GREGORY ISAACS / “Cool Ruler Mixtape”
Gregory Anthony Isaacs – 15 July 1950 (or is it 1951?), Fletchers Land, Kingston, Jamaica, is the originator of “lover’s rock,” a whole sub-genre of reggae. There are more than 300 Gregory Isaacs albums circulating in the world. That’s right, over 300 different recordings. Sure at least 100 to 150 of them are compilations put together by diverse producers, each trying to corner the market on the “cool ruler” treasure chest of reggae recordings.
Much like Bob Marley, you don’t have to be a fan of reggae to recognize the importance of this artist—in this case there are literally over a hundred other love rockers out there, each of whom has their own following, but all of them owe a debt to Gregory Isaacs.
Yes, my man has a distinctive voice, his own way of turning a phrase, a way of moaning a groan that is captivating to a huge bevy of feminine followers. But there is actually a lot more to Gregory Isaacs than moaning and groaning in simulated sex sounds. Indeed, the man has also recorded songs of social consciousness that have not only become hits but have helped to make him a major force in the dancehall world.
Some commentators focus on the fact that he is not a singer pretending to be a rude boy lover but in fact is a real rude boy who can out-sing damn near all of the competition. How real a rude boy? Well let’s see there were over twenty arrests before being forced to serve a six month sentence on gun charges.
I remember taking a picture of Jamaica’s infamous “gun court” prison, the outside of which is painted red—a bright, defiant red, everything painted including the barbed wire atop the wall.
And then there were the drugs, specifically cocaine, which threatened to overtake his career. But I-man Gregory, him come to see the dangers inherent and u-turn off that downward leading path. Indeed, he said it best: “Drugs are a debasing weapon. It was the greatest college ever, but the most expensive school fee ever paid – the Cocaine High School. I learnt everything, and now I've put it on the side.”
It was just when he hit the big time with his 1982 album Night Nurse that the law came crashing down on him. Being the true champion survivor that he is, upon his release, Isaacs put out one of his best albums ever, steady-forwardly titled Out Deh. Him did the crime, him do the time and come out singing and swinging.
In his own defense, the cool ruler states that the gun he had was for his own defense, just like one must have a coat in cold weather. Given the assassination attempt on Bob Marley that seriously wounded Marley and the out right murder of Peter Tosh by marauding gunmen, Gregory’s plea seems sensible to me.
Moreover, beyond walking on the wild side and singing on the sexy side, Gregory Isaacs had observed the music business and learned early on the importance of owning and not just performing. In 1973 he started his own African Museum record label with singer Errol Dunkley. Isaacs is a super-prolific songwriter and reggae arranger. He was able to produce his own albums and to continue to record for other producers, and at one point seemed to have decided to put out more original reggae than anyone else had every done.
Isaacs’ output is peerless even if not always top shelf precisely because even mediocre Gregory Isaacs is better than the best of many of others. When you listen to the Mixtape, notice the variety in the rhythms. Also notice the poetry of the lyrics. The legendary and long running Smokey Robinson seems to be the closest counterpart to Gregory Isaacs, and even Smokey has not produced as many recordings as Isaacs.
It would be impossible to briefly do a Cool Ruler retrospective—there is nothing brief about his ongoing career. What I did was assembled a bunch of tracks I happen to like. BTW I deeply dig A Brand New Me (2008), one of Gregory’s most recent albums. Hopefully, like me, you will be both surprised and satisfied by this Mixtape of one of the most important of reggae artists.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Cool Ruler Mixtape Playlist
01 “Cool Down The Pace"
02 “Love Me With Feeling”
04 “Private Secretary”
Made In Jamaica
06 “The Border”
Is It Rolling Bob?
07 “Mr. Tambourine Man”
My Kind Of Lady
08 “Curfew In The Area”
09 “My Kind of Lady [Special T Remix]”
10 “If I Don’t Have You”
Brand New Me
12 “Point Of View”
13 “Betrayers Downfall”
14 “Send Me Back My Heart”
15 “Love Turns Catastrophe”
16 “Stranger In Town”
17 “Night Nurse”
18 “Sad To Know (You’re Leaving)”
Here By Appointment
19 “New Lover”
22 “Cool Down The Pace (10 inch mix)”
This entry was posted on Monday, May 31st, 2010 at 8:09 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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