Burning Spear was originally Rodney’s group, named after a military award given by
Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of an independent Kenya, and included bass
singer Rupert Willington.
The duo auditioned for Dodd in 1969 which led to the release of their debut single
“Door Peep” (the session also included Cedric Brooks on saxophone). They were
then joined by tenor Delroy Hinds.
The trio recorded several more singles for Dodd, and two albums, before they
moved on to work with Jack Ruby in 1975.
Their first recording with Ruby, “Marcus Garvey”, was intended as an exclusive
track for Ruby’s Ocho Rios–based Hi-Power sound system, but was released as
a single, giving them an immediate hit, and was followed by “Slavery Days”.
These recordings featured the backing band The Black Disciples, which included
Earl “Chinna” Smith, Valentine Chin, Robbie Shakespeare and Leroy Wallace.
The group worked with Ruby on their third album, Marcus Garvey (1975),
which was immediately successful and led to a deal with Island Records to give
the album a wider release.
Island remixed and altered the speed of some of the tracks, much to the annoyance
of fans and the group, leading Rodney to set up his own Burning Music label for
future releases where he would have full control, although further releases followed
on Island including Garvey’s Ghost, a dub album, and the Man in the Hills album.
In late 1976, Rodney split from both Ruby and group members Willington and Hinds,
and from that point on used the name Burning Spear for himself alone.
Dry and Heavy followed in 1977, self-produced but still on Island, and with a sizeable
following by now in the United Kingdom, he performed in London that year with members
of Aswad acting as his backing band for a sold-out show at the Rainbow Theatre,
which was recorded and released as the album Live!. Aswad also provided backing
on his next studio album, Social Living (1978), which also featured Sly Dunbar and Rico Rodriguez.
A dub version of the album, Living Dub (1979), was mixed by Sylvan Morris.
His profile was raised further by an appearance in the film Rockers, performing “Jah no Dead”.