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Burning Spear

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  • Born: St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica
  • Years Active: 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s
  • Burning Spear

  • Burning Spear


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All Music Guide:

One of the most brilliant and respected roots artists in Jamaica's history, Burning Spear (aka Winston Rodney) has unleashed a host of classic dread records over the years. Part Rastafarian preacher, part black historian, more than any other roots artist, Burning Spear has illuminated Rastafarianism in song, sharing his beliefs with an avid public.

Born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, in 1948, it was another St. Ann's native, Bob Marley, who set Rodney off to Kingston and a fateful meeting with Studio One head Coxsone Dodd. Although the Wailers had departed the label three years earlier in 1966, Marley still believed that it was the best place for a new talent to start. Rodney took his advice and, with singing partner Rupert Willington in tow, auditioned three songs for the producer. Dodd immediately picked one, "Door Peep," as the pair's debut. Before its release, however, Rodney chose the name Burning Spear for the duo. It was a moniker heavy with history and had formerly been bestowed upon Jomo Kenyatta, the Mau Mau leader who eventually became the president of Kenya.

Soon after "Door Peep" landed in the shops, Burning Spear expanded to a trio with the enlistment of Delroy Hinds, brother of "Carry Go Bring Come" Justin. It was with this lineup that Burning Spear released a series of singles on Studio One, including the 1972 Jamaican smash hit "Joe Frazier (He Prayed)." The following year brought the group's debut album, Studio One Presents Burning Spear, with Rocking Time coming hard on its heels in 1974. These records only hint at what was to come, even if the group had early on established their own unique sound with Rodney's chanted vocals the focus and Willington and Hinds providing sweet accompaniment. Rodney's lyrics were pregnant with emotions, righteous anger at oppression, but aglow with a deep sense of spirituality. The early song titles speak for themselves -- "Ethiopians Live It Out," "Zion Higher," "We Are Free" -- all obviously revolving around the cultural themes of oppression, repatriation, and religious devotion, but their power was somewhat stunted by the typical Studio One arrangements. However, Burning Spear could count themselves lucky, for at least Dodd was releasing their recordings.

During this same period, the producer was letting the Abyssinians rot rather than chance releasing their plaintive and devotional songs. Understandably then, over time Burning Spear would revise many of the songs first cut at Studio One and they'd all gain mightily in atmosphere via the new arrangements and production. More singles followed, but the trio seemed unable to repeat "Joe Frazier"'s success; in 1975, they split with Dodd and joined forces with producer Jack Ruby. Their initial session produced immediate results; "Marcus Garvey," meant for sound system play only, was so successful that Ruby was forced to release it as a single. Its follow-up, "Slavery Days," proved its predecessor was no fluke. Inevitably, Dodd sought to take advantage of his former trio's new-found popularity and released a clutch of singles in response, taken from Spear's earlier sessions with him.

Meanwhile, the group began recording their next album with Ruby and accompanied by the Black Disciples, a phenomenal studio band featuring some of the island's greatest musicians. The end result was the Marcus Garvey album, one of the greatest Jamaica has ever unleashed. Its heavy roots sound, dreamy, haunting atmospheres, and powerful lyrics capture the imagination and never let go. It was after the album took Jamaica by storm that the Island label stepped in and signed Burning Spear. However, they immediately outraged the trio by remixing the record for white consumption. An equally light dub mix, Garvey's Ghost, was a weak attempt at a peace offering and did little to soothe Rodney's fury. To ensure that he maintained control in the future, the singer now set up his own label, Spear, debuting it with the single "Travelling," a new version of the old Studio One cut "Journey." Two more singles, "Spear Burning" and "The Youth," swiftly followed. In 1976, Burning Spear released their successor to Marcus Garvey, Man in the Hills. Again accompanied by the Black Disciples and overseen by Ruby, much of the album revolved around rural themes. The set also boasts an impressive new version of the group's debut release, "Door Peep," and the stunning club hit "The Lion." An excellent dub version, remixed by Sylvan Morris, accompanied the album.

By the end of the year, however, Rodney had broken not just with Ruby but with his two bandmates. Retaining the Burning Spear name, the singer now set out on his own and self-produced his next album, Dry and Heavy. Recorded at Harry J's studio and with the Black Disciples still in tow, the singer laid down an album awash in sound, with the musicians contentedly jamming between the songs' verses. Once more he revisited a number of older offerings, including "Swell Headed," reinvented as "Black Disciples." Sylvan Morris was again asked to remix a dub companion.

By now, Burning Spear had amassed a sizeable following in the U.K. and in October of 1977, Rodney made his first appearance in the country, backed by the local reggae band Aswad. A ferocious show at London's Rainbow Theatre was captured for posterity on the Live album. For 1978's Social Living, Rodney made some changes. The Black Disciples remained at his side, but were buttressed by members of Aswad. The singer brought in Karl Pitterson to co-produce with him, while recording was split between Harry J's and Compass Point in the Bahamas. The end result was a scintillating album that mixed jazzy stretches with deep roots and anthemic reggae, notably on the single "Civilized Reggae." Sylvan Morris' dub mix was released the next year.

The year 1979 was a momentous one, as Rodney took a leading role in the seminal Rockers movie; his a cappella performance of "Jah No Dead" was one of the film's standout moments. The singer had appeared at the inaugural Reggae Sunsplash the year before, and was invited back again that year, in 1980, and he appeared regularly throughout the rest of the festival's history. His relationship with the Island label came to an end and Spear, too, folded with its final release of Burning Spear's own "Nyah Keith."

As the new decade dawned, Rodney launched the Burning Spear label, and signed it to the EMI label. But the singer hadn't cut all ties with his past and he recorded his new album, Hail H.I.M., at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong studio with Black Disciple and Family Man Barrett co-produce it. Sylvan Morris was again engaged to remix a dub version. These five studio albums, starting with Marcus Garvey, remain a seminal canon of dread roots, a string of recordings so strong that no other artist in the field has equalled them. They remain a fiery legacy, not just of the artist, but of the time.

In 1982, Rodney inked a deal with the Heartbeat label in the U.S., and recorded his debut album for them, Farover. The album featured a new backing group, the Burning Band, and it was apparent that the artist was now entering a new musical era. While Farover remained suitably steeped in roots, for the first time Rodney was beginning to seriously explore non- cultural themes, a shift the "She's Mine" single drove home. The Fittest of the Fittest continued down this path the following year, but there was more sparkle found on 1985's Resistance, which was nominated for a Grammy.

That was Burning Spear's final album for Heartbeat and Rodney next signed a deal with the independent Slash label. His debut for them, People of the World, earned another Grammy nomination. Its follow-up, 1988's Mistress Music, suffered from poor production, but better was the Live in Paris: Zenith album recorded at a show in May and released the same year. Running through a set of greatest hits, the album garnered another Grammy nomination, but saw the end of the Burning Band, which dissolved upon the completion of Burning Spear's European tour. Two years later, Rodney was back with a new backing group and incredibly re-signed to Island, opening his account for them with Mek We Dweet.

By now, Burning Spear was recording the kind of consumer friendly roots Island had always wanted. The album, while a simmering blend of jams and jazz, pop, and reggae lite, was far removed from the artist's seething early work for the label. However, Rodney's stagework remained ferocious and American audiences were treated to some stunning live performances at the Sunsplash U.S. shows.

Odd as it may sound, the artist was asked for a track for Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute album. His version of "Estimated Prophet" was less a tribute to the kings of psychedelic jams, than a simmering tribute to classic roots. That album appeared in 1991, the same year as Burning Spear's own Jah Kingdom, which while as light as its predecessor, contains a remarkable hypnotic atmosphere. After its release, Rodney once again severed his ties with Island and moved back to the Heartbeat label. 1993's The World Should Know, another Grammy-nominated album, inaugurated the new partnership and was cemented the following year with Love and Peace: Live 1994. The live album features some of Rodney's most ferocious recordings in years, and it was now on-stage that the artist was arguably delivering his best work. Burning Spear toured constantly, and successfully, across the decade, to the detriment of recording time.

Still, the artist continued to release albums on a biannual basis, beginning with Rasta Business in 1995, it too earned a Grammy nomination. As did Appointment with His Majesty, which saw Rodney experimenting with a distinctly folky sound. However, always a bridesmaid but never a bride, it seemed the artist was destined to be the eternal also-ran at the Grammys. That changed in 1999 when Calling Rastafari finally garnered the trophy. It was a deserving win; the album, moodier and more introspective than anything since the early crucial five, simmers across the grooves and many of the tracks have an unexpected sharpness to the lyrics. The album was supported by a major American tour. Spear started his own record label, Burning Spear Records, and released Freeman in 2003, followed by the hopeful Our Music in 2005.


Winston Rodney OD (born 1 March 1945), better known by the stage name Burning Spear, is a Jamaican roots reggae singer and musician. Burning Spear is a Rastafarian and one of the most influential and long-standing roots artists to emerge from the 1970s.

^ Larkin, Colin (2002) The Virgin Encyclopedia of 70s Music, Virgin Books, ISBN 978-1-85227-947-9, p. 57^ Some sources state 1948 (e.g. Thompson)

Early life[edit]

Winston Rodney was born in Saint Ann's Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica. As a young man he listened to the R&B, Soul and Jazz music transmitted by the US radio stations whose broadcasts reached Jamaica. Curtis Mayfield is cited by Rodney as a major US musical influence along with James Brown. Rodney was deeply influenced as a young man by the views of the political activist Marcus Garvey especially with regard to the exploration of the themes of Pan-Africanism and self-determination. In 1969, Bob Marley, who was also from Saint Ann, advised Rodney to approach Coxsone Dodd's Studio One label after Rodney sought his advice during a casual conversation.

^ 'Our Music': New Reggae from Burning Spear by Christopher Johnson NPR Radio Show transcription 19 October 2005. Retrieved 27 April 2013^ Thompson, Dave: Reggae & Caribbean Music, 2002, Backbeat Books, ISBN 0-87930-655-6, p. 51-54^ Jackson, Kevin (2004) "Audience appreciation gives Burning Spear the drive to continue", Jamaica Observer, 23 July 2004, retrieved 20 September 2009^ Barrow, Steve & Dalton, Peter (2004) The Rough Guide to Reggae, 3rd edn., Rough Guides, ISBN 1-84353-329-4, p. 95


Burning Spear was originally Rodney's group, named after a military award given by Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of an independent Kenya, and including bass singer Rupert Willington. The duo auditioned for Dodd in 1969 which led to the release of their debut single "Door Peep" (the session also included Cedric Brooks on saxophone). They were then joined by tenor Delroy Hinds. The trio recorded several more singles for Dodd, and two albums, before they moved on to work with Jack Ruby in 1975. Their first recording with Ruby, "Marcus Garvey", was intended as an exclusive track for Ruby's Ocho Rios–based Hi-Power sound system, but was released as a single, giving them an immediate hit, and was followed by "Slavery Days". These recordings featured the backing band The Black Disciples, which included Earl "Chinna" Smith, Valentine Chin, Robbie Shakespeare and Leroy Wallace. The group worked with Ruby on their third album, Marcus Garvey (1975), which was immediately successful and led to a deal with Island Records to give the album a wider release. Island remixed and altered the speed of some of the tracks, much to the annoyance of fans and the group, leading Rodney to set up his own Burning Music label for future releases where he would have full control, although further releases followed on Island including Garvey's Ghost, a dub album, and the Man in the Hills album. In late 1976, Rodney split from both Ruby and group members Willington and Hinds, and from that point on used the name Burning Spear for himself alone. Dry and Heavy followed in 1977, self-produced but still on Island, and with a sizeable following by now in the United Kingdom, he performed in London that year with members of Aswad acting as his backing band for a sold-out show at the Rainbow Theatre, which was recorded and released as Live!. Aswad also provided backing on his next studio album, Social Living (1978), which also featured Sly Dunbar and Rico Rodriguez. A dub version of the album, Living Dub (1979), was mixed by Sylvan Morris. His profile was raised further by an appearance in the film Rockers, performing "Jah no Dead".

In 1980, Rodney left Island Records and set up the Burning Music Production Company, which he signed to EMI, debuting on the label with Hail H.I.M., recorded at Marley's Tuff Gong studio and co-produced by Aston Barrett. A Sylvan Morris dub version followed in the form of Living Dub Volume Two. In 1982, Rodney signed with Heartbeat Records with a series of well-received albums following, including the 1985 Grammy-nominated Resistance. He returned to Island in the early 1990s, releasing two albums before rejoining Heartbeat. This arrangement in which Burning Music Productions delivered completed albums of music to EMI, Island and Heartbeat Records for worldwide distribution lasted for many years. When Heartbeat ceased releasing new material, Burning Music took matters into their own hands and began to release music solely through their own imprint. Albums released by Heartbeat through an agreement with Burning Music include: The World Should Know (1993), Rasta Business (1995), Appointment with His Majesty (1997) and the Grammy award winning Calling Rastafari (1999) which was the last completed album to be solely pressed by an outside label.

Burning Spear spent decades touring extensively, and several live albums have been issued including Burning Spear Live, Live in Paris, Live in South Africa, Live in Vermont, Peace and Love Live, Live at Montreux Jazz Festival and (A)live 1997. As the years passed, Burning Spear’s music continued to restlessly grow and expand. Touring the world time and time again, the band’s live sound matured and grew more sophisticated. While remaining firmly rooted in reggae, accents of free jazz, funk and psychedelic music were increasingly in evidence and made the group a musical force to be reckoned with.

His 1999 album, Calling Rastafari brought his first Grammy Award in 2000, a feat which he repeated with Jah Is Real in 2009.

In 1980, Rodney set up the Burning Music Production company, handling his own bookings, and in 2002, he and his wife, Sonia Rodney who has produced a number of his albums, restarted Burning Music Records, giving him a greater degree of artistic control. Since the mid-1990s, he has been based in Queens, New York.

Burning Spear was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer on 15 October 2007.

His 2008 studio album, Jah is Real won the Grammy Award in 2009 for best reggae album. It was the third completely self-produced and independent CD released on the Burning Music label. The two previous CDs were the Grammy nominated Freeman from 2003 and Our Music which was released in 2005 to critical acclaim.

Since establishing their own label, Winston and Sonia Rodney have released nearly forty singles, CDs, DVDs and vinyl albums on the Burning Music imprint. Many of these albums have been deluxe editions of albums previously available on other labels and often include bonus tracks and DVD footage. In this way, Burning Music is able to assure the quality of the Burning Spear music available in the market and guarantee that music from all phases of Burning Spear's career is available for his listeners to hear.

Burning Spear has recently completed a new CD No Destroyer that will be released soon on the Burning Music Imprint.

Winston and Sonia Rodney have been shooting, editing, and compiling a documentary, I-Man; about the life, music, and influence of Burning Spear for the past several years now. When asked about when it will be completed, Winston Rodney confesses to being in no hurry, and assures his fans that the movie will be released 'when the time is right.'

^ Moskowitz, David V. (2006) Caribbean Popular Music: an Encyclopedia of Reggae, Mento, Ska, Rock Steady, and Dancehall, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-33158-8, p. 45-46^ Cite error: The named reference Thompson was invoked but never defined (see the help page).^ Cedric Brooks - Jamaica Gleaner "Saxophonist Cedric Brooks recovering but critical" Published 11 March 2010. Reporter: Howard Campbell. Retrieved 27 April 2013.^ Greene, Jo-Ann "Burning Spear Biography", AllMusic, Macrovision Corporation^ correction per discussion with Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear^ "Official Website". Burning Spear. Retrieved 2014-04-25. ^ conversation with Winston Rodney, Spring 2012^ confirmation by telephone and email with Sonia and Winston Rodney January 2013.^ conversation with Sonia Rodney January 2013. www.burningspear.net^ Heselgrave,Douglas 'the burning spear experience' January 2007 CD greatest hits liner notes^ Rodman, Sarah (2009) "Roots-reggae pioneer keeps it ‘Real’", Boston Globe, 3 July 2009, retrieved 20 September 2009^ conversation with Sonia Rodney January 2013^ Cite error: The named reference Jackson was invoked but never defined (see the help page).^ [1]^ Brooks, Sadeke (2009) "Grammy Nods Burning Spear optimistic", Jamaica Gleaner, 1 February 2009, retrieved 20 September 2009^ Baxter, Nicky (1996) "Reggae Torch Bearer: Burning Spear remembers the days of slavery", Metroactive, 15–21 February 1996, retrieved 20 September 2009^ "Artistes presented with national awards", Jamaica Observer, 16 October 2007, retrieved 20 September 2009^ Conversation with Winston Rodney 2007^ "Official Website". Burning Spear. Retrieved 2014-04-25. ^ conversation with Sonia Rodney November 2012^ "Official Website". Burning Spear. Retrieved 2014-04-25. ^ conversation with Winston Rodney aka Burning Spear spring 2012^ John Metzger. "Music Box Magazine - Reviews - Interviews - News - Tour Dates". Musicbox-online.com. Retrieved 2014-04-25. 


Burning Spear has won two Grammy Awards for Best Reggae Album; one at the 42nd Grammy Awards in 2000 for Calling Rastafari, and one for 2009's Jah Is Real. He has been nominated for a total of 12 Grammy Awards.

Nominations for Best Reggae Album:

1986 Resistance1988 People of the World1990 Live in Paris Zenith '881991 Mek We Dweet1994 The World Should Know1996 Rasta Business1998 Appointment with His Majesty2000 Calling Rastafari2004 Free Man2005 Our Music2008 The Burning Spear Experience2008 Jah Is Real^ Cite error: The named reference Brooks was invoked but never defined (see the help page).^ "The Envelope - Awards and Industry Insider - latimes.com - latimes.com". Theenvelope.latimes.com. Retrieved 2014-04-25. 
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