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Reggae Legend Gregory Isaacs Dies in London

Legendary reggae singer Gregory Isaacs died at his home in London this morning after a battle with cancer.

The 59-year-old had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver, which had spread and eventually became fatal.

In 1982, Isaacs, dubbed the Cool Ruler, reached number 32 in the UK charts with his classic album Night Nurse.

A cover version of the album’s title track, featuring Simply Red, reached number 13 in the UK 15 years later.

Isaacs was one of the music industry’s most charismatic individuals recording more songs than any other artist and releasing over 130 LPs and compilations.

He outlived close friends such as Bob Marley, Jacob Miller, Dennis Brown and Junior Delgado, and despite a catalogue of drug, jail and gun controversies, achieved iconic status.

Below are extracts taken from Overground’s interview with Isaacs in 2006.

Your battles with cocaine have been well documented. What advice can you give to youngsters who think drugs are harmless fun?

Well, I’ve been through the drug business. It was one of the greatest colleges I attended, but the most expensive school fees I ever paid. I’d tell all youths to stay away from drugs because they are dangerous.

Songs such as Border, Top 10 and Night Nurse prove you are one of the greatest lyricists – of any genre. However, Gregory Isaacs is rarely described in those terms – does that annoy you?

Well differently, what is due unto Caesar is due to Caesar. And if you don’t get it now, you’ll get it someday.

You were managed by Don Taylor, the same man who helped Bob Marley and the Wailers achieve international acclaim. What made Taylor special?

Don Taylor did a lot for my career. He helped me gain greater exposure and hooked me up with Island Records. He was a great manager because he knew exactly how to deal with artists.

Earlier this year (2006) the Wailers’ bass player Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett lost a high-profile court action for unpaid royalties. Was the decision fair?

I feel a way about it, differently. He should be entitled to more than he has received.

What’s been the highlight of your career? 

There have been a lot of highlights, but one of the greatest was when Mick Hucknell and Simply Red covered Night Nurse – I enjoyed doing that.

For the past 20 years Night Nurse has featured on a British TV advert promoting a popular flu medicine…

I appreciated that because it gives me exposure and generates some royalties (laughs).

But the advert uses someone else’s vocals, which reduces the money you could be earning. How do you feel about that?

That’s how the music business is. They could’ve used my original vocals, but that’s what they chose and you can’t fight people.

I once heard a rumour that Night Nurse is about cocaine – is that true?

No. The song’s about a man’s woman – his night nurse. But some people change the meaning, you understand.

What do you think of Tony Blair’s ’statement of regret’ for Britain’s involvement in the slave trade?

Do you feel an apology can really solve the problem?

No. What do you think?

To me personally, I’m not too deep into politics and dem ting deh, but I think more than an apology is needed, but Blair is trying still (laughs).

What’s your opinion of the reggae scene today?

You have a lot of new artists coming and going; some with conscious lyrics and others with unconscious lyrics. I like the youngster’s nowadays music, but the only thing is that some of their lyrical compositions could be better.

If you had the power, how would you change the music industry to make it easier for urban artists?

I’d change it for it to be better (laughs). I’d change the system to make it easier for artists to collect their royalties and publishing monies. Also, I’d like to see artists sing proper lyrics.

What’s your most memorable performance in London?

One show at Brixton Academy in 1984. I’ve done a lot of nice shows and had some wonderful times in England, but I really enjoyed that night. Maybe because we filmed that performance, so it captured something special.

RIP Gregory Isaacs 15 July 1951 – 25 October 2010

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Tags London, drugs, cocaine, reggae, Jamaica, Gregory Isaacs, night nurse
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