Reflecting on The Burning Spear
By Abigay Wilson
One of the most brilliant and well-respected Reggae heavyweights in Jamaican history is Burning Spear, born Winston Rodney on March 1, 1945.
He’s been a stalwart of Reggae music since the 1970s. Part preacher, part Black historian, Spear was an early proponent of Marcus Garvey, having shared the same birthplace as the national hero – St. Ann’s Bay - albeit nearly two generations later.
Rodney’s musical path was paved by the Reggae icon and legend Bob Marley - also a fellow garden parish native. Marley ensured Burning Spear started out at Coxsone Dodd’s prolific Studio One label, despite the Wailers leaving the label three years earlier. Bob believed Studio One was the ideal beginning for new talent.
Rodney’s musical career started with singing partner, Rupert Willington. Coxsone Dodd immediately picked "Door Peep" as the duo’s debut from the audition, and just before its release, Rodney named the duo, “Burning Spear.” Shortly after, the two became three with the addition of Delroy Hinds not long after the success of their debut hit track. The now trio’s lineup released a string of singles at Studio One, including the 1972 smashing track, “Joe Frazier (He Prayed)” then their 1974 debut album following shortly after, titled “Studio One presents Burning Spear.” These records were only just a hint of what was to come from Burning Spear, as the group had established their own type of sound with each member adding something unique.
Take the time to walk down memory lane with some of the group’s early tracks including "Ethiopians Live It Out," "Zion Higher" and "We Are Free.”
“We Are Free”: https://youtu.be/AEM5oovb_lA
“Ethiopians Live It Out”: https://youtu.be/ZBzCPZ_9WKU
“Zion Higher”: https://youtu.be/RX__X-jG3bY
Burning Spear parted ways with Dodd and joined forces with producer, Jack Ruby after some time. Their initial session immediately produced results that were evident in the renowned single, "Marcus Garvey," which was meant to be just a sound-system-play track!
"Slavery Days," followed, and it was a clutch of singles from the Burning Spear thereafter. They began recording their next album with Jack Ruby featuring some of the island's greatest musicians including the backing band, The Black Disciples’ Earl “Chinna” Smith, Robbie Shakespeare, Leroy Wallace and Valentine Chin. The end result was the great “Marcus Garvey” album.
Listen to “Slavery Days” here: https://youtu.be/zL3rt6RTqps
Listen to the “Marcus Garvey” album using the following link or listen on YouTube: https://udiscover.lnk.to/Burning-Spear-Marcus-Garvey/applemusic
After the Marcus Garvey album took the world by storm, Burning Spear signed to The Island record label, which later remixed the hit record for the European market. The group was furious – a righteous anger that fired Rodney to set up his own label named “Spear.” That way, he was certain to maintain control of his future work.
Like many good things that come to an end - over time, so did the group. Rodney had broken ties with Ruby and his two bandmates, but retained the Burning Spear name. He set out on a solo career journey with his next self-produced album with backing vocals from the Black Disciples. The album was titled “Dry and Heavy.”
Shortly after going on his solo career, Burning Spear had already amassed a significant following in the U.K. and made his first appearance in the country, backed by the local Reggae band, Aswad. The Black Disciples remained as backing vocals for Burning Spear in years to come. He even copped the leading role in the 1979 seminal movie – “Rockers”.
Fast-forward a few years, Burning Spear's stage work remained fierce and American audiences were treated to some fabulous live performances.
Albums - even ferocious live ones - were what the world heard from the Reggae icon in years to come. 1994’s “The World Should Know” was just one of the six Grammy-nominated albums Burning Spear managed to cop.
“The World Should Know”: https://youtu.be/qffM_cVHgos
Burning Spear continued to release albums on a biannual basis, beginning with “Rasta Business” in 1995, which also earned a Grammy nomination along with “Appointment with His Majesty.” It was almost like an ‘always a bridesmaid but never a bride’ situation, as he only received nominations but not the actual Grammy awards. This was until the years 2000 and 2009 when the albums “Calling Rastafari” and “Jah Is real” finally took the trophy home respectively.
“Calling Rastafari”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG5sgccM2PY&list=PLjrScUuTXwYL4gTbqu2w2NeWwyjaBt7DW
“Jah Is Real” album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdS74InzzP4&list=PLtDU3U7TExh3bj-n_mUtpN0vM_VUX_H_K
Burning Spear later started his own official record label, Burning Spear Records after which he released “Freeman” in 2003, followed by “Our Music” in 2005.
Burning Spear continues to be the actual Spear of Reggae music. We are proud to call him our own!
By Abigay Wilson | awilson@kool97fm
Abigay Wilson is the producer of Entertainment 97 and various special features on Kool 97 FM. She is also a freelance Entertainment and Lifestyle writer. She enjoys reading, writing, cooking and indulging in comical television series. Her mantra currently is “Have Big Dreams.... You’ll Grow into Them”