Born Roy Samuel Reid on 28th June 1944 in the rural parish of St. Thomas, I Roy could always defend his deejay ‘nom de mic.’ against accusations of being a U Roy impersonator by stating categorically:
‘Me name Roy Reid. U Roy name Ewart Beckford’ and then spelling out ‘E.W.A.R.T. Me name R.O.Y.’.
However, apart from his name, there was never anything the least bit questionably unoriginal about the man named I Roy. This erudite and articulate gentleman had studied at Technical College prior to beginning work as an accountant: ‘I work a Customs at Princess Street and Water Lane’ for the Jamaican civil service.
Based in Spanish Town, I Roy was always that little bit apart from his Kingston contemporaries, but the area was not without its own local rivalries either.
Encouraged by the massive success of U Roy with his recordings for Treasure Isle, I Roy first entered the recording studio toward the latter part of 1970 with Spanish Town resident, Harry Mudie who, although he could never be termed prolific, produced some of reggae’s most enduring and most versioned rhythms ever.
I Roy‘s earliest recordings for Mudie, ‘Musical Pleasure’, ‘Heart Don’t Leap’, ‘It May Sound Silly’ and ”Drifter’ (Harry Mudie termed him ‘Jamaica’s greatest deejay’)occasionally betrayed the stylistic leanings of Dennis AlCapone, but it did not take him long to assimilate his early influences and develop his very own style as one of the true originals of Jamaican music.
In July 1973, he first travelled to London, backed by Dennis Bovell’s Matumbi, he demonstrated that he could reproduce his non-stop talk live and direct every bit as well as he did on record.
The 1975 feud between I Roy and fellow Spanish Town deejay, Prince Jazzbo has since become the stuff of legend. I Roy inadvertently started it all off when running a voice test at King Tubby’s studio prior to recording for Bunny Lee one evening in which he berated Jazzbo’s inability to ride the previous rhythm: ‘Jazzbo, man if you were a juke box I wouldn’t put a dime into your slot’.
He came back to the U.K. that November of that year and played a residency at Carnaby Street‘s Roaring Twenties club in the heart of London’s West End, deejaying for the U.K.’s top sound, Sir Coxsone.
I Roy finally returned to Jamaica in June 1974: ‘I just stayed home and write and meditate… and just come back February come mash up the road”.
‘I Roy is a guy who can send a clear message. He’s one of the more stylish deejays.’ Lee Perry
When Virgin Records started to invest heavily in Jamaican music in the latter half of the seventies, I Roy featured heavily on their release schedules and came up with numerous long players for their Front Line label which did much to raise his profile in the U.K. with the new reggae audience.
I Roy’s untimely death dealt a serious blow to Jamaican music. As Jamaica’s most articulate and intelligent deejay, his records, ranging from caustic social commentary to witty observations, had set new standards that all who followed after him had to live up to. His approach was completely different to U Roy, Dennis AlCapone and Big Youth, but together they created a completely new style of music that will live forever.