Little Roy

Born on 25th February 1953 in Whitfield Town, Kingston, Jamaica, Earl Lowe, better known as Little Roy was first inspired musically by his older brother Campbell, who wrote ‘I’m Going To Cool It (aka `Cool It)’, which the singer subsequently performed in an audition with Jackie Mittoo at Coxson Dodd‘s Studio One operation in Brentford Road.

Following his successful audition, Earl attended a session with the Soul Vendors that resulted in the release of his brother’s composition, (wrongly credited to the Gaylads), although the disc sadly faltered. Undeterred, he was subsequently employed by his near neighbour Prince Buster who bestowed upon him the title of Little Roy and produced him on a number of sides, including the impressive ‘Reggae Got Soul’, ‘New Dance’ and ‘It’s You I Love’.

Earl‘s next sessions were with Lloyd ‘The Matador’ Daley for whom he cut a series of songs, most notably, the classic ‘Bongo Nyah’, which subsequently topped the Jamaican charts. There followed a number of strong sellers that included ‘Without My Love’, ‘Keep On Trying’, ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Hard Fighter’, with the latter surfacing on both Trojan‘s Big Shot label and on Pama Records Punch subsidiary.

By the early seventies, Earl‘s relationship with the Matador had begun to sour and after a session with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry that produced the excellent ‘(Don’t) Cross The Nation’ (aka ‘All Africans’), he decided to go it alone.

The singer debuted on the Tafari Syndicate label, which he launched with friends, Melvin and Maurice Jackson, with the superb ‘Mr T’, which featured the typically stunning harmonies of the Heptones, while as the Tafari All Stars, he performed the equally impressive ‘Free For All’.

Much of Tafari‘s output was subsequently licensed to Lloyd ‘Bullwackie’ Barnes in New York, which helped maintain its profile, and in 1972, Earl‘s confidence was rewarded with the classic ‘Prophecy’, which has since become a standard, enjoying a significant revival when Freddie MacGregor covered it for Steely & Clevie.

The follow-up, the strident ‘Tribal War’, cut at Lee ‘Perry‘s famed Black Ark, which was likewise subsequently covered by numerous artists including, Nas & Damian Marley, Buju Banton, George Nooks and John Holt and also lent its title to Earl‘s debut album in 1975, which included the aforementioned ‘Don’t Cross The Nation’ and ‘Mr T’.

It was around this time that the singer recruited Ewan Gardiner and Anthony Ellis who performed harmonies on Earl‘s seminal ‘Prophesy’ (sic) album. The trio aka Little Ian Rock was particularly popular with the Twelve Tribes organisation through their promotional endeavours.

Earl continued to maintain a high profile within the industry and in 1978 released ‘Columbus Ship’, recorded at the famed Channel One studio, before taking a prolonged sabbatical.

He later resurfaced, cutting ‘Long Time’ with the On-U Sound collective, which led to renewed interest in his work, with the Adrian Sherwood-owned company releasing the ‘Tafari Earth Uprising’ and ‘Packin’ House’ compilations.

Earl‘s profile was heightened further with the release of ‘Gregory Isaacs Meets Little Roy’, inspired by the singer’s first tour with the Cool Ruler in 1991, which was followed by ‘Live On’ that included remakes of ‘Mr T’ and ‘Mr T Live On’. In addition, he linked up with Lion Sounds in Brixton, which produced the critically acclaimed ‘More From A Little’ that featured a sublime remake of ‘Prophecy’.

Into the new millennium, Earl released ‘Children Of The Most High’ before finding international notoriety in 2011 when he was invited to cover the hits of Nirvana in a reggae style. The idea and album, ‘Battle For Seattle’, proved particularly popular and led to festival and television appearances, resulting in the recognition he has long since deserved.

Stephen Nye

(updated version of an article that originally published on www.reggaefusion.com in 1999)