Andy M reports direct from Jamaica on the passing of Gregory Isaacs – The Cool Ruler.
I feared the worst when I woke up, turned on the radio and instead of the usual payola stuff it was wall-to-wall Gregory. I changed station and there he was again. His death is front page news here and has hit hard. He was a flawed character but he was honest about it and loved all the more as a result. As one caller to Irie FM, the nation’s favourite, put it “Last one, two years, Alton Ellis gone, Joe Gibbs gone, Sugar, now Gregory. We cyaan lose any more icons til the next generation step up.”
I was lucky enough to see Gregory live a few times. Two occasions stand out. The first time was at a council-sponsored event in the middle of a housing estate in Camberwell in about 1995. It was chucking it down with rain, falling from grey skies onto grey concrete. But when Gregory stepped on stage in a three piece powder blue suit and hat, he lit the place up. From being a miserable wash-out of an event, it turned into a magical moment. The contrast and union between the immaculate Cool Ruler on stage and the motley group of dreads, scallies, students, pensioners and kids in the crowd – skanking under our umbrellas, clutching our cans of Stella – will live long in the memory.
The most recent time was in July this year (see photo above) at what turned out to be his last show in Jamaica (his appearance at the Big Chill was apparently his last ever). I knew he was in bad shape by this point as a mate had seen him being carried off a flight into a wheelchair at Kingston airport a few weeks before. But the prospect of a double-bill of him and the Mighty Diamonds at Studio 38 wasn’t to be missed. The trademark suit, fedora and swagger were still there and he raced through the hits in front of an adoring audience. He wasn’t so pristine anymore, the jacket came off after one song, then the top button on his shirt was undone, half his shirt came out next, then the tie was off and finally the shirt open revealing a natty string vest. The drugs had taken a toll on his voice too but he still delivered an energetic and entertaining, if brief show. As he said before coming back for an encore, “dem still want more”.
TRACKS FROM ANDY’S HI FI
Gregory Isaacs – Cool Down The Pace 10” mix
This is one of my favourite Gregory tracks aided and abetted by the Roots Radics with Wally Badarou. Ride on Cool Ruler.
Buy it on iTunes here.