Words by Robin Hopcraft/Soothsayers—
Cornell Campbell is one of the unsung heroes of reggae. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Gorgon’ after his 1973 song by that name, Campbell is a product of early Studio One sessions—it’s said that his first recording for Coxsone Dodd was in 1956, at the age of eight— who went on to define the roots sound of the ’70s, and continues to be prolific in the modern era. In fact, Campbell has two albums out this summer. The first, New Scroll, was released last month on Zion High Productions. And Nothing Can Stop Us, a collaboration with London-based band Soothsayers, is out today on Strut Records. We asked Soothsayers’ Robin Hopcraft to weigh in on Campbell’s impact, and select 10 of the singer’s toppa top tunes.
I first heard Cornell’s voice on a record I bought on a stall in Brixton Market in 1983. The tune, I remember, was called “Investigator” and the voice was so distinctive and full of beauty and character that the moment always stayed with me.
Cornell has done so much recording with the great Jamaican producers like Coxsone Dodd and Bunny Lee. His legacy is massive but he remains somewhat low key as his name is not particularly widely known beyond Jamaican shores. To me, this is due to his humble and cool personality and genuine approach to music. He has been there for decades as a lead vocalist and writer as well as a session guitarist and backing singer. Respect for Cornell in the reggae world is universal, especially among the people who really know Jamaican music. As the great Bunny Lee says, from the long list of singers he has worked with during his extensive career, Cornell remains his all-time favorite.