RIP U-Roy (d.17-02-21) b. Ewart Beckford, 1942, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies.) U-Roy, began as a sound system DJ in 1961, spinning records for the Doctor Dickies set, later known as Dickies Dynamic, in such well-known Jamaican venues as Victoria Pier, Foresters Hall and Emmett Park. His inspiration was the DJ Winston Count Machuki, who worked for Coxsone Dodd and subsequently on Prince Buster's Voice Of The People sound system.
By the mid-60s he was DJ for Sir George The Atomic, based around Maxfield Avenue in Kingston. Around 1967 he began to work with King Tubby as DJ for his Home Town Hi-Fi. From this association developed the whole modern DJ style; Tubby's work at Duke Reid's studio, where he was disc-cutter, led him to discover dub. He found that by dropping out the vocal track and remixing the remaining rhythm tracks he created new ‘versions’ of much-loved tunes. He began to record a series of special acetate recordings or dub plates for exclusive use on his sound system. The space left by the absent vocal tracks enabled U-Roy to improvise his own jive-talk raps or toasts when the sound system played dances. The effect in the dancehall was immediate and electrifying.
In 1969 U-Roy was invited to play for Dodd's Down Beat sound system, playing the number 2 set; the number 1 set had King Stitt as DJ. U-Roy became dissatisfied with playing the latest Coxsone music only after Stitt had first exposed it to dance patrons, and returned to Tubby's.
He then began his recording career in full, recording two discs for Lee Perry, Earth's Rightful Ruler and OK Corral, before moving to producer Keith Hudson, for whom he made the outstanding Dynamic Fashion Way.
U-Roy then began recording for Duke Reid, using as backing tracks Reid's rocksteady hits from 1966-67; their success was unprecedented. His first record for Reid, Wake The Town, which used Alton Ellis’ Girl I've Got A Date as backing, immediately soared to the top of both Jamaican radio charts. His next two releases, Rule The Nation and Wear You To The Ball, soon joined it. These three releases held the top three positions in the Jamaican charts for 12 weeks during early 1970. Other sound system DJs were quick to follow U-Roy, including Dennis Al Capone and Scotty. The radio stations refused to play DJ music just to give singers a chance, so big was the demand. U-Roy recorded 32 tracks for Reid, in the process versioning almost every rocksteady hit issued on the label and releasing two albums. By 1973 he was recording for other producers, including Alvin Ranglin, Bunny Lee, Glen Brown and Lloyd Charmers as well as self-productions. However, the rise of the next DJ generation including Big Youth signalled the partial eclipse of U-Roy.
In 1975 he made a series of albums for producer Prince Tony Robinson which were leased to Virgin Records in the UK, wherein the DJ revisited Reid's earlier hits in the then prevalent rockers style. He appeared at the London Lyceum in August 1976, backed by a band featuring Channel One stalwarts Sly Dunbar (bass) and Ansell Collins (organ). He operated his own sound system, Stur-Gav, featuring Ranking Joe and selector Jah Screw. When they left after the sound system was broken up during the turbulent 1980 Jamaican election, it was rebuilt with new DJs Charlie Chaplin and Josey Wales, and Inspector Willie as selector.
U-Roy continued to record sporadically throughout the '80s, recording Hustling, a single for Gussie Clarke, in 1984, and two excellent albums for DJs turned producers Tapper Zukie and Prince Jazzbo, in 1986 and 1987 respectively. In 1991 he played a successful ‘revival’ concert at the Hammersmith Palais, London.
U-Roy is the man who is responsible for putting the DJ on the map, both as recording artist in Jamaica and as a major indirect influence on the US rappers. As such his importance is immense