The “Godfather of Dancehall” is a well-deserved moniker for Errol “Johnny” Osbourne describing his contribution to reggae music as it has evolved from the local Jamaican community to the international arena.
His song “Sing Jay Stylee” is viewed by many as the precursor to the dancehall phenomenon evidenced in popular Jamaican music culture today. The evolution of this aspect in the 80’s prompted an increase in sound systems around the globe and necessitated the need for “dubs”. As sound system selectors in every crevice and corner of the world craved to establish dominancy, the demand for “dubs” escalated immensely. Such were the requests for Johnny’s services as no selector wanted to enter into a clash without a “special” from the “Dub Doctor”. Today, it is the same.
A string of hits dating from the late 60’s through the 90’s defines Johnny’s longevity and artistic ability. During this period and subsequently, Johnny’s aptitude to adapt to changes while preserving the quality of his musical output illustrates the depth of talent in his musical arsenal. Johnny’s legendary status was not acquired as a result of the years he’s been in the business, in essence it emanates from his penmanship as a lyricist, creative ingenuity as a “hit-maker” and intrinsic proficiency to do so repetitively.
Born and raised in Jones Town, the “Mecca” of dancehalls in Kingston, Jamaica, Johnny is a part of the musical fraternity that established the foundation upon which Reggae music exists today. A protege of Alpha Boy’s School, like many of its musical scholars, Johnny’s penchant for the art was the driving force that kept him focused while honing his musical skills. Like a magnet, Johnny was pulled to the dancehalls in West Kingston where he could enjoy the latest local hits while displaying his dancing proficiency.
Alternately, the local radio stations provided an opportunity for him to listen to some of his favorite artists, notably, the late great Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Johnny Ace, Billy Eckstine and Johnny Mathis, vocalists that inspired him the most.
With fervor Johnny worked at his craft, and this passion is exemplified in his many hits. No wonder songs such as, Come Back Darling, Truth & Rights, Reasons, Jah Promise, Sing Jay Stylee, Water Pumping, Ice Cream Love, All I have Is Love, Warrior, Yo-Yo, Buda Bye, In Your Eyes, Give A Little Love, Fally Lover, Love Is Universal, We Need Love, Purify Your Heart, Nightfall, Grooving, Sexy Thing, Little Sound Boy and many other songs are ever present in the minds of reggae music lovers irrespective of which side of the equator they reside.
Johnny Osbourne’s classic songs, “See & Blind” and “Warrior” were rehashed by the legendary Bunny Wailer, while Reggae songstress Marcia Griffiths covered the latter. British Reggae group, UB40 reworked Come Back Darling, which peaked at #10 on the UK Charts in 1998. Johnny’s songs have also been sampled by: Zero 7, Bim Sherman, The Beastie Boys and many others. His five star rated album “Truth & Rights” on Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One Label, is ranked as one of reggae’s all time classic albums.
Blessed with an eclectic voice, and a consummate style, Johnny’s music transcends genres and generations. In the 90’s Reggae historian Roger Steffens affirmed, “A 25-year career that shows no signs of letting up, from soulful Reggae to a massive dancehall catalog, Osbourne’s warm voice filled with conviction and yearning, is one of the island’s best”. More than 5 decades that sound has not diminished – it is as distinct and as fresh as ever.
In 1998, Johnny took a hiatus from the Jamaican music scene. More than a decade later, he re-emerged with a celebrated performance on Rebel Salute 2012 in St. Elizabeth. Since then he has graced the stages of major festivals and concerts in the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Canada, Spain and Brazil,
Russia, India, Australia, to name but a few! He also performed at Britain’s flagship venue the 02 Arena during Jamaica’s 50th Independence festivities! A dream tour of Japan with the rhythm twins Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare was another outstanding highlight of his career in 2014, and more recently throughout Europe in 2018 with British sensation Bitty McLean.
The greatness of this veteran artist has not gone unnoticed – Johnny himself is humbled by the appreciation and the participation of the audience, especially the youths whenever and wherever he performs. The familiarity of his songs is testament to the potency of his catalogue, the timelessness of his music, and the artistic capabilities he possesses are still relevant today! Dub Step Kings Major Lazer used Johnny’s “Mr. Marshall as the core for their smash “Jah No Partial” introducing him to a whole other legion of fans!
The love for this legend and his music has spurred an even greater demand for more live performances globally including The Barbados Music Festival and the lauded Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise!
Recently back from his second European tour of 2019, this “Dancehall Godfather” will be continuing to keep his adoring fans musically satisfied for the foreseeable future – Let me hear you say “Wooiiy”
Prior to the global quarantine in March, 2020 Johnny was in the midst of a European tour before all shows were abruptly cancelled! However, he was still a major player in the music arena, where once again his talents were in demand on a slew of virtual sound clashes where his coveted dub-plates were highly in demand.