What can you say about Max Romeo?  By his own definition, he is the oldest teenager in the business but he is also one of Jamaica's most respected musical artistes. And, in a grim fundamentalist world, he is an old-school Rastafarian with tolerance and a sense of humour. These days, he has finished building his remote house in Jamaica and most of his royalties and touring money goes towards the little farming enterprise he operates from there. Ah, but once he was young and very much a rude boy…

Born Maxwell Smith in the Jamaican parish of St Ann on November 22, 1944, he recorded his first single in 1968 called 'Put In Your Finger'.  The next year, he met the ubiquitous Bunny Lee (who was, then just a plugger for Coxsone Dodd) and Bunny was carrying a tune that was so rude they could find no-one to sing it.  Slim Smith turned it down, as did Roy Shirley and, eventually, Bunny persuaded Max to sing it.

The song was called 'Wet Dream' and, from its release on the Pama label in the UK, it was a skinhead smash. It was banned by the BBC and and went UK top 10!  Max argued that the song was about a leaky roof (“lie down girl, let me push it up, push it up”…???) but the ban remained.

On a roll, Max now did 'Wine Her Goosie' and 'Pussy Watch Man' but the moment had passed and these tunes had limited success.

Max was a Rastafarian by the time he began working with producers Lee Perry and Winston 'Niney' Holness in 1972, and, from this point onwards, his music had the conscious lyrics of Rasta, even though Max's sense of humour was still apparent. 'Revelation Time' (produced by Clive Hunt, engineered by Lee Scratch Perry) was considered one of the best reggae albums of 1975.

By the mid-70s, Max was working exclusively with Scratch Perry. Songs from this period include 'Let The Power Fall', 'Pray for Me', 'Every Man Ought To Know' and 'Black Equality'.  It was with Perry that Max recorded his greatest album: 'War Ina Babylon' (1976). Max sang and wrote (or co-wrote) all the songs yet much of the album's credit has gone to Scratch.  Many consider this one of the best reggae albums ever.

Then there was a famous bust-up between Max and Scratch (with Perry recording 'White Belly Rat' about Romeo, and scrawling 'Judas' over the singer's picture in Perry's studio) and Max left Jamaica for New York in 1976.  It was in NY where he recorded the albums 'I Love My Music' (with the help of Keith Richards) and 'Reconstruction'. Max moved to the Wackies label in the early 80s.

He returned to Jamaica in 1990 and, in early 1992, London producer Jah Shaka recorded the roots album 'Far I Captain Of My Ship' on Jah Shaka Records and Max was back in the mainstream.

In 1999, Max recorded an album for Satta Records in Italy called 'In This Time'. Accompanied by the acoustic ensemble Tribu Acustica, the album is a beautiful folk/world music version of Max's roots lyric, a million miles from the rude boy beginnings of his music.

In the last 15 years, his reputation as a stage performer has earned him a steady stream of live work in Europe, though it is only in the last few years that the UK has come to recognize him as the talent he is. It was sampling that brought his name back to the fore and, principally, the use by Prodigy of his lyric from the song 'Chase The Devil' (gonna send him to outta space, to find a better race).


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Max Romeo by Westbury Music