Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sugar Minott (May 25th 1956 - July 10th 2010)

As I'm getting some work done in a local coffee shop playing a reggae playlist, it's fitting that I finally post a long overdue obituary for Lincoln Barrington "Sugar" Minott, a legendary singer, producer, performer and promoter in the reggae world for four decades. To do so, I have supplemented my own knowledge of his career with some information taken from obituaries in The Guardian, The Gleaner and The New York Times.

Sugar Minott was underrated. A favorite amongst serious reggae fans, especially in the UK where he charted higher than anywhere else, and in Japan, where he popularized sound systems, the reggae convention of a selector (DJ) and DJ's (MC's) who chant over the music and collectively perform at parties and night clubs.

"Coxson (producer Clement Dodd) and Prince Buster, dem man deh a the king of sound system, U Roy a the king of deejay, him a the teacher," Minott said in a 2003 interview with The Gleaner.

"Mi gi dem man deh dem respect but as a man who start the new wave dancehall, nuh man nuh gi mi dem kinda reverence."

In other words, Minott agreed that he did not always get his due. His was a career that not only traced a good portion of reggae's evolution, from the charmingly low-fi R&B and jazz influenced Studio One recordings, to the smoother, more commercially oriented, danceable lovers rock, to early electronic synth based dancehall, and back to a hybrid of these latter two styles, but also helped to develop the careers of many other artists. Junior Reid, Tenor Saw, Tristan Palmer, Garnet Silk, Tony Rebel, Yami Bolo and many others were all mentored by and in some cases, produced by, Mr. Minott on his Black Roots label.

At the beginning of his career, Minott achieved moderate success with Tony Tuff and Derrick Howard as part of The African Brothers. After the group disbanded, Minott began recording for Sir Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, singing and playing guitar as well. Here he helped to give a boost to Studio One during a time when the studio's influence was waning, with his Live Loving and Showcase records.

After his brief Studio One stint, Minott focused on his Black Roots imprint, where he recorded his own records as well as those of young aspiring artists. On the two volume series, Hidden Treasures, New York City's Easy Star Records compiled a selection of some of these tracks hand selected by Minott himself. It is excellent.

I'll remember Sugar Minott as much for the memory of his smooth, breathy vocal delivery as for the positivity he projected, and of course for his famous smile, which according to reggae archivist and former publisher of The Beat, Roger Steffens, was "a hugely gap-toothed smile that you could drive a minibus through.”

We have no shortage of wonderful music to remember the man and his musical talent.