King Jammy #1
Ghetto-based sound systems – involving powerful homemade sound equipment, stacks of vinyl, and full of deejay crews- rocked local dancehalls and gave birth to a new golden age of Jamaican music. The ’80s was the age of dancehall and Lloyd ‘Jammy’ James was King. Having begun his musical career as an apprentice to King Tubby – the legendary producer, soundman and engineer credited with inventing dub music – Jammy soon moved out on his own to build a musical empire comparable to Coxsone Dodd’s in the ‘60s or King Tubby’s a decade later. Propelled by a fresh approach and a willingness to experiment with new ideas, King Jammy’s sound system ruled the dancehall for much of the ‘80s, as his labels turned out one innovative hit after another, forever changing the sound of reggae music. While many newcomers were being discovered at Channel One, the studio they were destined for would be Jammy’s, where many of them would make their career-defining recordings.
Though U Roy wasn’t the first deejay to put his toasts on records, he is often referred to as the Originator because of the unprecedented popularity of his early singles and the influence of his distinctive style, which caused the 1970s birthed scores of imitators. U Roy debuted on record in 1969 when Keith Hudson produced his single Dynamic Fashion Way. For Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle imprint he recorded Wake The Town, Rule The Nation, and Wear You To The Ball, which held the number one, two, and three positions in the Jamaican charts for six consecutive weeks. During the 1970s he recorded for numerous producers, with varying success. Although his output slowed in the 1980s, he returned with three quality sets for the Ariwa label in the 1990s. The new millennium showed no signs of stopping U Roy. He released more albums, and with his Stur Gav Sound System, he frequently tours the US, Europe, Japan, and the UK.
Horace Ferguson spent his youth in Spanishtown before moving to Linstead, St. Catherine. At the age of fifteen, he auditioned for Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin who after hearing him sing and liking what he had heard decided to give him a chance. They recorded a few songs, and a contract was signed. However, the relationship didn’t turn out to be successful. It lasted until 1983 before Horace decided to start singing again in the studio. With Prince Jazzbo he recorded the well-known song Sensi Addict in 1983. Sometime later he re-recorded the song in the then-popular computerized style. His songs were released on Jazzbo’s Ujama imprint. In 1987 the album Sensi Addict hit the streets, a collection of singles he had recorded for Prince Jazzbo. Another album was released that same year as well, Leave Babylon. Since that time little has been heard of him in the musical field.
Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion
Few artists have had an impact on Jamaica’s dancehall scene as Sugar Minott. His releases provided the blueprints for the rise of the contemporary dancehall style, he was also equally influential as a producer, and his extraordinarily popular sound system helped launch numerous new DJs into the limelight. At a young age, he started his own sound by the name of Black Roots which then led to the creation of Youth Promotion. Working with Coxsone Dodd, he was responsible for reviving Studio One with a slew of impressive releases. For his Black Roots label he recorded up and coming youths from the ghetto like Triston Palma, Yami Bolo, Blacka T, and Tenor Saw. He gave guidance and support to the youths in the ghetto. Sugar died on 10 July 2010 at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St. Andrew Parish, Jamaica.
King Everald & Pinchers
King Everall is also known as King Everald and Jah Everall. After his debut single, which made no impact at all, he stopped deejaying and started focusing on how to be a singer. His single Engine Engine Number Nine was released in England and led to changing his name to King Everall. He had a string of hits in the dancehall such as After All, Deathtrap, Bad Girls (for Jammy), Automatic, and Fraid Of Dem (both for King Tubby) in 1985/86.
Pinchers (born Delroy Thompson) made his first hits in 1986 with Borrow No Gun, Abrakabra, Eat Man, and Jailhouse Hot. He gained fame with the single Agony from the King Jammy produced album of the same name. In 1990, he had another big hit, Bandelero, which endures as probably his most remembered single.
Old-time toaster Jah Stitch was one of Jamaica’s pioneering deejays. He was the leading deejay with the Tippertone and – his own – Black Harmony Sound Systems before cutting his first sides for Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt and Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee. Prior to the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica, he was shot through the head. His injuries were such that it was a miracle that he was still alive. When he returned to the studio he recorded No Dread Can’t Dead which marked his comeback after miraculously surviving his injuries. The shooting had left him with a permanent rictus, which made him look like he was always talking out of the side of his mouth. In 1985, he re-emerged as Major Stitch, selecting the tunes for Sugar Minott’s Youth Promotion Sound. He died in 2019.
Horace Andy (born Horace Hinds, 19 February 1951 in Kingston, Jamaica), is a legendary roots reggae singer, notable for such classic tracks as Mr. Bassie, You Are My Angel, Skylarking and his awesome version of Ain’t No Sunshine. The singer made his earliest recordings in the late 1960s, at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One. Known for his distinctive falsetto vocal style, he sang on many classic productions for reggae producers, including Phil Pratt, King Tubby, Bullwackie, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee and Prince Jammy. The 1970s was his most prolific period. He found a new generation of fans in the 1990s, thanks to his work with trip hop pioneers Massive Attack, and continued to record new music in the late 1990s and at the beginning of the new millennium. He’s still active, recording and touring around the world.
Ernest Wilson formed The Clarendonians in 1963 with Peter Austin, the duo going on to become one of the most popular groups of the ska and rocksteady era, and having several Jamaican number one hits. He embarked on a solo career in 1967, charting with the Undying Love a tune he did for Studio One. In 1969, he got back together with Freddie McGregor in the duo ‘Ernest Wilson & Freddy’, releasing several singles. He was also briefly a member of The Techniques. In the 1970s he recorded an awesome tune for Channel One, I Know Myself, one of the best reggae tunes of all time. He provided background vocals to tracks by Beres Hammond, Inner Circle, Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Riley, Johnny Osbourne, and Kiddus I.
Barry Brown was one of many singers to find success in the 1970s under record producer Bunny Lee. After forming a short-lived group called The Aliens he went solo. Though his first releases had little impact, his vocal style soon found popularity, and he had his first hit single in with Step It Up Youthman, which led to an album of the same name. One of the most successful artists of the early dancehall era, he worked with some of Jamaica’s top producers, including Linval Thompson, Niney The Observer, Sugar Minott, and Coxsone Dodd, as well as releasing self-produced material. After releasing more than 10 albums between 1979 and 1984, Brown’s releases became more sporadic, although his work continued to feature prominently on sound systems. He died in May 2004 in Kingston.
The original Don Dadda Super Cat, came to prominence during the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the beginning of his career, he also appeared as ‘Wild Apache’ and when started working with Early B his career took off. In 1985 he put out his debut set Si Boops Deh!. He started his own Wild Apache Productions label on which he released the albums Sweets for My Sweet and Cabin Stabbin with Nicodemus & Junior Demus. He moved to the US and signed a contract with Columbia Records, releasing one of the first dancehall albums on a major label, Don Dada. He has worked with several hip-hop and r&b artists and with his unique mix of dancehall, reggae, roots, hip-hop, and r&b he established a name for himself in both the pop scene and the dancehall scene.
Michael George Haynes, known professionally as Michael Prophet, was a Jamaican roots reggae singer known for his “crying” tenor vocal style, whose recording career began in 1977. His first recordings were for producer Yabby You. His first Jamaican hit was a version of The Heptones’ Fight It To The Top, while his 1980 album Serious Reasoning established his reputation internationally. After working with Yabby You, he also recorded for Henry “Junjo” Lawes, adapting to the prevailing dancehall sound and having his biggest hit with Gunman. Michael Prophet died in Bedford, England, on 16 December 2017, aged 60.
Roy Samuel Reid, better known as I Roy, was a Jamaican deejay who had a very prolific career during the 1970s. He started his musical career via his Soul Bunny sound system in 1968 and then went on to work on the Spanish Town-based Son’s Junior sound system, where he was spotted by producer Harry Mudie. In 1976, he was signed by Virgin Records, who went on to release eight albums via various subsidiary labels. The 1980s saw I Roy’s popularity decline, which later led to financial problems and periods of homelessness. On 27 November 1999 I Roy died from heart failure.
Tenor Saw got his break as a Sugar Minott protégé around the Youth Promotion sound. But, after being groomed and supported by Sugar, he left Youth Promotion around 1985 and went up to Jammy where he enjoyed his famous string of computer hits including his first big hit Pumpkin Belly, originally a tune he recorded for Youth Promotion. Ring the Alarm, recorded for Winston Riley, was one of the biggest dancehall killers of the decade. No one will ever know the exact cause of his death. His body was found by the side of a Texas road one morning in 1988.
Gregory Isaacs was among that early group of artists who bucked the system by starting their own labels. Way back in 1973, working with singer Errol Dunkley, Gregory opened African Museum, a record store, in downtown Kingston and began producing himself and others. He continued to record for other producers while putting the revenue back into his own work. Unlike many others who have tried the same thing, Gregory succeeded.
Yellowman was the biggest surprise that ever hit Jamaican music. His rise to fame was such an unlikely event. No one could have predicted that an albino orphan would be making hit records, let alone become the new ambassador of reggae around the world. But Yellowman was the perfect person to fill the spot left by the passing of Bob Marley. He gave reggae new life, a new direction, a new identity for a new era.
Gemini was officially a ‘disco’ and played a bit of everything – funk, soul, disco, reggae. With the relative peace that arrived in 1980 at the end of the violent election campaign, all sounds had the potential to attract bigger crowds and Gemini was at the right place at the right time. With a roster including the top slack deejays and two selectors- one for reggae and one for soul – and a club all its own to play home sessions, Gemini was the perfect sound to open the new dancehall decade.
In 1979, when Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes and Jah Life began working with him, Barrington Levy was still a raggamuffin youth. But he was already blessed with a rich voice and the ability to make up lyrics on the spot. Wherever he went, whatever he was doing, he accompanied himself with song. He had a new vibration and the interaction between the adolescent vocalist and the young but experienced session men, created an electrifying musical mix that reflected a change in the course of reggae.
Early B did have lyrics. He took the story telling aspect of toasting to a whole new level with hits like “Send In The Patient”, “Sunday Dish”, “Gateman Get Fraid” and “One Wheel Wheelie”, all of which were in the JBC top 100 songs for 1984. With so many lyrics, he made a perfect recording deejay. In 1994, Early B was yet another victim of random dancehall violence. He was shot while performing with Brigadier Jerry at the Windsor Cricket Club in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
The young deejay U Brown, the heir to U Roy’s vocal styling, followed the teacher closely in those early days. U Brown hung around King Tubby’s sound system doing odd jobs, lifting the sound boxes and traveling with the crew to dances to set up, until he got comfortable and began to feel like “one of the family”. Until, one night he got his chance at the microphone. Once they heard how close U Brown was to the ‘originator’, they invited him to fill in whenever U Roy was absent.
Visit this page regularly…more photos are coming!
During the 1980s, my husband and I traveled frequently to Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, NY from our home in Toronto, Canada to follow the changing reggae scene. In that period reggae was changing fast, moving from the heavy roots sound of suffering and redemption to the lighter, faster, digitized sound of modern dancehall.
My husband and I saw it happen. We saw Junjo’s Volcano empire rise meteorically and them crash as his young artists emigrated or met untimely deaths. We witnessed Jah Love’s Brigadier Jerry take over the dancehall scene without ever having recorded a 45 – powered by the new popularity of dance hall cassettes.
We were in Waterhouse when King Jammy unleashed his Sleng Teng rhythm to an analog world and, one by one, producers dropped their previously recorded rhythms and started building again from scratch using programmable keyboards and drum machines. We were in Jammy’s yard while he cut the dubplates for the Clash of the Century, the event that brought dancehall culture to the larger Jamaican audience.
Over those years, I collected an archive of material that I would like to make available to the public – to present and future reggae scholars and fans.
All images © 1982-1988 Beth Lesser
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