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Artist Hall of Fame

Linval ThompsonText by Harry Hawk

Originally revered in the seventies as a singer of roots anthems Linval Thompson went on to build another career as one of the first, and foremost, producers of dance hall music.
Date Added: Oct 9, 2012, Date Updated: Dec 5, 2018 Copyright (C) 2019 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Oct 12, 1954 -
Place of Birth: Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Barry Brown
Johnny Clarke
Born in 1954 in Kingston Linval grew up in the tough ghetto district of Kingston 13. "There was no music in the family to tell the truth. I was just born with this gift." His initial foray into the music business was neither singing nor producing but promoting sound system dances in his neighbourhood. "Way back when I was about fourteen or fifteen I started to go out to sound systems. In the early seventies I used to keep dances in my area and my first involvement in the music business was when I booked a local sound named Sir Percy to play... trying to be a promoter in my area."

In 1968 Linval's mother relocated to New York and his father, sisters and brothers then followed her. Linval was the next to travel to America seeking employment and his chosen career was music. "I started singing like crazy! Every move I made I'd be singing" but breaking into the music business was not easy. "I longed to record but didn't know how to start." Eventually Linval met a local singer named Patrick Alley. "He took me to a studio in Brooklyn named Art Craft and that's where I did my first ever recording: 'There's No Other Woman In This World'. Everyone said I sounded like Dennis Brown. I pressed up about five hundred copies and sent some back to Jamaica just to let my friends hear me singing. It was because I loved it. It wasn't for the money." Although the record proved to be a moderate seller Linval said "I don't think you can find a copy of it right now!" He then went on to record for the New York based Mart's label before returning to Jamaica in 1974 where he met up with 'Stamma' Hobson.

"He took me down to Randy's Studio 17 on North Parade. Dennis Brown was mashing up the place with a song called 'Westbound Train' and I came with this song named 'Westbound Plane'! The song flew away! Everyone wondered who this young artist trying a thing and sounding like Dennis Brown was! All the producers wanted to work with this new artist now!"

And so Linval began to record with many of Kingston's top record producers including Augustus Pablo, with the now rare and in demand 'Natty Dread A Pressure Them', and with Phil Pratt at Lee Scratch Perry's recently opened Black Ark Studio. "I did two songs with Phil Pratt 'Jah Jah Redder Than Red' which was a hit and 'Girl You Got To Run'." Both were released in London on the Faith label and helped to boost the young singer's reputation. Linval then went on to work for Scratch on 'Kung Fu Man', a tribute to Bruce Lee, which was released on Globe International.

He now settled in the Whitfield Town district of Kingston where he befriended Johnny Clarke who was enjoying an incredible run of hits with legendary producer Bunny Striker Lee. "Then on to the great Bunny Striker Lee. Johnny Clarke was mashing up the whole place with 'Move Out Of Babylon' and we were good friends. I stayed close to him trying to see if I can be a singer but every day Bunny Lee said 'Come back next day, come back next day...' He just had me waiting, waiting but I wanted to put out songs..." Although Linval was keen to sing Striker was understandably reluctant to slow down Johnny Clarke's career but he knew that Linval's time would soon come.

"One night we were at King Tubby's studio voicing Johnny Clarke and I still hadn't voiced. I was still waiting for my time. I said to Bunny 'Could you give me that rhythm track? I'll voice it and take it for myself.' Striker said 'Yes. Take the track' But I had to voice it first! Jah blessed me with these lyrics and I sung 'Don't Cut Off Your Dread Locks'. Striker kept the track! Only one song I voiced that night and it was mixed the next day."

The record was a huge hit when it was released on Striker's Prophecy label and Linval Thompson became a super star joining Johnny Clarke and Cornell Campbell as the third member of Striker's hit making vocal roster. Many of Linval's records celebrated the Rastafarian faith and were released internationally through Striker Lee's powerful overseas connections. "Striker took the song to England where it was released on Grounation on seven inch and Count Shelly later put out an album of the same name." Linval then recorded a tune for one of Kingston's top sound systems, Socialist Roots, and 'Train To Zion' became their all time top anthem.

In 1976 Linval established his own Thompson Sound label and, two years later, he licensed his first three self-produced long playing sets to Trojan Records for release in London. "It just came to me that I needed to do this. My next set of recordings was an album 'I Love Marijuana' and I took it to England to Trojan... from there it's all over! I made a dub album 'Negrea Love Dub' and a deejay album with Big Joe named 'African Princess' and Trojan released them as well."

During this period Linval made the acquaintance of Henry 'Junjo' Lawes and, following Linval's patronage, Junjo became one of the most successful record producers of the following decade. "Then I met Junjo Lawes... this was before Barrington Levy had come on. In 1978... '79 I started to give Junjo a couple of tracks and then he met Barrington Levy. After that he started to voice Barrington and he started to mash up the whole place.... came to the UK and Greensleeves."

As he became increasingly involved with record production Linval worked with a stellar line up of different musicians at a number of different studios in order to achieve his musical aims. "I started with Sly & Robbie but I usually used the Roots Radics and Sly & Robbie. It was a mixture.... but we get more hits out of The Roots Radics! I recorded mostly at Channel One and mixed at King Tubby's. Sometimes I voiced at King Tubby's, sometimes at Channel One just to get a different sound." He also remembered how hard it had been for him to get that initial break in the music business to make his first records.

"So much talent and I didn't just want to push myself. I now started to concentrate on producing rather than singing. I didn't plan it that way it just happened. It happened that way and now many people know me more as a producer... things happen that way. It's mysterious and it really worked for me."

He recorded newcomers Eek A Mouse and deejays Lee Van Cleef and Papa Tullo but also worked with established stars including Al Campbell and Johnny Osbourne. In 1982 Freddie McGregor, another established star, gave Linval's Thompson Sound label its biggest hit to date. "I can see Kingston Harbour and the ships from my house in Stony Hill and when he came to my house Freddie looked out and said 'big ships in the harbour'. We went to the studio that afternoon and recorded 'Big Ship'. His biggest hit produced by Linval Thompson! And then we did the album for Greensleeves..." The record was so popular that Freddie named his record label and recording studio 'Big Ship' when he started producing for himself.

Over the last thirty five years Linval Thompson "really and truly" has done much to shape the direction of Jamaican music. By successfully building a bridge between the old and the new his productions, always firmly based in the 'conscious' style of reality reggae, helped to define the genre that followed... dance hall music.

"You have to make changes but you have to stick to the roots." Linval Thompson
Oct 9, 2012 (Dec 5, 2018 Update) Text by Harry Hawk
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Hit titles
Linval Thompson - Six Babylon
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Linval Thompson - I Love Marijuana
LP Linval Thompson - I Love Marijuana Trojan UK Info: Deleted
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Linval Thompson - Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks
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Linval Thompson - Jah Jah Is The Conqueror
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¥1000 (US$9.05)
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