U Roy hailed as original

Observer senior reporter

Friday, February 19, 2021

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He was an original.” That is how veteran music producer and sound system selector Lloyd “King Jammys” James described his friend, colleague and iconic Jamaican artiste Daddy U Roy, who died of diabetes and hypertension-related complications at the University Hospital of the West Indies in St Andrew on Wednesday night. He was 79.

Both men developed a friendship which spanned over 50 years and James was clearly shaken over the passing of his close friend.

“We go way back,” James told the Jamaica Observer. “It's from the time when he was just going to Tubby's. I used to pick him up on my bike and take him to the studio to reason with Tubby's about what he was doing on the sound. That time nobody was doing that kinda style on the rhythms, he is the originator. It's U Roy bring in that style and it became the future.”

For James, U Roy's legacy is a lesson to the people coming into the music industry.

“Bring something original when you are coming. Try to make a difference with your musical style and sound rather than just be one of the others. U Roy originate something that lasts, and now that he is gone it is something that we are going to talk about for years to come. Be original,” he encouraged.

That sense of originality was a a trademark of the late toaster born Ewart Beckford and who started his professional career as a DJ in 1961 on the sound system Dickies Dynamic moving later to the Sir George the Atomic sound system, then Sir Coxsone Dodd's sound system where he ran the number two set while King Stitt “The Ugly One” ran the main set. This was followed by a period with Sir Percy before he moved to King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi sound system

In 1970, Jamaican singer John Holt (lead vocalist of the Paragons) heard Beckford toasting over a Duke Reid track at a dance. Holt told Reid about the performance and on his recommendation, Reid asked Beckford to come and see him and an informal recording deal was arranged. Beckford's first two singles released on Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label, Wake the Town and Wear You to the Ball, were Jamaican hits and established his reputation as one of Jamaica's most popular toasters.

In 1975, the album Dread in a Babylon was released in the US, Europe and Jamaica by Virgin Records. The album achieved significant sales in the UK which was due in part to the ongoing expansion of the Virgin label and stores. The track Runaway Girl from the album was released as a single in Europe that same year. The success of Dread in a Babylon led to a series of Tony Robinson produced albums: Natty Rebel (1976), Rasta Ambassador (1977) and Jah Son of Africa (1978). U-Roy's international popularity led to the album Natty Rebel being released in 1976 on Virgins' imprint Front Line label in Nigeria as well as in France on Virgin and Polydor.

In 1978 Beckford started Sturgav, his own sound system which he named after his sons; the sound system would launch the careers of a younger generation of toasters and singers including Ranking Joe, Jah Screw, Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales.

Like James, popular British radio personality and reggae afficianado David Rodigan noted U Roy's originality will undoubtedly be part of his legacy.

“Essentially, he was responsible for a major sea change in Jamaican music with the advent of his live toasting style which resulted in the Version Galore album. The hit singles from that initial period when he arrived on scene in 1970 to Wake The Town and the deployment of his mighty sound system King Sturgav meant that the public could see him and hear him across the island. His signing to Virgin Records resulted in Chalice In The Palace, which is still regarded as one of the all-time great DJ albums.”

“I was always in awe of him; the tone of voice, the cadence, the lyrical shimmering and riddim riding made him 'the soul adventurer'. We've lost a true legend.

“I remember when he released Version Galore . It was the summmer of 1970. I had just moved to London and I played that LP every single day. I knew every nuance of every single on that album. Truly great artiste,” Rodigan continued.

Local music insider Clyde McKenzie also weighed in on the measure of the man.

“He was the very essence of cool. He always seemed unhurried and unflappable. He was soft-spoken and never seemed too outwardly concerned about his enormous importance. U Roy is among a pioneering band of Jamaican innovators who expanded our musical options. He helped to open the way for generations of Jamaican youth to empower themselves through their embrace of the craft he was so instrumental in creating. Many of my generation will remember him through his sound system Stur Gav which served as a platform for such legendary figures as Josey Wales and Charlie Chaplin. His influence on modern popular culture is deserving of adulation. Dancehall, hip hop and reggaeton are huge beneficiaries of his pioneering efforts. Jamaican and modern popular music have lost a giant . Let us give thanks for his remarkable life. Thanks for the music Daddy U Roy,” said McKenzie.

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