Burning Spear has never taken credit for inventing roots-reggae music. Yet today he's considered the archetype for that subgenre, which saw its heyday in the mid- to late '70s. In fact, it was Burning Spear, along with Bob Marley's Wailers, who received reggae's first commercial push in the U.S. Marley became the spokesperson of the movement until his death, and Burning Spear has unarguably carried the torch since.
Hard-to-find early Burning Spear recordings from the dawn of the '70s -- such as "Door Peep" and "We Are Free," cut for Jamaica's infamous Studio One label -- are primordial dread masterpieces. Their dissonant vocal patterns and thunderously bass-heavy mix anticipated the direction Jamaican music was to take throughout the remainder of the decade. Originally a vocal group, Burning Spear signed to Island Records in '75 and subsequently recorded a trio of stunning albums -- including that year's Marcus Garvey, an undisputed classic, whose revolutionary themes of slavery, repatriation, and African pride curiously found some commercial acceptance and managed to introduce the group to a wider audience outside Jamaica.
By the '80s, the group had split, leaving lead singer-songwriter Winston Rodney, who alone adopted the moniker. He's continued to record and tour relentlessly, remaining a top draw not only in the States, but in Europe and Africa as well, where roots music has remained popular. He now has nearly 30 full-length studio albums under his belt, without a turkey in the bunch. Unlike so many of his contemporaries, Spear still sounds as fresh, passionate, and energized as ever.