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Bob Marley (Born: 6 February 1945  Died: 11 May 1981)

Born Robert Nesta Marley in Saint Ann’s Parish, Jamaica, Bob Marley was not just a musician and Reggae icon, he is a symbol – if not the symbol – of Jamaican culture and identity worldwide. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “his is the voice of oppressed people the world over.” Marley with his band The Wailers popularised Reggae music globally, and Marley himself (though raised a Catholic) raised awareness of Rastafarianism. Marley and Bunny Wailer were childhood friends. After Marley’s father died, Marley’s mother began a relationship with Wailer’s father and they lived together under one roof relocating to Trench Town in Kingston, where Marley and Wailer indulged their love of music, listening to R&B on American radio stations, and Ska music. Marley, Wailer, along with Reggae luminary, Peter Tosh formed The Wailers in 1963.  After The Wailers disbanded in 1974, Marley went solo and moved to England where he recorded the landmark Reggae album, Exodus for Island Records. The selection of tracks here provide a great starting point for anyone seeking to expand their knowledge of the Bob Marley catalogue. Tracks include Lively Up Yourself, Trenchtown Rock and two collaborative efforts with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Soul Rebel and African Herbsman. Marley died of cancer in 1981, but his considerable legacy lives on. In 1999, the BBC voted One Love the song of the millennium, while his Bob Marley Foundation works to provide social intervention to young people through education, culture and the environment.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (Born: 20 March 1936)

Iconoclast, master producer, dub pioneer and Reggae innovator are just a few of the accolades enjoyed by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Born Rainford Hugh Perry in Kendal, Jamaica, his career in music began in the late  fifties when he worked as a record seller for Clement Coxsone Dodd’s sound system. After learning all he could about the business and technical side of the industry, he set up his own label, Upsetter Records, in 1968 working with his studio band, The Upsetters. Always wanting more control over production, Perry built a recording studio in his back garden and called it the Black Ark. Countless artists recorded there, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, and The Congos. In later years as the building fell into disrepair, Perry burned it down in a fit of temper and the studio was no more. Though some doubt to his story, it demonstrates the sense of mastery he has over all his creations, and sounds like pure Perry. Perry continues to perform, produce and innovate and has recorded with Keith Richards, the Beastie Boys, Moby and The Orb.

Dennis Brown (Born: 1 February 1957  Died: 1 July 1999)

Known as The Crown Prince of Reggae, Kingston-born Dennis Brown was reputed to be Bob Marley’s favourite singer.Starting out in his music career at the age of twelve, Brown was dubbed the Michael Jackson of Reggae. His sound was easy, smooth and perfect for the Lovers’ Rock music with which he is most associated. He was a major influence on several artists, including Barrington Levy, Gregory Isaacs, Junior Reid  and Richie Stephens. Bob Marley’s son Daniel said of Brown, “When I listen to his music, I can hear that he really loved singing. It almost sounds like he smiles while he was singing.”

Gregory Isaacs (Born: 15 July 1951  Died: 25 October 2010)

Gregory Isaacs, aka the Cool Ruler, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. An internationally renowned Reggae artist, Isaacs worked with some of Jamaica’s leading producers, including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Gussie Clarke, and Winston ‘Niney’ Holness. Time Magazine credits Isaacs with keeping the genre going after the death of Bob Marley in 1981. In his early career, Isaacs was influenced by American rhythm and blues. His persona was one of cool elegance and his dress was matched by the smoothness of his silky voice, so perfect for Lovers Rock. He recorded My Only Lover, credited as the first ever Lovers’ Rock track and had a club hit with his first recording for Island Records, Night Nurse. He teamed up with fellow Reggae star Errol Dunkley to form the African Museum record label, supporting the business from his work on other labels. His ongoing struggle with cocaine and heroin addiction took a toll on Isaacs’ career and health. He died in London in 2010 after a long battle with lung cancer. One Direction’s Zayn Malik says Isaacs was an influence for him musically, as does the aptly named King Isaac.

John Holt (Born: 11 July 1947  Died: 19 October 2014)

John Holt, was spotted at local talent shows in Kingston, Jamaica where he was born. Holt was a member of vocal group, The Paragons, but also had a parallel career as a solo artist up until the band dissolved in 1970.  He excelled as a songwriter and wrote and performed the group’s track The Tide is High, later covered by Blondie, as well as Man Next Door, covered by Horace Andy on the Massive Attack album, Mezzanine. Holt’s slow and smoochy style is often seen as a precursor to Lovers Rock.  He has influenced various musicians including Shaggy, UB40 and Sean Paul. Upon hearing of his death, Trojan Records released a statement that said it all: “He was a huge talent and a true gentleman.”

 

Dave and Ansell Collins

One of the great duos to come out of Jamaica, session singer Dave Barker and self taught keyboard player Ansell Collins joined forces in 1971 while both worked for producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Their first single, Double Barrel, was an unexpected international hit and one of the first in the Reggae genre. In an interview with NME in 1971, the duo said that the song was an attempt to create a new and different sound. They followed up with Monkey Spanner later that same year and it was almost as successful as their debut. Both Double Barrel and Monkey Spanner are included in this selection. After formally splitting, Dave Barker moved to England and Ansell Collins went on to work with artists including The Upsetters, Black Uhuru, Barrington Levy, and Gregory Isaacs. Barker and Collins reunited for a 40th anniversary tour of the release of Double Barrel in 2013.

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