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Artist Hall of Fame

Little RoyText by Harry Hawks

“Tafari was and still is a true example of how music should be made and sold on record. It’s probably the only label in the world that upholds its principles throughout all of its business. The message is in the music.” Dave Hendley.
Date Added: Jan 17, 2013 Copyright (C) 2019 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Real Name: Earl Lowe
1953 -
Place of Birth: Whitfield Town
West Kingston
Related Artist(s):
Dennis Brown
Prince Fatty
Leroy Sibbles
Freddie McGregor
Born 1953 in Whitfield Town, West Kingston Earl 'Little Roy' Lowe trod that well known path down to Brentford Road at the tender age of twelve where he recorded 'I Am Going To Cool It' for Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd). This debut recording was not a hit and Earl moved on to Prince Buster on Orange Street. He recorded two songs for the Prince, 'It's You I Love' and 'Reggae Got Soul', but "nothing much happened with them". However, the Prince did give him his stage name 'Little Roy' because of his youth "I was only fourteen years old when I started singing for Buster..." and his stature. Earl had won a scholarship to study building engineering at St. Andrew Technical High where he remained until he was eighteen but, although he continued with his studies, the lure of music proved stronger.

And so he continued his journey around Kingston's record producers and Earl's next move was to Waltham Park Road to Lloyd's Radio and TV where Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley(Lloyd Daley) was enjoying a run of hits on his Matador and Syndicate labels. Lloyd Daley was a talented and prolific producer and Little Roy recalled: "His songs were classics. He excelled at getting his songs onto tape... his songs were all very clean with no form of noise." Their first recording 'Bongo Nyah' in 1969 was "a huge hit" and also one of the first ever records to espouse the Rastafarian religion. Followed by 'Without My Love', "another massive hit", 'Keep On Trying', "another good selling song" and 'Hard Fighter' "an important song for Matador" which was released backed by one of the first ever drum and bass mixes 'Voodoo' credited to The Hippy Boys. Lloyd Daley had established links with the Palmer Brothers in London and Little Roy's records were released in the UK on Pama subsidiaries where they proved very popular. In 1971 "...I sang two more songs 'Righteous Man' with Dennis Brown and Leroy Sibbles and 'Nyah Medley'. These were the last two songs I recorded for Matador".

After growing increasingly dissatisfied with his treatment at the hands of record producers Little Roy set up the Tafari Syndicate and began producing and releasing records with Maurice 'Scorcher' Jackson and his brother Melvin 'Munchie' Jackson. Munchie had grown up in the same Whitfield Town area as Little Roy "I used to know who he was but, after I left school, one of my friends called Ville introduced him to me" and had been working with Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnes(Lloyd Barnes) in New York before returning to Kingston in 1971.

The first two Tafari recordings were released on Heptic "a label owned by the Heptones and a jockey called David Mackenzie. The first song I recorded was called 'Mr T'." The initial release on Tafari was the haunting instrumental 'Free For All', an adaptation of Jackie Mittoo's 'Autumn Sounds' for Studio One, arranged by Aston 'Familyman' Barrett with Tyrone 'Organ D' Downey on keyboards. The label also produced classic sides from Dennis Brown 'Set Your Heart Free', The Heptones 'Forward On A Yard' and 'Revolution' and Winston Scotland 'Prophecy Rock' and 'Zion Fever'. Little Roy had first become interested in Rastafarianism while still at school and the Tafari Syndicate was not only a refuge from unscrupulous producers but was also a vehicle for the message of Rastafari.

"I man did sight Rasta in a way them times. There was a brethren named Desi, who is in Ethiopia now, used to tell us how Selassie is God. Well I man start read up my Bible and sight say Desi is right. And is like after that I don't sing no more man's tune. Is pure inspiration I man now deal with... coming now like it is a tug of war kind of business. It's like if you don't sing for some men you don't get recognised. If you trying to make it as a clean force out there it's just pure fight. You have to deal with some of the things them deal with... but is like the spirit of God within us inspires certain truths and it looks like it's not God them out there want to deal with." Earl 'Little Roy' Lowe

Melvin and Maurice's mother had the contract to supply food and drink to Kingston's hospitals and prisons and her premises, known as "the Packin' House" at 17 Coleyville Avenue in the Washington Gardens district of Kingston, became the headquarters for the Tafari Syndicate.

"Everything took place in the Packin' House. We had a reel to reel tape and a sound system and used to voice on the sound. It was very experimental...a lot of vibes. There were some great songs from the Packin' House that never go to studio... but most of these songs were just rehearsals on the reel to reel. We'd gather there, smoke the chalice and sing from morning to night. It was a comfortable surrounding for us packed with food and drink and a space for the sound with everything packed all around it. Munchie was the leader of the pack... a guy like him attract a lot of people." Earl 'Little Roy' Lowe

'Prophecy(Taxi)', one of Little Roy's most celebrated songs was first released in 1972. It was an original composition but was voiced over "Blacka Morwell's rhythm! The same night Blacka did the session he made two rhythms. He made over 'Many Rivers To Cross' and that rhythm and a day or two later he came to us with the rhythm. He and Maurice made a deal and he sold Maurice a cut of the rhythm." It went on to be one of the most versioned ever rhythm tracks in the history of reggae. Then came 'Tribal War' "a big hit so the money was there!" but even with complete artistic and financial control the Tafari Syndicate still had their problems as George Nooks and John Holt both released cover versions of the song. "Those do overs prove I never get any justice with my one! The radio deejays never gave me no play but the song hit on its own. The other versions got a lot more play but my one sold as much or more. It was the fastest selling song in the record shops but it didn't show on the chart. Did you know Dennis Brown played the bass on 'Tribal War'?"

Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry) often worked with the Tafari Syndicate. "Upsetter was a good friend of Munchie. I lived at Hampton Crescent and Lee lived at Cardiff Crescent... the length of three houses away. He voiced 'Prophecy' at Randys with us. 'Tribal War' he engineered – we took the session at Black Ark. The rhythm for 'Jah Can Count On I' was laid at Pluto Shervington's New Kingston studio but the song was voiced and mixed at Black Ark. I also did 'Don't Cross The Nation' with Ewan Gardiner which originally appeared on Upsetter... it was his own production."

Everyone involved in the Tafari Syndicate practised and rehearsed incessantly but only ever recorded sparingly for as Little Roy recalled "I don't think it's good for an artist to sing too many songs. A song is something that must be well put together and not just anything" and he moved towards live work with his brethren Ian and Rock for the Twelve Tribes of Israel organisation. Ian's real name was Ewan Gardiner "Me and him went to school...we sung "Don't Cross The Nation" for Lee Perry and he was not really so involved in Tafari. Ian also sung 'Father's Call' which is credited to Little Roy on the compilation of Glen Brown(Glenmore Brown)'s vocal work 'Boat To Progress'.

"Ewan was a musician rather than a singer. He knew harmonies." But Ewan died "about two years ago... same age as me." Anthony Ellis, also known as Rocky or Rock, had sung 'Love Me Girl' with the Heptones and 'I Am The Ruler' for Studio One and "other songs that didn't surface". He was a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and Roy recalled "if you're dedicated to the Twelve Tribes then you don't find yourself doing much other work". He sang 'Ticket To Zion', 'Jah Can Count On I' and 'Working' with Little Roy. "I had a career but by the time we started singing it was like a Twelve Tribes group... Little Ian Rock. We mostly did stage shows for the Twelve Tribes without pay. Three is symbolic, we not boosting our little self, but we decide to be one instrument in God's hand."

Roy distanced himself from the music business for most of the eighties. He was living in America where he "didn't have the urge to do much recordings" But, as he so rightly pointed out, even if he wasn't recording "his songs never went away". Little Roy remained true to his principles and maintained a dignified musical silence apart from recording a handful of excellent twelve inch records, including the self explanatory 'Long Time Rock Steady', which were released in 1980 on Herman Chin Roy's Selection Exclusive label in America.

After moving to London Little Roy again began to record, albeit sparingly, and the 'Live On' album was released in 1991. Roy never stopped "working on these songs and trying to make them the best he can" and his 'Long Time' long player for Adrian Sherwood's On U Sound Records was released in 1996. In 2005 'Children of the Most High' was well received but he reached an entirely new audience in the autumn of 2011 when he collaborated with Prince Fatty and the Mutant Hi-Fi on an album of Nirvana songs entitled 'Battle for Seattle'.

The music of Little Roy still sounds as committed, thought provoking and uplifting as when the records were originally released for his plaintive and memorable songs never lose sight of the fact that for the message to come across then the music has to be faultless. "We're just waiting for the right time to resurface. It's now that the vibes are showing and Tafari songs can still survive. We know that the work is strong and the time is always right..." All at Dub Store hope that his recent work with Prince Fatty will point more people in the direction of the work of this giant of Jamaican music.

Interview with Little Roy London 1st November 1995
Interview with Little Roy London 22nd July 1999
Dave Hendley: 'Little Roy - Ian & Rock and the Tafari Syndicate' Blues & Soul No. 237 October 1977
Jan 17, 2013 Text by Harry Hawks
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