Updated: May 1
October 25th marked twelve years since Gregory Isaacs, one of Jamaica's most beloved vocalists passed away. Gregory was as pertinent in dancehalls anywhere as he was in bedrooms everywhere and enjoyed a career that stretched over 40 years. From the early days of Reggae through lovers’ rock, a genre he virtually invented, his talent reached into the modern age. Gregory Isaacs was born in the Fletcher's Land area of Kingston, Jamaica, on July 15, 1951, and during his teenage years he dominated the local talent contest scene.
LOVERS ROCK APPEAL In 1968, Gregory made his recording debut as Winston Sinclair, with the single "Another Heartache", which he recorded for producer Byron Lee. The single sold poorly, and Gregory eventually teamed up with Errol Dunkley to start the African Museum record label and record shop which spawned his first recording success with the massive hit "My Only Lover", a tune which was credited as the first lovers rock record ever made. Gregory Isaacs had a kind of cross-appeal where the ladies loved him as a lovers’ rock singer while to his male audience, he was the quintessential Roots Rock singer. Gregory Isaacs’ voice was honed to such perfection that it was almost impossible to replicate- a nasal intonation with an idiosyncratic approach to phrasing and crooning and producing a delivery which gave him the most distinctive voice in Reggae music. DOMINATING THE DECADE OF THE 1970s
In 1970, he teamed up with the Concords and recorded “Don’t Let Me Suffer”, a tune that did not find much resonance in the marketplace and by the end of that year the group broke up with Gregory deciding to go it alone. During this period, Gregory’s main intention was to keep the African Museum project going and to accomplished this he recorded for a number of other producers. The effort provided him with several hits over the next three years including "All I Have Is Love", "Lonely Soldier", "Black a Kill Black", "Extra Classic" and a cover version of Dobby Dobson’s “Loving Pauper.” In 1974, he also worked with producer Alvin Ranglin and the effort resulted in his first big single in Jamaica “Love Is Overdue” which reached number 1 on the local charts. Other producers and the hits produced from their association included “My Time” for Gussie Clarke, “Slave master” with Lloyd Campbell, “One -Ome Cocoa Full Basket” for Glen Brown, and for Lee “Scratch” Perry he did “Mr. Cop.” Between 1977 and 1978, Isaacs again teamed up with Alvin Ranglin for whom he recorded a string of hits including "Border" and "Number One" for Ranglin's GG's label. The prolific output placed Gregory Isaacs cemented his popularity among music lovers and in a league which included both Marley and Dennis Brown. LOCAL/INTERNATIONAL GROWTH
Gregory would parlay this success into taking on the distribution of his work when he opened the Cash and Carry shop at 118 Orange Street, later moving to no. 125, next door to Prince Buster's Record Shack, which was also the base for the Cash and Carry record label that he ran with Trevor "Leggo" Douglas.
In 1978 Isaacs signed to the Virgin Records offshoot Front Line Records, and appeared in the film Rockers, in which he performed "Slavemaster". He released “The Cool Ruler” and “Soon Forward” albums, both of which did not do as well as expected even though they are today both considered among his best work. Tracks included “Mr. Brown”, “Universial Tribulation”, “Soon Forward” , “Down The Line”, “John Public”, ”Party in The Slum”, and “Words of The Farmer,” In 1981, he made his first appearance at the Reggae Sunsplash festival (returning annually until 1991), and he moved on to the Charisma Records offshoot Pre, who released his The Lonely Lover and More Gregory albums along with a string of increasingly successful singles including "Tune In", "Permanent Lover", "Wailing Rudy" and "Tribute to Waddy" “Top Ten” DRUGS PRISON CAREER INTERFERANCE
In 1982 Isaacs signed to Island Records and released the record that finally saw him break through to a wider audience, "Night Nurse", the title track from his first album for the label. Although "Night Nurse" was not a chart hit in either the UK or US, it was hugely popular in clubs and received heavy radio play, and the album reached number 32 in the UK. It was also used in advertisements for an over the counter cold & flu remedy of the same name.
This success for Isaacs coincided with drug problems with cocaine that saw him serve a six-month prison sentence in Kingston in 1982 for possession of unlicensed firearms. Isaacs claimed that he had the weapons only for protection, but it emerged that this was his 27th arrest and that he had become involved in drug dealing and was addicted to crack cocaine. He would celebrate his release from prison with his second album for Island, Out Deh! (1983) with tracks such as “Love Me With Feelings”,” Private Secretary,” and “Good Morning”
THE DIGITAL EXPERIENCE- GUSSIE CLARKE
When his contract with Island ended, Isaacs returned in 1984 with the "Kool Ruler Come Again" single, and began a period of prolific recording, working with producers including Prince Jammy, Hugh "Redman" James, Bobby Digital, Steely & Clevie, maintaining a consistent standard despite the volume of work produced. Isaacs then built a strong relationship with Gussie Clarke of the Music Works label. They began with Isaacs' 1985 album Private Beach Party and had a massive hit with "Rumours" in 1988 and the classic “Let Off Supm”, which was followed by further popular singles including "Mind Yu Dis", "Rough Neck", "Too Good To Be True" and "Report to Me". The association with Clarke continued into the early 1990s, teaming up with singers including Freddy McGregor, J.C. Lodge, and a duet with Beres Hammond on the 1993 Phillip “Fattis” Burrell label produced "One Good Turn", Burrell also producing Isaacs' 1994 album Midnight Confidential with tunes like “Uncle Joe”, “Make Me Prosper”, “Don’t Take Your Love”, “One Good Turn” and “Let’s Talk.” OWNING HIS EXPERIENCES
In the 1990s the African Museum label continued to release all of Isaacs' music, and that of artists he produced. In 1997Simply Red covered "Night Nurse" and had a hit with it. Isaacs continued to record and perform live in the 2000s. His drug addiction would have a major impact on his voice, with most of his teeth falling out as a result Isaacs said of his addiction in 2007: "Drugs are a debasing weapon. It was the greatest college ever, but the most expensive school fee ever paid – the Cocaine High School. I learnt everything, and now I've put it on the side. GRAMMY NOMINATIONS
In 2008, Gregory Isaacs celebrated 40 years in the business as a recording artist, Isaacs by releasing the studio album “Brand New Me” featuring the title track of the same name influenced by the Drifter’s classic “Fools Fall in Love.“ The album which also included the hit “Me and Mi Idrin Gone a Jail,” received positive reviews from critics and was followed in 2009 by the album “My Kind of Lady.” In 2010, Gregory Isaacs put out the last of his albums to be released while he was still living titled “Isaacs meets Isaac”, with Zimbabwean Reggae singer King Isaac. In November 2010, the album was nominated for Best Reggae Album for the 2011 Grammy Awards, giving Gregory Isaacs his fourth Grammy nomination, and Zimbabwe's King Isaac his first.
Gregory Isaacs died at home in London from lung cancer on October 25, 2010. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction in October 2016.
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