The Seventies saw the emergence of several Jamaican deejays and toasters whose claim to excellence in the genre that prefigured rap and dancehall was reflected by the use of Ranking in their stage name.
Prominent amongst them was Ranking Trevor, who recorded for Channel One, the studio and label launched by the Hoo Kim brothers in 1973. It was at Channel One that the deejay and producer I-Roy, the rhythm section of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare and other session musicians billed as the Revolutionaries pioneered a heavier style of reggae soon known as "rockers".
Ranking Trevor featured on several landmark Channel One releases, including in 1976 a revival of the Marcia Griffiths hit "Truly", sung by the sweet harmony vocal group The Jays, which segued into his own rhyming extrapolation over the rhythm track on the same side – rather than the flip or dub – of the first 12-inch "Disco Mix" 45 single manufactured in Jamaica. He similarly partnered The Wailing Souls and "versioned" their militant composition "War"; originally issued in Jamaica in 1974, it became the inaugural 12-inch release on the British reggae label Greensleeves Records four years later.
Ranking Trevor briefly signed to Virgin Records' Front Line reggae subsidiary, which issued his In Fine Style album – featuring the Jamaican hits "Masculine Gender" and "Rub a Dub Style" – and spent much of the Eighties and Nineties living in the UK.
Born Maxwell Grant – accounts differ, but the most likely date is 1952 – he was one of nine siblings and acquired his sobriquet after he went down a storm while appearing with the King Attorney sound system operated by Papa Roots. "My pet name was Trevor and I was 'hot'. They say: 'Trevor, you're part of the ranking. We'll call you Ranking Trevor'. That's how I get the name," he recalled.
His relaxed delivery and mastery of Jamaican patois was influenced by the toasters who preceded him, including Big Youth, Al Capone, King Stitt and Scotty, but he ranked U-Roy above them all. "He was my original teacher from day one. That's where I learned my style and melody," he said.
He made his Channel One recording debut with "Penny a Look" in 1974 and scored hits with "The Murderer", "Cave Man Skank", "Antie Lulu" [sic], "Queen Majesty", "Answer Me Question" and "Three Piece Chicken & Chips". The latter was his cheeky riposte to Trinity's "Three Piece Suit", over the much-recycled "I'm Still in Love with You" Studio One riddim also used on Althea & Donna's 1978 chart-topper "Uptown Top Ranking".
He toasted over cuts by Dennis Brown, Al Campbell, Culture, Alton Ellis, Winston Jones, Barrington Levy, Carl Malcolm, The Morwells, Linval Thompson as well as Sugar Minott, who produced his 1981 album Presenting Ranking Trevor. In 1983 he toured Britain with Eek-A-Mouse and Captain Sinbad and subsequently based himself in the UK, where he worked with Clint Eastwood and General Saint as well as Errol Dunkley. "I lived abroad so long people forget about me. No one remember who was the first Ranking," he remarked about his return to Jamaica a decade ago.
Indeed, he had little to show for the many tracks he recorded over nearly four decades in music. "People out there now collecting my money by selling my songs in all kind of ways," he said. "In my days, it was just about fame and hearing your songs on the radio... you get excited, money was secondary. I didn't understand the business and the producers knew that. I just voice and leave it for them to think about payment."
Paying tribute to Ranking Trevor, Wade "Trinity" Brammer told the Jamaica Observer: "He was a really cool youth. He, myself and Dillinger used to go around the town on the sound system, deejaying. He was a youth who really make no trouble. His passing represents another musical soldier leaving the battlefield. After every sadness, there will be gladness."
Maxwell Barrington Grant (Ranking Trevor), reggae toaster and songwriter: born Kingston, Jamaica 20 January 1952; 15 children; died Kingston, Jamaica 7 August 2012.