Island Records presents IKON - The Best Of Gregory Isaacs
05/31/2018 by Press Release
UPDATE: The release has been postponed!
Over the last three decades, Bob Marley has grown from being a Jamaican reggae star into a global icon. That's partly due to the success of Legend - the album that was released posthumously and has remained on the charts ever since, achieving record sales.
The same team behind Legend have now turned their attention to Gregory Isaacs, who is another classic reggae singer deserving of international fame. Whilst grassroots' fans revered him before his death in 2010, there are many who believe that he never received the level of recognition that his talents truly merited during his lifetime.
IKON: The Best Of Gregory Isaacs "The Cool Ruler", released by Universal’s Island Records on July 27th, now seeks to redress the balance with a definitive collection of his best songs, drawn from a career that spanned more than three decades.
Lead single Bring Me Your Cup features Ali Campbell, and it's stunning. An early version of this track first appeared on UB40's album Fathers Of Reggae, recorded in Jamaica during 2002. Now remixed as a duet by UK hit-maker Bitty McLean, Bring Me Your Cup brings together two iconic reggae singers whose vocals are so closely suited, it sounds as if they were in the studio together.
Ali has sang on more hit songs than any other reggae artist and names Gregory among his all-time favourite singers but then so does the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, who tried to sign him for the Stones' own label. That's because the Cool Ruler was not only a great stylist - and especially when delivering the intimate, romantic ballads that he's famous for - but he was also an exemplary songwriter, who could capture a mood with the deftest of touch.
Blessed with natural charisma, he would appear on stage in tailored suits and fedora hat, tipped at a rakish angle. Like all perfectionists, Gregory made his craft seem effortless. Time and again, his music was defined by laidback vocals, poignant lyrics and sinuous rhythms, yet he'd faced a hard struggle in achieving his goals.
Like Bob Marley, he grew up in West Kingston and was raised by his mother, whose singing around the house fostered his love of music, together with songs played on local radio. “In those early days, I used to listen to a lot of rhythm and blues by singers like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, the Drifters and the Platters - also Jamaican groups like the Paragons," he said. "I’d just listen to any kind of music, from jazz and funk to the Mighty Sparrow. We’d listen to it mainly on the radio, and then we’d go and hear music in the dancehalls as well.” During his teenage years he trained as an electrician and cabinetmaker, in-between singing and practising the guitar. He made his recording debut in 1968 after winning a local talent show and then briefly joined the Concords before striking out on his own with songs delivered in his distinctive, laidback vocal style.
Right from the start, he realised the importance of writing his own material, and also having control of his own affairs. In 1973 whilst still in his early twenties, he started the African Museum label and hit with My Only Lover, which quickly established his reputation for romantic heartbreak. A year later and Love Is Overdue topped the charts in Jamaica and was swiftly followed by My Number One. Gregory earned his reputation with songs like these that were both seductive whilst also expressing a rare degree of vulnerability.
By the time he recorded Rock On for Niney The Observer in 1975, he'd opened a record store in downtown Kingston, and was busy releasing songs by himself and other artists on African Museum, whilst still recording for outside producers. His work rate was phenomenal, and would remain so for years to come as he succeeded in writing, singing and producing his own hits with unerring regularity. In 1978 he signed to Virgin’s Frontline label - where he earned the name “Cool Ruler” - and made a cameo appearance in the cult Jamaican film Rockers. Three years later he signed to Island Records and recorded the hit album Night Nurse, released in 1982. The title track was a huge hit in reggae circles, together with Cool Down The Pace. International fame beckoned but in true outlaw fashion, Gregory was arrested that same year after being caught in possession of two unlicensed firearms.
He faced two life sentences if proven guilty, but protested his innocence and ended up serving six months in Kingston’s General Penitentiary. Far from harming his career, such events only served to enhance the legend. Described as “the ultimate rude boy reggae star,” he celebrated his release with the album Out Deh, and embarked on lengthy tours of the US and Europe, where he received a rapturous welcome. Anywhere Gregory performed he attracted hordes of female admirers who would sing along to every word and scream in delight as he threw off his jacket, unbuttoned his shirt and shook his dreadlocks free. He was reggae music’s leading male sex symbol by some distance, and with a hint of danger to make him even more irresistible.
Unlike most singers of his generation, he took reggae’s new digital rhythms in his stride. Some of his best work in the late eighties and early nineties was for Gussie Clarke's Music Works. Gregory rated him as one the best producers he ever worked with and Closer Than A Brother - another track that's now been remixed by Bitty McLean - is a masterful example of Jamaica's updated lovers' rock sound.
As the Millennium approached, he spent an increasing amount of time in London, where he often recorded for the capital's leading reggae labels. Several of them, including Mafia & Fluxy and Ruff Cutt, produce tracks on IKON, whilst Blacker Dread coaxed him into singing the memorable cover of Louisa Marks' Caught You In A Lie.
In his later years, Gregory battled with substance abuse but it was lung cancer that finally claimed his life in autumn 2010. He died in London, where he’d enjoyed so many artistic triumphs over the years. After a memorial service held in the English capital, thousands turned out for a state funeral in Jamaica, where he was later awarded the Order of Distinction.
With the release of IKON, aimed at bringing him the kind of mainstream recognition that eluded him during his lifetime, further honours surely lie ahead.
01. Bring Me Your Cup feat. Ali Campbell
02. If Tomorrow Never Comes
03. My Number One
04. Love Is Overdue
05. New Lover
06. Night Nurse
07. Closer Than A Brother
08. Rock On
09. Not The Way
10. Caught You In A Lie
11. Let’s Dance
12. My Only Lover
13. Never Knew Love
14. A Little Less Conversation