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Reggae Legends

Burning Spear

Burning Spear

By Tom Pryor
Published September 9, 2005

The early albums by Winston Rodney, aka Burning Spear, are masterpieces of roots 'n' Rasta that practically define “dread.”

It was an encounter with Bob Marley himself that propelled the young Winston Rodney into the music business. Arriving at the legendary Kingston studio in 1969, just in time for the reggae explosion that was sweeping the island, Rodney took the name Burning Spear, a homage to Kenyan freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta, and began turning his Garveyite and Rastafarian beliefs into reggae hymns.

            Rodney recorded a series of sides and two full albums for Studio One, but it wasn’t until 1975, when Spear began working with producer Lawrence Lindo, a.k.a. Jack Ruby, that he really hit his stride. By then Spear had formed a vocal trio with singers Rupert Wellington and Delroy Hines, who added depth and volume to Rodney’s unique, declamatory style. Together the three would record “Slavery Days” and “Marcus Garvey,” two epochal singles that helped define roots reggae. Soon after, the trio released a full-length LP, also called Marcus Garvey, which remains one of the few album-length masterpieces of the roots era. This was followed by Man In The Hills and Garvey’s Ghost, a dub version of Marcus Garvey.

            Taken together, these albums are a holy trinity of Rasta and roots reggae, with a unique sound that practically defines “dread”: Deep, brooding basslines thunder ominously while trumpets call out like clarions and Spear praises Selassie and chants down Babylon like a Biblical prophet of old.

            But Rodney wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. In 1977 he disbanded the trio and recorded Dry And Heavy, yet another roots masterpiece that proved that the Burning Spear sound was his creation. By then Spear was becoming a hot commodity outside of Jamaica as well (thanks to U.K. distribution by Island Records), and he began to tour abroad.

            He also continued recording as a solo act, staying on message and faithful to his fans, producing his own music and releasing such fare as Social Living (1978), Hail H.I.M. (1980), Resistance (1984), Rasta Business (1995), and the Grammy-winning Calling Rastafari (1999). While these records vary in quality, none are disappointments and all stay true to Spear’s classic sound, without ever sounding tired or dated.

Recommended Recordings


Creation Rebel: Original Studio Records From Studio One (Heartbeat)

Marcus Garvey Remastered (Palm Pictures)

Rasta Business (Burning Music)