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 Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
 
Joe Higgs
Joe Higgs
December 18, 1999
Age 59
 
Cancer 
 
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NY TIMES
        
 Joe Higgs, 59, Reggae Performer; Taught a Generation of Singers 

          By JON PARELES 

          Joe Higgs, the mentor to a generation of socially conscious reggae 
          singers, died on Saturday at Kaiser Hospital in Los Angeles.  

          He was 59 and lived in Los Angeles.  

          The cause was cancer, said his biographer, Roger Steffens.  

          Mr. Higgs sang, wrote songs and taught singing and stagecraft to major 
          performers including Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley and the Wailers. As a 
          singer, he brought a streak of jazz syncopation to reggae rhythms, and he 
          was a strong proponent of songs that held messages about faith and 
          resistance.  

          "Reggae is a confrontational sound," he said in "Roots Rock Reggae" a 
          1977 documentary film by Jeremy Marre. "Freedom -- that's what it's 
          asking for. Acceptance -- that's what it needs."  

          Mr. Higgs grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He made his first single, "Oh 
          Manny Oh," in a duo, Higgs and Wilson, with Roy Wilson, in 1960, and 
          it sold 50,000 copies. It was one of the first records pressed in Jamaica; 
          its label, West Indian Records, was owned by Edward Seaga, who 
          became prime minister in the 1980's.  

          In Mr. Higgs's yard in Kingston's Trench Town area, he began tutoring 
          Marley as a singer and performer in 1959 and worked with other 
          members of the Wailers, including Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, as the 
          group began recording in the early 60's.  

          In 1972 Mr. Higgs won Jamaica's Tourist Song competition with 
          "Invitation to Jamaica," receiving a trip to New York for his first 
          American performances. When Bunny Wailer left the Wailers in 1973 
          Mr. Higgs replaced him for an American tour. He wrote "Stepping 
          Razor," which became Tosh's signature song.  

          In the mid-1970's Mr. Higgs was the band leader for Mr. Cliff, touring 
          internationally and recording duets with him, including "Sound of the City" 
          and "Sons of Garvey." He also made his first album, "Life of Contradiction."            

          Mr. Higgs continued to record in Jamaica. In 1983 "So It Go," which 
          protested the plight of the poor, was banned from radio airplay, and he 
          could not get bookings to perform. He went to Los Angeles, where he 
          remained in self-imposed exile. He tutored American-based reggae 
          musicians and toured North America and Europe.  

          The Wailers band accompanied Mr. Higgs on his 1990 album "Blackman 
          Know Yourself." Recently he had been working at U2's Dublin studio on 
          "Green on Black," a collaboration between reggae musicians and Celtic 
          performers.  

          Mr. Higgs is survived by 12 children, among them a daughter, Marcia 
          Higgs, a rapper, and a son, Peter, a studio guitarist.  
 

 
Jamaica Observer  
     
Joe Higgs 

                Higgs, known as "The Father of Reggae", passed away 
                last Saturday evening in a Los Angeles hospital following 
                several months of treatment for cancer. 

                The singer, who was 59 when he died, is probably 
                remembered most for his debut single, Oh Manny Oh, 
                made with partner Roy Wilson. The single sold over 
                50,000 copies in Jamaica in 1960 and led to Higgs 
                signing a management contract with Seaga. 

                "He (Seaga) was my first manager," Higgs recalled 
                shortly before his death, adding with a sly smile, "We 
                always got paid." 

                In his tribute to Higgs, Seaga traced their relationship, 
                starting from their first meeting in the late 1950s when 
                Higgs and Wilson were already household names. 

                Said Seaga: "At that time, I had done extensive research 
                in Jamaican folk music and had begun to record local 
                popular music. Oh Manny Oh was the first popular hit 
                song to be recorded in Jamaica. It opened the door to 
                what is today a giant industry of local compositions and 
                recordings." 

                Seaga described Higgs as a prolific composer who 
                wrote Stepping Razor, which became a big hit for 
                former Wailer, Peter Tosh. 

                He extended his sympathies to Higgs' family and friends. 
 
 
 

    
  
 
 
 
 

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All-Music Guide
 
One would be hard pressed to find a more significant and unheralded figure in reggae than Joe Higgs. Despite a career of over 30 years, the mention of his name usually is generally greeted with responses like: "who?' or "never heard of him."  And while he may not be the proverbial household name when it comes to roots reggae, his fingerprints are on nearly every important recording and band that emerged from Jamaica in the 1960s and 70s.  

Born in Kingston in 1940, Higgs' career began as a songwriter for seminal reggae acts such as Toots and the Maytals and Delroy Wilson. While establishing himself as an in-demand songwriter, Higgs was also developing a solo vocal career as well as working as a high school music teacher. The role of teacher suited Higgs and he was soon working regularly as a vocal arranger and coach as well as guitar instructor. The most  
ous of his pupils was Bob Marley. It was under Higgs' tutelage that Marley's guitar playing greatly improved but, more significantly, it was Higgs that arranged the beautiful trio singing of Marley and fellow Wailers Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone (later Bunny Wailer). So integral was Higgs to the creation of this sound that when Bunny abruptly left the band in 1973 in the eve of their first major American tour, Higgs filled in brilliantly.  

As a solo performer Higgs' success was intermittent at best and his work appreciated mainly by hardcore reggae afficiandos. After spending the early part of his career singing as part of a duo with Delroy Wilson, Higgs went solo after Wilson left Jamaica for America in the late 60s. But, it wasn't until 1976 that he released his first solo album, Life of Contradiction, a title that accurately summarized Higgs' career up to that point. The follow-up album, Unity is Power, was equally good, but as impossible to find. It wasn't until 1985 when Alligator records, a label best known for blues music, released Higgs' masterpiece, Triumph. Since then he has kept a low profile, issuing a record every now and then, his work revered by reggae fans around the world. Sadly, Joe Higgs remains the greatest reggae artist you've never heard of. -- John Dougan, All Music Guide

 
 
  
 
 

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