Linval Thompson was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1959 and in his early teens he moved to the U.S.A. to be with his mother where they lived in the New York borough of Queens. Linval initially studied engineering and he began his singing career with Bunny Rugs (who would go on to become vocalist with Third World) and their recording of 'There Is No Other Woman In This World' was a moderate success, although Linval claims:
'I don't think you can find a copy of it right now!'
Linval went on to cut a handful of sides for the New York based Everett Martin's Mart's label, including 'Weeping And Wailing' and 'Jah Jah Deh' in 1974, but he returned to Jamaica later that year where he recorded for Keith Hudson's associate 'Stamma' Hobson. 'Mama Say' did not prove to be a big hit, but the follow up, 'Westbound Plane' a version to Dennis Brown's 'Westbound Train', finally began to garner some attention for the young singer and he began to form his own characteristic vocal style. At the outset he was often compared to Dennis Brown:
'Some people from America, some guys them, was putting me against Dennis Brown saying I have a sound like Dennis Brown'
Dennis Brown's influence on an entire generation of Jamaican singers is incalculable and can be heard in Linval's developing mannerisms. However, Linval Thompson was always going to be more than another imitator and his singing style would go on in the next decade to influence a whole new generation of dancehall artists. Inspired by this initial taste of success, he recorded for top producer Phil Pratt at Lee Perry's newly opened Black Ark Studio and Linval would later sing over and produce for himself one of the songs he recorded at that session, 'Jah Jah Redder Than Red'.
'I make that first for a guy named Phil Pratt and then I sing it back for myself'
Lee Perry was sufficiently impressed by the young singer to promptly record and release Linval's tribute to the then current Bruce Lee inspired vogue for the Martial Arts, 'Kung Fu Man'.
Linval had now settled in the Kingston district of Whitfield Town where he developed a friendship with Johnny Clarke who lived nearby. Johnny was enjoying an unprecedented run of success in partnership with legendary producer Bunny 'Striker' Lee:
'We used to live on the same street. He was the singer who was really singing in my time making a lot of hits. I kinda know him so we start to spar together'
Linval started to accompany the hit-making duo of Johnny Clarke and Striker to King Tubby's studio in Waterhouse, watching and listening while waiting and hoping for his chance to sing. Eventually, he was asked to take up the microphone:
'Then one day come. They say 'go and sing' so I sing the first song 'Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks' and that was a very big hit'
'Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks' was the record that finally struck a major chord with the record buying public and Linval soon joined Johnny Clarke and Cornel Campbell as the third member of Striker's hit making vocal stable. His releases usually detailed the trials and tribulations of the burgeoning Rasta movement and the hardships of life on the street in those turbulent times.
Linval was an attentive pupil and learnt quickly, as Bunny Lee taught him the importance of diversification and encouraged him to branch out from singing, and, in 1976, he became not only a producer, but also a businessman, when he established his own Thompson Sound label. It was not long before he gained both the expertise and confidence to start producing other artists - Bunny Lee's lasting influence on Linval can be seen and heard in his workmanlike approach to making music and by the fact that he never strayed very far from the hit making formulae. 'Workmanlike' is a term usually employed by writers as a form of shorthand to describe the uninspired and lacklustre, but in Linval's case, nothing could be further from the truth. He has always simply worked hard in order to first make his considerable catalogue of Thompson Sound productions and secondly to ensure their international release and distribution.
'We sing first and then when we get the vibes of the rhythm we say 'Okay. We're gonna stick to this style'. I used to put it on my cassette at home before I really go into the studio so I kinda know what kinda sound I'm looking for'
He licensed his first self-produced long-playing set, 'I Love Marijuana' to Trojan Records in the U.K. in 1978 and has never looked back. He worked with all of Kingston's top names of the late seventies and on through the eighties, including Eek A Mouse, the Viceroys and the Meditations, and together with his friend, Henry 'Junjo' Lawes, set the rules for the genre that was to become known as dancehall Reggae
'Junjo was a friend of mine. I'm the one who really bring him in the producing business and then he start to record Barrington Levy'
As the eighties progressed, Linval's production duties began to overtake those of his singing career and his tough, stubborn rhythms invariably presented by way of a rugged Scientist dub mix, came to characterise the music of the era. This was one of the most creative and exciting periods of Jamaican music and the rest of the world is only now finally managing to get to grips with its raw simplicity and direct approach. It was deemed too unsophisticated for non aficionados by Reggae's self appointed experts, yet its apparent simplicity concealed a wealth of subtlety and invention that has been overlooked too many times in the past.
Linval has grown disillusioned with today's computer driven output and prefers instead to concentrate on his Stony Hill based real estate business:
'Live drum and bass. That's the best. Nothing can beat that. I believe in that'
Perhaps Reggae's loss can be seen as real estate's gain, but music fans can be grateful that Linval has also continued to remain active in reissuing and promoting his extensive back catalogue that includes a wealth of previously unreleased material.