Suga Roy & The Fireball Crew and ‘Honoring the Kings of Reggae’
Article by Jen Cheshire
Last November, I discovered an album by Suga Roy and The Fireball Crew called “Honoring The Kings of Reggae’. This album has become one of my favorite albums released in the last year so I was very excited when I was contacted by their manager and asked if I would be willing to write an article about them. As I was not very familiar with Suga Roy & The Fireball Crew prior to this album, we set up a phone call for me to talk with them and get to know them a little more. The following is what I learned.
Suga Roy, born Leroy Moore, hails from Racecourse, Clarendon. When I asked him if he came from a musical background he told me that his parents were not musicians but when his mother was pregnant with him, she played music from morning until night and was convinced he would become musical. Unfortunately, she passed away before seeing him perform on stage, however the first time she heard his music on the radio she was so excited she didn’t sleep that night.
Suga Roy started deejaying while he was in secondary school, performing at school events and around the turntables of Black Lion Sound System. After leaving school he headed to Kingston hoping to break into the music industry. It was tough going but after several years his persistence paid off and he had his first hit in 1996 with ‘Postman’ on the True Friends label, for producer Kenroy Fisher. This hit earned him a spot on the Sting stage. After this he moved to Bobby Digital’s studio and later formed his own record label, Fire Ball Records, and his own production ‘Dancehall Nice Again’ became a hit and earned him another appearance at Sting. Loving the production business, he put his own career on hold and produced other artists including Anthony B and Capleton. In 2002 Suga Roy was so impressed with Conrad Crystal’s 1986 release ‘True Love’ that he sought out the singer and suggested they team up and do a remake of ‘True Love’ This single was such a success and the chemistry between the two was so good that more combinations followed.
Conrad Crystal, born Conrad Constantine Hunter, is a product of Kingston 11. As with Suga Roy, he did not come from a musical family but developed his interest in music in school. He also used to perform at school class parties and functions. Conrad’s first hit song was the 1986 aforementioned ‘True Love’ produced by Michael Jeffries for the Sonic Sounds and Legal Light labels.That same year he released his debut album ‘True Love’
After Suga Roy and Conrad Crystal’s successful collaboration with the remake of ‘ True Love’ many other collaborations followed, a cover of Pat Kelly’s ‘Talk About Love’ and Gregory Isaacs’ Love Overdue’ followed by a series of original songs including the very popular ‘Education Wise’ which became a hit and an anthem in the schools in Jamaica.
In 2007 Suga Roy & Conrad Crystal, now an established duo, were among the artists on the Sly & Robbie nominated album ‘The Riddim Doubles’ with the song ‘Party Hot’ featuring Yellow Man. Also in 2007 the album ‘Highest Grade’ was released. The duo teamed up with Gyptian in 2008 and dropped the Culture classic ‘Jah Jah See Dem a Come’. The single was an instant success, getting heavy airplay and chart recognition across the globe. This became the lead off single for the 2009 album ‘Suga Roy, Conrad Crystal & The Great Reggae Icons’. The third album released by the Suga Roy & Conrad Crystal came in 2011, it was a tribute to Gregory Isaacs named ‘Universal Tribute to Gregory Isaacs’ with favorites like ‘Hard Drugs’ and ‘Night Nurse’, produced by Suga Roy on his own record label, Fire Ball Records. 2014 brought their fourth album, ‘The Kings Book’, with tracks featuring reggae greats such as Cocoa Tea, Alborosie, Gappy Ranks and Natural Black, a collaboration between Fire Ball Records and Oneness Records in Germany.
When I asked Suga Roy what brought about the latest album ‘Honoring the Kings Of Reggae’ he told me he has always had a love of the old classic reggae songs with a positive message and the idea for this album has been on his mind since he did the ‘Universal Tribute to Gregory Isaacs’ album. He wanted to get the tracks as close to the originals as possible and knew this album would take a lot of time. He decided it needed another vocalist so he recruited Zareb, who had worked with him in the past, on other projects.
Zareb, was born Ranford McCurdy in Clarendon. When I asked him if he came from a musical family his response was that the music in his family came a long time before him. He also told me he would sneak out of the house to listen to music. At the age of 16, he moved to Kingston and went around the studios recording covers of his major influencers Half Pint and Junior Reid. He met Fantan Mojah and recorded duets under the name of Mr. Flash for example ‘Rastafari is the Ruler’ and ‘Authentic Love’ both recorded in 2005. After changing his name to Zareb (African for Guardian) in 2006, he released his first album ‘Authentic Love’ on a German label Pow Pow Productions. Zareb had been working with Suga Roy on many projects but officially joined the newly named Suga Roy & The Fireball Crew in 2013. The first album under the new name Suga Roy & The Fireball Crew was ‘Meditation’ released in 2013.
In November 2016 the latest album by Suga Roy & The Fireball Crew, ‘Honoring the Kings of Reggae’, was released. This album, as Suga Roy said, has been a project in the making for many years. It features 19 remakes of classic tracks from foundation artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, Toots Hibbert, Jimmy Cliff, Israel Vibration, Desmond Dekker and many more. It features well-known artists like Busy Signal, Sizzla Kalonji, Gyptian, Jah Mali, Burro Banton and Terry Linen and new artist Krymist. The album takes you down memory lane with a new look at these classics but at the same time sticking closely to the originals with a modern upgrade. When asked about how the tracks were chosen, Suga Roy told me that he made a list of classic tracks that he liked and then took a week to listen to them before choosing the final tracks to use. The classic Bob Marley song ‘Trouble’ (So Much Trouble) featuring Sizzla Kalonji and Jah Mali blends the the melodic voice of Zagreb with the addition of Sizzla’s distinctive voice, Suga Roy’s lyrical style and the combined voices of Jah Mali and Conrad Crystal, making this one of the most interesting combinations this year.
‘Shanty Town’, the song made famous by Desmond Dekker is on my top 10 of all time favorite songs, so I was delighted to find this version of a song that has been covered by many other artists. The familiar voice of Busy Signal along with Suga Roy, backed by Conrad Crystal and Zareb makes this version stand out from the crowd. If you can listen to ‘Sun Shining Day’ featuring Terry Linnen without singing along I will be very surprised, although that could be said for many of the tracks on this album. Included on the album is their previously recorded Culture cover “Jah Jah See Dem A Come’ which was a hit in 2008. Also featured on this album is Krymist with Bunny Wailer’s ‘Ball Room, (floor) and veteran Burro Banton with his gravelly voice contrasting with Zareb on ‘Moving on to Creation. The remaining 13 tracks performed exclusively by Suga Roy & The Fireball Crew not only had me singing along but up on my feet and dancing. For $9.99 for 19 tracks, I challenge any reggae lover to say this is not good value for money.
There have been two videos produced, so far, from the album, the first video was a very comedic portrayal of the Desmond Dekker classic ‘Shanty Town’ and the latest video, ‘Trouble’ featuring Sizzla Kalonji and Jah Mali, has been an enormous success with over 30,000 views on YouTube and over 2 million views on Facebook in a matter of a few weeks. More videos are in the works in the coming months.This album is available on all leading download sites and physical copies are also available at www.dibyzmusic.com and Baco Distribution, France. This superbly produced album is one not to miss, so check it out and pass the word around. It has the potential to be big.