|Words alone are insufficient to convey something of the spirit of Junior Delgado. Exuding warmth and friendliness he left a lasting impression on anyone who was fortunate enough to meet him. His songs faced up to truths in a clear and forthright manner but, beneath their rugged surface, they were full of compassion, understanding and hope.
Oscar Delgado Hibbert was born 25th August 1954, in Kingston, Jamaica and grew up on Luke Lane in downtown Kingston before eventually settling in Duhaney Park. Junior's uncle, Lennie Hibbert, was a successful bandleader and vibraphone maestro who recorded two classic albums for Studio One: 'Creation' and 'More Creation'. Junior followed in his uncle's footsteps and started singing in church before going on to win prizes at local talent contests and school concerts. He then graduated to talent shows at the Ward Theatre and began his professional singing career alongside Orville Smith, Junior Marshall and Glasford Manning (a brother of Carlton, Donald & Lynford Manning of The Abyssinians and Carlton & The Shoes as a member of a vocal group named Time Unlimited.
Their debut recording for Lee Perry, 'Reaction', was released on Joe Gibbs' Reflections label in 1973 and Junior recorded over two album's worth of material with Scratch as a solo singer and with Time Unlimited. The majority of these recordings remain unreleased but Junior regarded his time spent with Scratch as pivotal in developing his own vocal style.
Time Unlimited also recorded for Total Sounds, Tommy Cowan & Warwick Lyn's Talent Corporation and for Rupie Edwards as The Heavenly (or Heaven) Singers but in 1975 they decided to go their separate ways. Orville and Glasford went on to form The Jewels and Junior began his solo career recording for Niney the Observer(Winston 'Niney' Holness), Larry Lawrence and Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson) before returning to Lee Perry in 1977 to record the searing 'Sons Of Slaves' delivered in a mesmerising, indignant growl with vocal backing from The Heptones and Dennis Brown. This angry attack was released on Upsetter seven inch and as an extended twelve inch mix coupled with Carlton Jackson's 'History' and its overtly political stance and militant approach set the standard for all of Junior Delgado's subsequent work.
Junior railed against politicians over one of reggae music's most memorable bass lines on 'Tition', produced by Earl Chinna Smith and released on Dennis Brown's DEB label, and Junior would later return to the rhythm on 'Jah Jah Say'. Dennis and Junior formed a working friendship that endured until Dennis Brown's sad death and Junior's debut album 'Taste Of The Young Heart' came out on Dennis' DEB label in 1978. 'Effort', from the following year, was also released on DEB. These two long playing sets, together with a slew of hard hitting singles such as 'Big Shot' and 'Warrior No Tarry Yah', catapulted Junior to the forefront of Jamaican vocalists. He worked with Augustus Pablo on 'Away With Your Fussing And Fighting' and 'Black Man's Heart Cries Out' and, as the decade drew to a close, Junior recorded 'Fort Augustus' for Sly & Robbie. This rage fuelled record not only cemented Junior's reputation but also helped to popularise digitally driven reggae music. Junior now also began to produce his own music and his third long playing set 'Bushmaster Connection' was a self production released on his own Incredible Jux label.
In 1983 Junior spent eighteen months on an enforced break from recording and live work returning with 'Broadwater Farm' in 1985 which proved to be a premonition of the riots that later erupted on the North London estate. The South London produced album 'It Takes Two To Tango' for Fashion helped to re-establish his name and, on his return to Jamaica in 1985, he recorded numerous singles and albums for hit makers Henry 'Junjo' Lawes, King Jammy(Lloyd James) and Skengdon. His music now came with the dignity and authority of an elder statesman and in 1986 he consolidated this position with 'Raggamuffin Year' a revolutionary record for his long time friend and associate Augustus Pablo. Their live shows at London's Astoria Theatre at the close of the year are rightly regarded as a landmark in reggae music in the UK capital. This proved to be the start of a long and productive partnership that resulted in the faultless 'Raggamuffin Year' and 'One Step More' albums. As well as releasing his own records on his revitalised Incredible Jux label Junior also produced a series of excellent records with roots legends Yami Bolo, White Mice and veteran Johnny Osbourne.
In the early nineties Junior relocated permanently to London where his commanding presence added immeasurably to the UK's reggae scene. He opened his own studio in South London and continued to star in dynamic live appearances throughout Europe, the USA and Africa. Although insistent on always moving forward for all those who wanted to hear vintage Junior Delgado he released a series of compilations that he called 'Treasure Found' collecting together a selection of his many hits. Critically acclaimed collaborations with Big Cat/V2 with fusions of drum and bass and his work with Adrian Sherwood and Skip MacDonald moved Junior and his music to a crossover audience without ever sacrificing his integrity or his passionate beliefs. At the time of his sad and untimely death on 11th April 2005 he was working on a new album for Gussie P within the more traditional roots framework and due to release an album entitled 'Invisible Music' with Skip MacDonald and Adrian Sherwood.
From the outset of his illustrious career right up to the very end Junior made music that mattered. The message in his music was constant throughout and his unique voice and delivery, edgy with menacing intent, was always unmistakeable and, because Junior and his incredible music are indivisible the memory of the man will never fade away.
|Mar 26, 2010 Text by Harry Hawks