Isaacs honoured at Orange Street
The unveiling of the Gregory Isaacs Mural and launch of Cool Ruler Spring Water at Leggo Recording Studios, 125 Orange Street, downtown Kingston, last Wednesday, revived memories of the 1970s. Then, Isaacs operated a music store and recording outlet at that location.
After starting his Cash and Carry store at 118 Orange Street, Isaacs later relocated it to 125, beside Prince Buster's Record Shack at 127. There, in association with Trevor 'Leggo' Douglas, Isaacs released several outstanding hits on his Cash and Carry record label, which he named after the establishment.
Mr Isaacs was perhaps the signature album on Cash and Carry during that period. It contained several outstanding recordings that highlighted the plight of the poor and underprivileged, also indicating the direction his career would take. Songs like Storm, Slavedriver, and Handcuff were heart-warming, while Sacrifice seemed to express his deep feelings about man's afflictions. Isaacs sang:
"I was given as a sacrifice
To build a black man's hell and a white man's paradise
But now that I know, it's time I've got to go
The proceedings seem so painful and so slow"
Friends, fans, well-wishers and family members were celebrating Isaacs' 65th birthday on July 15 and thought it appropriate that the venue - the corridor along Orange Street between North and Charles streets - would be ideal as it was here that Gregory honed most of his musical talents. At the northernmost point of the corridor stands the wall on which the mural of Isaacs was crafted by Junior Moore. Juxtaposed are portraits of Dennis Brown and Augustus Pablo - musical icons of Orange Street.
The main person behind the celebrations, Gregory's widow, June Isaacs, explained to me how the mural came about. "It was my idea. The spot was offered to me long ago by Leggo. He said I could use the spot and put a mural of Gregory there. Because of our long association with Orange Street and Big Yard and since everybody used to gather at Cash and Carry, which was Gregory's shop at the time, we just said if Dennis is there, let's put Gregory since they were best of friends," she said.
After a brief unveiling ceremony, with the Reverend Tommy Cowan adding some spirituality, Cool Ruler Spring Water was launched. Water had been an obsession with Gregory, according to June. "Gregory always pushed us to drink water instead of sugars and sodas. Last year, we did some water for his 64th anniversary show, just for a keepsake, and it was well received. So we said let's do it this year as a form of income for the foundation."
The Gregory Isaacs Foundation, which he started before his death, has provided assistance to several schools and organisations. Focused on children, the foundation has assisted the Black Harmony Basic School, the Walker's Place of Safety, and the St Barnabas Basic School (Gregory's first school), among others.
Gregory Isaacs was born in Fletcher's Land, Kingston, on July 15, 1950, and attended the All Saints Primary School. His mental alertness and retentive memory amazed many from early, and in later years, it was given great expression when, according to June, he sang and recorded from memory. "Gregory has never written a song on paper. He stores them in his head line by line, sometimes with the help of a recorder, and records them straight from memory," she explained. Gregory was once heard referring to himself as "long rememberance".
Excellent word play, presented in flowing poetry, became a feature of his songwriting. Gregory was most evocative when he portrayed the lonely lover as depicted in his composition Love Is Overdue.
"Who is gonna tell me goodnight
Now that she's gone out of my sight.
Who is gonna tell me lies and let me think they're true
now that my love is overdue"
This romantic vulnerability is perhaps more palpably felt in My Number One when he utters:
"If you want to be my number one
Let me know your future plan
Please don't hurt this man"
Gregory's entertainment career got kick-started through various talent competitions and stage shows before his first recording, the self-penned Another Heartache, in the late 1960s on the Edward Seaga-founded WIRL record label. His follow-up, My Only Lover, in the early 1970s for Rupie Edwards' Success label, was a moderate hit, which had the distinction of setting the tone for the lovers' rock reggae songs that followed.
By the mid-1970s, Gregory had hit after hit, including Front Door, Tune In, Salary is Thin, Let's Dance, All I Have is Love, Love is Overdue, Soon Forward, and Night Nurse, which was a desperate appeal for help:
"Tell her try her best to make it quick
Woman tend to the sick
For there must be something she can do
This heart is broken in two
Tell her it's a case of emergency,
There's a patient by the name of Gregory"
It was his cool, laconic, and hypnotic delivery that earned for Gregory the title 'The Cool Ruler'. It is the hope of the organisers of last Wednesday's function that the launch of Cool Ruler Spring Water, with Portland's unique flavour, will be well received and further perpetuate the name of one of Jamaica's most beloved singers.