Roy Cousins

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Productive reggae artist, both solo and as a member of the Royals, who turned to production in the '80s.
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Singer, songwriter, and producer Roy Cousins has left an indelible mark on the reggae scene. Born in 1949 (by his own reckoning, but 1945 according to other sources) in Cockburn Pen, Jamaica, Cousins was only 13 when he formed his first vocal group. The following year he left school and found a job at the Post Office, one he kept right up until the late '70s. In 1964, Cousins' group the Watermen recorded their first single, "Save Mama"/"Out de Fire," overseen by Prince Buster. The following year, Cousins formed the Tempests and moved briefly to Treasure Isle. Studio One then beckoned, where the trio cut "Pick Up the Pieces" in 1967, which Coxsone Dodd promptly shelved. Now sporting the name the Royals, over the next few years the group made the studio rounds, recording singles for Lloyd Daley, Byron Smith, Winston Edwards, and Joe Gibbs. However, in 1971, Cousins decided to revisit "Pieces," self-producing a new version and releasing it on his own Uhuru label. The single was a hit, but with the arrival of Black Uhuru's Black Sounds of Freedom on the scene, Cousins magnanimously retired the Uhuru label. "Down Comes the Rain," issued in 1973, inaugurated the singing producer's short-lived Tamoki label. Wambesi, however, launched later that same year, proved longer lasting, seeing Cousins and the Royals through the rest of the decade. His group's success both in Jamaica and Britain, where the Royals' albums were picked up by the Ballistic label, kept Cousins busy, but he still found time to record other artists, including Gregory Isaacs, whose "Way of Life" appeared on Tambosi in 1974.

It was only later in the decade, however, that Cousins shifted his attention for good from his singing career to production. Working only with likeminded conscious artists, he launched the Tamoki-Wambesi label in 1978, inaugurating it with Winston Jarrett's Wise Man album, with a set from the re-formed Gaylads arriving the next year. In the new decade, a slow (by Jamaican standards) but steady stream of fine records emerged, as Cousins oversaw such artists as Don Carlos, Earl Cunningham, Devon Russell, and Knowledge, as well as launching Charlie Chaplin to fame. Tragedy struck, however, in 1983, when in the midst of working on Umkhonto We Sizwe, Prince Far I was murdered. Cousins was devastated, and with the recent breakup of his marriage and nearly blind from cataracts, the producer called it a day. He packed up and immigrated to London. There Cousins picked up precisely where he left off, with 1984 bringing a Prince Hammer album and a new Don Carlos set. Excellent work with Cornel Campbell, Junior Reid, Jah Stitch, Jah Lloyd, and Pablove Black (among others) followed, alongside crucial various artist and dub sets. The '90s were a quiet period, but more recently Cousins has been busy both reissuing classic albums and plundering his archives for new sets.