Gregory Isaacs dies at his London home after a long illness
One of the greatest names in Reggae music has passed away this morning (25th October 2010), Gregory Isaacs, the ‘Cool Ruler’.
He was diagnosed with lung cancer some time ago. However strangely there are some other reports online saying that it was liver cancer that he had battled against.
Whatever the diagnosis, one fact remains. He was truly a superstar of Reggae music; taking that music worldwide on countless tours and spreading that music’s message and melody worldwide on countless recordings.
Night Nurse was of course his most famous outing, but classic songs like Mr. Cop, his cover of Dobby Dobson’s Loving Pauper and Poor and Humble didn’t just excite the Reggae crowd, it defined them.
In the mid 1970s only two singers abroad and one other at home in Jamaica could rival or exceed Gregory Isaacs’s popularity, Bob Marley and Dennis Brown ‘a foreign’ and Jonnie Clarke ‘inna yard’.
The Supreme Stylist
His laid back style and effortless approach was well suited to the smoke-laden 1970’s golden era of Roots Reggae; and as the epitome of solo singer and frontman, Gregory Isaacs inhabited the stage with a confidence that shone with what seemed to many like a cock sure self-assured arrogance.
Born in the Ghetto
Like many of Reggae’s most succesful singers Gregory Isaacs was born in a Kingston slum in 1951 but managed through nothing but raw talent, desire, necessity and determination to succeed. Not only did he break the notoriously tough home market, but he went on the become one of Jamaica’s most loved performers and to have many hits there. Over and over again he proved himself in a country where it is said everyone is a singer. You probably couldn’t get a tougher audience, or more competition.
Over a long career
He started his recording career pre 70s and after a false start he hit with vocal group ‘The Concords’ who recorded for Rupie Edwards, and a very fine, crisp and clean harmony group they were, check them out if you haven’t yet heard them! Don’t Let Me Suffer is a great tune and one of the best Edward’s ever produced for anyone. (In this writer’s opinion.)
Over time he honed his style until it sounded like he was exerting the absolute minimum of energy required to deliver his songs either to his audience or for the tape machine’s ferric oxide.
He had the sort of vocal performance that could at a stretch give rise to the fantasy image of studio technicians prodding Isaacs awake at the end of each take, or tape editors cutting the snoring off of the mix before mastering!
He often sounded wonderfully under-whelmed and gloriously lazy; like a man who couldn’t care less if you came to the gig or bought his music. Surely there has always been something dashingly attractive about anyone talented, who doesn’t give a damn.
Just remember though momentarily that this on the surface of it ‘apathetic’ approach is a dangerous game for Gregoy Isaacs to play; as having come from a Kingston ghetto and the associated poverty of growing up in such a place he must have had nerves of steel and sublime confidence that his approach, style and self direction was what would make him successful, and it did. Thank goodness. Otherwise, it could have been back to the slum.
Gregory Isaacs recorded with many of the greatest producers to come from Jamaica – GG Ranglin, Rupie Edwards, Niney, Gussie Clarke, Harry Mudie, and Lee Scratch Perry, but Isaacs produced too, starting his label African Museum with then friend Errol Dunkley in the early 1970’s.
Dunkley and he had originally met in around 1969 when Gregory took Errol Dunkley to see producer Rupie Edwards. Isaacs and Dunkley went their separate ways only a few years after starting African Museum but the label and the later shop continued onwards in an effort to remain independent of other producer’s manipulation of Isaacs and his fellow artistes. He funded further releases on the label with further work for other producers.
When all was going well for Isaacs internationally he was arrested for illegal firearms possession in Jamaica and incarcerated there for 6 months. It transpired at this time that he was a Cocaine addict and was involved in drug dealing and the gangland of Kingston. Unfortunately for his many fans this affected his voice and of course, sadly, Mr. Isaacs health.
As time then passed his once lazy delivery began to sound energy less and extremely ‘nasal’ and those that knew his great work of the past mourned the loss of the Cool Ruler’s extra classic voice.
He claimed many times that his addiction to Cocaine was over, but rumours persisted.
Sadly missed – this time its personal
It was a real shock finding out that he’d gone today, I hadn’t heard any rumours that he was ill, though fairly close to the Reggae rumour mill; and so when I was told couldn’t quite grasp that we have lost both Sugar Minott and Gregory Isaacs in this year alone. Gregory however remains one of my all time favourite artists, and I’ll be shaking the dust off of Loving Pauper and listening to the I-Roy cut tonight too.