The annual Red Rose for Gregory concert will unfold tonight (February 15) at the Liguanea Golf Academy in New Kingston. While the premiere event celebrates the life of the cool ruler, Gregory Isaacs, the evening will also see the honouring of key figures in his life, like his pal and veteran singer, Errol Dunkley.
“I feel so good, I’ve gotten a lot of awards over the years, and this one will add to it,” Dunkley told BUZZ. “Me and Gregory go far back; we met in Denham Town where we both lived, and I even taught him how to sing certain notes.”
“I know if him (Gregory Isaacs) did alive him woulda keep a show on him birthday this year cause that was his thing.”— Errol Dunkley
The You’re Gonna Need Me singer was already popular when he met Isaacs, who was a year older than him and had dreams of becoming a hotshot singer.
But the recording climate of the late 60s was unkind to singers, old and new. Some record companies had fashioned the structure of the American recording industry, which saw many acts earning little to no royalties from their music because of rigged contracts. The rip-off deals were further aided by a Jamaican music industry ignorant about copyright, and the men were not about to be statistics.
Alongside Isaacs, Dunkley formed the African Museum record label in 1972, unprecedented for two young acts at the time.
“We didn’t like what the producers were dishing out so we said we’d do our own recordings,” he said. “We did a lot of songs, even produced Dennis Brown on the label. I then migrated to England and Gregory started running the label, while I had set up a store in England to sell products from African Museum.”
As his own career began to take flight in Europe, Dunkley stepped down from the company and gave Isaacs full control, though, “Gregory always said I had my share in the company but I decided that Gregory could leave that for his kids and family.”
Isaacs went on to record a host of artistes on the imprint, including the Mighty Diamonds, Alvin Ranglin and Bingy Bunny. He used earnings from recordings done for other producers as a means to finance the label, and he also recorded a bulk of his finest work on African Museum including Night Nurse, The Winner, Tune In and If You See My Mary.
Isaacs, who had a long history with substance abuse, died from cancer in London in 2010. He would have turned 70 years old in July.
“I was in England when he died, but I was touring at the time. I still remember hearing the news to this day,” Dunkley said. “I know if him did alive him woulda keep a show on him birthday this year cause that was his thing. Him woulda keep a show and me, John Holt and other singers would be there. He’s truly missed.”