Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer
The Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs.
Krista Henry, Staff Reporter
Gregory Isaacs' one-of-a-kind nasal voice is instantly recognised. With a career spanning three decades, he ranks as a true reggae superstar. Born in 1951 in Kingston, like many before him, Isaacs started his singing career in the early '70s by working with a number of producers and entering various local talent competitions. His first records of notice were on Rupie Edwards' Success label.
To gain artistic freedom and financial control of his own work, Isaacs started his own African Museum label and shop in Kingston in 1973 with singer Errol Dunkley. In order to finance his label, he continued to work with other producers, such as Winston 'Niney The Observer' Holness, Gussie Clark, Lloyd Campbell, and Alvin 'GG' Ranglin for the rest of the '70s.
Isaacs early recordings were responsible for the development of his singing style, love ballads delivered in his relaxed nasal delivery, as well as his ease with songs about social protest. By 1980, Gregory had become one of the top stars in the reggae world, touring the United Kingdom and United States extensively.
He signed with Virgin Records' Frontline label and gained a considerable name for himself outside the reggae world. Isaacs continued recording singles on his African Museum label in Jamaica - ultimately, those singles were gathered for the Virgin releases. His 1988 landmark album, Red Rose for Gregory, and the single, Rumors, brought him to worldwide prominence again. Since then, he has recorded a number of albums, scores of singles, and has continued to tour extensively worldwide.
How did you get started in the business?
Gregory Isaacs: From early childhood, teachers at school said I was very good; friends told me I was good as well. I entered talent shows and I just got involved. The first song I ever did was a song produced by Winston Sinclair called, Another Heartache. That was in 1968. I started working with Prince Buster with a song called, Dance Floor. I did vocals for a group called the Concords.
You were a member of the group?
Yeah. Not for long. I decided to go alone.
What did your parents think about your going into music?
I grew up with my mom. She didn't think anything bad of it. She said to do what I chose.
How did you get the name 'Cool Ruler'?
Well, you know, by a group called 15, 16 & 17, a female group in London. They gave it to me and it just stick.
When was that?
GI: That was before I went to Virgin Records. They said to name the album that.
Were you really once called 'Toothache'? If so, why?
(Laughs) Yeah, early childhood t'ing, when I was a yute. I used to have toothaches; that's how it came about.
Were you ever criticised for your nasal style of singing?
You have good and bad critics, but people enjoyed it. I didn't hear a lot of negative musical reviews.
Why did you cut your locks?
Because only a good sheep can change its wool.
Have you benefited from the cover of 'Night Nurse'?
Yeah, yeah, I did. Not right away; I was suppose to achieve it, but I did achieve it. I had problems with the publishing.
Did you sing, 'One Man Against The World', because of any specific situation?
The attitude of people; sometimes, I feel I was one man against the world. Friends used to call me Hitler, and Hitler seh he was one gainst the world; so that's how it came about.
You have become known much more as a lover's rock singer than a roots/cultural singer. Do you mind that this has happened?
I think music is a worldwide thing but love music was my first interest in music. Love music always relevant, 'cause every day someone falls in love.
Why do you always wear a hat onstage?
'Cause the Bible seh a man mus' always wear a crown.
There are times when you refuse to do encores. Why?
It depends on the venue - always leaving the people wanting more, that's how you get to be in demand. But I do encores more often.
How is your African Museum studio going?
So far, so good. I have another studio on Molynes Road as well. African Museum still there, but the doors closed for now till the place get peaceful again.
What is the most difficult experience you have been through in the music business?
I've been through all kinds of bad and good experiences. Getting involved with drugs and guns wasn't a good one. One of the bad ones was two shows I had at the Apollo. The first show was nice, then I went outside with friends in the snow and caught a draft and was ill during the second performance.
How did your recent European tour go?
So far, so good; on that scene, it went nice.
What are you doing now?
Right now, I have a likkle office and t'ing. I have a new album, Brand Me, distributed by African Museum to be released any day now. Is a strong album. I'm confident in it.