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The passing of Delroy Wilson on the 6th March 1995 signalled the end to one of the most distinctive voices ever present in popular Jamaican music.

Born in 1948, his precocious talent came to the fore at the tender age of fifteen, when he began laying down a string of hit recordings, such as 'Joe Liges', 'Squeeze Your Toe' and 'Spit In The Sky' for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd. A couple of years further along, with his teenage voice cracking into the now distinctive smoky drawl, he grabbed a massive slice of the pie with his version of the Tams' 'Dancing Mood' and continued ever onward and upward in the music-buyer's hearts.

Everyone has their own favourite Delroy Wilson records, but few could argue that his most creative period was his Rocksteady work of 1968 on to the golden age of Reggae - the 1970's. From sweet Soul songs to home-grown Reggae numbers, and even the emerging socially aware Rasta work, Delroy took them all in his stride and notched up the hits.

Motown was a big inspiration to the emerging Jamaican music scene, not only for the tight formations of groups such as the Temptations and the Four Tops and their slick moves, but also for the very catchiness of the songs they sang. These songs were easily translated from the finger-popping Tamla beat to Reggae and Delroy was in his element, covering such classics as 'This Old Heart Of Mine', 'The Same Old Song' and 'Put Yourself In My Place'. Slightly later he covered Marvin Gaye's chilling view of young America and Vietnam, 'What's Going On', with a forceful rendition that gained him much respect and favour in the roots-Reggae community.

A brief stint with Kingston's only female producer, Sonia Pottinger at the tail end of the 1960's had provided such hits as the aforementioned 'Put Yourself In My Place', but it was to be Edward 'Bunny' Lee who excelled in getting Delroy in the Reggae charts, and keeping him there month after month. Bunny Lee was almost a one-man hit factory, taking artists after artist and coaxing top quality performances out of him or her. In Delroy's case, tracks such as 'Better Must Come', 'Cool Operator', 'Here Comes The Heartaches' and 'Can I Change My Mind' ensured that both the singer and the producer remained fixed in the Reggae charts through out the early 1970's.

'Better Must Come' proved so popular among the working class Jamaicans that it was adopted by Michael Manley's PNP political party in the bloody 1971 elections as their theme song. Unlike another of Bunny Lee's hit makers, Johnny Clarke, who would who would rule the dancehalls by the middle of the decade, Delroy never recorded solely for Lee and laid some exceptional tracks for a number of the new breed of producers rising at the same time. Keith Hudson was such a producer. He appeared in the later 1960's both as a vocalist and producer, and could build a rhythm like no other with moody deep bass lines and funky wah wah guitar chops. His triumph with Delroy was the spiritual 'Adisababa' (aka Africa) issued in 1972, although it was recorded some eighteen months previously. The listener is treated to a re-reading of 'House Of The Rising Sun', with a very Rasta twist using one of the top bands of the time, the Soul Syndicate. The record was issued in the UK on the obscure Spur label, an offshoot of Creole Records that was launched especially for Keith Hudson's work and only lasted three issues. The record sold very few copies even though it arrived just as the sound of Rasta was gaining the upper hand in the record shops, and has remained in obscurity for the last 30 years.

To the complete contrast, two major sellers for Delroy, the self-composed 'Have Some Mercy' and the soul gem 'It's A Shame', almost wore the stampers out with the constant demand for the 45s both in Jamaica and the UK. Of all Delroy Wilson's long run of hits these two tunes really etched his name into the Reggae hall of fame. Many others have covered both songs, and of course 'It's A Shame' started life over the Atlantic as a Motown hit for the Detroit Spinners in 1970, but to most Reggae fans, Delroy's recording remains the definitive version. Many Reggae-buyers didn't even realise that 'It's A Shame' began life as a Soul song and assumed it to be an original Reggae number so popular was Delroy's cover of it.

Delroy further cemented himself in the Reggae-public's heart in 1976 when he covered Bob Marley's hopeful 'I'm Still Waiting' for producer Lloyd Charmers. The record sold phenomenally well, way beyond the expectations of the artist or producer, and could have been a major hit outside of the Reggae community had it gained the exposure and publicity required to move it from Kingston to 'Top Of The Pops'. Charmers had cracked the National charts only two years earlier with singer Ken Boothe and his number one hit, 'Everything I own', and many thought this could be the next big one Sadly, without the major label push, 'I'm Still Waiting' shifted units, but still remained stuck within the Reggae confines.

Delroy gained more praise and respect when in 1978 he covered the black protest song of Sly Johnson, 'Is It Because I'm Black' for Augustus 'Gussie' Clarke. Ken Boothe had pounded it out for Lloyd Charmers in 1973, while Delroy took a more laidback approach to the song. None the less just as chilling, Delroy's version gained healthy sales at the peak of the roots era and proved once and for all that he was 'Mr. Versatility', covering Marley's love song on one hand and excelling in angry protest the next.

Delroy continued to record through out the remainder of the decade, and whilst maintaining steady sales, seemed to slow down once the 1980's had got underway. Possibly he suffered from over-exposure, and due to this, lesser quality work did appear from him as the 1970's rolled in to the 1980's. He wasn't alone with this problem, with many of the top names in Reggae such as Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs spreading themselves too thin across countless disco 45s through out the era.

He briefly stormed back at the tail end of the 1980's, most notably with 'Ease Up', a version of Gregory Isaacs monster hit, 'Rumours', which gained him much attention from many too young to recall his hey-day of the mid-70's. Sadly he then slipped from sight as new names move into the top positions in the Reggae charts, although the odd disco 45 would still appear with his distinctive voice.

Delroy Wilson's forte was that he could translate any song into Reggae and then make it his own. He was no shallow copyist, but a man with a powerful talent whether it be to record how much he loved and missed his woman, or righteous indignation at the fearful social conditions his people lived in, you knew he was always sincere. For him to pass away at such a young age was a crime, and a massive loss to the Reggae-world as we will never find another smoky-voiced talent like his; that's without doubt. He was one of the original singers who came up through the learning ground of Studio One in the formative years of Jamaican music and was a true entertainer for the majority of his short life.

MICHAEL DE KONINGH

Once Upon A Time
I Want To Love You
(Love Me Forever) 'Til I Die
This Old Heart Of Mine
Give Love A Try
This Life Makes Me Wonder
Put Yourself In My Place
It Hurts
I'm The One Who Loves You
Your Number One
Run Run
I'm Gonna Get You
Show Me The Way
Gave You My Love
Got To Get Away
Drink Wine (Everybody)
Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever
I Am Trying
Better Must Come
Try Again
Cool Operator
Come Along
Keep Your True Love Strong
Peace And Love
You Keep On Running
Call On Me
Adisababa
The Same Old Song
Cheer Up
Here Come The Heartaches
Who Cares
Pretty Girl
Ain't That Peculiar
Can I Change My Mind
Live And Learn
Living In The Footsteps (Of Another Man)
Have Some Mercy
Cherry Baby
Can You Remember
Mash Up Illiteracy
False Rasta
It's A Shame
So Long, Jenny
Get Ready
You Must Believe Me
I'm Still Waiting
Worth Your Weight In Gold
We're All In This Thing Together
Is It Because I'm Black
Consider Yourself

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