Trojan
 
Gregory Isaacs

A true star of Reggae music in Jamaica, the US and the UK, Gregory Isaacs has been a hero to Roots fan, Lovers fans and even Ragga fans of both sexes. His  plaintive and aching vocals have told stories of love and loss, of Roots and Culture, of History and Black Dignity over rhythms from the first days of Reggae in the early 1970s to digital rhythms that fired a whole new genre of Reggae - Ragga - in the mid-1980s.

He is also famed as a Rude boy that knows how to handle himself and has always had an aura around him of a tough guy even against the back drop of the harsh music business world of Kingston. A stay in Kingston's notorious General Penitentiary interrupted his career and his assorted legal and drug related battles have made him the stuff of rumour and gossip throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Gregory Isaacs has been one of the most prolific artists in a business where a singer, who earns no royalties, must work for as many producers who will pay him to voice a tune whilst he is a hit maker. Not only did Isaacs establish his own label (and shop), African Museum, he recorded for virtually producer of worth in over three decades in the business. We have chosen only those songs that were hits and have for the first time ever collected together the cream of Gregory's tunes from twenty-five years at the top.

One of his very first records was cut for Prince Buster and is the rare and fine 'Dancing Floor' that we follow with the first tune on Gregory's own imprint the lovely 'Look Before You Leap' and then onto the controlled dynamism of one of the sweetest songs ever put on vinyl 'One One Cocoa' produced by Glen Brown. Already Gregory's languid vocal style was getting noticed and over the next few years tunes such as 'Loving Pauper', ';All I Have Is Love' and 'Sweeter The Victory' helped establish him as one of Jamaica's up and coming talents. His sweet crooning style, that also sounded so vulnerable, frequently told tales of pained love affairs in which Gregory was wounded.

It was the ease with which he was able to develop and adapt his style with the explosion of Rasta inspired 'Roots' reggae that saw Gregory rise to the very top of the Reggae scene by the end of the decade. He was able to sound just as hurt and wounded by the suffering of the ghetto dwellers of Kingston as he was when he sung about failed love affairs. Songs of repatriation, such as 'Beautiful Africa' and 'Promised Land' caught the mood of the time as perhaps only Dennis Brown did. A glorious succession of singles were cut by Gregory that talked of the hopes and fears of the growing Spiritual and political conscience in the Ghetto: sufferers laments such as 'Thief A Man', 'Black A Kill Black', 'Slavemaster' and 'Rasta Business' took him to the very top of the reggae tree. the highly rated 'Mr Cop' was recorded at the Black Ark studio of Lee Perry and carries that studio unique print. The 'Border' quickly became a live favourite and the quality of Gussie Clark production shines through on 'My Time'. A flow of albums that pulled together a dozen or so current singles sold well to the reggae market but also to assorted Punks, Hippies and Students during the late 1970s.

His live touring of the US and UK confirmed his extraordinary talent as at every concert he would transport the audience by his voice and presence. The front of the stage would be surrounded by a mass of lovelorn women whilst the cool dreads gently skanked and Gregory held the fevered crowd in the palm of his hand. Often immaculately dressed in a suit with a dapper beaver skin hat, which, as the concert warmed up, would be taken off to release his long locks to a volley of cheers and applause.

Virgin records in the UK picked him up and released a few albums that added to his growing army of fans; from those albums we present 'Soon Forward' and 'Universal Tribulation', which were unpinned by the rhythm twins Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. they also produced Gregory on their Taxi label with the 12" Disco hit 'Oh What A Feeling'. Even when linked up with majors Gregory found time to work with Jamaican based producers and here we highlight the divine 'Sunday Mornin' that was produced by its writer, the legendary Bunny Wailer - who with Peter Tosh and Bob Marley was one third of the original Wailers.

When he signed to Island Records there were high hopes that Gregory could rival Bob Marley as a chart star and it was with 'Night Nurse' that Gregory nearly made the cross over but his mainstream popularity seemed to be ringed in by the M25! despite the critical plaudits and hipness that releases like 'Cool Down The Pace' and 'Love Me With A Feeling' gained the Top 20 hits remained elusive. Then problems with drugs and the law took over his career and he would be a couple of years before he was riding high again, appropriately with 'Mi Come Again'. A spell with the veteran producer Gussie Clark delivered another near cross over hit with 'Private Beach Party' in 1985 but it was with 'Rumours' that Gregory once again put himself at the forefront of Reggae. Gussie Clark had managed to mix the new digital reggae with the old dread sound of Dancehall and created a whole new genre. Gregory rode the rhythm with all the style and ease that thirty years experience brings.

Even during times when apparently drug related problems created a lack of teeth and large nasal cavities Gregory managed to keep recording and releasing records and has earned a reputation as a true survivor in a hard business, that has seen many stars dead before their time.

We end with 1995 'Sad Feeling Tonight', which hip UK label Acid Jazz put out with hopes of finally breaking Gregory, but as in the 1970s and 1980s it was not to be. I read somewhere that Gregory had remained resolutely 'feral' no matter what the prize on offer.

JEREMY COLLINGWOOD


Dancing Floor
Look Before You Leap
One One Cocoa
Loving Pauper
All I Have Is Love
Ba Da
Sweeter The Victory
Way Of Life
Beautiful Africa
My Religion
Jailer Jailer (Bring Me Water)
Promised Land
Black A Kill Black
Warriors
Dreadlocks Love Affair
Rasta Business
Thief A Man
John Public
Mr. Cop
Set The Captives Free
The Border
Slave Master
My Time (12" Mix)
Something Nice
Love Light (Burning)
No Speech
Get Ready
Poor And Clean
Tune In
Soon Forward
Universal Tribulation
Rock This Ya Reggae Beat (Going Downtown)(12" Mix)
What A Feeling (12" Mix)
Night Nurse (10" Mix)
Cool Down The Pace
Love Me With Feeling (12" Mix)
Mi Come Again
Tenement Yard
Private Beach Party
Rumours (12" Mix)
Sad Feeling Tonight

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