A world-renowned Jamaican artist who kicked off his singing career at age 7, Freddie McGregor has been a fixture of the reggae scene for nearly 50 years. He has dipped into just about every style that has emerged from the island, from ska and rocksteady, to roots reggae, lovers rock, dancehall and dub, and has established himself as one of Jamaica’s great musical treasures.
Born in 1956, McGregor came of age during a sweet spot in music history, as rocksteady—the musical successor to ska—was evolving into reggae. McGregor, who was known at the time as “Little Freddie McGregor,” got his start singing with the ska and rocksteady vocal group, the Clarendonians. Formed by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, founder of the legendary Jamaican recording studio and music label, Studio One, the Clarendonians recorded a number of singles and helped, along with another Dodd project called the Wailers, to define the “rude boy” era of ska.
McGregor spent much of the 1970s working as a studio drummer and vocalist at Studio One. While there, he planted the seeds of his solo career, honing his chops and developing his own sweet and soulful style, influenced by Stevie Wonder, Jamaican artists such as Ken Booth and Bob Marley, and the R&B music coming out of America.
In 1975, McGregor became a Rastafarian and began writing and recording songs that reflected his growing social, political and religious consciousness. He released his first solo album, Mr. McGregor, in 1977 and in 1980 released Bobby Babylon, which was a huge hit and is regarded as a reggae music classic. The album set the tone for a long and celebrated career, which peaked with McGregor’s 1981 mega-hit single, “Big Ship.”
From his time as a youngster who had to stand on a crate to reach the microphone, to his current status as an international sensation, McGregor has worked with some of the biggest names in reggae music including Dodd, Linval Thompson, Niney the Observer, Judy Mowatt and Johnny Osbourne, and has been a steady contributor to the rich and shifting Jamaican musical landscape.
Freddie McGregor performs Thursday, June 16 as part of the Music in the Park series at Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose.