I must admit that I didn’t know anything about Mikey Dread when I heard that he died on Saturday. That is until I received this obituary, through Joey Altruda, which testifies to the power of one DJ:
Mikey Dread, gone from the control
Hailed as one of reggae greatest innovators
By Basil Walters Observer staff reporter
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Radio disc jock Mikey Dread is dead. He succumbed to a brain tumour late yesterday afternoon at his family home in Connecticut, USA at the age of 54. Born Michael Campbell in Port Antonio, Jamaica, he distinguished himself as an extraordinary studio engineer and presenter at the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) where he came to prominence in the 1970s as “The Dread-the-Control Tower”, the name of the late night show he presented at a time when reggae music was scoffed at by many.
Mikey Dread… hailed as one of reggae’s greatest innovators and original radio engineers/technicians, the past student of Titchfield High School, in 2006 celebrated the 30th anniversary of the night programme which he started at the JBC, and revolutionised the after midnight shift making it into the most popular slot on radio, by playing strictly dub music. This innovation is seen by many musicologists as the antecedence of dancehall as we now know it.
Upon leaving the JBC, Mikey Dread ventured into recording and scored with a number of releases such as Weatherman Skanking in combination with Ray I, Barber Saloon, Love the Dread, as well as albums such as Dread at the Control, Evolutionary Rockers and World War III. Over time he attracted the attention of British punk rockers, The Clash, who invited him to produce some of their music, the most famous of which is their single Bankrobber, and contributed to several songs on their 1980 album, Sandinista. Mikey Dread also toured with The Clash across Britain, wider Europe and the US.
He also worked closely with producer Trevor Elliot to launch musical career of singer Edi Fitzroy, who was then an accountant at the JBC. As the news of his passing surfaced yesterday, the Sunday Observer got comments from a number of persons in the media and the music fraternity, all of whom hailed Mikey Dread as a significant contributor to the development of Jamaican music. “His (Mikey Dread’s) work, is not only national or regional, but also international,” former JBC’s journalist Leslie Miles noted. “It spanned the world scene and made Mikey a pioneer broadcaster for playing dub music, and also redefined aspects of radio, especially night time radio” Miles, who is now head of news at Bess FM, also spoke of the struggle Mikey Dread faced at the conservative JBC. Music consultant Colin Leslie pointed out that the consequence of the “fight” he received from the management was putting him on at night, but that backfired.
“Remember he is a Portlander, so I always appreciated the fact that we shared the same alma mater (Titchfield High School), that is something I’ve always cherished and I hold him in high esteem. Although he was ahead of my era, he was somebody who laid an awesome foundation and was very unique and highly respected,” was how Richard “Richie B” Burgess of Hot 102, remembered Mikey Dread.
“We were at JBC together, and in those days when he started at the JBC dreads weren’t popular on the air. The powers that be in management really gave him a fight,” Ali McNab told the Sunday Observer.
“Michael Campbell, is someone who revolutionised radio in Jamaica when there was still an anti-Jamaican sentiment regarding music and culture. In terms of the emerging dancehall, it was Mikey Dread who popularised it on radio. Although it was late night, he still managed to popularise dancehall music and bring it to the masses,” was the perspective of Dennis Howard who also worked on JBC Radio, in the post-Mikey Dread era.
And Irie FM’s disc jockey, GT Taylor hailed the late Mikey Dread as a role model. “Reggae music in Jamaica, owes a lot that that brother. He was one man who stood up for reggae in the early ’70s, bringing the music to the forefront. He is one of my inspirations.”
Veteran singer Freddie McGregor attested to the fact that “Mikey Dread was one of the persons fighting the struggle for reggae music. Mikey and I did a lot of shows together over the years. A wonderful brethren”.