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Clarke still rocking the dance floor

Published:Tuesday | October 11, 2011 | 12:00 AM
 Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

What was a dance floor like without a Johnny Clarke song on the turntable back in the day? Almost 40 years after his first hit song, the burly roots singer still has what it takes to rock an audience.

This year has been a busy one for the 56-year-old Clarke who along with John Holt and Ken Boothe are headliners for the Reggae Salute: Honour The Stars show, scheduled for the Liguanea Club on October 17.

Clarke's golden-chart run during the 1970s earned him the nickname, 'Hit Machine', but it has been some time since he has had a hit song. However, technology has helped him find a new audience in Europe where he has become a fixture on the summer festival circuit.

"It (the Internet) really expose I an' I, 'cause years ago man like mi a do the works but nobody know," Clarke told The Gleaner. "With tings like YouTube it's there for all the world to see."

Clarke performed in Britain, Belgium, Spain, France, Sweden and Croatia from May to July, appearing on major events such as the Rotterdam and Garance festivals which are held in Spain and France, respectively.


It was the first time he worked in Spain and Croatia. The latter is one of the war-torn, breakaway countries which were once part of the former Yugslavia.

Clarke said performing in Croatia was an eye-opener.

"Dem know all the songs. After all these years, the people still want the old songs," he said.

Most of those 'old songs' were done in the 1970s for producer Bunny Lee who led a musical explosion out of Greenwich Farm with his Striker label.

Clarke was his main artiste, hitting the charts with uptempo songs like None Shall Escape The Judgement, Rock With Me Baby and Move Outa Babylon.

From the Whitfield Town area of Kingston, Johnny Clarke attended Jamaica College. He had his first big hit as a teenager with Everyone Wondering, a Rupie Edwards-produced song that became a minor hit in England. His career took off after he met Lee who was responsible for Delroy Wilson's big hits, Better Must Come and Cool Operator. Backed by The Aggrovators band, Clarke recorded a number of songs that have become roots staples.

Though he cut a few notable songs in the early 1980s (Let Us Be Like a Soldier and Left With a Broken Heart), Clarke faded from the charts in the latter stages of that decade.

Through the London-based booking agency, Culture Promotions, Clarke has maintained a steady profile in Europe where there is a strong anchoring for roots-reggae. On tour, he is backed by Dub Asante, a seven-piece band comprising Jamaican and British musicians of Jamaican heritage.

Clarke is working on his latest album which he says will be released in early 2012 by his Hit Machine Productions.