Remembering Old Marcus Garvey

Remembering Old Marcus Garvey

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Saturday, August 17, 2019

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Even though he is the country's first National Hero, Marcus Garvey was largely forgotten in Jamaica in 1975. However, the pan-African giant still had a faithful following; among them, a Rastafarian singer named Burning Spear.

That year, Spear and producer Lawrence “Jack Ruby” Lindo worked with a formidable side of musicians called the Black Disciples on sessions at Randy's studios in Kingston that resulted in the Marcus Garvey album.

One of the great statement albums, Marcus Garvey was released by Island Records in December 1975. Today, as Jamaicans and Garveyites celebrate Garvey's 132nd birthday, Burning Spear's epic work remains just as relevant as Garvey's message of black empowerment.

Recorded at the height of the roots-reggae explosion, the album contained songs like Marcus Garvey, Jordan River, Old Marcus Garvey and Tradition. Though he had recorded two albums for Studio One, it was Marcus Garvey that gave Burning Spear an international profile.

One of the musicians who played on Marcus Garvey was keyboardist Bernard “Touter” Harvey. Like many Jamaicans in the early 1970s, he knew little about Marcus Garvey, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, who died in England in 1940.

“I knew he was a National Hero, dat much, an' knew about some of his tribulations. But as far as his teachings, not much,” Harvey recalled in a recent interview with the Jamaica Observer.

He did know Lindo, who had become something of a folk hero in Ocho Rios where Harvey was working as a member of the house band at The Basement hotel. It was Lindo who recruited him for Spear's comeback sessions at Randy's.

Though some of his recordings for Studio One like Door Peep, The Sun and Foggy Road were well-received, Spear grew frustrated with the music business and returned to his native St Ann where Garvey was also born. In a 1998 interview with the Jamaica Observer, he remembers meeting Lindo at Key Largo Beach in the parish, and was encouraged to record some songs for him.

At the time, Harvey's stocks as a session musician were rising. A past student of Excelsior High School, he was from Whitfield Town in Kingston, and started his career at Studio One; the first hit song he played on was John Holt's Stick by Me. Harvey also played on Bob Marley and The Wailers' Natty Dread album.

Other members of the Black Disciples were bassists Aston “Family Man” Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare, guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, keyboardist Tyrone Downie, drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, horn players Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis, Herman Marquis, Vin Gordon, and Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall.

Harvey remembers it was Spear who usually set the tone for the sessions.

“Spear would come in with his box guitar an' play, an' wi would get an idea of his melodies. He would come with an idea for a song an' Jack would decide if wi cut dat in di studio,” he said.

Though Winston Rodney (Burning Spear's real name) was identified as an artiste, he was accompanied by harmony singers Delroy Hines and Rupert Willington whose haunting harmonies enhanced his piercing chants.

Interestingly, Harvey said Marcus Garvey was not meant to be an album. Burning Spear was one of several artistes Lindo worked with during the Randys sessions; it was later when the producer met Island boss Chris Blackwell that a deal was made to compile the songs for an album.

Even during rehearsals, Harvey and his colleagues sensed a special feel to Spear's songs.

“Take for example a song like Jordan River. When wi were rehearsing it, wi jus' feel dat vibe,” he said.

Marcus Garvey got strong reviews in noted publications like Rolling Stone and Billboard. Its dub counterpart, Garvey's Ghost, was released in 1976, followed by the striking Man In The Hills in 1977.

Both were produced by Lindo.

Bernard “Touter” Harvey is best known for his work with the Inner Circle Band which he joined in 1975. A longtime South Florida resident, he still records and tours with that outfit.

Spear went on to win two Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album with Calling Rastafari in 2000 and Jah is Real in 2009. Recorded in 2008, Jah is Real is the last studio album by Spear who was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican Government in 2007.

Lawrence “Jack Ruby” Lindo died in 1989. His grandson is the pop singer Sean Kingston.

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