by Howard Campbell
KINGSTON, Jamaica – It was 1970 and Winston Rodney was making a trod through his native St. Ann parish in rural Jamaica, when he ran into Bob Marley. He told Marley, then a member of The Wailers, of his musical aspirations.
Marley, who was also from St. Ann, directed him to Studio One where The Wailers recorded their initial songs seven years earlier. Rodney, known as Burning Spear, took his advice and went to Kingston where he impressed producer Clement “Coxson” Dodd, who directed him on Studio One Presents Burning Spear, the singer’s first album.
This is the 50th year since the release of that groundbreaking set which contains songs like Door Peep Shall Not Enter, He Prayed and Ethiopians Live it Out. While he became world-famous for subsequent works such as Marcus Garvey and Man in The Hills, Spear has always acknowledged his tenure at Studio One.
“Wi learn a lot from Missa Dodd. Studio One is the college an’ if you paid attention yuh learn a whole heap,” he told this writer in 2002.
Some of the ‘teachers’ at Studio One played on Studio One Presents which is strong on Afrocentric themes, consistent with Spear’s Rastafarian faith. Leroy Sibbles played bass on most of its songs including the haunting Door Peep Shall Not Enter.
He was taken by the mystical chants of Burning Spear who took his moniker from the name given Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan freedom fighter.
“I am glad that I was involved with that project. I can remember playing on most of the tracks with people like (trumpeter) Bobby Ellis, (trombonist) Vin Gordon and (drummer) Fil Callender. He (Spear) came with two harmony singers and they had this unique chanter’s sound,” Sibbles recalled.
Studio One Presents Burning Spear was released at a time when roots-reggae was still a new sound. Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers and Toots And The Maytals were the genre’s early standard-bearers.
Although his debut album did not make international waves, Spear enthused Dodd enough to record a second collection of songs. Rocking Time, his follow-up album, was released in 1974 and made him an even bigger name among fans in underground circles in Jamaica and its Diaspora.
Now 78, Burning Spear is scheduled to perform at the June 16-18 Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in Booneville, California.