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Musical pioneer Roy Shirley has died . . .
August 10, 2008 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Roy Shirley has died. Who's Roy Shirley, you ask? He was one of Jamaica's best-kept musical secrets. When Jamaica's summer of 1967 proved too hot to dance to frenetic ska sounds, Shirley came to the rescue with what's widely acknowledged as the first "rocksteady" hit, the Joe Gibbs-produced Hold Them. Despite scant commercial success, he played at the Apollo Theatre and Madison Square Garden in the early 70s, as well as baptizing the legendary King Tubby's studio with his brilliant boxing tribute, Joe Razor. In 1973, Shirley moved to the UK and deeper obscurity, but there's a happy ending. A Trojan Records double CD of his classic work was released a couple of years ago, and a bunch of reggae fanatics arranged for him to play the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival early this summer. Shirley's health was poor, but he put on a fine show and won over a host of new fans. (Scroll down a bit to see his final performance.) Recently, a clip of Shirley at his musical peak started making the rounds. (Scroll to 1:14 to see part of his oddly James Brown-inspired live performances.) Shirley's vocals, lyrics and overall sensibility may be an acquired taste. It's a shame the world mostly missed him in his time. His odd humor, crazy talent and good-nature made him unique.
posted by Dee Xtrovert (17 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Listening to his music now. Great stuff, thanks for turning us onto it. The last video is very moving, you can see he's not in good shape but his voice is still there.

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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:37 PM on August 10, 2008


Terrific FPP, thank you. And much respect to Mr. Shirley. Rest in peace.
posted by blucevalo at 10:54 PM on August 10, 2008


Thanks, DX.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:28 PM on August 10, 2008


.

What is this, Black Death Month?

gallows humor, you know
posted by b1tr0t at 11:41 PM on August 10, 2008


Thank you for posting this. Sounds excellent.
posted by not_on_display at 12:09 AM on August 11, 2008


Hey, I've been really digging these links, DX. There's one small point I'd take (friendly) issue on, though:

"...his oddly James Brown-inspired live performances..."

It's not really odd at all! James Brown was a huge influence on black music worldwide. Nigeria's Fela is a prime example, and there are many others, of course. But I'd also say that I found Shirley's performance in that clip that you pointed to to be just as reminiscent (maybe more so) of Otis Redding. That's one soul man who was also an enormous influence on the great Toots Hibberts (of Toots and the Maytals fame).
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:36 AM on August 11, 2008


I didn't mean it was odd that it was James Brown-inspired, rather that it was an odd approximation of some James Brown stylings, at least from what I understand. (My knowledge of soul derives entirely from my time in America; it was pretty unknown in Yugoslavia, though reggae had a big underground base.) I haven't seen much Otis Redding footage. I'm sure that makes some sense, but Roy Shirley himself credited James Brown as an influence on his stage show. You only get a little evidence of it from the videos, but Shirley (apparently) did the "cape" routine just like James Brown did.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:41 AM on August 11, 2008


I meant to add to that last sentence " . . . and employed a lot of stage costuming."
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:42 AM on August 11, 2008


I didn't mean it was odd that it was James Brown-inspired, rather that it was an odd approximation of some James Brown stylings...

Ah, I see!

...Shirley (apparently) did the "cape" routine just like James Brown did.

Obligatory link to the cape routine.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:54 AM on August 11, 2008


Sad. I picked up a 7" of Joe Razor last week, and wondered if he was still around.
posted by jack_mo at 3:30 AM on August 11, 2008


Great post, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 6:29 AM on August 11, 2008


Ta for this Dee. I didn't know the geezer's name at all, but I've played that tune and gone 'Oh that bloke'. So, erm.....

.
posted by pompomtom at 7:19 AM on August 11, 2008


Thanks, definitely worth a listen. Does he speed up the tempo slightly in Hold Them?
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2008


The tempo in Hold Them speeds up a bit at the end. The song was played live in the studio by a band led by Lyn Taitt. That's one of the interesting things about the song . . . it really does show the birth of rocksteady . . . you can hear them almost fall back into ska there at the end.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:21 PM on August 11, 2008


This is a fantastic fpp, it has bettered the entire day of everyone around me: Roy Shirley all day long!
posted by humannaire at 5:46 PM on August 11, 2008


Thanks, Dee Xtrovert - I tip my hat to your righteous first post.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:52 PM on August 11, 2008


R.I.P.
posted by Paid In Full at 7:43 AM on August 12, 2008


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