Known as the Originator, U-Roy wasn’t the first DJ, nor even the first DJ to cut a record, but he was the first to shake the nation, “wake the town and tell the people”; and he originated a style so distinctly unique that he single-handedly changed Jamaica’s music scene forever.
Born Ewart Beckford in Jones Town, Jamaica, in 1942, he received his famous name from a young family member unable to correctly pronounce Ewart and the nickname stuck.
U Roy’s rise to fame was slow but sure. He began back in 1961, and for close to 9 years DJ’ed for sound systems like Doctor Dickie’s Dynamite, Sir Mike the Musical Thunderstorm and Sir George the Atomic. The DJ was then lured away by Coxsone Dodd’s Downbeat sound system; however, soon tiring of playing second fiddle to longtime veteran King Stitt, he returned to Sir George.
Around this same time, he met up with another royal figure, King Tubby, then working as a disc cutter at Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio. Tubby was just beginning his musical experiments that eventually led him to discover and develop dub, and at the time he was giving his dub experimental discs to a handful of his favorite DJs. The following year, King Tubby launched his own Hi-Fi sound system and brought in U-Roy as his top DJ. By then, U Roy had established himself as one of the premier talents of the sound system scene.
Producer Keith Hudson was the first to recognize the possibilities and took U-Roy into the studio in late 1969 to cut the song “Dynamic Fashion Way”, a version of Ken Boothe’s “Old Fashion Way”. U Roy also recorded for producers Lee Perry (Earth’s Rightful Ruler” with Peter Tosh and “OK Corral”); Bunny Lee (King Of The Road”) and Lloyd ‘Matador’ Daley (“Scandal” and “Sound of the Wise”), songs which all created a stir amongst the grassroots sound system crowds, but barely registered beyond them.
John Holt would change all that !
One night early in 1970, he attended a sound system dance and caught U-Roy DJing live. John was blown away, especially with U Roy’s enthusiastic toasting and response from the crowd over Holt and the Paragon’s own hit “Wear You to the Ball.” The next day John went to see Duke Reid and persuaded the producer to record the DJ. Reid was convinced and U-Roy was promptly put into the studio to cut two songs, over classic Treasure Isle singles. The first release, “Wake the Town,” did exactly that, and an aroused Jamaica swiftly sent the single to the top of the charts. “Wake the Town” was a version of Alton Ellis’ “Girl I’ve Got a Date”. The next, “Rule the Nation,” was cut over the Techniques’ “Love Is Not a Gamble,” and that single was as prophetic as the title and the first single. It, too, slammed up the charts, as did its phenomenal follow-up, “Wear You to the Ball.” For over two months, all three singles boldly captured and owned the top three spots in the Jamaican charts. “Versions Galore, you can hear them by the score,” U-Roy exclaimed on “Versions Galore,” and indeed you could, all across Jamaica !
Every producer in town was now vying to record DJs; hunting through their back catalogs for appropriate rhythms to refreshen. In U-Roy’s wake came a flood of upcoming stars, like Dennis Alcapone, I- Roy, Prince Jazzbo, Big Youth, Scotty, Lizzy, Winston Scotland, U-Roy Junior, and many, many others, and the rest is history.
Many of U Roy recordings featured melodious, sing song lyrics set against the sweet, bouncing rock steady rhythms, and they sound just as stunning now, over 30-40 years after their initial release. His innovations and style continue to reverberate through reggae and rap; and he has remained at the top for longer than any other DJ; highly respected and loved by reggae lovers worldwide.
Daddy U Roy, the rightful king of DJs is guaranteed to entertain the Startime massive at Mas Camp on Saturday July 13.