Little Roy - Tafari Earth Uprising

Christopher Columbus
Don't Cross The Nation
Easy Chair
Mr T
Tribal War
Richman Laugh
Jah Count On I
Rocking Chair
Forces Dub

When the right time comes and the final roll is called, the name of Earle Lowe aka Little Roy will most certainly be inscribed high on the golden scroll - counted, as he must be, among the most righteous in the legion of Jamaican roots singers.

Earl Lowe was born in Witfield Town, Kingston, Jamaica at the start of the 1950s, the youngest in a family of nine children. His father ran a truck driving business with stone crushing as a sideline! As a boy Earl would go fishing with his friend Leroy Sibbles, a friendship that would continue as Earl and Leroy would lick chalice and make many moves together. He first became interested in music after listening to his elder brother Campbell who would make up songs. Whilst studying building engineering at St. Andrews Technical College Earl began writing songs himself and then visiting recording studios.

like most aspiring singers of the time, Earl ended up at the door of Studio One. He was thirteen years old when after school one day he followed two friends to the studio to meet with the late Jackie Mittoo. Jackie asked Earl to come back the next day and voice a tune over a rhythm. The youth returned with a song he had learnt from his brother who, when watering the family garden, had made up the lyric of 'Cool It'. The cut was released in 1965 on Studio 1. Then Earl went on to strike lucky with Prince Buster, who rechristened the youth as 'Little Roy', and together they produced the first Little Roy 45s.

In the late sixties on of the hottest labels in Kingston was the property of Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley, a sound technician who ran his Radio & TV business out of 43 Waltham Park Road. It was for Matador in 1969 that Little Roy cut the Rasta song 'Bongo Nyah', a number 1 in Jamaica and the label's biggest selling 45. The session rhythm section was made up of Carly and Aston Barrett then of the Upsetters and later of the Wailers. A firm favourite in the Caribbean, 'Bongo Nyah' was covered by Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, Ken Lazarus, The Freedom Singers for Studio One, Calypsonians, The Merry Men and many others. Other highlights on the label were his single with Dennis Brown and old friend Leroy Sibbles - 'Righteous Man', and the true classic 'Hardest Fighter' b/w 'Voo-Doo' by the Hippie Boys, which works its way into an early strict drum and bass dub version. Also massive hits in Jamaica were 'Without My Love' and 'Keep On Trying'. For a great collection of Matador tunes check out 'Lloyd Daley's Matador Productions, 1968-1972' (Heartbeat CDHB 92).

The success of Matador led to the release, legitimate or otherwise, of Little Roy tunes in the UK on various labels mainly through the Pama outlet. It was at this time that Little Roy recognised the moment to take control - as the substance of his music did not match the ethics of the business which dealt it into the market place. From the beginning Little Roy had disciplined his lyrics into a cultural framework from which he was not willing to break, as a youth he had come under the influence of Rasta doctrine and felt unable to compromise his living belief by singing tunes for the dollar. It is probably mainly due to this fact that Little Roy, although singing for over thirty years, has been criminally under-recorded for an artist of his writing and singing talent.

In 1974 the crossroads of business and culture led Little Roy to the creation of the Tafari Syndicate, with the assistance of Lloyd Barnes and Munchie Jackson. The results were released simultaneously in both Jamaica and via Barnes' Aries label in New York, most were Little Roy solo efforts but there were also group tunes with Ian and Rock. plus cuts on the Heptones and Winston Scotland amongst others. It is the solo material which Pressure Sounds has here compiled for this overdue collection on Little Roy - 'Tafari Earth Uprising', containing an unrivalled sequence of pure Rasta hymns - 'Tribal War' (a Reggae classic that has spawned many cover versions including John holt, George Nooks, Prince Far I, Junior Reid and lately Little Axe), 'Prophesy', 'Earth', 'Blackbird', 'Jah Count On I', 'Mr T', 'Christopher Columbus' etc. and also rare dub cuts to three of the tunes. Originally these tunes were put together by Lloyd Barnes to form the limited release US album 'Tribal War', also the now impossible-to-find hard dub set 'Free For All Dub' emerged in the same period.

At the time these tunes were made Little Roy was a near neighbour to Lee Perry, they both lived by Washington Gardens. So it was at the Black Ark studio that 'Tribal War' was recorded with Scratch at the desk, Dennis Brown on bass, Horsemouth on drums, Paul 'Pablo Black' Dixon on keyboards and Upsetter sessioneer Roy Hamilton on guitar. The rhythm for 'Prophesy' had been hustled by Blacka Morwell - a happy musical accident that created a Reggae classic.

Through the 70s the Twelve Tribes of Israel organisation played a great part in the life of Little Roy in confirming his devotion to Rastafarianism and determining his way of life. He was involved in shows with Fred Locks, Israel Vibration and Judy Mowatt, eventually stepping out of the scene in around 1979 as both Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor came on board. Group singles were issued by Little Roy and Iron Rock (sic) on the Cash and Carry label in Jamaica.

With the end of the seventies came the release of two Little Roy discomixes for Herman Chin-Loy on the Brooklyn based Selection Exclusive imprint, both on old Studio One rhythms but in an emerging dancehall style - 'Long Time Rock Steady' and 'Skanking On The Banking'. 1981 saw a return to a stricter roots background with the first UK album release for Little Roy, 'Columbus Ship' on the Copasetic label, the rhythms being laid by a crew of heavyweights at Channel One with the mix at Harry J by the original Scientist. Although a worthy outing the set did not match the consistent quality of the artist's previous output. The eighties were a fairly lean period for Little Roy musically as he made moves between New York and Kingston.

'Prophesy' the album was released in 1989, featuring all the old hits but with some recuts on the originals. A revival of interest in Little Roy was sparked in the early 1990s when Freddie McGregor scored in massive style with a Steelie & Clevie cut on 'Prophesy' in a modern idiom, but retaining the cultural touch via the styling of a great vocalist. And as is still the case with a big hit, version followed version with Little Roy himself contributing a cut to the one rhythm 'Prophesy' album 'Victory Dance'. Whether this fresh focus on the artist occasioned 1990s 'Live On' set is questionable, as the production continued as before in a warm roots vein without any intrusion of the prevalent digital studio techniques that have now become standard 'West Coast' Reggae. The album was a collection of new tunes and revisits of some old favourites.

At the time of writing Little Roy is recording again but this time in London. He is hoping to issue another collection of songs, some of which have been in the making since the seventies and others are recuts on tunes such as 'Bongo Nyah' and 'Jah Can Count On I'. His last live performance was on a European tour with Gregory Isaacs in 92/93 but he is intent on returning to the stage soon. Although Little Roy has been by no means a prolific Reggae artist, it is to his credit that this situation has been created by his single minded determination that his music should retain its dignity and integrity by not falling prey to the whims and pressures of business dealings. Therefore this set is proudly issued by Pressure Sounds on the basis that the central work of Little Roy must rightly stand for time and remain as a cornerstone of roots Reggae.

Steve Barker - On The Wire

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