Jamaican reggae singer Junior Murvin has reportedly died today at his home in Port Antonio. He was 64.
Murvin is probably most known for his 1976 single “Police and Thieves.” The track was recorded by legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry during his well-known “Black Ark” period, an inventively prolific run of recording named after the studio that Perry built in his backyard. The track was also covered to great effect by British punk band The Clash the following year in 1977.
Bearing the same name, Murvin’s debut LP would also be released in ’77. Entirely produced by Perry, the album is often considered part of Perry’s Black Ark “Holy Trinity” with Max Romeo’s War Ina Babylon and Perry’s own Super Ape rounding out the trio. Backed by a dense sonic canvas of reverb and echo, Murvin’s signature falsetto offers a strikingly gripping contrast to Perry’s production, making it a cornerstone record for any collection of socially and politically charged ‘70s roots reggae.
Murvin’s beginnings as a singer began much earlier in his life. Growing up in Port Antonio and Montego Bay, Murvin eventually moved to Kingston where he got his first real break in music, helping to write Derrick Harriott’s 1967 number one hit “Solomon.” Then going by the name Junior Soul, Murvin continued to work with Harriott while singing in such groups as the Hippy Boys (with Max Romeo and Aston “Familyman” Barrett), the Falcons (with Dennis Brown), and Youth Experience out of Port Antonio.
Shortly after the break-up of Youth Experience, Murvin began to work with Lee “Scratch” Perry, and after an audition attended by Chris Blackwell himself, Murvin signed a three record deal with Island Records (he would only release one album on Island due to disagreements between Perry and Blackwell). It was during this time that Murvin also cut an entire album with the Apostles- a set of recordings that have unfortunately never been released.
After leaving Perry, Murvin continued to record prolifically. Working with the Mighty Two – Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson – Murvin cut a number of tunes, including arguably his second best known song “Cool Out Son” over the Real Rock riddim. In 1984, when dancehall was the ruling sound in Jamaica, Murvin released the roots-heavy Muggers in the Street LP at Channel One Studios with Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes producing and the legendary Roots Radics backing him. The LP was put out by the UK imprint Greensleeves and was a commercial success in England.
In a 2011 interview with United Reggae, a humble Murvin had this to say to his fans:
“Tell my fans I wish the best for them and love them and I will always sing until my eyes are closed. “
Murvin’s eyes closed today for the final time but his voice and his musical contribution to such a defining time period in Jamaica’s musical history will continue to live on in his recordings.