Delroy Wilson Biography

5 October 1948, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, d. 6 March 1995, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies. Like Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor, Delroy Wilson was barely out of short trousers when he recorded his debut single for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label. His first hit, ‘Joe Liges’ (1963), was written by Lee Perry, who at the time was working as a talent-spotter, songwriter and singer for Dodd; the track was a lyrical attack on former Dodd employee and now rival, Prince Buster (‘One hand wash the other, but you don’t remember your brother, Joe Liges, Joe Liges, stop criticise’), set to a rollicking early ska rhythm. The record was so popular that his follow-up, ‘Spirit In The Sky’, another Perry-penned barb aimed at Buster, was actually credited to Joe Liges when it was released in the UK on the Blue Beat and Black Swan labels. Delroy went on to cut numerous records in the same vein for Dodd, including ‘One Two Three’, ‘I Shall Not Remove’, a duet with Slim Smith entitled ‘Look Who Is Back Again’, and the anti-Buster ‘Prince Pharaoh’, notable for being the only occasion on which Dodd himself is heard on record, admonishing Buster in a coded, spoken outburst.

Wilson’s voice broke just in time for the emergence of rocksteady in 1966, and his version of the Tams’ ‘Dancing Mood’ of that year, one of the first rocksteady records, became a monstrous hit, alerting music fans to a new soul-styled crooner to match Alton Ellis. Throughout the rest of the decade, Wilson, still recording mainly for Studio One, increased his popularity with titles such as ‘Riding For A Fall’, another Tams cover version, ‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘Run Run’, ‘Won’t You Come Home’, ‘Never Conquer’, ‘True Believer’, ‘One One’, ‘I’m Not A King’, ‘Rain From The Skies’ and ‘Feel Good All Over’, as well as covering the Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’.

Leaving Studio One in 1969, Wilson sojourned briefly at Bunny Lee’s camp, which resulted in a popular reading of the Isley Brothers’ ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ (1969), before moving to Sonia Pottinger’s Tip Top Records, where he cut the excellent ‘It Hurts’ and a version of the Elgins’ ‘Put Yourself In My Place’ (both 1969). He teamed up once more with Bunny Lee and enjoyed a huge Jamaican hit with ‘Better Must Come’ (1971), which was so popular that it was adopted as a theme song by Michael Manley’s PNP to increase their vote among ‘sufferers’, during that year’s election campaign. In 1972 his success continued with ‘Cool Operator’, again for Lee, and throughout the next few years he maintained his position as one of reggae’s best-loved singers, with songs such as ‘Mash Up Illiteracy’ and ‘Pretty Girl’ for Joe Gibbs, ‘Love’ for Gussie Clarke, ‘Rascal Man’ for Winston ‘Niney’ Holness, a cover version of the Four Tops’ ‘Ask The Lonely’ for Harry J. , ‘It’s A Shame’ (a version of the Detroit Spinners song for Joseph ‘Joe Joe’ Hookim), ‘Have Some Mercy’ for A. Folder, and ‘Keep On Running’ for Prince Tony.

In 1976 Wilson’s career took a further step forward when he recorded a hugely popular version of Bob Marley’s ‘I’m Still Waiting’ for Lloyd Charmers LTD label, later followed by the well-received Sarge, still regarded by most aficionados as his best set. The misnamed Greatest Hits was also issued by Prince Tony during this period. Further recordings towards the end of the decade, including ‘All In This Thing Together’, ‘Halfway Up The Stairs’ and ‘Come In Heaven’ for Gussie Clarke, did well, but Wilson’s career floundered somewhat during the early part of the 80s, apart from a few sporadic sides, including the popular ‘Let’s Get Married’ for London’s Fashion Records. The digital age, however, provided a revival of fortunes with the massive ‘Don’t Put The Blame On Me’/‘Stop Acting Strange’ for King Jammy in 1987, and ‘Ease Up’, a cut of the famous ‘Rumours’ rhythm for Bunny Lee, as well as albums such as Looking For Love for Phil Pratt and Which Way Is Up, produced by Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt for Blue Mountain, following which he once again drifted into semi-retirement.

Despite being one of the best singers Jamaica has ever produced, Wilson was rarely able to consolidate the success that came his way; nevertheless, he remained a much-loved and respected, but sorely under used and, outside of reggae circles, underrated performer.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.