I only today heard about the death of Reggae vocalist Ronnie Davis. The singer suffered a stroke on Monday 23rd of January & unfortunately did not recover, passing 2 days later in the Savanna-la-Mar hospital in his home parish of Westmoreland. Ronnie was not the biggest of names in Jamaican music but he was responsible for half of one of the finest LPs to be created on that island at a time when there was plenty of competition to make that list. It seems like it would be right to spend a little time with some of the music that he was involved with.
I came across “Gregory Isaacs Meets Ronnie Davis ” (1979) in a pop-up record shop in Camberwell Green which hawked Spanish pressings of almost current records, popular music at popular prices. I bought the album unheard for Gregory & was just as impressed by side 2, the one with the same quality music only a different singer. In 1978/9 Gregory was on a roll. The LPs “Extra Classic”, “Cool Ruler” & “Soon Forward”, all essential, established him as the leading solo artist in Jamaica. Whether his lyrics were those of a conscious Rasta or of a seductive Mr Lover Man, his smoky, confident voice made every on a winner. Meanwhile Ronnie Davis was a couple of albums along in his solo career.
The life of a Jamaican solo singer was peripatetic, taking sessions where they could find them with many different studios & producers. If there was a hit record then a myriad of labels had tracks ready to be pressed & hopefully cash in. “…Meets…” was a collection of cuts recorded at Channel One in 1977 under the direction of Ossie Hibbert. C1 hit big in 1976 with “The Right Time” by the Mighty Diamonds when the house band, the Revolutionaries, driven by the stellar foundation of Sly Dunbar (drums) & Robbie Shakespeare (bass), pioneered the Rockers rhythm which was to carry the swing in the following years.
I may know a little about the art of mixing recorded music but the transference from tape to vinyl groove is an alchemy beyond my ken. Everyone involved in this record, the singers, players, producer, engineer & the bloke who took the masters to the pressing plant did a perfect job. Reggae had never sounded cleaner & better. The rhythms are simple to begin with, allowing the quality of the vocals to shine & making the segue into Dub smooth enough to be almost imperceptible.When this music was played out people pricked up their ears & wanted to know what it was. Gregory, who recorded some of his hits for the record, went on to international success. Ronnie had “Fancy Make Up” released as a 45 on Ossie’s label & continued to record right up to 2016 & I was always ready to listen.
In parallel to his solo career Ronnie was also a member of a couple of vocal groups. He first enjoyed success with the Tennors between 1968 & 1973. “Weather Report” is a great Rock Steady version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy in New York”. Davis had solo success before joining the Itals in 1976 who hit the ground running & were toppermost of the JA poppermost with their fantastic debut single “In A Dis Ya Time”. Based on a rhythm used for Ronnie’s hit 45 “Won’t You Come Home” it’s 7″ of Joy, a classic 12 ” when you added Trinity’s version. The Itals recorded high quality singles, strictly Rasta Roots, before making LPs in the 1980s, touring the US with Roots Radics, Gregory’s old backing band & bagging a Grammy nomination for “Rasta Philosophy” (1986).
Ronnie left the Itals in 1995, continuing his solo career before rejoining them in 2009. In 2012, after almost 35 years away, his old vocal trio, the Tennors, reunited for a tour. Last year saw the release of his first LP for 20 years, “Iyahcoustic”, on the Skinny Bwoy label. I could have filled this post with many more great records that Ronnie contributed to over the years but let’s have one from that. At the age of 66 his dreadlocks are whiter, his voice is still clear, strong & soulful. It would take a hard heart to not appreciate such talent so simply & appropriately presented. Ronnie Davis will be missed, my sympathy & thoughts to his family, may his memory & his music be eternal.