Little Roy is the writer and original performer of several untimely reggae classics, but has remained in the shadows for many years. Now he is set to take his music back and has begun re-recording his beloved music. Reggaemani has talked to a veteran that is disappointed at the music business.
A few years ago Earl Lowe – better known as Little Roy – dropped Children of the Most High, an album mainly built around re-recordings of his 70’s material. In March he put out a new album – Heat – with the same idea.
The idea of recording a number of new versions of your own material is far from new in reggae.
“Bob Marley recorded his songs ten to 20 times,” says Little Roy over the phone from his home in London.
Other notable reggae acts that have re-recorded their music are Burning Spear, Gladiators and Wailing Souls. They started recording at Studio One and when they got signed to major labels they did new versions. For Little Roy it seems to have been an easy decision.
“They [the original tunes] did not come out the way I had expected them to. The musicians, studio and moment were not right. It was not the way they should have come out,” stresses Little Roy, and continues:
“I have re-recorded much less than other Jamaican artists and I didn’t get the right appreciation and exposure.”
Better than before
He believes that the new versions have another feel to them. It’s due to different mixing, different arrangements, producers and studio. He has been working with people such as Mafia & Fluxy and Mike Pelanconi of Prince Fatty. And one thing Little Roy makes perfectly clear – he influences them and not the other way around.
“These new versions feel good. Better than before. I had the intention to make them even better. And I can’t say if I’ll record them again. These are the best songs of Little Roy,” he states.
He says that he has never thought of re-record his classic tune Tribal War, recently sampled by Nas & Damian Marley. And it is obvious that he is satisfied by the appreciation that he has got due to their version.
He believes that his music – or his original versions – is too unknown and that the lyrics are still strong and up to the time.
“Lyrics are forever. You don’t change them. These songs and their lyrics are everlasting.”
Little Roy is pleased with his new effort Heat, and he says that it is doing well in the shops and that it gets aired on the radio.
“People say that it’s a roots album with class,” he says in a joyful tone.
“Eight new songs on an album are the most that I’ll do”
If you are looking forward to an album with only new tunes from Little Roy – don’t hold your breath. It won’t happen unfortunately.
“I’ll never do an album with new songs. I’ve a lot of good songs. Lyrics and melody are everlasting,” he says, and continues:
“Eight new songs on an album are the most that I’ll do. That’s what Marley did. He re-recorded his 60’s songs. It was appreciated in later days.”
Nirvana cover album
He is already involved in a new project. A rather unexpected one actually.
“I’ve recorded a Nirvana album. It’s different from me. I have done covers of Stevie Wonder and Bruce Ruffin. But I didn’t stick on singing other people’s songs. I’ve always written my own songs,” he says, and continues:
“It was introduced to me. Mike Pelanconi was doing it. Mike told them that I could be the right artist and the album will be put out later this year.”
Disappointed in Jamaica
Little Roy has been settled in the UK for many years. Before that he lived in the U.S, where he relocated from Jamaica.
He left his home country because of lack of appreciation from the music industry.
“Jamaica was oppressing me as an artist. I wrote great songs, but people steal my songs,” he says, and adds:
“I visited Jamaica about five years ago. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was presented as the man who wrote Tribal War and Jah Can Count On I. But people thought that I was singing other people’s songs. They didn’t show their appreciation for me as the original artist.”
Veteran with connections
Little Roy is a veteran Jamaican singer. He grew up with the crème de la crème of 60’s and 70’s roots singers. One of his friends was the late Gregory Isaacs.
“I saw him [Gregory Isaacs] in Stingray [studio] a couple of weeks before he died. We grew up in the same yard,” he says, and continues:
“Yesterday I spoke to Leroy Sibbles. He was like a teacher to me in the young days. He used to come and pick up me and Dennis Brown. The three of us used to be close.”
Little Roy says that he doesn’t really miss his former artist colleagues.
“Many of them disappoint me, like Freddie McGregor. He used to come around and listen to us rehearse. He had a wicked intention. I don’t need much singer friends.”
But as we talk it seems that he still knows a lot of people.
“I’m going to see Ken [Boothe]. He is my good friend. I’ll be at the festival on Friday and Sunday.”