Linval Thompson on train to Zion
In commemoration of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain, the Jamaica Observer's Entertainment section recognises 50 persons who made significant, yet unheralded, contributions to the country's culture. This week we feature singer/producer Linval Thompson.
The Kingston 13 area was awash with musical talent at the dawn of the 1970s. Producer Bunny Lee capitalised on this by recording numerous budding artistes from the community like Johnny Clarke and a singer from the Three Miles area named Linval Thompson.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Thompson started his recording career in the United States. He had immigrated to New York City in the mid-1970s and cut several sides for expatriate Jamaican producers, but returned mid-decade to 'voice' for Lee and other independent labels.
His first big hit was Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks, done for Lee in 1975 when Rasta was vogue among ghetto youth. This was followed by Train to Zion which Thompson did for the popular Socialist Roots label.
Other songs like Ease Up would guarantee Thompson a strong following throughout Europe, especially England where there was a vibrant underground reggae scene. In the late 1970s, he developed a reputation as a solid producer, recording songs by upcoming artistes from Kingston 13 and releasing them in England largely through Trojan Records.
Thompson came of age as a producer in the early 1980s as he recorded a number of songs that not only enhanced his grassroots credibility, but showed he had the feel to reach the mainstream.
His biggest hit of that period was Big Ship by Freddie McGregor. Big Ship was, arguably, the biggest reggae song of 1983 and elevated McGregor from Studio One grassroots singer to bona fide star.
The Linval Thompson catalogue is a reggae collector's dream. It contains songs by roots stalwarts such as Johnny Osbourne, Rod Taylor, Barry Brown and The Meditations, as well as the songs that made him a grassroots mainstay.