The reggae world has lost one of its major singing stars of the 1970's and 80's this past Monday. Gregory Isaacs, also known as the "Cool Ruler" for his polished, aching vocals of love, loss, and ghetto life, which endeared him to Caribbean music lovers everywhere....died after a year long battle with cancer. He was just 59 years old!
Friends and colleagues often labeled Isaacs "the Frank Sinatra" of Jamaica for his elegant, vocal phrasing....yet, it was his uncanny ability to write great music and reggae songs that set him apart.
Also known for his fashion sense, Isaacs performed in the 1978 film 'The Rockers' wearing a powder blue tuxedo and black fedora, and was alwalys hailed as a dapper wearer of designer suits and silk shirts.
"He would often mingle through a crowded room of 20 or 30 people, make a quick exit, and then immediately describe precisely what everyone was wearing", said friend and former manager Don Hewitt.
As far as spoken words go, Isaacs was actually a man of very few, saving most of them for song, stage, and albums....of which he recorded close to 100!
"Gregory used to sit and go through his lyrics with a dictionary", said his wife Linda, a secondary-school teacher. "He was always clean with his lyrical content and his grammar, constantly dedicating himself to satisfying his fans with music they wanted to hear"
Born in the rough Kingston, Jamaica neighborhood Denham Town, Isaacs was inspired by American soul artist Sam Cooke, and began writing and recording in his late teens....finally making his name with the solo hit single "All I Have Is Love" in 1973.
He then sang with the Motown-flavored vocal group 'The Concords' before going solo and hitting his stride.
Isaac's future, sleek reggae-sound and lyrics focused on romantic tales and pleas of love that, both fulfilled, and frustrated! His effortless, understated ease of moans and groans became a signature, romantic favorite....both on stage and on the dance floor.
Isaacs soon became a major record seller in Jamaica, and then in Britain too, with hits like "My Only Lover" and "Slave Master". The commercial success of his 'Lovers Rock' established this sound as a dominant force in Reggae, that inspired other artists such as 'Frankie Paul' and 'Sugar Minott', who also made love songs for the dance hall.
Unfortunately, Isaacs also cultivated an outlaw persona--a "rude boy" in Jamaican slang....with frequent run-ins with the law, most of them drug or gun-related, as he suffered from a serious cocaine addiction.
This likely dampened his potential for greater success, as Isaacs was slated to somehow fill the void left when reggae icon 'Bob Marley' died in 1982.
That same year Isaacs recorded his all time greatest hit "Night Nurse", but instead of capitalizing on its success, he spent six-months in prison on cocaine possession charges...suffering from a drug habit that eventually deteriorated his subtle voice!
However, in recent years Isaacs is said to have torn the monkey off his back, with positive stage reviews, and a successful, final album "A Brand New Me", released in 2008.
"Drugs are a debasing weapon", Isaacs said in a 2007 interview. "It was the greatest college ever, but the most expensive school fee ever paid--cocaine highschool! I learned everything, and then I put it on the side!"
It's extremely sad when superstars like Gregory Isaacs, and many, many other entertainers and celebrities learn the harsh lessons of substance abuse too late! I only say this because Isaacs was such a special talent, that seemed to have more in his tank...yet, ran out of gas before the finish line--because of drugs!
Never-the-less, Gregory Isaacs had a fairly long run as a major figure, with a unique voice that touched the music community, and entertained fans the world over! He will be sorely missed, leaving behind a wife, a brother, and twelve children.
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