The story about Jamaican singer Fred Locks is an exceptional one. He started his career in the late 60’s as a member of The Lyrics, who recorded tracks such as Hear What the Old Man Say and Girls Like Dirt for producer Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. Disappointed by the lack of financial reward, Fred Locks left the music business, relocated to a beach and immersed himself in Rasta teachings and wrote a song that would gain him wide recognition.
He was suddenly back in the music business and remained there firmly until the early 80’s when he moved to the U.S., where he recorded more sporadically for a number of local labels, according to a recent interview.
But let’s get back to the 70’s and Fred Locks’ anthemic repatriation single Black Star Liners. It was released in 1975 and is included on his landmark debut album Black Star Liner, a set included in VP’s latest reggae legends box set.
Fred Locks: Reggae Legends includes four discs – the aforementioned Black Star Liner, its previously unreleased dub counterpart, Love and Only Love recorded with his group Creation Steppers and The Missing Link, said to be the official follow-up set to Black Star Liner, but didn’t see release at the time due to financial constraints.
These four discs have one obvious thing in common, apart from Fred Locks nasal and straightforward singing, and that is the man’s devoutness to Rastafari and cultural and conscious lyrical themes. The vast majority of the 47 tracks carry messages of faith in Jah, oppression of the righteous and how Babylon must be fought.
Black Star Liner has been reissued many times and is one of several iconic roots albums released in the 70’s, and it deserves its reputation as an all-time classic, with strong cuts such as Wolf Wolf and Song of the Almighty.
Black Star Liner in Dub is the real treat in this collection, and includes, apart from ten sparse and raw dub cuts, a melodica piece and a deejay cut of the title track by Pablove Black and Drummie and two versions, one of the title track, and one of Wolf Wolf. According to VP they haven’t been able to confirm who mixed the dub versions, but confirms that they were done in 1976, so all tracks are properly vintage with great audio quality.
Love and Only Love was recorded in 1982 with sound system legend Lloydie Coxsone as producer. This album is more of a vocal harmony group effort with Fred Locks’ sharing lead vocal duties with Eric Griffiths and Willy Stepper. This album is not an easy one to find on vinyl these days and includes favorites such as the title track Give Jah Your Heart and Soul.
Rumors say that some of the tapes to The Missing Link were lost for 20 years, while others were damaged. The missing tapes somehow showed up and the damaged ones were restored and released twelve years ago as The Missing Link, an album far below Black Star Liner in quality, and when listening to it I’m surprised it was recorded in the 70’s, since some of the tracks have a clear 80’s vibe, but it might be overdubs done before it was released.
There are however some strong moments on The Missing Link, especially album opener Rastafari Rule, with its infectious sing-a-long chorus, and the dread The Only One.
Fred Locks: Reggae Legends gives a broad view of this devout rastaman’s early years, but to get the full picture you might also need to check out his album Never Give Up recorded for the late Phillip “Fatis” Burrell and released in 1998.
Fred Locks: Reggae Legends is available on CD and on digital platforms. Black Star Liner in Dub is also released as a standalone vinyl album.