Joe Higgs 1940-1999
The passing of Joe Higgs on December 18th 1999 was the end of a very sad year for reggae music. Joe had been battling cancer for over a year and it was hoped that he might win his battle for the terrible illness, but it wasn't to be. Joe 's musical touches on every single era of reggae music,From Jamaican R&B in the fifties, into Ska, Rock Steady,Reggae, Roots, Rockers and well into the Dance Hall years.And in every single era, he wasn't just there he was inspiring people, urging them on, encouraging them. Setting them an example.
As reported in Small Axe 2/1 - it started for Joe way back in The days of Jamaican R&B with the release of 'Manny Oh', with Roy Wilson and the duo Higgs & Wilson. Recorded for Eddie Seaga, the tune was actually released in the States and even entered the R&B chart. During this time
Joe became a mentor for then Wailing Wailers, and The Schoolboys who were to become The Wailing Souls. With Roy Wilson as Higgs & Wilson, Joe recorded over thirty tunes for a variety of producers including Coxsone Dodd,Duke Reid, Prince Buster & Leslie Kong. When Roy, left for the States - Joe went solo initially working with The Carlos Malcolm Band on the hotel circuit.
It wasn't long though before Joe was back in the studio, the one owed by Coxsone Dodd - Studio One. 'I Am The Song' (The Prophet) was released in 1966, other great tunes followed but by the late sixties Joe was recorded with a wide range of producers including Rupie Edwards and Clancy Eccles.
By the early seventies he started his own label Elevation. This move was to lead to him working with Island Records. Joe's first big hit came with 'The World Is Upside Down' recorded at the newly built Harry J's studio. When Island Records released the tune in the UK in 1972, they brought in the rock band Traffic and overdubbed it with horns, flute and strings. Both cuts of the tunes are outstanding, a true classic.
Following the release of other titles like 'The Wave Of War' ,'Lay The Foundation' and 'Let Us Do Something' on Sioux in the UK - it looked like Island were due to release an album by the man - it never came. What did though in 1974 was just as good, his debut album 'Life Of Contradiction' released in Jamaica by Micron, it saw release in the UK on the Grounation. Produced by Joe Higgs, with the Now Generation band plus Eric Gale on guitar.It is a classic album.
Joe then started to work with Jimmy Cliff, and it was with him 1n 1978 that he recorded his next set 'Unity Is Power'. Island actually released this on their One Stop, but as been unavailable now for something like close to twenty years. Great work in the eighties with Bunny Wailers and Chinna Smith followed including the superb singles 'Talk To That Man' for Bunny's Solomonic label, and 'So It Goes' for Chinna's High Times label.
More recently Joe had been working with the Irish band Hot House Flowers on an album that is called 'Black & Green'. Which is due for release soon along with a book on Joe by Roger Steffens that is to be published by the same company. Small Axe sends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Joe Higgs.
Joe Higgs - Life Of Contradiction - Grounation - 1975
In the early sixties Joe Higgs could be found working with/teaching the likes of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingtone plus the other Wailers, then there was The Wailing Souls. As a duo with Roy Wilson (Higgs & Wilson) success also came his way. Yet it wasn't till the release of this album in 1975, that people finally realised what this man has given to the music. In his voice can be found all the soul/folk styles that are in the music, and in his songwriting skills can be found true inspiration for life itself.
Joe Higgs - Unity In Power - One Stop
Joe Higgs first began singing to Jamaican audiences in 1956, since then, his recorded output of one album and a few singles has hardly been prolific by today's standards, yet he has remained a tremendously influential figure. A wealth of experience has gone into the making of this album, but it still holds some surprises. For a start, four of the tracks aren't reggae at all - rather quite tastefully arranged soul ballards. Proof (if it were needed) that Ja musicians are not limited to one musical form. Dave Kerry.
Joe Higgs - Family - Blue Mountain - 1988
Anyone familiar with the history of reggae music in the early '70's cannot help feeling for Joe Higgs. Back then he was talked about in the same terms as Bob Marley - a great singer/songwriter who also had recorded a LP for Island. Sadly for Joe it was never released - even though a track from the LP 'The World Is Upside Down' is acclaimed as a classic. 'Family' contains a recut of that tune, it's a good recut from a good album. Joe Higgs still has a message to give and that message is just as valid today.
Joe Higgs - Blackman Know Yourself - Shanachie
With so little material available from Joe Higgs, it's hard to reason the need for an album of recuts and cover versions?, but that is what this is all about. The other problem with recutting material is a need to either update or rearrange a song, which is hard to do with the music being in such a state of flux. Still production wise, the sound is modern with an international touch to it. 'Wave Of War' and 'Let Us Do Something' work very well, and are essential listening if you can't find the original singles.