One would be hard-pressed to find a more significant and unheralded figure in reggae than
. Despite a career of over 30 years, the mention of his name usually is generally greeted with responses like: "who?" or "never heard of him." And while he may not have been the proverbial household name when it comes to roots reggae, his fingerprints are on nearly every important recording and band that emerged from Jamaica in the 1960s and '70s.
Born in Kingston in 1940, Higgs'
career began as a songwriter for seminal reggae acts such as Toots & the Maytals and Delroy Wilson
. While establishing himself as an in-demand songwriter, Higgs
was also developing a solo vocal career as well as working as a high school music teacher. The role of teacher suited Higgs
and he was soon working regularly as a vocal arranger, a coach, and a guitar instructor. The most famous of his pupils was Bob Marley
. It was under Higgs'
tutelage that Marley's guitar playing greatly improved but, more significantly, it was Higgs
who arranged the beautiful trio singing of Marley
and fellow Wailers Peter Tosh
and Bunny Livingstone
(later Bunny Wailer
). So integral was Higgs
to the creation of this sound, that when Bunny abruptly left the band in 1973 on the eve of their first major American tour, Higgs
filled in brilliantly.
As a solo performer, Higgs'
success was intermittent at best and his work appreciated mainly by hardcore reggae aficionados. After spending the early part of his career singing as part of a duo with Delroy Wilson
went solo after Wilson left Jamaica for America in the late '60s. But, it wasn't until 1976 that he released his first solo album, Life of Contradiction
, a title that accurately summarized Higgs'
career up to that point. The follow-up album, Unity Is Power
, was equally good, but as impossible to find. It wasn't until 1985 when Alligator Records, a label best known for blues music, released Higgs'
. After that time, he kept a low profile, issuing a record every now and then, his work revered by reggae fans around the world. The greatest reggae artist you've never heard of, Higgs
died on December 18, 1999.