bafcd035 Mr Isaacs - Gregory Isaacs

Story Book Children
Take A Dip - featuring Dillinger
Get Ready
Set The Captives Free
The Winner
Mr Brown - extended
Mr Know It All
War Of The Stars
Oswald 'Ossie' Hibbert was born 16th January 1951 in Kingston; he grew up in the Jonestown district of the city. By the end of the 1060's he was hanging out at recording studios. Playing piano and organ, he was taken by his friend the renowned drummer Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace to Studio One to audition. The audition turned out to consist of a week's free labour, as Ossie found out when he went to collect payment for the thirty-odd rhythms to which he had contributed; studio boss Mr Clement Dodd told him that the sessions had been a 'tryout'. One of the rhythms he played on that first week was Dennis Brown's 'No Man Is An Island', but undaunted, Ossie went back the following week, played on another thirty rhythms, picked up his wages and left. he then began freelancing for - among others - Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs and Winston 'Niney' Holness and soon became a key sessionman of the period. In 1972 for example, he played organ on the original Keith Hudson-produced rhythm best known as Big Youth's 'S90 Skank'. In 1974, as a producer in his own right, Ossie began releasing records on the Hound Dog label (along with Pat 'Scabba' Sutherland), in 1975 scoring a hit with Rod Taylor's 'Bad Man Come And Go'. At the same time, he began working 'in-house', arranging and playing keyboard at Channel 1 and at Joe Gibbs' new studio. In this period he produced hits with Pat Kelly and Cornell Campbell; he also arranged the big Gregory Isaacs hit 'Sunshine For Me' at Channel 1. He produced a dub album - 'Earthquake Dub' at Joe Gibbs' studio in early 1976 -  which saw release in the UK under the title 'Satisfaction In Dub'. He produced and arranged a series of 45s by Junior Ross And The Spears )aka the Palmer Brothers/Nazarines), some of which appeared on Tappa Zukie's 'Stars' imprint alongside further productions on the roots trio by Lloydie Slim (Ivanhoe Smith). One or two of the rhythms were released in instrumental versions; for example the trio's 'Judgement Time' was also issued as the instrumental 'Kissinger'. Other successes in the period included Ronnie Davis ('No Weak Heart'), the duo Earth & Stone ('Wicked A Fi dress Back') and Ranking Trevor ('Lion Fence'). All through the year he produced a steady stream of releases by such as Dennis Brown ('Whip Them Jah'), Trinity ('Dog Meat'), U-Brown ('Heavier Than Lead', 'Special Request') and 'Jah Jah Children' by Frankie Jones, taking a break from the Palmer Brothers.

Gregory Isaacs had started out in the late 1960s, recording his first song 'Another Heartache' and releasing as a co-production with Winston Sinclair - around 1969. It wasn't a commercial success; subsequently Gregory joined a vocal group call the Concords - the other two guys were called Bramwell and Penroe - and together they made 'Don't Let Me Suffer' and 'You Are The One' for producer Rupie Edwards. He continued as a solo artist with Edwards, and for other producers, then set up the African Museum label with Errol Dunkley for his own productions. The first widely-appreciated hits came in 1973 with Phil Pratt's production 'All I Have Is Love'- one of the biggest hits that year - and 'Lonely Soldier' for Clive Chin at Randy's soon followed in 1974 by the first fruit of the singer's association with Alvin 'GG' Ranglin in the shape of further hits 'Innocent People Cry' and 'Love Is Overdue'; the latter song established his name throughout the Caribbean and in the UK, where Trojan Records issued a set titled 'All I Have Is Love' after the Pratt-produced hit, containing the earlier material. That year also saw the release of excellent singles like 'Sunshine For Me' already mentioned above, 'Ba Da' (produced by Niney) 'Babylon Too Rough' (produced for Joe Gibbs) and a series of self-productions issued either on African Museum ('Tief A Man', 'My Religion') or on Pete Weston's Micron imprint ('African Woman', 'Beautiful Africa'). Many of these mid-decade titles evinced a new persona for the singer on record, that of ghetto spokesman, as distinct from the anguished 'Lonely Lover' of earlier years. This direction was confirmed in 1976, with the Lee Perry-produced 'Mr Cop' and further African Museum sides like the brilliant 'Black A Kill Black', 'Rasta Business' and 'Extra Classic'. The latter song eventually gave title to the singer's third album, released in Jamaica on Micron and in the UK on Conflict Records in 1977.

Early in the same year Ossie voiced Gregory at Joe Gibbs studio, the rhythms having been previously recorded at Channel 1. The resultant ten songs saw Jamaican release as the 'Mr Isaacs' album in 1977 on Earthquake, then Cash & Carry, as well as the single 'Mr Brown' that appeared on 45rpm later as a Cash & Carry. The set - without 'Mr Brown' - was later issued in Canada by Pete Weston on Micron. 'Slavemaster' was produced by Niney for inclusion on the album. The 'Mr Isaacs' album - Gregory's fourth - was a big success; it was slightly different from the singer's previous sets inasmuch as it was definitely conceived as an album from the start, rather than a compilation of recent singles. As such, it offered confirmation of Gregory's maturity; the album was issued just before the period of his greatest successes, but in it he shows that he had fully developed the dual persona he would project in his music over the next few years. He had also fully absorbed what appear to have been his main stylistic influences - John Holt and Alton Ellis - and was singing beautifully. In short, he was ready to bust out bigger than ever; 'Mr Isaacs' turned out to be a landmark in the careers of both singer and producer.

Although there are a couple of tunes that take love as their theme - both cover versions, as it happens - most of the tracks here are cooly militant sufferers' songs or wry commentaries and reasoning's on existential  ghetto runnings. At the heart of the original LP are what amounts to a suite of striking originals - 'Sacrifice', 'Storm', 'Handcuff', 'Slavemaster', 'Set The Captives Free' and 'The Winner'. These are augmented with two covers of 1960s soul chestnuts - an excellent version of William Bell and Judy Clay's 'Storybook Children', and an understated version of the Temptations' 'Get Ready' - along with a sprightly updating of the Silvertones' reggae classic 'Smile'.

'Sacrifice' opens the set, its lyric delineating succinctly the thematic territory to be covered on the ensuing 9 tracks.

I was given as a sacrifice
To build a black man's hell 'an a white man's paradise
But now that I know
It's time I've got to go, Lord
The proceedings seem so painful and so slow, slow, slow
The proceedings seem so painful and so slow

I have gathered all the wealth
From all over the world
Beating chains an' shackles
Just to help make them kings, duke and earl
But now that O know
It's time I've got to go, Lord
The proceedings seem so painful and so slow, slow, slow
The proceedings seem so painful and so slow

What I give is what I will take
I gave love - I won't take no wait
I say; love love love - iniversally
Love love love - itinually
Love love love
That is what I give
And that is what I take

Following the scene-setting opener, 'Storm' kicks in: it's the first cut of an original rhythm that has gone on to be versioned frequently over the years - Barry Brown's 'Not So Lucky', Tristan Palmer's 'Spliff Tail' and the late Early B's brilliant 'History Of Jamaica' being three of the more memorable early 1980s cuts. Gregory recut it himself in 1991 for Bobby Digital; it's included on the 'Set Me Free' album from the same year. The recut prompted a trailer load of versions at the time ('Bowdelero', 'Saxdelero', 'Gundelero') that all played off Pinchers' monster hit for King Jammy's 'Bandelero'.

'Handcuff' depicts an arrest for herb during the 1976 State of Emergency of 1976; Gregory works the succinct lyric from two points of view - the Rastaman under arrest and a member of the crowd witnessing the arrest.

'Slavemaster' rides a strutting Soul Syndicate remake of the 'Get In The Groove' rhythm; Niney also produced Big Youth, I-Roy and the more obscure Ranking Buckas on the same rhythm. We've selected the rumbustious Dillinger commentary 'Take A Dip', originally released by Ossie via Randy's 'Roots From The Yard' imprint.

'Set The Captives Free' uses a different mix of the same 'Breaking Up' rhythm track that Bunny lee used for Johnny Clarke around the same time. The lyric - in typical Isaacs fashion, a kind of poetry of the ghetto lane set to music - is deceptively simple but truly evocative. Starting with the 'free as a bird in the tree' idea: 'I hear birds up in the tree singing songs of melody'.

Gregory then drops a couple of stark images of social statement of faith as resolution:

I see wickeds standing by
I've seen mothers wipe their eyes
But let me tell you
Set the captives free
That's the only thing that really bothers me
Set the captives free
Cause what is to be
Has got to be

I've seen bredrin licking coke
Serving time, living more
While the wicked passing by
I've seen mothers wipe their eyes
oo wee
Jah Jah
Jah Jah
Thou art my saviour Jah Jah

So, having gone through the sacrifice and the storm, the police handcuffs and the slavemaster's whip, Gregory eventually emerges 'The Winner'; he ends that song with the lines 'Take a good look and you will see that there is nothing wrong with me'. The original album went on to close with the crisp version of the Silvertones' uplifting 'Smile', originally cut by that group at Studio One.

For this reissue of 'Mr Isaacs' we have added an extended version of 'Mr Brown' from the original album session and a cool version of Slim Smith/Lloyd Charmers' 'Conversation' that was produced and released by Ossie on his Earthquake imprint as a 45, also in 1977. Lastly, we have also included both sides of the hugely successful (and rhythmically influential) 12" from 1978, 'Mr Know It All', with Sly Dunbar's supremely propulsive drums setting the pace in scintillating style. It was again arranged and produced by Ossie and first issued on 'Thing', the label owned by the producer's long-time friend, the late Lloyd F. Campbell, (aka 'Printer' and Ras Lloyd).

With the original album Gregory fully defines his position in the pantheon of ghetto superstars alongside such as Dennis Brown and Big Youth, one that he would easily maintain over the next few years. Although he never totally crossed over to the mainstream audience after signing with Virgin Records in 1978, he continued to make hit after hit in the Jamaican market, like 'Number One', 'Top Ten', 'Front Door', 'John Public' and many many more. His self-produced albums of that time - 'Cool Ruler' (1978), 'Soon Forward' (1979), 'Lonely Lover' (1980) and 'More Gregory' (1981) - all sold widely, as did two further sets for GG, 'The Best Of Gregory Isaacs' (Vol 1 and 2, issued in 1978 and 1981) and the set 'Two Bad Superstars', split with Dennis Brown and produced by Gussie Clarke. In 1979, the 45 'Soon Forward'  had been a major hit for Sly & Robbie's Taxi label (the deejay version - 'Stop Your Coming And Come' by Ranking Joe was also Taxi's first hit by a deejay). 'Soon Forward' also showed up on the 'Showcase' set in 'discomix' style, issued by Taxi in 1980. When Island Records signed him in 1982, Gregory Isaacs went on to even bigger successes with the Roots Radics band on the albums 'Night Nurse' and 'Out Deh', although overall, the thematic emphasis had shifted back to love songs. Since then he has maintained his career on record with a huge number of albums of uneven quality added to his catalogue; his last really big hit singles came in the period 1988-1991, including the excellent 'Rumours' for Gussie Clarke. On his day he remains a powerful live performer although years of cocaine use have taken their inevitable toll on his voice; on this particular subject he is quoted in the book 'Reggae Roots' (Kevin O'Brien Chang and Wayne Chen, Kingston 1998) thus: 'My biggest regret in life is when I start deal with drugs - four times I go to prison as a tenant...'

Ossie Hibbert continues to produce to this day, based in New York; he enjoyed successes in the 1980s with The Mighty Diamonds and Trinity ('Let The Dollar Circulate, 1982) and with Pinchers ('Kingston 13', 1988). In the 1990s he was the first to see the potential in pairing the deejay Chaka Demus with vocalist Pliers; he scored a massive hit with the duo's infectious 'Gal Wine' in late 1991/early 1992. His latest productions include an enjoyable live dancehall session recorded in New York with the Down Beat sound system, and a set featuring the late Dennis Brown alongside Gregory Isaacs and Glen Washington issued in autumn 2000.
Steve Barrow - January 2001
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