Gregory Isaacs aka the Cool Ruler has passed away.
So far the year 2010 hasn't been a very joyful year for reggae fans. After the death of Vivian "Yabby You" Jackson at the beginning of the year, they also mourned the passings of Lynn Taitt, Bobby Melody, Sid Bucknor, Sugar Minott and Claudius Linton. It was early September that the news that Gregory Isaacs was hospitalized in London circulated on the internet, but it remained unclear if it was really true and, if yes, in what condition the reggae singer was. Now, 25th October 2010, his wife Linda confirmed that Gregory Isaacs has died this Monday morning at his home in London after a battle with lung cancer. He was surrounded by three of his eleven children and his wife when he passed away peacefully.
THE COOL RULER.
Toot, Lonely Lover or simply Cool Ruler are just some of the nick names given to Gregory Isaacs, who was regarded the 'rude boy' of reggae mainly due to rumours about his rude boy lifestyle - he once claimed he had to be tough to maintain his position within Kingston's notorious musical industry.
Gregory Anthony Isaacs, born in Kingston JA on the 15th July 1950 and the first son of Lester Isaacs and Enid Murrary, started out as an electrician and cabinet maker, but a career in music remained his ambition. Inspired by singers such as Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, Alton Ellis and Ken Boothe, he began his recording career in the late 1960s with his first tune "Another Heartache", releasing it as a co-production with singer/producer Winston Sinclair around 1969. Although the record wasn't commercially successful, he was not discouraged and in 1969 he formed a vocal group called The Concords with the other two members being Penro and Bramwell. Together they recorded a few 45s including "Buttoo", "I Need Your Loving", "You Are The One" and "Don't Let Me Suffer" for producer Rupie Edwards.
Success did not follow so Gregory Isaacs decided to move on his career as a solo artist. He went on to record for Rupie Edwards and other producers including Prince Buster for whom he recorded a song entitled "Dancing Floor". Still not content he decided to start his own label for his own productions, assisted by his friend Errol Dunkley, around 1973 and that was the beginning of the legendary African Museum record label, until this day producing classics. The first widely appreciated hits came in 1973 with Phil Pratt's production "All I Have Is Love" - ne of the biggest hits that year - and "Lonely Soldier" for Clive Chin at Randy's. In 1974 Gregory recorded "Love Is Overdue" for Alvin "GG" Ranglin at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle Studio which was a major success and established his name throughout the Caribbean and the UK. In 1975 he sold over 42,000 copies of the album "In Person" released by Trojan Records. The latter also issued a set titled "All I Have Is Love" after the Phil Pratt produced hit, containing the earlier material.
That year also saw the release of excellent singles like "Sunshine For Me", "Bad Da" (produced by Winston "Niney" Holness), "Babylon Too Rough" (produced by Joe Gibbs), and a series of self-productions issued either on African Museum ("Tief A Man", "My Religion") or on Pete Weston's Micron imprint ("African Woman", "Coming Home", "Beautiful Africa"). Many of these mid-70s titles evinced a new persona for the singer on record, that of ghetto spokesman, as distinct from the anguished 'Lonely Lover' of earlier years. This direction was confirmed in 1976 with the Lee Perry produced "Mr. Cop" and further African Museum singles like the brilliant "Black A Kill Black", "Rasta Business", and "Extra Classic". The latter song eventually gave title to the singer's third album, released in 1977.
Early in the same year Ossie Hibbert voiced Gregory Isaacs at Joe Gibbs studio, the riddims having been previously recorded at Channel One. The resultant ten songs saw Jamaican release as the "Mr. Isaacs" album in 1977 on Earthquake, then Cash & Carry, as well as "Mr. Brown" that appeared on 7" single later on the Cash & Carry label. The "Mr. Issacs" album - the singer's fourth - was a big success. It was slightly different from his previous sets as it was definitely conceived as an album from the start, rather than a compilation of recent singles. As such, it offered confirmation of Gregory Isaacs' maturity. The album was issued just before the period of his greatest successes, but in it he shows that he had fully developed the dual persona he would project in his music over the next few years. He had also fully absorbed what appear to have been his main stylistic influences - John Holt and Alton Ellis - and was singing beautifully. The "Mr. Isaacs" album turned out to be a landmark in the career of Gregory Isaacs.
In the following year he signed a deal with Virgin and recorded two albums for their "Frontline" label, "Cool Ruler" in 1978 and "Soon Forward" in 1979, which failed to bring the crossover success that was deserved. When his contract wih Virgin expired, UK-based label Charisma wasted no time in signing him up. For this record company he produced the classic 1980 albums "Lonely Lover" and "More Gregory". In 1982 Island Records made an undiclosed offer that Gregory Isaacs could not refuse. Gregory opted for a short term contract. He then demonstrated his unique talent and produced the album "Night Nurse", which was a huge international success. In 1984 by mutual agreement he left Island Records and recorded for friend and producer Tads "Green Back" Dawkins and produced two fine albums, "Easy" around September 1984 and "All I Have Is Love, Love, Love" in May 1986. In those mid-eighties he was beset by personal and legal problems and was even jailed in Kingston's General Penitentiary. After being released from prison he served his fans with a new album entitled "Out Deh". Due to these problems - including financial problems - Gregory was willing to record for anyone and everyone who was prepared to pay him.
In the second half of the eighties Gregory Isaacs decided to revitalize his career and surely was the most high prolific reggae artist of that time as he recorded for almost every producer in Jamaica including King Jammy, Bobby Digital, Steely & Clevie, Redman, Sly & Robbie, King Tubby, and Gussie Clarke. Teaming up with the latter proved to be one of reggae's happiest coincidences as it led to the recording of the ground-breaking hit "Rumours" in 1988, plus hits like "Rough Neck" (with the Mighty Diamonds) and "Mind Yu Dis". Throughout the next two decades Gregory Isaacs continued recording on an regular basis, but it was obvious that the quality level slackened, although 1995's "Dreaming", 1997's "Hold Tight" and 2008's "Brand New Me" showed glimpses of the old Isaacs magic.
With a musical career that spanned over four decades and having delivered a trailer load of reggae classics - singles as well as albums - his legendary status and reputation in the reggae business were truly second to none.
Sources: BBC Caribbean.com, Wikipedia, The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, The Rough Guide To Reggae, and liner notes by Steve Barrow from the Blood & Fire's cd "Mr. Isaacs".
More than 500 Gregory Isaacs albums and countless 12" and 7" singles have been released during his career, many being compilations. Studio albums of original material are listed below: