Remembering pioneer Larry Marshall

Observer senior writer

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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Larry Marshall in some way was the Bill Haley of reggae. Although Haley's Rock Around The Clock put rock and roll on the map in the mid-1950s, he was unknown when he died in 1981.

Not much was heard of Marshall's death on August 24 in Miami, where he had lived for the last 25 years. The man whose Nanny Goat, recorded in 1968, is considered by many the first reggae song, was 76.

Marshall's wife, Mary, told the Jamaica Observer that he died at their home from complications of Alzheimer's disease. He had suffered from the debilitating illness for 10 years.

The unheralded Marshall worked at Studio One as an “all-rounder” during the late 1960s, but had recorded a clutch of rocksteady songs early that decade. With fellow St Ann native Alvin Leslie he cut Nanny Goat for producer Clement “Coxson” Dodd; students of Jamaican music point to it as the song that transitioned rocksteady to reggae.

Born Fitzroy Marshall, he moved to Kingston as a teenager and recorded for producers such as Phillip Yap at Top Deck Records and Prince Buster's Voice Of The People. Between sporadic recordings for Dodd, he worked as an understudy engineer at Studio One.

Contrary to popular lore, Marshall was not a one-hit wonder. Throw Me Corn and Your Love are classics; I Admire You remains a favourite at oldies dances.

His wife, who was born in Mississippi, said before he became ill he got one-off shows in the United States, England and Brazil. But Marshall was always disappointed that he never got proper recognition for his music.

“He was angry about the music business. Larry felt he was treated unfairly,” she said.

Ironically, three days after his death Marshall was recognised for his work as a trailblazer by Rootz Of Music, a non-profit organisation operated by veteran guitarist Eugene Grey. The ceremony took place at the Pompano Beach Cultural Center in Florida.

A thanksgiving service for Larry Marshall will be held September 30 in St Ann at a location to be announced. He is survived by his wife of 26 years, five children and several grandchildren.

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