Trojan
 

Max Romeo's career has been well documented through numerous publications and informative liner notes on his many album releases, most notably those on the now deleted Trojan release Pray For Me. In every piece, a major topic is naturally the success of the exceedingly risqué international best-seller, 'Wet Dream', a song that to most lesser performers would be considered a serious encumbrance to their reputation. In 1999 Max invited writers to a press launch at London's Jazz Cafe where journalists were treated to an impromptu performance of tracks lifted from his new album and a chance to fire questions at the celebrated performer. While the majority of journalists present were from the black music cognoscenti, the audience also included representatives from the national dailies and it came as no surprise that even after thirty years since the record broke into the UK top ten, a well-known correspondent asked him about 'Wet Dream'.

In the late 60s Max had been advised to assert that the song was not rude or dirty but a tale of how he handled a leaky roof in his ghetto based bedroom, but by now he had acknowledged the song was a tad suggestive and a commentary on something many men will have experienced. Nonetheless, he also defended the song's simplicity and berated the then current Ragga tracks that crossed moral boundaries, in particular those that made reference to incest, cunnilingus and homosexuality. For unlike these, Max's lyrics drew upon a long tradition that has been a feature of West Indian music beyond its recorded history. The style was first waxed by Mento and Calypso performers, such as Lord Kitchener (who as, 'Dr. Kitch' was the injection specialist with a unique hypodermic) and later Ska and Rocksteady acts, including Eric 'Monty' Morris ('Penny Reel'), the Heptones (who sang of the need for a fat girl with, 'Fatty Fatty') and Prince Buster, who hit the Jamaican charts with 'Rough rider and 'Wine And Grind'. Max's 'Wet Dream' swiftly followed the latter in 1968, around the same time Laurel Aitken cut 'Fire In Your Wire', a song he later followed up with 'Pussy Price (Goes Up)', which left even less to the imagination. Prince Buster later recorded further lewd hits, with his 'Big five' inspiring the British-based disc jockey; Judge Dread to release a series of similarly titles - and widely banned - UK hits.

Throughout the history of Jamaican music, artists such as General Echo, Yellowman, and Johnny Ringo through to the present have performed hits in what is popularly known as the Slackness style, confirming that sex sells!

Max was born Maxie Smith on 22nd November 1944 in the little town of St. D'acre in the parish of St. Ann's, Jamaica, West Indies. Raised by his mother and educated initially in St. Ann's before completing his schooling in the nation's capital, Max settled in Kingston with his father and stepmother, following his mother's emigration to the UK in 1953. Aged fourteen, Max left home and later settled in the district of Clarendon, where he embarked on a life as a manual worker in the parish, although fortunately, his talents as a singer resulted in his winning performance in a local talent contest that had been organised by a certain Mr. Denham, a wise elder, who Max considered a mentor and moral supporter throughout his career.

Following his victory, Max returned to Kingston where he formed the Emotions, a vocal group also featuring Lloyd Shakespeare (brother of bass legend Robbie) and Kenneth Knight. An audition for Blondel Calnek (aka Ken Lack) who owned the Caltone label and had previously been the road manager for the Skatalites, proved successful, with Max also finding employment with the producer as a handyman, security guard and sometimes delivery boy, distributing records for the fledgling label that at the time was heavily promoting the Pioneers.

In 1967 the Emotions recorded a series of songs for Calnek, including '(Buy You) A Rainbow', which peaked at number two in both the RJR and JBC charts, the equally popular, 'I Don't Want To Let You Go', 'No Use To cry' 'Rudeboy Confession' 'I Can't Do No More', 'Soulful Music' and 'Careless Hands', all of which feature on this compilation..

Early the following year, Calnek emigrated from Jamaica to the USA, although before he did so, he introduced Max to Derrick Morgan's brother-in-law, Edward 'Bunny' Lee who learnt his production skills at Caltone. Bunny encouraged Max to cut a few solo sides and also christened him 'Romeo' after witnessing the young singer chatting up a potential Juliet. The result of these sessions were, 'Put Me In The Mood', 'My One Girl' and 'Walk Into Dawn', but despite showing great promise, all his early solo attempts were met with indifference. In the years since, these recordings have become appreciated as the fine Rocksteady pieces they are and are now noticeably sought-after collector's items. Fortunately these tracks have been included on disc one along with the hit, 'Indeed I Love You' that followed, when Max was briefly reunited with the Emotions through another of Ken Lack's protégés, Phil Pratt.

In the winter of 1968, while Max was working as a salesman for Bunny Lee, he was killing time, sitting in on the session the producer had arranged at Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd's legendary Studio One in Brentford Road. It was here, after some persuasion that Max voiced the song that went on to introduce him to an international audience: 'Wet Dream'. After being released in the UK, the record sold like hotcakes, despite being banned by the BBC's then mostly middle-aged playlist panel. The corporation's actions may have added to the appeal of the record, which peaked at number 10 in the British chart, remaining on the best-sellers list for 25 weeks. In a recent Top 10 of banned records Max's 'Wet Dream' held the number eight position in the chart alongside artists such as Paul McCartney, George Michael, the Sex Pistols, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Serge Gainsbourg. The song was additionally featured on an EP entitled 'Night Angel' that also featured Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell performing 'Bang Bang Lulu' - the combination of Max and Lloyd was then promoted as being performed by hit makers of certain types of records. Max also recorded further risqué recordings for Bunny, such as the archetypal '60s hit 'Mini Skirt Vision' (aka 'The Horn') and 'Wine Her Goosie' as well as a respectable version of Bob Dylan's 'Blowin' In The Wind'. In 1994 Bunny Lee and Max decided to re-release, 'Wet Dream' over a jungle rhythm, although not surprisingly given the change in style and attitudes, the new version failed to generate the same enthusiasm as the original.

While the furore concerning 'Wet Dream' raged on in the UK, Max was regularly performing in Kingston hotels, alongside the Hippy Boys, a group that featured future Wailers Aston 'Family Man' Barrett and his late lamented brother Carlton 'Carly' on drum and bass respectively, along with keyboard player, Glen Adams and guitarist Alva 'Reggie' Lewis. Around this time, Max was invited to tour Britain to promote his hit and just prior tp leaving Jamaica, he cut a number of sides with the Hippy Boys, including 'Sweet Chariot', 'Love Oh Love' and the group's interpretation of the traditional song 'Michael Row The Boat Ashore', all of which feature here.

Upon his arrival in the UK, Max met with the press before embarking on a hectic schedule of live appearances, accompanied by the Rudies (an early incarnation of Greyhound) and later the Cimarons. While in the country, he also found time to record a number of new songs that featured on his debut album, 'A Dream', issued by Trojan's main competitor, Pama Records. In 1970, after travelling the length and breadth of the country, he returned to Jamaica where he returned to the studio, cutting material for a number of producers, including Bunny Lee, Pete Weston and Derrick Morgan. It was for the latter that Max recorded the classic 'Let The Tower Fall On I', a song that re-established his status as a leading artiste on the island. With Max's approval the song was used by the People's National Party leader, the late Michael Manley (hailed in Jamaica as 'Joshua' with his rod of correction, as a campaigning jingle in 1971, although some three years on, the singer showed his disapproval of the politician's subsequent failings, with the biting 'No Joshua No'. The latter resulted in Max being caught up between rival political factions when the Jamaican Labour Party interpreted the biblical reference of Pharaohs and the Red Sea as being supportive to their cause and six years later, in the recalcitrant elections on the island in 1980, the Jamaican Labour Party used the song as their 'trump card'.

Back in 1971, Max went into self-production, with one of his earliest productions being the contentious 'Macabee Version', a song that questioned the relevance of the King James Version of the Bible to the black man. His clarion call toward black awareness proved particularly popular and he relished a series including a call for black unity 'Black Equality' and 'Don't Be Prejudice' the track that closes part one of this compilation, Part two opens with 'River Jordan' a collaboration that he recorded with his old contemporary from the Hippy Boys, Glen Adams. The duo were regarded as 'Caltone alumni', owing to the fact that before Glen joined the Hippy Boys, he had performed with the Pioneers while the group were recording with Ken Lack. Max's union with Glen proved brief and after cutting the disc, he returned to solo work with the Bunny Lee-produced 'Rent Man', his self-production, 'Chie Chie Bud' and an early indication of his success with Lee 'Scratch' Perry, 'Ginal Ship'.

Max also recorded in tandem with Scratch and Winston 'Niney' Holness on the classic, 'When Jah Speak' (a recording that originally appeared on the flip-side to 'Rasta Bandwagon') and 'Babylon Burning'. His following release was the ode to marijuana and calaloo (a spinach-like vegetable), 'Aily And Ailaloo', a track that proved particularly popular in the dancehall and Reggae charts and sounds as fresh today as it did thirty years ago. His output at this time was exceptionally consistent and the hymnal, 'The Coming Of Jah' proved a similarly timeless classic that should need no introduction, while his conscientious stance was reflected on such releases as 'Rasta Bandwagon', 'Public Enemy Number One', 'Bald Headed Teacher' and 'Two Faced People'. In 1998, he re-cut 'Rasta Bandwagon' with Niney, now directing the song at the fire bun Ragga Djs, such as the notorious Bobo Dreads Capleton and Siggla. In an interview with Claude Mills he asked, 'Who do I take my kid to when he's sick - if you burn the doctor?'

While Max's work was considered to be in a more serious vein he also demonstrated a capricious edge to his work.. He recorded 'sexy Sadie' and 'Hole Under Crutches', alongside depictions of everyday life in Kingston, highlighted in 'Everybody Watching Everybody' and 'Evening News'. In 1999, Max revisited the latter song at the aforementioned press launch, which was also attended by another respected Reggae veteran, Winston Francis, who was particularly impressed with Max's performance of the song to 'push up his lighter' in appreciation. Winston is best remembered for his 1968 Studio One hit, 'Mr. Fixit', which was covered by Max in 1976 and features on this album. It was at this time that Max left Jamaica following the political upheavals on the island. He returned to his native land some fourteen years later, settling in Greenwich Farm with his wife Charm. By this time the couple took the unprecedented step of administering Max's back catalogue through the Charmax publishing company, whose co-operation in this retrospective is appreciated.

This compilation features fifty tracks that demonstrate a diversity that few performers can equal and highlights why Max has enjoyed such a long and fruitful career. He has since released the legendary 'War In A Babylon' and 'Reconstruction' albums, performed on Broadway in the ill-fated play 'Reggae' and performed with the Rolling Stones for their 'Emotional Rescue' album. Throughout the 80s, 90s and noughties he has maintained a credible profile having released a plethora of albums, and with this 2002 release we can all share in this celebration of Max's 35 years in the business. So stoke up the stereo and enjoy this anthology of killers with no fillers.

To close who better than Max to sum up his career. In the interview with Claude Mills he characteristically stated, 'Yes, I've lived a full life, I've travelled each and every highway, and if I should die in the almshouse, at least I did it my way.'

STEPHEN NYE

No Use To Cry
Rude Boy Confession
I Can't Do No More
I'll Buy You A Rainbow
I Don't Want To Let You Go
Soulful Music
Careless Hands
Put Me In The Mood
My One Girl
Walk Into The Dawn
Indeed I Love You
Wet Dream
Wine Her Goosie
I've Been Looking Back
Blowin' In The Wind
Sweet Chariot
Love Oh Love
Michael Row The Boat Ashore
The Horn
Let The Power Fall On I
Don't You Weep
Macabee Version
Black Equality
Holla Zion
Don't Be Prejudice
Jordan River
Rent Man
Chi Chi Bud
Ginalship
Aily And Ailaloo
The Coming Of Jah
Beardman Feast
Rasta Band Wagon
When Jah Speak
Fling Fire Stick
Babylon's Burning
Public Enemy Number One
Two Faced People
Pray For Me
Bald Headed Teacher
Murder In The Place
Everybody Watching Everybody
Sexy Sadie
Evening News
Hole Under Crutches
Nobody's Child
My Jamaican Collie
No Joshua No
Mr. Fix It
I Man A African

Trojan
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