Sun | Sep 15, 2019

The 'Cool Ruler' dies

Published:Tuesday | October 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM
A dreadlocked Gregory Isaacs on an earlier album cover. - Contributed
Gregory Isaacs performing at A Moment In Time with Beres Hammond and Friends, held at the National Stadium, Independence Park, in December 2008. - File photos

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Singer Gregory Isaacs, whose dapper outfits and smooth delivery made him reggae's undisputed 'Cool Ruler', died yesterday in London after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 59.

Copeland Forbes, Isaacs' manager since 2005, said the singer's relatives in London contacted him by telephone and told him that he had passed away at a friend's home.

Isaacs had racked up numerous hits in a 40-year career, including Love Is Overdue, All I Have Is Love, Soon Forward, Tune In and Night Nurse.

His career reached a high in the 1980s when he teamed with the Roots Radics Band to cut a series of lovers' rock numbers like Front Door, Out Deh, Sad To Know (You're Leaving) and Night Nurse. The latter was his biggest seller and signature tune, and was later covered by Mick Hucknall of British band Simply Red.

Though Love Is Overdue and All I Have Is Love made him a minor star, Isaacs got a major boost in 1979 when he recorded the self-produced Tune In with the Roots Radics, and Soon Forward, which was produced by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

"Gregory's voice and songwriting was wicked. He was one of those soulful singers you could listen to for hours," Dunbar told The Gleaner yesterday.

Forbes said Isaacs was diagnosed with lung cancer while in London last year, but refused to have an operation. He was forced to cancel several shows in the United States because of to poor circulation in his legs, but was strong enough to honour dates in Argentina, California, and Britain this year.

His last performance was at the Big Chill Festival in England on August 8.

His final show in Jamaica was Pulse's Studio 38 series in July.

Forbes, who has managed top artistes such as Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown, said Isaacs was a singer in the top drawer.

"He was right up there with the best. A great artiste, loved and respected by all," Forbes said.

Isaacs was born in the west Kingston community of Fletcher's Land in 1951, the elder of two sons for Enid Murray. He began recording in the late 1960s, going on to work with a number of producers, including Phil Pratt and Alvin Ranglin.

Pratt produced All I Have Is Love, while Ranglin was the man behind My Number One, Love Is Overdue and The Border. Isaacs also produced songs by other artistes for his African Museum label.

But even as international fame beckoned through a distribution deal with Island Records, Isaacs developed a troubling cocaine habit that resulted in multiple police arrests and court appearances and threatened to derail his career.

Despite his personal troubles, Isaacs was still making hit songs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Rumours and Big All Around (with Dennis Brown) are two of those songs.

He experienced a renaissance in 1998 when Hucknall covered Night Nurse for Sly and Robbie's Friends album, which won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1999. Hucknall's version was a minor hit in Britain.

Isaacs is survived by wife June-Anne, mother, brother, Sylvester Weiss, 12 children, and six grandchildren.


Gregory Isaacs has charted an indelible chapter in the annals of the development of Jamaica's music, with his own unique style, and with timeless hits such as Tune In, Top Ten, Night Nurse, The Border, Love Is Overdue, My Number One, Rumours, and so many others.

- Jamaica Associationof Vintage Artistes & Affiliates

I mourn his loss as the minister responsible for culture, as a good friend of Gregory; and as a fan of good Jamaican music, and hope that his struggle and eventual success will be a model for young Jamaicans in the entertainment sector to emulate.

- Olivia 'Babsy' Grange

Gregory Isaacs will undoubtedly live on in our hearts and in the fabric of Jamaica and certainly worldwide through his music and many accomplishments. For this, we are eternally grateful.

- People's National Party