Santa Cruz, CA-Quick! Name your top five favorite Jamaican love ballad singer-songwriters. Chances are Gregory Isaacs would be somewhere on that list. With a voice that you can recognize blindfolded, Gregory was born in 1951 and has written over 500 songs and released over 70 albums.
Isaacs started his singing career in the early 70s with various producers, including Rupie Edwards’ Success label, Winton “Niney The Observer” Holness, Gussie Clark, Lloyd Campbell and Alvin “GG” Ranglin. During the same period he started his own African Museum label in Kingston with singer Errol Dunkley.
In the 80’s, he produced some of his best material backed by the awesome Roots Radics Band working with King Jammys, Bobby Digital, and Steelie & Cleevie before signing with Virgin Records. In 1988 he released his landmark album, “Red Rose for Gregory” and the mega hit single “Rumors.”
In the 90s, he released the albums “Set Me Free,” “The Best of Gregory Isaacs Vols. 1 & 2,” “Do Lord” on Xterminator, “Dapper Slapper” on RAS, and “Turn Down The Lights” on Artists Only! Records. Now on VP Records, Gregory is touring the world, spreading his lovers’ gospel, with a unique voice that can’t be imitated or duplicated.
Isaacs has been performing regularly in the Bay Area thanks to San Francisco’s Maritime Hall/2B1Productions, which continues to bring some of Reggae’s best to the area, and released Isaacs’ “Live at Maritime Hall” disc in 1998.
In late January 2001, after performing to a rousing crowd at the Maritime Hall the night before, The Cool Ruler performed at Santa Cruz’s Palookaville Club on a chilly Sunday night. And Santa Cruz was ready.
The line formed well before Palookaville opened its doors, to the eventually sold out show.
The ten-piece band Groundation, founded in 1998, opened with Marley covers, horns, a little jazzy flavor, some very good originals and a heavy dose of roots music. Groundation is steadily making a name for themselves. They’ve already opened for Pato Banton, The Congos, Apple Gabriel, Marcia Higgs and Strictly Roots. They’ve released five albums, and were featured on IRIE FM.
Master MC Rocky Bailey took to the stage, and after finishing his Rasta invocation, announced “Its show time!”
Gregory was cool in gray as he took the stage back by his five-piece band. But before the night was out, he sweat his way down to his white, net tank belting out hit after hit in a medley-like performance that left the crowd horse from singing along.
Gregory slowly loped back and forth across the stage never losing eye contact with the crowd. He seemed impressed and surprised by the sing-a-long of the Santa Cruz fans. Often he would start a lyric, then hold the mike out for his fans to enthusiastically fill in the blanks.
Gregory Isaacs, putting on a classic performance, backed by a very good band featuring two keyboards, a guitar, bass and drums, fed us song after song of his signature hits.
“A Red Rose for Gregory,” “Night Nurse,” “My Number One,” “Oh What A Feeling,” “Soon Forward” and “Golden Touch” were just some of the recognizable tunes he performed. He tried to sing them all, and the fans yelled their appreciation. When Rocky asked if the crowd wanted an encore, people roared like hungry lions at feeding time at the zoo.
After his sizzling performance, he was rushed out the back door to leave for his next scheduled show in New York. We meekly filed out with no complaints because we knew that Gregory left everything his music could deliver on the stage. So like lions after a feast, we contently headed home deeply satisfied with the musical bounty of the day.
Big Up to Palookaville’s Denise and the Palookaville staff for working so hard.