50 years of Spear
Reggae legend celebrates golden jubilee of first album
Burning Spear

The message of Rastafari resonated with Jamaican youth in the early 1970s. They listened to elders like Mortimo Planno and artistes including Winston Rodney, popularly known as Burning Spear.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Studio One Presents Burning Spear, the reggae legend's first album.

Produced by Clement "Sir Coxson" Dodd, it announced a singer with a mystic vibe.

'Studio One Presents Burning Spear was a departure from the dance music Dodd's label had been known for. Songs like Creation Rebel, Door Peep Shall Not Enter, Ethiopians Live it Out and He Prayed became roots-reggae standards.

Door Peep Shall Not Enter was the St Ann-born Burning Spear's first single, released by Studio One in 1971. He was encouraged to try his luck with Dodd by Bob Marley — another St Ann native who recorded at Studio One with The Wailers during the early 1960s.

(Cover art property of Studio One)

Leroy Sibbles played bass on the recording sessions with Burning Spear. He remembers the rustic artiste showing up at Studio One with two harmony singers and making an instant impression.

"He was a chanter with a very unique sound," said Sibbles.

Trumpeter Bobby Ellis, trombonist Vin Gordon, and drummer Fil Callender also played on Studio One Presents Burning Spear. Their arrangements complemented Burning Spear's rebellious delivery which caught on in dances in Jamaica and abroad.

Michael Barnett was living in New York City when the album came out. He was aware of Burning Spear through Door Peep Shall Not Enter and was even more impressed by his first collection of songs.

(Cover art property of Studio One)

"I was working part-time at Brad's Records in the Bronx when the album was released. Again it created a sensation, as nothing like this had ever been heard before in reggae music. The record-buying public ate it up, and the album was one of Brad's best-sellers that year... and it never stopped selling," Barnett recalled in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Also in 1973, Marley and his colleagues in The Wailers (Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston) released two albums (Catch A Fire and Burning) on Island Records that introduced reggae as an emerging force.

Burning Spear recorded a second album for Studio One. That 1974 set, Rocking Time, is also acknowledged among reggae's finest, with songs like the title Foggy Road, Swell Headed and Weeping And Wailing.

Frustrated with the lack of financial rewards, Burning Spear left Studio One and took a break from recording before returning in 1975 with the Jack Ruby-produced Marcus Garvey, which is one of music's outstanding statement albums.

A two-time winner of the Best Reggae Album Grammy Award, the 78-year-old Burning Spear continues to record and tour.

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL Observer senior writer entertainment@jamaicaobserver.com

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