In a career spanning over 40 years, Gregory Isaacs was a highly prolific recording artist – you’ll be on pretty safe ground picking up absolutely anything by him, up to and including the ‘Night Nurse’ LP released on Island in 1982. Thereafter, his prodigious output continued, but, with the exception of one or two stand-out moments, the quality was never quite the same. It was a long and painful decline, exacerbated by ill-health and drug dependency issues until lung cancer claimed his life in 2010, aged just 59. Here are ten choice cuts from the glory years of The Cool Ruler. If you enjoy these, I encourage you to dig deeper.

1) Love is Overdue (1974)

Covered by Keith Richards in 2015. I love you Keef, I really do, but some tunes should just remain untouched. Gregory’s original was produced by Alvin Ranglin and released on Ranglin’s own GG record label.

2) All I Have Is Love (1974)

Released as a split 7″ with Pat Kelly‘s ‘Summertime’ in Jamaica in 1974. When this beauty finally saw the light of day in the UK the following year, it was bafflingly relegated to the b-side of the inferior ‘Help Us Get Over‘. Produced by Phill Pratt.

3) Ba Da (1975)

Produced by Winston Holness, aka Niney the Observer. Sparse, dubby and mysterious. You’ll find nothing else quite like this in Gregory’s catalogue.

4) Mr Cop (1976)

Produced at the Black Ark by the great Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, ‘Mr Cop’ shows Isaacs calling for overzealous police to cease their harassment of weed smoking dreads. ‘…we’re just sipping a cup and having some fun and it’s better than in the streets bashing guns…’ Hopes for a longstanding musical partnership between The Cool Ruler and The Upsetter came to nothing – this song was their only meaningful collaboration.

5) Hand Cuff (1978)

Self-produced, socially aware standout from the ‘Mr Isaacs’ LP, featuring an all-star cast including the engineering prowess of Ossie Hibbert, The Heptones on backing vocals and musical accompaniment from The Revolutionaries. ‘…hey mister Babylon, take the cuff from off the bredren’s hand…’

6) Poor and Clean (1979)

Initially released as a single in Jamaica and subsequently on the 1980 ‘Lonely Lover’ LP in the UK. Features contributions from Sly & Robbie, Gladdy Anderson and Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt.

7) Soon Forward (1979)

Sublime title track of Gregory’s second Front Line Records LP. A Sly & Robbie production.

8) Once Ago (1981)

Closing cut on the excellent ‘More Gregory’ LP.

9) What a Feeling (1981)

A terrific single, released only in Jamaica and belatedly added to the CD reissue of ‘More Gregory’ in 2002. ‘…liquor a sip, herb a smoke and the dancehall tight…’

10) Cool Down the Pace (1982)

From the ‘Night Nurse’ LP, Gregory’s commercial peak. The title track was released as a single and later famously later covered by Simply Red (credit where it’s due, Mick Hucknall was a massive reggae fan who helped establish the crucial Blood and Fire label in 1993). The lilting ‘Cool Down the Pace’ was also pulled from the album as a single.
Another LP, ‘Out Deh’, followed on Island in 1983. It was a weak effort and from then on, despite releasing dozens of further albums for a bewildering variety of labels, The Cool Ruler never hit quite such creative heights again.