Burning Spear

Listen: Lion / Burning Spear
Listen: Lion / Burning Spear

Most consider MARCUS GARVEY and the accompanying dub version, GARVEY’S GHOST, both from ’76, to be the ultimate introduction to Burning Spear. Not me. The ’77 followup, MAN IN THE HILLS, takes the prize hands down.

Blame it on the compilation THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3). Howard Thompson sent a copy with a bunch of Island punk and reggae releases in his very first mailing that began our friendship. It was known as a care package in those days, the kind you’d load a new pal up with when you worked at a record company. Just go over to the cupboard and pull one of anything remotely good, then ship it off. And the cupboards at Island were bursting with good stuff back then.

I dare call it life changing. Sure, that sounds way over dramatic. But no, it’s actually not. The records in that big box did just that, not only to me, but to my closest friends and Corinne as well. She for one, dove head first into a reggae addiction from the get go. Took her years to shake, to find a normal balance between it and everyday life, but not before up and going to London to see Burning Spear and Aswad at the Rainbow, with Karen. I think they had some unfinished Eddie & The Hot Rods business on that particular journey as well.

The box. Yes. I can still recall every record in it:

Various Artists THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3)
The Upsetters SUPER APE
Toots & The Maytals REGGAE GOT SOUL
The Heptones NIGHT FOOD
Derek & Clive LIVE
Max Romeo & The Upsetters WAR INA BABYLON

Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Writing On The Wall’
Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Wooly Bully’
Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Teenage Depression’
Lee Perry ‘Roast Fish & Cornbread’
Dillinger ‘Cokane In My Brain’
Aswad ‘Back To Africa’
Aswad ‘Three Babylon’
Junior Murvin ‘Police & Thieves’
The Heptones & The Upsetters ‘ Sufferer’s Time’
The Heptones ‘Book Of Rules’
Justin Hines & The Dominoes ‘Fire’
Justin Hines & The Dominoes ‘Carry Go Bring Come’
Kevin Ayers ‘Falling In Love Again’
Sparks ‘Big Boy’
Sparks ‘I Like Girls’
Ultravox ‘Dangerous Rhythm’
Max Romeo & The Upsetters ‘One Step Forward’
Max Romeo & The Upsetters ‘Chase The Devil’
Trevor White ‘Crazy Kids’
The Dwight Twilley Band ‘I’m On Fire’
Fay Bennett ‘Big Cockey Wally’
Leroy Smart ‘Ballistic Affair’
J.J. Cale ‘Travelin’ Light’
The Jess Roden Band ‘Stay In Bed’
Rico ‘Dial Africa’
Agusutus Pablo ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’
Burning Spear ‘Lion’

Might as well get this over with now: the 7′s were all promo copies. Sorry.

Yeah, go ahead. Take a breather. I tell you what. There was no preparing for that package in real life either. I wasn’t expecting a box, maybe a few records, but not a box. Howard had rung me from his office shortly after receiving a letter I’d sent off to Island, written on WITR stationary. We talked for a bit, he filled me in on Eddie & The Hot Rods, who were my original reason for writing, suggested we trade some records and that we should stay in touch. Little did I know both his package and that phone call would change my life forever.

A week or so later, I just found this large box from Island Records UK in my apartment building’s lobby. Cost something like £40 to ship, a fortune in ’76. Hoisted it upstairs and into our place, could not open it fast enough. Fuck me, a shock to the system indeed, like my heart froze. Yet somehow I’ve lived to tell.

We poured over these records, the bunch of us, for weeks. You couldn’t wait for whatever was playing to end, so you could begin another. Corinne worked nights back then, and I vividly recall staying up until dawn, those first two days in a row, eating white crosses and just playing them, waiting for her to come home. Wow, what a fantastic flashback.

Every track on THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC became anthems to us, every one a badge of honor, knowing we’d found some of the best music of our lives, suddenly a whole new world opened up, and that album did it.

Burning Spear was little known to me at that point. Saw the US copies of those first two albums occasionally, but hadn’t heard either, or even tried to. Reggae had not entered my life. Once this compilation arrived, I became insatiable for it though.

‘Man In The Hills’, the title track, opened Side 2 of the comp. It was instant. Immediately tore through that pile of 7′s, sure I’d seen a Burning Spear single amongst them. The whole day was a blur, it was hard to process this all at once. Yes, there it was. ‘Lion’ / ‘Door Peep’ by Burning Spear

‘Lion’ defines my very favorite style of reggae, where the chorus keeps getting sung over and over and over. Just a lazy, hypnotic swirl that’s hard to fight. The genre has many a unique voice, but Winston Rodney’s, well it’s one of the greatest.

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