Gregory was born in Fletcher's Land, Kingston on July 15th 1951 and spent much of his youth in the nearby Denham Town district, south of the infamous Trench Town district. There, he attended the local All Saints School before finding work as an apprentice carpenter, although additional income regularly came from selling weed on behalf of Bunny Wailer's father, Toddy Livingston. As with many of those housed in Kingston's underprivileged areas, Gregory was exposed to a myriad of musical styles throughout this time, developing a fondness for the records of leading American R&B stars, most notably Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and Sam Cooke, and inspired by their work, soon began impressing local audiences at school concerts and locals shows with his own performances.
By the close of the sixties, Gregory was finally ready to take his career up a notch and try his luck as a recording artiste. Collaborating with another aspiring singer, Winston Sinclair, he produced his debut disc, the melancholic 'Another Heartache', but while the single showed promise, distribution difficulties ensured it was destined for failure, although it was deemed worthy of release by Pama Records in the UK, who issued it on their Nu Beat subsidiary. Disappointed, but undeterred, the aspiring singer decided to change strategy, teaming up with two local vocalists, Bramwell Brown and a singer later recalled only as Penroe, to form a singing trio they named 'the Concords' - a name inspired by the recent unveiling of the famed supersonic passenger plane.
Shortly after the formation of the group, they auditioned for respected local producer, Rupie Edwards, who promptly arranged a recording session at which the trio cut a handful of sides that saw issue on his Success imprint. Although the releases were moderately successful, the group decided a switch to Prince Buster would enhance their chances of achieving major success, with the brief union spawning excellent '(Out On The) Dancing Floor'. But by the summer, the Concords were no more, and soon Gregory was back with Rupie Edwards, for whom he cut a number of fine romantically-tinged solo sides, of which 'Too Late' was the pick of the bunch, although even this superior piece of classic Reggae initially failed to generate much interest locally. The same could be said of later works for Sydney 'Luddy' Crooks as well as his own newly-formed African Museum record label, although success was not too far away and in the Spring of 1973, he finally broke into the big time with 'All I Have Is Love', a Phil Pratt-produced single that was to provide the springboard to further chart hits. A sublime version of Mike Williams' Soul rarity, 'A Lonely Soldier' for Clive Chin's Impact imprint and the equally impressive cut of 'Loving Pauper' (re-tilted 'I Am Alright') for Augustus 'Gussie' Clarke further enhanced his growing reputation.
In 1974, Gregory began an extremely productive working relationship with producer, Alvin 'G.G.' Ranglin, the arrangement commencing with 'Innocent People Cry', the popularity of which was duly eclipsed by the follow-up, 'Love Is Overdue', which sold an estimated 22,000 copies in Jamaica during the Spring months. The recording not only reinforced his standing as one of the island's premiere acts, it also marked the beginning of a creative period that produced an astounding body of work, which included his debut album, 'In Person' and the impressive semi-Dub track, 'Ba Da', produced by Winston 'Niney' Holness
As the seventies progressed, Gregory's work increasingly focused on serious social issues and while never abandoning matters of a more romantic nature, it was his more militant works that drew the greatest attention. In 1977, the magnificent 'Extra Classic' album illustrated just how far he had come as an artist and producer, with the collection including such masterpieces as 'Rasta Business', 'Black Against Black', the Lee 'Scratch' Perry-produced 'Mr Cop' and of course the best-selling title track. The same year saw the release of the Alvin Ranglin-produced 'Willow Tree' LP, a set that by contrast was entirely comprised of ballads, so reflecting the broad appeal of Gregory's work.
1978 saw the release of his next album, 'Mr Isaacs', a superior collection primarily comprised of songs cut at Channel One and Joe Gibbs' studio, produced by the singer in tandem with Ossie Hibbert, a session keyboard player-turned-producer with whom Gregory had first worked two years before - highlights included the magnificent 'Hand Cuff' (aka 'Hey Mr Babylon'), 'Set The Captives Free' and 'Slave Master'. Meanwhile, among his more successful singles during this time were such chart-toppers as 'Let's Dance', 'Never Be Ungrateful' and 'Mr Know It All', along with a number of superior collaborations with Sly & Robbie that included 'Soon Forward', 'Going Downtown' and 'Motherless Child'.
By this time, Gregory's popularity had attracted attention from a number of British-based companies, most notably Richard Branson's Virgin Records, who secured his signature on a two-year deal. Before the close of the decade, the label had released two collections of his works on their Front Line subsidiary, namely 'The Cool Ruler' and 'Soon Forward', both of which served to expose his talents to an international audience.
Following the expiration of his Virgin contract in 1980, Gregory signed for another leading UK-based independent, Charisma, who subsequently issued the outstanding 'The Lonely Lover' and 'More Gregory' albums on their newly-formed Pre imprint. He was now firmly established as one of the biggest acts in the Reggae world and a move to Island Records in '82 reinforced that status while also ensuring further global exposure of his work.
The crossover-hit, 'Night Nurse', provided the title of yet another best selling album and demonstrated his credentials as Bob Marley's heir apparent in terms of commercial appeal. But just as Gregory was making in-roads into the mainstream market, he was arrested and charged for firearms offences, leading to two months behind bars in the Kingston's notorious General Penitentiary. While the nature of the incident did little to further his career in the Pop world, it failed dent his popularity among Reggae fans, as reflected by the healthy sales of his 'Out Deh' album, issued by Island soon after his release.
Gregory continued his impressive run of major Reggae hits as the eighties progressed, with the self-produced 'Mi Come Again' and 'Tenement Yard' among his most popular works from the period, but in 1987, he was arrested once again for possession of cocaine. A period in rehab ensued, after which he resumed the business of making music, and there followed a series of impressive collections for Gussie Clarke, with whom he had first worked early the previous decade. Meanwhile, he continued to produce his own material and freelance for various producers, with Lloyd 'King Jammy' James, Donovan Germain, Roy Francis, Phillip 'Fattis' Burrell, Bunny Gemini and Joe Gibbs among those with whom he worked during the period.
He maintained a hectic work schedule into the nineties, touring and recording extensively, while also operating his 'Poor People Rights Studio' (P.P.R.S.) and African Museum record shop in Jamaica, but unable to fully kick his drugs habit, his health increasingly began to suffer, and while he persevered with his music career well into the 21st Century, the quality of his output proved variable. He seemed to be back on track with the Grammy-nominated 2008 album, 'Brand New Me', which he followed with the excellent 'My Kind Of Lady' collection and a collaboration with Zimbabwean Reggae singer, King Isaac, entitled 'Isaacs Meets Isaac'. But in 2009 he was diagnosed with cancer and despite a valiant battle against the effects of the disease, he finally succumbed to its effects on October 25th of the following year, leaving behind his wife June-Anne, mother, brother, twelve children, and six grandchildren.
During his astoundingly successful career, Gregory Anthony Isaacs' unmistakable tenor graced many hundreds of recordings, including some of the most romantic ballads and strident Roots Reggae ever created. Success had provided an escape route from the ghettos of Kingston and yet a refusal to abandon his origins ensured he maintained the common touch, conveying feelings of sufferation and love with an honesty and understanding that positioned him above the majority of his peers. As I witnessed for myself all those years ago, in reality as in his art and, he was both a ghetto don and a hopeless romantic - and he also happened to be one of greatest Jamaican performers the world will ever see.