x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gregory Isaacs: reggae's Frank Sinatra

Gregory Isaacs, who died on October 25 aged 60, sang his way out of the ghetto and into reggae's hall of fame in the 1970s.

Gregory Isaacs sang his way out of the ghetto and into reggae's hall of fame in the 1970s. Hailed as the "Cool Ruler", the Frank Sinatra of Jamaica and the rightful successor to the king of reggae, Bob Marley, he was a smooth-voiced crooner whose 1982 LP Night Nurse became one of the genre's staple tracks.

Had he not deviated along the way, totting up about 50 reported arrests for firearm and drugs offences, his career would likely have been all the more brilliant.

Brought up solely by his mother following his father's desertion, Isaacs always regarded her as his first mentor: she sang as she ironed the clothes on a Sunday evening, and her vocals informed his musical education as much as the songs of stars such as Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

In their rough Denham Town neighbourhood in Jamaica's capital, Kingston, Isaacs and his younger brother Sylvester learnt the ways of the street and formed a duo, entering various talent contests during their teenage years.

In 1969, as one of a trio called the Concords, Isaacs had his first notable success with Don't Let Me Suffer. Recording as a solo artist four years later it was All I Have Is Love that had listeners hooked. An exacting lyricist who used to sit with a dictionary to hand while composing, his songs became more political in the mid-1970s, addressing issues of social injustice. As his commitment to the Rastafari faith grew, so did his dreadlocks, which were barely contained by his trademark fedoras.

The decades-long indulgence of his drugs habit may gradually have cost Isaacs his looks, a number of his teeth and, ultimately, the clarity of his voice, but he was still regarded as a master of the dancehall and continued to record into the noughties.

His final album, titled Brand New Me, which was released in 2008, suggested that he had, at last, put his old ways behind him.

He is survived by his wife, Linda, and several children.

Born July 15, 1950. Died October 25, 2010.