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DC Soundclash: Lloyd Robinson

I think I'll open up this tribute by saying that Lloyd Robinson is probably the greatest Jamaican singer that has never been honored with a retrospective compilation. There are fourteen superlative cuts on this tribute mix and we could've doubled that with little effort. What was Robinson then a victim of, besides his relatively idiosyncratic voice, which combined soulfulness with that hint of Jamaica's perennially suffering pleas? It's a question for an interview I regretfully never made and that seemingly no one else managed to document either.

But we have clues as to what sculpted Robinson's under-rated reputation. For starters, that voice doesn't immediately register with people, I've found. It doesn't grate as directly as some find Roy Shirley's to do (you people - I mean, really…), but Robinson's tone always seemed to be stretching to reach his sweet spot. You felt a certain tension was implicit. That came across most remarkably in the two sparse companion songs recorded for Lindon Pottinger, "Rudies Give Up" (not included in this mix) and "No More Trouble." This was hardly Rocksteady at its sweetest, but you can't argue with how powerful and unique those tracks still sound. And just like that you knew that Robinson didn't mind singing and writing pieces difficult to digest.

Money makers, however, were not beyond him. Both "Cuss Cuss" and "Red Bumb Ball" were two massive hits for Robinson, but their legendary status was largely contained within Jamaica - the latter perhaps was too quaintly Jamaican for UK audiences, and the former just too poundingly immersed in that bass-heavy sound favored - at that time - uniquely by Jamaicans. Of the many classic basslines Leroy Sibbles laid down at Studio One, the "Cuss Cuss" rhythm is perhaps the most primal. Producer Harry Johnson built his famous studio off of several chart successes, and "Cuss Cuss" played a not insignificant role there.

Scanning through the rest of the selections you notice the many duets. Beginning in the early sixties with Basil Gabbiddon in the Mellowlarks, Robinson frequently found his voice in harmonic contrast with others. His most fruitful collaborator was Glen Brown, who in the seventies would become more known for his productions. Tellingly, Brown and Robinson parted ways when the former auditioned and achieved the lead singer role with the Cecil Lloyd Quintet; the lucrative hotel jazz circuit still held financial sway. Another singing partner was Devon Russell, who came into his own during the Rocksteady era with the Tartans. As the Lee Perry-produced "Wolf Out Deh" cut from 1977 shows, the partnership with Russell was able to renew itself over the years, albeit sparingly.

You get the sense that having ideas for songs came to Robinson more easily than most, but somehow a sustained career didn't evolve. There were very few tenures with any particular producer. We've strategically decided not to double up too much on any one producer's songs in this mix (with the exception of WIRL productions, but those are almost self-produced), which serves to underscore Robinson's itinerant, contract-free approach: Coxson Dodd, Duke Reid, Lindon Pottinger, Lloyd "The Matador" Daley, Harry Johnson, Derrick Morgan and Lee Perry all have production credits in this mix, and we've left out Derrick Harriott's winners like "That Girl". That's a Who's Who line-up of people willing to put out Robinson's music, but with each the output was only a handful of songs. Why? It is a question that remains.

And so there he now goes, cancer grabbing him away from us, with just a small byline in the Kingston papers and no international acclaim. We're not sure who our engagement with posterity on Lloyd Robinson's behalf is supposed to touch at this stage, but if you're out there… here's Lloyd Robinson, from Kingston, Jamaica. RIP. Mark WIlliams

 

 

IM

Lloyd Robinson w/the Broncos
"Regal Reggae"

Lloyd Robinson
"Cuss Cuss"

Lloyd Robinson & Glen Brown
"Too Late"

Mellowlarks
"Time To Pray"

Lloyd Robinson & Devon Russell
"Red Bumb Ball"

Lloyd Robinson
"Love Will Conquer"

Lloyd Robinson & Glen Brown
"If You Want To Feel Good Now"

Lloyd Robinson & Glen Brown
"You Won't Regret It"

Lloyd Robinson
"The Worm"

Lloyd & Earl
"I Can't Stand It"

Lloyd Robinson
"Fire Fire"

Lloyd Robinson & Devon Russell
"Out The Fire"

Lloyd Robinson & Glen Brown
"No More Trouble"

Lloyd Robinson & Devon Russell
"Wolf Out Deh"