Born Max Smith on 22nd November 1944 in the country district of St. Ann's, he spent the first ten years in the parish before moving to Kingston to live with his father, following his mother's migration to the UK in 1954. Like so many youths before and after him, young Max soon gravitated towards the city's thriving music scene and in 1966 he began to work for Ken Lack, the proprietor of the now legendary Caltone label, as a salesman and general errand runner. Together with Kenneth Knight and Lloyd Shakespeare he formed the Emotions, enjoying an early taste of success on Caltone, but this soon soured over disputes as to who was to be the front man in the group. For a brief while Maxie was lead singer for the Hippy Boys alongside Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, Carlton 'Carly' Barrett, Alva 'Reggie' Lewis and Glen Adams, but after they had recorded 'Dr. No Go' for Miss Pottinger, Maxie decided to go it alone. His good friend Bunny Lee was just beginning to make a name for himself at this time as a producer and he gave Max his 'Romeo' name after his amusement on hearing of Maxie's dedicated attempts to impress a local girl.
Maxie's reputation as a ladies man must have been on Bunny's mind when he tried to persuade Max to record 'Wet Dream'. Max had written the song but did not want to sing it and none of Bunny's Agro stable of established artists, including Slim Smith, Roy Shirley and John Holt would touch it. Even Derrick Morgan whose 'Hold You Jack' rhythm was to be used for the song did not want to know. Bunny, a man never short of ideas, (one of his album sleeves even featured a cartoon of a man's head with a glowing light bulb above it) realised that the song had definite possibilities. He would later gain the soubriquet 'Striker' because of his almost innate ability to make hit records. Maxie was not over keen but Bunny allegedly told him if he didn't do it he was 'out of here', and so they arrived one night at Studio One on Brentford Road to find Coxsone himself in charge of the session. When he heard Max sing the opening bars of 'Wet Dream' he was so disgusted that he refused to go any further and told his apprentice engineer, Errol 'ET' Thompson, to take over on the board. Rude or 'slack' records were nothing new and, under the influence of American artists such as Blowfly, were currently undergoing something of a revival, but the format usually tended towards boasts of sexual prowess rather than a concern with 'erotic dreams causing involuntary ejaculations'. Bunny promptly took 'Wet Dream' to the Palmer brothers in London who promptly released it on their Unity label.
It was an exciting time for Jamaican music in the U.K. as it bathed in its first real run of international success largely due to its adoption by London's 'skinhead' cult. Oh how we laughed when we first heard the record, acknowledging that it was a version of an already established hit record on a popular rhythm and expecting that, like most 'novelty' records, it would disappear in a week or two as soon as something new came along. However this one refused to go away and it proved to be instrumental in introducing Reggae to the British public as it continued to sell and sell and sell. It made and stayed on the U.K. National Charts for an unprecedented twenty-five weeks where it reached the dizzy heights of number ten without the benefit of any radio play at all. The record was deemed so offensive that Alan Freeman was not permitted to even say the title on his Sunday afternoon 'Pick Of The Pops' show and it was only ever referred to as 'a record by Max Romeo'. The potent blend of humour and sexual 'suggestiveness' ensured its popularity with the U.K. audience who had never heard anything quite so blatant before.
It certainly proved to be a rude awakening for young Max who was really thrown in at the deep end and when he arrived in the U.K. to promote the record he steadfastly stuck to his story that his song was nothing whatsoever to do with sex at all. Oh no. In fact it was an everyday story of poverty in Jamaica where the roof of Maxie's shack was constantly leaking - and we all know just how much it pours with rain in Jamaica. The chorus of 'lie down gal let me push it up, push it up' actually alluded to the ever polite Max requesting that his young lady move out of the way so that he push a broom up into the hole in the roof to stop said leak. So now we knew that 'Wet Dream' was not rude and was all about Maxie's good night's sleep being disturbed by a leaking roof. So that's all right then. Of course everyone believed him even though no-one thought to ask him what the lines about 'give the crumpet to Big Foot Joe, give the fanny to me' meant and Alan Freeman persisted in calling it 'a record by Max Romeo'.
Just in case anyone had really believed him, Maxie went on to promptly record a number of innuendo filled records which, strangely enough, also failed to garner any air play and, to this day, 'Wet Dream' remains his sole U.K. chart entry. Surprisingly 'Wet Dream' was not a particularly big seller in Jamaica, but even if he found it hard to live down the stigma attached to the record in the U.K., Maxie had no such problems at home and he enjoyed hit after hit on the Jamaican charts. His 1971 recording for Derrick Morgan's Hop label 'Let The Power Fall (On I)' was adapted by the People's National Party as its campaign song for the 1972 elections, as Michael Manley strove for a socialist Jamaica after a decade of Jamaican Labour Party rule. As the rhythms slowed down and became 'dreader than dread', Maxie's role in the development of rebel reality music cannot be overstated. His distinctive and unorthodox recordings for Niney The Observer and Lee Perry The Upsetter in particular set the kind of standards that others had to work hard to emulate. His work with Lee Perry again brought him to the attention of the international rock press and this time around no explanations or excuses were required and Maxie finally managed to live down his reputation as a singer solely of smut with 'War In A Babylon'. Originally entitled 'Sipple Out Deh', its incisive insights into the strife torn Kingston ghettos told all there was to tell about the worsening crisis on the Jamaican capital's streets. Island Records released an album of the same name internationally and it proved to be the best selling long player of Max's long career, where the power and strength of The Upsetter's musical vision gave an unwavering focus to his lyrics. The almost inevitable falling out over money followed soon after and Max and Lee Perry would not work together again until 1988 when the duo reunited at Wackies studio in New Jersey, U.S.A. 'Revelation Time', from around the same period as 'War In A Babylon' was arguably an even stronger set than the latter and his 1987 album, 'Holding Out My Love For You', helped to further cement his international reputation. In 1992 he recorded an album for the U.K.'s Jah Shaka, 'Far I Captain Of My Ship', that helped give a measure of integrity to the British Roots scene and presaged its coming of age.
There have always been separate and seemingly disparate strands running throughout Max Romeo's work and from the unabashed lewdness (unless talking to British journalists of course) of 'Wet Dream', through the religious fervour of 'River Jordan' on to the incisive and caustic social commentary of 'Rasta Bandwagon', his popularity has never showed any signs of diminishing.