Mikey Dread - Dread at the ControlsWith his wife and family by his side, the legendary reggae Renaissance man Mikey Dread passed away on Saturday, March 15th after battling with a brain tumor. His death wasn’t a complete shock since his family and his record label, Dread at the Controls, had issued a press release last October, one that spoke of his positive attitude and valiant struggle against this disease. “Positive” was a word often associated with Mikey, but in this case you can attribute a great deal of his hope to the birth of his son on the 12th of that month. Often, in cases like this, friends and family will contribute thoughts and memories to some type of time capsule, one that the now five-month old Zylen Jahlight could explore when he’s older in order to know his father better. No doubt Zylen will be showered with adoring words of praise and regard for a man who was able to communicate his love of reggae, justice, and humanity in such a way that it became infectious.

Born Michael Campbell in Port Antonio, Jamaica, Mikey made the quick ascent from board-op to DJ while working at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation in the late ‘70s. It was there he first presented his Dread at the Controls radio show, becoming a top radio personality in Jamaica and recording #1 singles like “Barber Saloon” in his spare time. In the midst of it all he took the much lower profile gig of audio engineer at the Treasure Isle Recording Studio just to get closer to the music. As amiable as Mikey you could be, you still couldn’t check him with no lightweight stuff and when the programmers at the JBC complained about his rootsy, deep choices, he was out he door and off to Europe with a crate full of sweet rebel music.

Mikey Dread - "Barber Saloon"
Mikey Dread - "Break Down the Walls"

Within a year of landing he had graduated from the National Broadcasting School in London, England and had given the Clash their highest charting single to date when he produced their 1980 single “Bankrobber”. From there it was a steady stream of influential broadcasting gigs, – including host of BBC Television’s revered, six-part reggae documentary Deep Roots – and a new album – always worth hearing -- about once a year. He hosted live events across the Caribbean, Europe, and America and collaborated with a long list of artists, mostly reggae-based but with the occasional surprise like Guns 'N' Roses’ Izzy Stradlin. The constant was how his uplifting spirit impressed everyone who worked with Mikey, along with those who heard his music and/or radio show. Mikey even contacted AllMusic once to fix some of his credits and he was cordial, friendly, and appreciative, the kind of guy for whom you don’t mind going that extra mile.

The Clash - "Bankrobber"
The Clash - "One More Time"

As of late he had been working on a documentary concerning the Maroon population found in Jamaica and had welcomed the Internet age with open arms, podcasting new Dread at the Controls shows from his impressive website and even offering this amazing flash game where the user can put dread under their own control. The game is amusing and simple – pull a record out of the box, thrown it on the turntable, then drop dub sound effects on top -- but it represents how deceptive the seemingly frivolous Mikey could be. Play the game for a bit and it becomes apparent that reggae – the genre where “all the songs sound the same” -- is really about feel, groove, and the details. Artists unaware of this fall flat while those who recognize the challenges of this thinner spectrum have a much better chance. Mikey may be “the guy who makes those funny noises” during Clash songs, but his work with the band, along with his radio show, led so many people to reggae he just might take second place behind Bob Marley as far as advocacy. Besides Damian Marley and maybe Shaggy, it’s hard to imagine anyone working the ambassador angle as well as Mikey did. Zylen, your father brought so many people to a deeper appreciation of Jamaican music. While they’ll never feel his loss as deeply as you will, you won’t have to look far to find someone touched by his spirit. Jah Bless.

Mikey Dread - "Roots and Culture"
Mikey Dread - "Positive Reality"