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Little Roy - A Life in Roots Reggae


Earl Lowe was born in Witfield Town, Kingston, Jamaica at the start of the 1950s, the youngest in a family of nine children. His father ran a truck driving business with stone crushing as a side line! As a boy Earl would go fishing with his friend Leroy Sibbles, a friendship that would continue as Earl and Leroy would lick chalice and make many moves together. He first became interested in music after listening to his elder brother Campbell who would make up songs. Whilst studying building engineering at St. Andrew Technical College Earl began writing songs himself and then visiting recording studios. Like most aspiring singers of the time Earl ended up at the door of Studio One. He was thirteen years old when after school one day he followed two friends to the studio to meet with the late Jackie Mittoo. Jackie asked Earl to come back the next day and voice a tune over a rhythm. The youth returned with a song he had learnt from his brother who, when watering the family garden, had made up the lyrics of “Cool It”. The cut was released in 1965 on Studio 1. Then Earl went on to strike lucky with Prince Buster, who rechristened the youth as Little Roy, and together they produced the first Little Roy 45s.

In the late sixties one of the hottest labels in Kingston was the property of Lloyd “The Matador” Daley, a sound technician who ran his Radio & TV business out of 43 Waltham Park Road. It was for Matador in 1969 that Little Roy cut the rasta song “Bongo Nyah”, a number 1 in Jamaica and the label’s biggest selling 45. From the beginning Little Roy had disciplined his lyrics into a cultural framework from which he was not willing to break, as a youth he had come under the influence of Rasta doctrine and felt unable to compromise his living belief by singing tunes for the dollar. It is probably mainly due to this fact that Little Roy, although singing for over thirty years, has been criminally under-recorded for an artist of his writing and singing talent.

In 1974 the crossroads of business and culture led Little Roy to the creation of the Tafari Syndicate, with the assistance of Lloyd Barnes and Munchie Jackson. Through the 70’s the Twelve Tribes of Israel organisation played a great part in the life of Little Roy in confirming his devotion to Rastafarianism and determining his way of life. He was involved in shows with Fred Locks, Israel Vibration and Judy Mowatt, eventually stepping out of the scene in around 1979 as both Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor came on board.

With the end of the seventies came the release of two Little Roy discomixes for Herman Chin-Loy on the Brooklyn based Selection Exclusive imprint, both on old Studio One rhythms but in an emerging dancehall style. Although a worthy outing the set did not match the consistent quality of the artist’s previous output. The eighties were a fairly lean period for Little Roy musically as he made moves between New York and Kingston.

Although Little Roy has been by no means a prolific reggae artist, it is to his credit that this situation has been created by his single minded determination that his music should retain its dignity and integrity by not falling prey to the whims and pressures of business dealings.

During the nineties Little Roy teamed up with Adrian Sherwood and released two sets – “Longtime” ( ON-U LP87) and “More From A Little”, both featuring a mixture of new cuts and re-recordings from his back catalogue. It was also by arrangement with Adrian that the “Tafari Earth Uprising” compilation (PS CD006) of classic seventies sides was released on the Pressure Sounds reggae re-issue label. His work with On-U Sound continues to this day with periodic appearances as part of AMS’s live shows alongside Junior Delgado and Ghetto Priest as well as a further release on Pressure Sounds. : Steve Barker for Pharos Records.

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