Cool Ruler: Remembering Gregory Isaacs, 1951-2010

Words by Jesse Serwer
gregory4

Gregory Isaacs had the best nickname: The Cool Ruler. The title of his classic first album for Virgin Records in 1978, the moniker perfectly captured the singer’s musical vibes—nonchalant and laidback, yet definitely in charge. When people discuss Ted Bafaloukos’ classic reggae flick Rockers, the first names that come to mind are usually drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace, the movie’s star, or perhaps the late Jacob Miller providing occasional comic relief and performing “Tenement Yard,” but I always recall Isaacs, in his brief few scenes (unlocking an ungrateful tourists’ car with a slimjim; performing “Slave Master” at a dance; strutting, briefcase in his hand, towards the final climactic robbery scene), epitomizing classic Jamaican cool with his rudeboy gentleman style.

Isaacs, as you’ve probably heard by now, died this morning at his home in London following a long battle with lung cancer. We’ve heard of the Ruler’s failing health for years now, so his death does not come as a big surprise. Yet, coming so soon after the passing of another one of reggae’s great voices, Isaacs contemporary Sugar Minott, the loss feels particularly stinging.

MK_Gregory_Isaacs_Rebel_Salute01-1

Stay tuned for more on Gregory: In the meantime, check a quick rundown of some of our favorite Cool Ruler tunes after the jump:

“Tune In,” (1978) performed on Earl Chin’s Rootsman show

“Uncle Joe,” (1978) Gregory and Prince Far I’s infamous jab at Joe Gibbs


The original “Hot Stepper” (1982)


“Night Nurse,” live at Reggae Sunsplash 1983, with the Roots Radics and a little help from the crowd


“Rumours,” (1988) the title tune on one of the great dancehall riddims of the late 1980s