Gregory Isaacs (July 15, 1951 – October 25, 2010) was a Jamaican reggae musician.
In 1968, he made his recording debut with a duet with Winston Sinclair, “Another Heartache,” recorded for producer Byron Lee. The single sold poorly and Isaacs went on to team up with two other vocalists (Penroe and Bramwell) in the short-lived trio The Concords, recording for Rupie Edwards and Prince Buster. The trio split up in 1970 and Isaacs launched his solo career, initially self-producing recordings and also recording further for Edwards. In 1973 he teamed up with another young singer, Errol Dunkley to start the African Museum record label and shop, and soon had a massive hit with “My Only Lover,” credited as the first lovers rock record ever made. He recorded for other producers to finance further African Museum recordings, having a string of hits in the three years that followed, ranging from ballads to roots reggae, including “All I Have Is Love,” “Lonely Soldier,” “Black a Kill Black,” “Extra Classic” and his cover version of Dobby Dobson's “Loving Pauper.”
In 1974 he began working with producer Alvin Ranglin, and that year he had his first Jamaican #1 single with “Love Is Overdue.” Isaacs recorded for many of Jamaica's top producers during the 1970s, including Winston "Niney" Holness, Gussie Clarke (“My Time”), Lloyd Campbell (“Slavemaster”), Glen Brown (“One One Cocoa Fill Basket”), Harry Mudie, Roy Cousins, Sidney Crooks and Lee “Scratch” Perry (“Mr. Cop”).
By the late 1970s, Isaacs was one of the biggest reggae performers in the world, regularly touring the U.S. and the U.K. Between 1977 and 1978, Isaacs again teamed up with Alvin Ranglin, recording a string of hits including “Border” and “Number One” for Ranglin's GG's label.
International stardom seemed assured in 1978 when Isaacs signed to the Virgin Records offshoot Front Line Records, and appeared in the film “Rockers,” in which he performed “Slavemaster.” The “Cool Ruler” (which became one of his nicknames) and “Soon Forward” albums, however, failed to sell as well as expected, although they are now considered among his best work.
In 1981, he made his first appearance at the Reggae Sunsplash festival (returning annually until 1991), and he moved on to the Charisma Records offshoot Pre, who released his “The Lonely Lover” (another nickname that stuck) and “More Gregory” albums along with a string of increasingly successful singles including “Tune In,” “Permanent Lover,” “Wailing Rudy” and “Tribute to Waddy.”
He signed to Island Records and released the record that finally saw him break through to a wider audience, “Night Nurse” the title track from his first album for the label, 1982’a “Night Nurse.” Although “Night Nurse” was not a chart hit in either the U.K. or U.S., it was hugely popular in clubs and received heavy radio play, and the album reached #32 in the U.K.
This success for Isaacs coincided with drug problems with cocaine which saw him serve a six-month prison sentence in Kingston in 1982 for possession of unlicensed firearms. He celebrated his release from prison with his second album for Island, 1983’s “Out Deh!” When his contract with Island ended, Isaacs returned in 1984 with the “Kool Ruler Come Again” single, and began a period of prolific recording, working with producers including Prince Jammy, Hugh “Redman” James, Bobby Digital, Tad Dawkins and Steely & Clevie, maintaining a consistent standard despite the volume of work produced.
Isaacs then built a strong relationship with Gussie Clarke of the Music Works label. They began with Isaacs' 1985 album “Private Beach Party,” and had a massive hit with “Rumours” in 1988, which was followed by further popular singles including “Mind Yu Dis,” “Rough Neck,” “Too Good To Be True” and “Report to Me.” The association with Clarke continued into the early 1990s, teaming up with singers including Freddie McGregor, Ninjaman and JC Lodge. He dueted with Beres Hammond on the 1993 Philip “Fatis” Burrell-produced “One Good Turn,” Burrell also producing Isaacs' 1994 album “Midnight Confidential.”
In the 1990s the African Museum label continued to release all of Isaacs' music, and that of artists he produced. Isaacs continued to record and perform live in the 2000s. Isaacs' drug addiction had a major impact on his voice, with most of his teeth falling out as a result.
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