Remeber I-Roy


As if the last year before we enter the next millennium didn't deliver enough moments of sadness to Reggae music in general and its devoted fans in particular, the last week of November 1999 brought more sorrow as the Reggae massive was informed that I Roy has died in Kingston on Saturday 27th November. Tragic news. He had been dogged by ill health for the last few years, and all the doctors he had seen weren't able to tell him exactly what the problem was, but it seems to have had something to do with swelling around the heart. Leroy Mafia - of UK's renown Mafia & Fluxy - was in Jamaica shortly before I Roy's death and was working on setting up a fund raising UK show for him and getting him some medical treatment at the same time. Sadly, it's too late for that now. Sadder still, Mafia reported that one of I Roy's sons was killed in prison two weeks ago and after that "he just seemed to lose it". Roy didn't even have a home any more - he was living on the street at the time he died. What a tragic end for such a wonderful man and great Reggae artist.

I Roy was born Roy Samuel Reid on 28th June 1944 out in the countryside in the parish of St. Thomas, in the east end of the island of Jamaica. With three brothers and three sisters he was one of the seven children of a humble farmer. He eventually moved to Kingston in his early teens and studied at Dinthill Technical college prior to working as a government accountant, although it was his abiding love for music which provided the overwhelming stimulus throughout his life.
In addition to his civil service career in the mid-sixties, Roy Reid chatted on microphones, although he had no strong interest in deejaying at the time. However, encouraged by the enormous impact the deejays were having on the dancehall crowds, he established and operated Turbo Sonic Sound and "Soul Bunny", a weekly reggae discotheque near the Victoria Pier in Kingston, JA. Shortly thereafter, Roy began deejaying for most of the important Spanish Town-based Sound Systems, including Son's Junior, Stereo and Ruddy's Supreme.

Although the deejay's jive talk was long popular in the dancehalls and pioneers as Sir Lord Comic, Count Matchuki and King Sporty had played a pivotal role in the popularity of Jamaican music since the fifties, it was not until the end of the sixties that producers finally began to realize the potential of deejays as recording artists. It was the enormous popularity and success of U Roy that paved the way as he showed the producers that they could have more than one hit on a popular riddim track. Appearing at several locations Roy Reid carved a regular niche for himself in Spanish Town. That's where the deejay/toaster came to the attention of local producer, Harry Mudie, who said, some days after I Roy had passed away, "I Roy was Jamaica's greatest deejay". Impressed by the deejay's innovative and distinctive style Mudie and Roy came together to work out a few ideas of things Mudie wanted him to say on the record as the producer always wanted some good plain lyrics. Then he took Roy to Dynamics Sounds to do some recordings. The first was "Let Me Tell You Boy", followed by "The Drifter", " Heart Don't Leap" and "Musical Pleasure". (Actually all four songs are featured on the compilation set "Quad Star Revolution Vol. 1 & 2", available on compact disc). The name these recordings were done under, I Roy, was chosen because U Roy was going strong. I Roy's name was, besides in Jamaica, creating a big thing in the UK and Harry Mudie started to work making plans to do a tour there. However, it all went down when I Roy and Harry Mudie entered into a conflict over the arrengements for the tour, which actually also ended their collaboration in 1971. I Roy proceeded to record a string of records for a variety of producers in Jamaica and the success of singles like "Problems Of Life" and "Musical Drum Sound" (Lloyd "Matador" Dailey), "Mood For Love" (Winston Blake), "Make Love" and "Who Cares" (Bunny "Striker" Lee) and "Hot Bomb" (Derrick Morgan) opened the way to King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi. The experience gained there led, finally, to his first album release "Presenting I Roy" in 1973, produced by Augustus "Gussie" Clarke. His debut album was magnificent, collating most of his hits for this producer. It remains a classic of its genre today.
Measured by the number of different producers (at least ten !) for whom I Roy worked 1973 ranks as his top year. A few examples of his hit records are "Rose Of Sharon (Bunny "Striker" Lee), "Melinda" (Derrick Harriott), "Silver Platter" (Keith Hudson), "High Fashion" (Lee Perry) and "Buck And The Preacher" (Pete Weston). Already in 1973 his debut set was followed by the excellent second album "Hell And Sorrow". Just like its predecessor this album showcased a deejay at his most inventive and compelling, illustrating a far reaching repertoire, ranging from witty observations to serious social commentary, all to the accompaniment of some classic riddims. Towards the end of 1973 I Roy moved to the UK where he stayed for eight months, not only to give live performances, but also to establish many new contacts. In 1974 he released his third album on the Trojan label, the critical acclaimed "Many Moods Of I Roy". In June of the same year he returned to Jamaica only to find himself with less pleasant matters, which forced him to take a break from to music scene and start a new life.

Until February 1975 I Roy remained in the background preparing the tough fight back, musically spoken, that put no less than thirteen of his records in the hit parades within eight months ! Those records were : "Forward On", "Fire Stick", "Padlock", "Natty Down Deh", "Dread In The West", "Teapot", "I Man Time", "Time Bomb", "Rootsman", "Mad Mad Hatter", "Straight To Jazzbo Head", "Jazzbo Hafe Run" and "Welding". The latter, a controversial sexual number, was produced by Channel One's owner Joseph "Jo Jo" Hookim and achieved good sales worldwide. Actually it was one of the first records with the distinct "clap" sound on the drum that became synonymous with the studio. By this time I Roy was already one of Jamaica's most articulate deejays, who, with his well-chosen lyrics, jive rap, rhymes and shouts, knew exactly how to move his public. I Roy's huge success made that his contemporaries launched musical attacks against him and those around him. The most vivid clash was that involving Prince Jazzbo, in which I Roy fired the first salvo with a tune entitled "Straight To Jazzbo Head". That song contains such lyrics as "Jazzbo, if you were a jukebox I wouldn't put a dime into your slot" and "Russian roulette bloodclot on ya". Prince Jazzbo responded with "Straight To I Roy Head" and more tongue-in-cheeck tunes - even other singers and deejays got into the act - followed. However, it was producer Bunny "Striker" Lee who earned a great deal of money through the high sales of these records. A collection of titles was even brought out on LP "Step Forward Youth" (Live & Love label, 1975).


In 1976, I Roy's association with producer Tony Robinson led to a contract with Virgin Records, for whom he subsequently cut five albums : "General", "Musical Shark Attack" (which sold no less than 100,000 copies in the UK only), "World On Fire", "Crisis Time" and the excellent 1977 set "Heart Of A Lion". In 1977 producer Alvin 'GG' Ranglin took I Roy to the Channel One studios to record songs for an album entitled "The Best Of I Roy", released in May 1977. The ten track album beared the heavy backing sounds of the Revolutionaries, which is - to some extend - indicative of the times. By the early eighties I Roy couldn't maintain his high lyrical standards. This, in combination with the changes in style, led to a less prominent role in the Reggae scene for I Roy and allowed younger deejays to take over. Although not that prolific as in his heydays I Roy still continued to record and put out records. Between 1978 and 1994 at least sixteen I Roy albums were released on labels such as Virgin, Justice, Imperial, Micron, Third World, Joe Gibbs, Mr. Tipsy, Blue Trac, Kings Music and on Umoja, the label of his former rival Prince Jazzbo. However, they never matched the successful releases of the seventies, when there were none to compare, when I Roy was at his best. Although some Reggae fans regard I Roy as another copy cat of U Roy, it is beyond doubt that I Roy is truly a cornerstone in the History of Reggae.

I-Roy Cover

I-Roy Cover

I-Roy Cover

Selective discography:


  • Crucial Cuts (Virgin Records 1983)
  • Classic I Roy (Mr. Tipsy 1986)
  • Crisis Time - Extra Version (Front Line 1991)
    Heart Of A Lion, Casmas Town, Tonight, Whap'n'Bapp'n, Union Call, London, Roots Man Time, African Talk, Crisis Time, Equality & Justice, Hypocrite Backout, Musical Injection, Don't Touch I Man Locks, Satta, African Herbsman, Love Your Neighbour, Send Us Little Power Oh Jah, Moving On Strong
  • Rock With I (RAS)
  • Don't Check Me With No Lightweight Stuff 1972-75 (Blood & Fire Records 1997)

Sources :
Bob Harding (email message), The Rough Guide To Reggae   Written by : Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton   Published by : Rough Guides Ltd London, October 1997.   Sleeve notes from "Black Man Time" (Jamaican Gold) and "Presenting I Roy / Hell & Sorrow" (Trojan Records).
Text : Teacher & Mr. T, 03-12-1999