed up with two vocalists - who he later recalled only as Penroe and Bramwell - to form a singing trio they named 'the Concords'. A contract with producer, Rupie Edwards soon followed, resulting in a series of fine singles, most notably 'Buttoo' and 'Don't Let Me Suffer', but still a hot of note failed to materialise and towards the close of the year, the trio were dropped from Edwards' roster. A subsequent session for Prince Buster early in 1970 spawned the excellent '(Out On The) Dancing Floor', but again, public response was muted and by the summer, the Concords' brief career was over.

Disappointed, but determined, Gregory decided  to turn his hand at producing and during the latter part of the year supervised a number of his own recordings, including 'While There Is Life', but the distribution difficulties faced by all independent operators in Jamaica during this time greatly limited sales and by doing so brought about a premature end to his aspirations to become a major player on the island's music scene - for the time being, at least.

Towards the close of 1970, Gregory returned to familiar territory when he signed for Rupie Edwards as a solo act. Early recordings for the producer included such laudable efforts as 'Too Late (Will Be Your Cry)' and 'Each Day' while the following year, he cut the equally impressive 'Far Beyond The Valley', 'Lonely Man', 'Closer Together' and an excellent version of Greyhound's 'Black And White'. Yet despite the quality of these releases, a sizeable hit continued to prove elusive. A brief sojourn with Sidney 'Luddy' Crooks of Pioneers-fame produced 'Set Back', another in a long line of commercial failures for the singer.

For all his disappointments, Gregory remained convinced of his own talents and teamed up with fellow performer and good friend, Errol Dunkley to establish the African Museum label and record shop, which opened on Charles Street, Kingston. Soon after the launch of this venture, Gregory finally broke into the big time. Released around the close of 1972, the Phil Pratt-produced 'All I Have Is Love' provided the singer with the first of what was to become a series of major hits, the disc selling some 11,000 copies on the island alone. With the ball now rolling, Gregory followed up with 'Look Before You Leap', a self-produced track which saw issue on the African Museum imprint and which provided him with his second big-seller. It also confirmed he was no one-hit wonder - Gregory Isaacs was most definitely here to stay.

Over the next year or so, Gregory's career remained on the ascendant with singles such as 'Do You Ever', 'Lonely Soldier' (both for Randy's Records), a superb re-make of the Dobby Dobson standard, 'Loving Pauper', for Augustus Gussie Clarke, the Ainsley Folder-produced 'Crying Over You' and the excellent 'I'm Coming Home', issued by record entrepreneur Pete Weston. During this time he also issued a number of well-received African Museum 45s, most notably, 'One One Cocoa Full Basket', 'Promised Land' and 'My Only Lover', all of which served to enhance Gregory's growing status as one of Jamaica's most talented vocalist.

As the seventies progressed, Gregory's career went from strength to strength. In 1974, he began an extremely productive working relationship with Alvin 'GG' Ranglin, commencing with the chart topping 'Innocent People Cry'. The popularity  of the disc led to the acclaimed 'In Person' album, produced by Ranglin at the famed Treasure Isle studios with noted instrumental group, the Soul syndicate providing musical accompaniment. Among the tracks recorded for the album was 'Love Is Overdue', a song which upon release on 45 sold an estimated 22,000 copies in Jamaica and so marked Gregory's elevation to superstar status on the island. Other notable singles for Ranglin from the mid-seventies including the haunting 'Don't Go' and a version of the Paragons' Studio One hit, '(Darling) I Need Your Loving'.

Around this time, Gregory also recorded for a number of other Kingston-based producers, including Winston 'Niney' Holness, for whom he cut 'Rock Away' and 'Ba Da', and Prince Tony (Robinson), who issued the singer's fine rendering of another Paragons' favourite, '(Fly Little) Silver Bird'. He also re-united with singer-come-producer, Sidney Crooks, to record a number of songs which were subsequently gathered on the singer's second album of collected works, 'All I Have Is Love'. From these sessions come 'Sinner Man' and a version of Bob Marley & The Wailers' Rocksteady hit 'Bend Down Low'.

Over the next year or so, Gregory continued to the practice of freelancing for a variety of producers, as well as maintaining his African Museum label on which he issued the highly acclaimed 'Extra Classic' set in 1977. Featuring the best of his own productions from the previous months, along with the cream of his recent liaisons with Lee Perry and Pete Weston, the LP brought together some of Gregory's most militant work to date, with 'Thief A Man', 'Black Kill A Black' (aka 'Black Against Black'), 'Jailer Jailer (Bring Me Water)', 'Warriors' and the magnificent Perry-produced 'Mr. Cop' illustrating he was much more than a simple balladeer. The same year saw the release of the equally impressive 'Mr. Isaacs' album, which comprised primarily of songs voiced at Joe Gibbs' studio for Ossie Hibbert, a producer with whom Gregory had first worked in 1976.

The immense popularity of Gregory's work during the latter half of the seventies had by now attracted a number of British-based companies seeking to jump on the Reggae bandwagon and in 1978, he was signed to Virgin Records. the company promptly issued two popular collections of his recordings on their Front Line subsidiary - 'The Cool Ruler' and 'Soon Forward', both of which served to introduce his talents to an international audience. Upon the expiration of his contract with Virgin in 1980, he moved on to record for another UK-based company, Charisma, who issued a further two albums by the singer; 'The Lonely Lover', followed by 'More Gregory', both of which saw release on their newly-formed Reggae imprint 'Pre'.

By the early eighties, Gregory was firmly established as one of the biggest names in the Reggae world and a move to Island Records in 1982 ensured further global exposure of his work. The subsequent crossover-hit, 'Night Nurse', provided the title of yet another best selling album, indicating the time had come for Gregory to stake his claim as Bob Marley's heir apparent. But suddenly, his spell of good fortune came to an abrupt end when he was charged by Kingston police of firearms offences and subsequently detained for two months in the city's notorious General Penitentiary. While the nature of the incident did little to further his career in the Pop world, it did little to dent his popularity among Reggae fans, as illustrated by the success of his 'Out Deh' album, recorded for Island after his release.

Throughout the remainder of the decade, Gregory maintained a heavy schedule, touring extensively and recording a series of albums, most notably, 'Judge Not' (with Dennis Brown), 'Private Beach Party', 'Easy', 'All I Have Is Love Love Love' and 'Victim'. But unfortunately, by this time he had become heavily dependent on narcotics and he found himself increasingly under scrutiny from the authorities. A number of drugs possession charges resulted in substantial fines and eventually the withdrawal of his passport, a punishment that severly limited any touring work.

After a year in the wilderness, Gregory finally overcame his personal problems and in 1988 recorded a series of singles and a total of six albums: 'Watchman Of The City', 'Sly & Robbie Present Gregory Isaacs', 'Talk Don't Bother Me', 'Come Along', 'Encore' and 'Red Rose For Gregory', from which came the huge hit, 'Rumours'.

For the past ten years or so, Gregory has remained a giant of the Reggae scene, his numerous performances both in concert and on disc illustrating he retains the silky vocal skills that were first brought to the attention of the Jamaican public over thirty years ago. This two CD set traces Gregory's recording career from his debut recording through to the mid 1990s and while we do not claim to have included every one of his hits, there are certainly more than a fair share, as you are about to discover.

LAURENCE CANE-HONEYSETT

Another Heartache
Don't Let Me Suffer
Too Late (Will Be Your Cry)
Each Day
Lonely Man
One One Cocoa (Full)
Look Before You Leap
Loving Pauper
All I Have Is Love
I'm Coming Home
Crying Over You
Sweeter The Victory
Love Is Overdue
Don't Go (Girl)
Financial Endorsement
Reasoning With The Almighty
Ba Da
My Only Lover
Loneliness
Bend Down Low
Way Of Life
Sinner Man
Lonely Lover
Promised Land
Since The Other Day
Give A Hand
Rock Away
My Religion
Promise (Is A Comfort To A Fool)
Black Kill A Black (Black Against Black)
Bring Me Water (Jailer Jailer)
Warriors
Mr. Cop
Thief A Man
Extra Classic
Sun Shines For Me
Be Yourself (African Woman)
Love Light (Burning)
Rasta Business
Good Luck Bad Luck
Promise Me
Mr. Know It All
Slave Master
Hand Cuff (Aka Hey Mr. Babylon)
Sacrifice
Set The Captives Free
Never Be Ungrateful (Promise Me)
My Time
Dem Talk Too Much
Intimate Lovers

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