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Reggae Legends

Mikey Dread

Mikey Dread

By Tom Pryor
Published September 9, 2005

Mikey Dread is perhaps best known today for his career as a singer and producer, the versatile Dread has had an equally lasting impact as a broadcaster.

Although Michael Campbell, a.k.a. Mikey Dread, is perhaps best known today for his career as a singer and producer, the versatile Dread has had an equally lasting impact as a broadcaster. His late night Dread At The Controls show launched on JBC (Jamaican Broadcasting Company) radio in 1977, and was a hit from the beginning, bringing a sound system dance’s populist appeal to the staid Jamaican airwaves. His show championed homegrown Jamaican music over foreign pop, and favored deep roots and cultural cuts.

Well connected in the music business, Dread had top talent voice his promos, which he cut at King Tubby’s studio. He was also a musical scholar, digging up the original tracks from which contemporary hits borrowed their riddims and playing them back to back. His overwhelming popularity forced the JBC to finally come to terms with locally produced music.

          In 1979, Dread left his show to focus on his recording career, which had begun the year before, when he recorded for Lee Perry. These sides were so successful that he went on to record more for Joe Gibbs and other producers before founding his own Dread at the Controls label in 1979. On it he released his seminal Dread At The Controls album that same year, followed quickly by its dub version, African Anthem Dubwise. Both albums reproduced the spirit of his radio shows with jingles and all sorts of audio hijinks interspersed with the music. They also featured dub mixes by King Tubby, Prince Jammy and Dread himself.

          With a string of Jamaican hits already behind him, Dread took on England, opening for the Clash on a month-long tour and producing some of that group’s best reggae singles. Though he would return to Jamaica and continue producing, the U.K. had left an impression, and his 1982 album S.W.A.L.K. embraced the new “lover’s rock” sound coming out of England at that time. 

          Even more crucial was Dread’s participation in the U.K. Channel Four’s 1982 television program Deep Roots, a documentary series that focused on Jamaican music and culture. Dread was tapped as the narrator, and he parlayed this into another series, 1983’s Rockers Road Show, for which he sang the theme song, “Roots and Culture,” perhaps his biggest hit. This era also saw some of Dread’s finest recordings, including 1984’s Pave The Way, and 1985’s Pave The Way II & III. Though his star has dimmed since then, his work as an educator and popularizer helped reggae music break through to new audiences.

Recommended Recordings

Pave The Way
(Heartbeat)
S.W.A.L.K./Rockers Vibration (Heartbeat)
Best Sellers (Rykodisc)