Obituary: Jackie Edwards
Wednesday 02 September 1992
ALTHOUGH Jackie Edwards is most remembered as 'the chap who wrote 'Keep On Running' ', in the 1960s his contribution to the fledgling Island Record was probably as significant as Bob Marley's or U2's in later decades.
Edwards was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1940. While he was in his teens, Jamaica's passion for US rhythm and blues (R & B) proved the ideal vehicle for Edwards's already rich Nat King Cole-style croon, and he built a reputation performing covers of current hits. He turned to songwriting in the late Fifties when, in the US, R & B gave way to rock'n'roll, drying up the island's flow of imported records and creating a demand for domestic product.
Primarily, Jamaican R & B was produced for the sound systems - sorts of mobile discos with 'attitude' - where rivalry was intense and musical evolution became the way to stay ahead. Writers blended in elements of boogie- woogie and calypso, switched piano parts to the guitar and fooled about with the drums to shift the accent from the first and third beats. They created 'ska', and Edwards's compositions - first for Studio One and then an independent producer called Chris Blackwell - were as influential as work by more prominent figures like Prince Buster, Don Drummond and Jackie Mittoo.
Emigrating to the UK in the early Sixties, Edwards renewed his association with the recently arrived Blackwell who, prior to 'My Boy Lollipop', was building his business by selling singles, often in five-figure amounts, in specialist shops. Edwards recorded one album, but after the silky soul of The Most of Jackie Edwards - it was not a huge success - Blackwell steered him to writing, believing Edwards's background to be of great value to the scores of young British would-be R & B groups - particularly one he managed, the Spencer Davis group.
Formed by Spencer Davis, a university lecturer, and featuring Steve Winwood on piano and vocals, the group specialised in straight blues covers but had three singles fail to reach the Top 30. They needed songs, so in 1965 Blackwell asked Edwards to write a B-side for them and he penned 'Keep On Running'. It gave the band a No 1 hit and became the most enduring song of their catalogue, but more importantly from a business point of view, it was Blackwell's breakthrough worldwide hit. Edwards went on to write the Spencer Davis group follow-up, 'Somebody Help Me', also a No 1, but by that time, with help from techniques learned from Edwards, they had mastered songwriting themselves.
Edwards never repeated these feats, but remained productive with Island Music for the next 20 years. During this time he wrote mainly for the specialist market, playing a large part in the slowing down of ska's frantic beat to become rock steady and, eventually, reggae. His understanding of the music's smoother side (dating from his crooning youth) also meant that during the Seventies, when romantically orientated 'lovers' rock' reggae became the antithesis to hard dub, his recording career revived. The albums Come To Me Softly, Let's Fall In Love and The Original Mr Cool Ruler - an answer to Gregory Isaacs's self-styled title - have sustained sufficient sales to remain undeleted.
Just over five years ago, Edwards returned to Jamaica, where he wrote for local artists and enjoyed life on the continuing royalties from his two most successful compositions. His last public appearance in the UK was on a bill of veteran reggae performers at last year's Jacquie Mittoo Benefit Concert in London, when he performed free of charge and paid all his own expenses.
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