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Reggae-music pioneer leaves a legacy of greatness

Published:Monday | December 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Glen Adams 1945-2010 - File

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Reggae music lost one of its pioneers last Friday with the death of keyboardist Glen Adams, who died at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). He was 65 years old.

Adams' wife of 18 years, Judy, told The Gleaner that he was admitted to the UHWI one week earlier, but she did not give a cause of death. He had lived in Brooklyn, New York, for more than 30 years and was visiting Jamaica when he became ill.

Known as 'Capo', Adams was most active as a musician and performer during the mid- and late 1960s when he was a member of the Hippy Boys and the Upsetters, two of the most influential bands in reggae history.

The latter backed The Wailers on Duppy Conqueror and Mr Brown, which were produced by Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Adams wrote Mr Brown, an eerie song about a three-wheeled coffin prowling the streets of Kingston.

Mr Brown, which features a memorable organ intro by Adams, is rated by critics as one of The Wailers' most creative.

The Hippy Boys and the Upsetters also included the Barrett brothers, Aston and Carlton on bass and drums, respectively; and Alva 'Reggie' Lewis on guitar. They played on numerous hit songs, including Stick By Me by John Holt, and Delroy Wilson's Better Must Come and Cool Operator.

Those songs were produced by Bunny Lee in the early 1970s. Most of Adams' recording sessions were done with Lee, a former auto-parts salesman who entered the music business as a producer in the mid-1960s.

"Glen was the man who brought that great organ shuffle to reggae, he was a force to be reckoned with but never really got his due," Lee told The Gleaner.

Adams was born in Jones Town, the son of a Jamaican mother and father who hailed from St Vincent. He started his music career as a singer with The Heptones and once formed a duo with another young singer from Denham Town named Ken Boothe.

After relative success as a solo act, Adams began playing keyboards for producer Arthur 'Duke' Reid. Moving to work with Lee, Adams had instant success, appearing on saxophonist Lester Sterling's monster hit song Bangarang (featuring Stranger Cole and Lloyd Charmers) and Everybody Needs Love by singer Slim Smith.

Adams, however, is best known for his years with the inspirational Perry.

With the Barrett brothers and Lewis, he played on Return of Django, a 1969 hit for Perry in Britain.

In addition to Holt and Wilson, the quartet were also behind hits from singer Max Romeo. At the height of their success with Perry, the Barretts left to join The Wailers and became a cornerstone of Bob Marley's band in the 1970s.

Adams moved to New York where he continued recording. In recent years, he worked with hip hop artistes for his Capo label and made guest appearances during shows by American reggae bands such as The Slackers.

Glen Adams is survived by his wife and a son. Another son pre-deceased him.