|Island Presents: Roots - 37 Essential Roots Anthems|
Marcus Garvey - Burning Spear
Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush - Inner Circle
Freedom Song - Third World
None A Jah Jah Children (No Cry) - Ras Michael
Old Marcus Garvey - Burning Spear
Going Back To Ethiopia - Righteous Foundation
One Step Forward - Max Romeo
Police & Thieves - Junior Murvin
Soldier And Police War - Jah Lion
Three In One - Lee ""Scratch"" Perry
Fire (Is A Desire) - Justin Hinds & The Dominoes
Lion - Burning Spear
Tedious - Junior Murvin
Natty B.Sc. - Dillinger
Congo Man - The Congos
Africa - Rico
96 Degrees In The Shade - Third World
Rastaman Shuffle - The Upsetters
Uptown Top Ranking - Althea & Donna
Real Ranking - Trinity
At The Feast Of Passover - The Congos
Soul Fire - Lee ""Scratch"" Perry
Forward Ever - Jacob Miller
Prodigal Son - Steel Pulse
Gold Spoon - Hosbah Lawrence
One Bird In The Hand - Justin Hines And The Dominoes
Dubbing Is A Must - Pablo Moses
Cool Meditation - Third World
Famine - Toots & The Maytals
In These Times - Errol Walker
Life Is Not Easy - The Meditations
Roots Man Reggae - Zap Pow
Sons Of Garvey - Joe Higgs
Jah Heavy Load - Ijahman
Feel The Spirit - Wailing Souls
Marcus Garvey's Back In Town - The In Crowd
We "A" Rockers - Inner Circle
|Jamaica was a musically
fertile ground as the 1970s rolled in. The island's recording industry
was fuelled by the ever-present poverty and increasing friction between
the two political parties that resulted in open warfare on the streets
of Kingston. Random shootings and sudden death were commonplace and a
sad fact of the violent times. From this melting pot of pain came some
of the most impassioned and outspoken music ever to be cut on wax. Those
suffering knew no other way to express their pain and sense of
helplessness than to sing and pray for better days.
Rastafarianism spoke of a bright future over the horizon, in a land of milk and honey, where right-on-ness reigned, but that land was far away from Trench Town and the other notorious ghetto districts being squabbled over by the warring PNP and JLP parties. Plenty of blood was spilt in the savage process that could produce no winners. The mother with a murdered son, the fatherless child and the families rotting in tin shacks with no work, money or even sanitation all cried their desperation to the futile air.
From this harsh background emerged some of Jamaica's most esteemed artists, the headliner of course being one Robert Nesta Marley, but behind him, and somewhat in his global shadow, came many others. The major players in the UK had just started to take an interest in Jamaica with labels like Virgin, and even Progressive Rock giant Harvest soaking up the vibes of money to be made, but old-time Ska merchant, Chris Blackwell and his now celebrated Island Records had the most practised eye. Reinvigorated by Marley's 1973 album, 'Catch A Fire', Island cast its golden vision over the artist roster lining up with the hope of international stardom and a way out of the impoverished ghetto life.
Way back in 1958, Chris Blackwell laid his first record in a very primitive Kingston studio and not long after, hit big with Cuban-born Laurel Aitken, whose 'Boogie In My Bones' opened the floodgates for a string of Jamaican hits. 1962 found the young record producer in London, where he re-launched his Island imprint and began licensing recordings from some of the biggest producers in Jamaica. Before long, Island was a market leader in the small but profitable arena of selling immigrant West Indians sounds from their homelands.
Within years, Blackwell discovered and signed the Spencer Davis Group and after rapidly gaining hits with them, increasingly looked to the growing Rock and Pop markets as major sources of income. Over time, Island became on of the world's most highly regarded record companies, ultimately releasing acclaimed discs by an array of artists from a variety of musical backgrounds.
As the sixties came to a close, Island united with B&C Records to form what became the most distinctive label to ever carry West Indian music, Trojan Records, but just four years later, the relationship came to an end with the split initially resulting in Blackwell's company all but bereft of Jamaican music within its catalogue.
Despite this setback, Chris Blackwell remained determined to market Jamaican music outside the Caribbean and having just lost Jimmy Cliff to EMI, was keen to acquire at least one more Reggae superstar. He soon found just that in Bob Marley, who along with his fellow Wailers gladly accepted an advance from Island to record an album's worth of material, rewarding his faith in them with the ground-breaking 'Catch A Fire' set. The success of the collection and its immediate follow-ups spurred Island to cast their musical-net even further in a bid to find more raw talent.
They soon found one of the greatest in Winston Rodney aka the Burning Spear, who debuted at Studio One at the dawn of the decade. Rodney was completely left-field from the chugging, danceable sounds that Mr Dodd and his productions offered to Jamaica. Later he teamed up with producer Jack Ruby and, using the crack Black Disciples studio band plus singers, Rupert Willington and Delroy Hines and hit the headlines with a peon to long-forgotten black activist and visionary, 'Marcus Garvey'. The single streaked Burning Spear to the peak of the hit parade in Jamaica, with more just as forthright messages coming forth such as 'Old Marcus Garvey' and 'Resting Place'.
Most of his early sides for Ruby were collected together on the hugely popular 'Marcus Garvey' album, issued mid-1975 on the producer's Fox imprint in Jamaica. Soon after both Rodney and Ruby were signed to Island, with the best-selling album promptly remixed into stereo and bolstered by an additional track. By late autumn of '75, Island had another classic Reggae album on their hands. A follow-up collection, 'Man In The Hills', came quickly, ensuring Burning Spear's legacy and while never as big as Marley in the wider market, to those that appreciated the sound of Jamaica, he remained a major and seminal artist.
Less celebrated, but equally talented was long-time Ska and Rock Steady singer-songwriter, Justin Hinds, who along with his Dominoes vocal backing had been issuing some sublime music for over a decade before he too found his way to the studio of Jack Ruby. Hind's gentle seductive tones plus some fine songwriting added to by the powerhouse backing from some of Jamaica's finest had produced a string of hits in the 1960s such as 'Carry Go Bring Come', 'Save A Bread' and 'The Higher The Monkey Climbs', many of which had been licensed by Island for UK issue.
His 'country' style of delivery with lyrics full of old-time sayings and observations on life had slipped from public gaze as the bouncing. rapid Reggay took over the island as the decade closed. But in 1976, 'Jezebel', his album recorded for Ruby, took him straight back to the top, with the contrast of his gentle, fragile delivery against the latest heavyweight rhythms, providing an irresistible combination that ensured an overnight return to the spotlight.
Roots artists were springing up everywhere so it came as no surprise when a London residing West Indian by the name of Trevor Sutherland relocated to Kingston JA to record an album for Island of four mystical, long tracks. Born in 1946 in Jamaica, Sutherland made his recording debut while still a youth, although the track was never released, and in 1963, he moved with his parents to London. There he later cut a handful of singles, all of which failed to garner much interest from the public at large. After serving time at Her Majesty's Pleasure, he re-emerged as I Jah Man Levi, having converted to Rastafari, and in 1975, recorded three songs for small independent London producer, Dennis Harris, including the popular 'Jah Heavy Load' and 'I'm A Levi'.
A recording session with famed trombonist Rico ultimately led to a deal with Island, with his 'Haile I Hymn' album for the company following soon after. Included on the set was an extended re-cut 'Jah heavy Load', which featured significantly more accompaniment than the sparse backing of the original cut of the song. The album sold well and put I Jah Man on the path he still treads today, singing praises to the Most High, with the occasional love song thrown in.
Birmingham-based band, Steel Pulse made their recording breakthrough in 1975 with a couple of 45s released on Dennis Harris' Dip imprint, although it was their powerful 'Ku Klux Klan' for Island that first brought them mainstream attention. Renown for their live performances, they brought a touch of the chilly UK edge into the roots sound. Their first Island album, the widely acclaimed 1978 collection, 'Handsworth Revolution' was full of high quality material, supremely played by the band and consequently sold well into the Reggae market and beyond. Two more impressive albums were later recorded and issued by Island before the band departed to Elektra.
Aside from leading artists, Jamaica's most celebrated producers too were enticed to sign with Island, and of these none were more talented than Lee 'Scratch' Perry, whose mind-bending Black Ark productions of the mid-to-late seventies helped shape the very sound of Reggae music.
Always in touch with what was happening on the scene, Scratch moved from jumping, pulsing instrumentals so beloved by the late 1960s crowd to deeper meaningful music, as typified by his work with Junior Murvin. 'Police And Thieves' was a massive seller both in Jamaica and the UK, so much so that Island issued it as a 7" single twice, with dub and deejay B-sides respectively, as well as a 12" version, resplendent in picture sleeve, containing four cuts on the rhythm.
A popular album of the same title followed, while Perry continued to deliver to Island other high quality collections, including Max Romeo's 'War In A Babylon', 'Columbia Collie' from deejay Jah Lion, 'Party Time' from noted vocal trio, the Heptones and his own much celebrated 'Super Ape'.
One album Island chose not to issue was the Congos' 'Heart Of The Congos', which had Perry at his inspired best, with the entire collection marked by weird groans, rattles and even cow moos under the shimmering rhythms. The Congos themselves created a bright harmonious sound that sat with ease on the deep and swirling rhythms, as illustrated by the excellent 'Congo Man', which saw issue in 1977 as a 12" on the company's Black Swan subsidiary label.
Progressive uptown Reggae band, Third World debuted for Island late in 1975 with 'Freedom Song', which was followed soon after by a well-received self-titled album. The inspired '96 Degrees In The Shade' LP followed two years later, after which they struck gold with their UK top ten hit version of the O'Jays' 'Now That We Found Love'.
Inner Circle, consisting mainly of the two Lewis brothers, Ian and Roger, combined with the stuttering idiosyncratic vocals of Jacob Miller to produce hit material such as the herbman anthem, 'Tried To Lick Weed In A Bush'. They also produced others, such as deep-rooted Rasta, Ras Michael on his first above-ground hit, 'None A Jah Jah Children', featuring an intoxicating mix of Rasta funde drumming and Michael Henry's wail of a vocal encouraging the children of Rasta not to cry under the sufferation. Ras Michael had been on the scene for many years and had recorded a handful of deeply Rasta singles in that time, so underground in fact that even the record buying public of Jamaica would have trouble tracking copies down.
Others to record for Ian and Roger Lewis from the time included leading DJ, Trinity and the young female duo, Althea Forrest and Donna Reid, whose self-penned song acclaiming the brothers' Top Ranking imprint failed to impress. Soon after. the pair re-cut the song on a different rhythm for Joe Gibbs and the rest is history.
Throughout the latter half of the seventies, numerous new vocal groups were making moves to be heard, none more so than the inspired Joseph Hill and his two cohorts that comprised Culture. The group hit the public awareness with 'Two Sevens Clash', an apoplectic prophecy of fire and brimstone to arrive on the world in 1977. Hill and Culture went on to become one of the most revered and long-running acts still performing up until Joseph's untimely departure from this world in 2006.
Many others came to prominence during this time, such as the four-man vocal group, the Wailing Souls, whose long career ran back to the sixties. The quality of their music never faltered, from chugging biblical directives like the Coxsone Dodd-produced 'Thou Shall Not Steal' to 'Jah Jah Give Us Life', a heavyweight praise to the Almighty.
The In Crowd began life as a hotel and backing band before launching off into a string of inspired Roots Reggae recordings, including the magnificent 'Born In Ethiopia', 'Back A Yard' and 'Marcus Garvey's Back In Town', which picked up on the hero Burning Spear brought back to the black consciousness a year or two earlier.
Long-time singer and Wailers mentor, Joe Higgs also commented on the Garvey theme with 'Sons Of Garvey'. Higgs, one of the foundations of Jamaican music began singing professionally in the late-fifties, cutting epic singles partnering his friend, Roy Wilson. Never a prolific recording artist, he recorded sporadically, but everything he laid to wax was always special.
'Special' is a phrase that could be levelled at much of the inspirational work flooding out of Jamaica as the 1970s progressed, with the increase of violence and political tension coinciding with deeper, more spiritual and impassioned music. And many of the most important and striking recordings from the era were brought to the attention of a global audience through Chris Blackwell's Island Records, as evidenced by this impressive collection of essential tracks from the golden age of Roots Reggae.
Michael de Koningh
|All material © Trojan Records|