Joe Higgs tribute on June 3
Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Widely respected as a performer and mentor, Joe Higgs is one of reggae's true pioneers. But since his death in 1999, little has been done in Jamaica to highlight this trailblazer's achievements.
On June 3, the day Higgs would have turned 71, a group of admirers will celebrate the milestone with a musical/remembrance event at the St Andrew Park home of veteran session guitarist Earl 'Chinna' Smith.
Higgs' daughter, Claudia Higgs, told The Gleaner recently that her father's contribution to Jamaican popular music has been largely overlooked. She said the evening will be used to educate persons about his accomplishments.
"What perturbs me is that there are people who say they know the roots of reggae music and they talk about artistes from Trench Town and forget about Joe Higgs," she stated. "That bothers me."
Along with Rastafarian leader Mortimo Planno, Higgs was one of the most influential people in Trench Town during the 1960s. In 1958, he and colleague Roy Wilson scored one of Jamaica's first original hit songs with Manny Oh for producer Edward Seaga's West Indies Records Limited (WIRL).
Manny Oh was written by Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards, who was establishing himself as one of Jamaica's first singer-songwriters. Its success made Higgs and Wilson local stars and put WIRL on the map.
Though he continued to record, Higgs made a name in music circles nurturing talent in his yard at Third Street in Trench Town. The most famous of his young protégés were The Wailers, a ska group that included singers Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny 'Wailer' Livingston.
Higgs is also acknowledged for grooming upcoming roots artistes like the Wailing Souls.
It is his association with The Wailers that has assured his place in reggae lore. In 1973, when Bunny Wailer refused to tour the United States with the group, Higgs was drafted in to replace him.
He was author of Steppin' Razor, one of Tosh's biggest hits. Claudia Higgs said these and other tidbits will be discussed during the June 3 event.
Higgs kept busy recording and performing, especially on the US West Coast, even in the weeks leading to his death from lung cancer in Los Angeles.
Triumph, one of his six albums, was produced by Smith.
Claudia Higgs hopes to mark her father's birthday with events similar to the spontaneous 'talent shows' he held in their Trench Town yard 50 years ago.
"Anyone who worked with him can come along and share what it was like being with him. They can say a word or sing a song."