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Artist Profile
Max Romeo
Nov 22, 1947 ~
Max Romeo’s unerring ability to convey not only the manifest tribulations of Jamaican life but also some of its more amusing aspects with equal fervour and conviction have ensured his position as one of the most popular and versatile singers and songwriters of his generation.
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Real name:
Maxwell Livingston Smith
Place of birth:
Jamaica
St. D'Acre
Max Romeo was born Maxwell Smith 22nd November 1947 in the country district of St. James on Jamaica's North Coast and, when Max's mother emigrated to the UK in 1954, he moved to Kingston to live with his father. During his teens Max gravitated towards the city's burgeoning music scene and in 1966 he began to work for Ken Lack, the proprietor of the Caltone label, as a salesman and general errand runner. He then formed The Emotions with Kenneth Knight and Lloyd Shakespeare and the group enjoyed a number of hits on Caltone including 'A Rainbow', 'Heartbreaking Gypsy' & 'Rude Boy Confession'. For a short period Max then became the occasional lead singer for The Hippy Boys alongside Glen 'Capo' Adams(Glen Adams), Aston 'Familyman' Barrett, Carlton 'Carly' Barrett, Alva 'Reggie' Lewis and Lloyd Charmers Tyrell but after the band hit with 'Dr No Go' for Mrs Pottinger(Sonia Pottinger) he decided to go it alone.

Max's friend, Bunny Striker Lee, was beginning to make a name for himself as a record producer and he not only employed Max as a salesman but, after hearing him attempt to impress a local girl, Striker also gave him his 'Romeo' epithet. Max was keen to start recording again but was not too happy with Striker's choice of material: the risqué 'Wet Dream'. None of Bunny's stable of artists, including Pat Kelly, Slim Smith, Roy Shirley and Derrick Morgan, would voice the song and Striker issued Max with an ultimatum.

"Maxie used to sing for Ken Lack in a group named The Emotions but at that time he wasn't singing. He was a good singer but he had concentrated more on selling records after Ken Lack had left the business and he was working for me as a salesman. So I turned to Maxie and I said 'Every day you want to voice a tune... even on a flipside... so as you can play it to your girlfriend'. He said 'Boy Striker I don't want to sing it' and I said 'If you don't sing this tune then don't come to work tomorrow!" Bunny Striker Lee

Rude or 'slack' records were not a new phenomenon and were undergoing a revival under the influence of American artists such as Blowfly but the lyrics usually tended towards boasts of sexual prowess rather than "erotic dreams causing involuntary ejaculations".

"Wet Dream' was a tune now! I put it on the 'Hold You Jack' rhythm and we voiced it up at Coxsone(CS Dodd)'s studio." Bunny Striker Lee

The tune was voiced one night at Studio One on Brentford Road and, when Max had finished Coxsone "raised Cain!" and declared "I don't want that tune recorded here". But Striker told him "... you can't wipe it off" and sent 'Wet Dream' "as a tune to make up the numbers" to the Palmer brothers in London who released it on their Unity label in 1969. Although the record was deemed offensive it proved to be instrumental in introducing reggae to the British public. Alan Freeman was not allowed to say the title on the BBC's Radio One Sunday afternoon chart show and only ever referred to 'Wet Dream' as "a record by Max Romeo" but the record remained on the UK National Charts for an unprecedented twenty five weeks and reached the dizzy heights of Number Ten... without any radio play.

"All the big singers... Pat Kelly, Slim Smith started that they'd never done shows in England! Maxie was the first man out of the whole clan to come. The least of the apostles... the underdog... was the first man to go in the British charts. A big thing! From 'Wet Dream' you don't know what's going to hit... so after that if I told a man to sing a tune... even if it was foolishness... he would do it. You understand?" Bunny Striker Lee

When Max arrived in the UK to tour and promote the record he steadfastly stuck to his story with the music press that his song was nothing whatsoever to do with sex but was, in fact, an everyday story of poverty in Jamaica. The roof of his shack was constantly leaking and the chorus of "lie down gal let me push it up, push it up" actually alluded to Max requesting that his young lady move out of the way so that he could push a broom up into the hole in the roof to stop the leak. Maxie went on to record a number of innuendo ridden records for the Unity label including 'Wine Her Goosie' and 'Mini Skirt Vision' which, inevitably, also failed to garner any air play. 'Wet Dream' was not a big seller in Jamaica and, despite finding it difficult to live down the stigma attached to the record in the UK, Max had no problems at home in Kingston and now began to hit the Jamaican charts on a regular basis.

His 1971 recording for Derrick Morgan's Hop label 'Let The Power Fall On I', along with Delroy Wilson's 'Better Must Come', were adopted by Michael Manley's People's National Party as the campaign songs for the 1972 elections and "the music reached the people and won the election". As the rhythms slowed down Max's role in the development of rebel reality music cannot be overstated. His distinctive and unorthodox recordings, including 'Bald Headed Teacher' (as Trevour Lambert) for the Upset label, 'Jordan River' with Glen Adams for Alvin 'GG' Ranglin(Alvin Ranglin), 'Beardman Feast' & the stunning 'Rasta Bandwagon' with Niney The Observer(Winston 'Niney' Holness) and 'Babylose Burning' (as Maxie, Niney & Scratch) for Lee 'Scratch' Perry, set the sort of standards that other singers strove to emulate.

In the mid seventies Max's work with Lee Perry brought him to the attention of the international rock press once again with a series of excellent records including 'One Step Forward'. However, this time round, no explanations or excuses were required and Max Romeo finally lived down his reputation in the UK as a singer solely of smut with the release of 'War In A Babylon' on an Island single. The Jamaican release on Upsetter was originally entitled 'Sipple Out Deh' and the record provided penetrating insights into the strife torn Kingston ghettos and the worsening crisis on the capital's streets. The power and strength of Scratch's musical mastery gave an unwavering focus to Max's lyrics and their 'War Ina Babylon' album, featuring 'I Chase The Devil' released internationally by Island Records, was the best selling long player of Max's long career. The 'Revelation Time' aka 'Open The Iron Gate' album from the same period showcased Max's work with a selection of producers including Geoffrey Chung, Phil Pratt and Scratch and was every bit as strong and the self produced 'Reconstruction' long player, released through Island in 1978, further cemented his international reputation.

After relocating to New York at the end of the decade Max released the 'Holding Out My Love For You' album on Shanachie Records, with assistance from Rolling Stone Keith Richards, in 1981 and 'I Love My Music' which was recorded at Wackie's Studio. In 1992 his 'Far I Captain Of My Ship' for the UK's Jah Shaka presaged the coming of age for the UK roots scene and Max became one of the leaders of the international roots revival movement through a succession of stirring stage shows and new recordings that did far more than revisit past glories.

There have always been separate, seemingly disparate, themes running throughout Max Romeo's work from the unabashed lewdness of 'Wet Dream' (unless talking to British rock journalists!) through to the religious fervour of 'River Jordan' on to the caustic social commentary of 'Rasta Bandwagon'. His popularity has never showed any signs of diminishing and serves to demonstrate that the songs of Max Romeo, like all Jamaican singers, like all Jamaican musicians, in fact like all Jamaican music will invariably defy any attempts to pigeonhole the phenomenon.
 
Related artist(s):
Emotions
Lee Perry
Hippy Boys
Label Profile
Island
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Related label(s):
Mango
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Description of item
[All Items] → [LP] → [Roots Reggae] → [Lee Perry & The Upsetters] → [Max Romeo, Upsetters]
Max Romeo, Upsetters - War Ina Babylon (Ltd. Edition 180 Gram Vinyl)
No Stock
LP LP
Max Romeo, Upsetters
War Ina Babylon (Ltd. Edition 180 Gram Vinyl)
Simply Vinyl UK/Island
¥2980 (US$25.28)
Rating: 123
Genre: Roots Reggae
Sub Genre: Lee Perry & The Upsetters
Produced by: Lee Perry
Approx. year: 1976
Date added: Mar 4, 2000
Date re-stocked: Nov 11, 2004
Country: England
Catalog number: SVLP 186
Music type: Roots & Culture
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9 TRACKS :
1) One Step Forward
2) Uptown Babies Don't Cry
3) I Chase The Devil
4) War Ina Babylon
5) Norman
6) Stealing In The Name Of Jah
7) Tan And See
8) Snokey Room
9) Smile Out A Style
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