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|Also known as||The Don|
Born in 1952 Leroy Smart’s early years are like the kind of biography that is very interesting to read in a comfortable arm chair… but another story completely if you have to actually live its unforgiving reality. He was orphaned at two years old and was taken as a baby to the Maxfield Park Children’s Home and, with no mother, father or immediate relatives, he spent the next ten years in the orphanage. He was then sent to the Alpha Catholic Boys Home, the school where so many of Jamaica’s amazing musical maestros graduated from, and there “under strict guidance and supervision of the sisters” he began to take the very first steps in his distinguished career. Leroy Smart was a prominent member of the choir at Alpha where he also learnt the trade of shoemaking.
At the age of sixteen Leroy Smart was sent to “face the bitter outside world” and did a number of jobs including working for his lodgings in Mona Heights and then construction work where he had to sleep on the site at night “for he had no home to go to”. Leroy’s subsequent struggles to make it in the music business and to exist in the harsh Kingston ghettos have given him a fearsome reputation and have become the stuff of legend but, as he stated, “the only thing I am guilty of is defending myself very strongly”.
His burning ambition was to be an entertainer and he would listen to the radio every day to the “many rock steady singers and dream of becoming one of them someday”. Leroy was irresistibly drawn to downtown Kingston “the place where these already accomplished singers usually hang out or live” and in 1972 Leroy Smart approached legendary producer, Jimmy Radway, on Parade and asked him to write a song for him. “Father… write a music for me now man!” Jimmy Radway was then riding on the crest of the wave with Errol Dunkley’s ‘Black Cinderella’ but he had “always liked Leroy Smart’s voice” and so he wrote the awesome ‘Mother Liza’ where Bobby Ellis and Richard ‘Dirty Harry’ Hall “brought back a slow ska into the hook” and it proved to be Leroy’s first hit. Jimmy and Leroy Smart went on to record the boastful ‘Mr Smart’ where Leroy stated exactly where he came from, who he was, and where he was going in unequivocal terms followed by the more reflective ‘Mirror Mirrror’.
Leroy Smart recorded hit after hit after hit including the incredible ‘God Helps The Man’ for Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee(Stiker Lee) who recalled it was “one of his first songs. It was the first tune I did with Leroy Smart but he did some other tunes for himself”. He first recorded his signature tune, ‘Pride And Ambition’, with youth producer Gussie Clarke(Augustus Gussie Clarke) although it was released on Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong label. Releases of the same calibre including ‘From Ethiopia’ for Channel One’Keep On Trying’ for Big Youth established Leroy Smart at the very forefront of Kingston’s top vocalists.
Down on Maxfield Avenue at the Hookim brothers Channel One Recording Studio Leroy Smart built a body of work including ‘Black Man’, ‘Jah Jah’, ‘Meaning Of Life’ and ‘Badness Don’t Pay’ (which was released on a ‘Channel One Economic Package’ seven inch that played at LP speed) that has seldom been bettered by anyone anywhere. However, it is the Well Charge seven inch ‘Ballistic Affair’ that will stand forever as a true classic. Leroy’s soulful, emotion packed delivery cut straight to the heart of the problem on this telling tale of internecine strife tearing communities apart in the Kingston ghetto… through no other reason than because a man came from a different area.
“Now through you rest a Jungle or you might block a Rema. You a go fight ‘gainst your brother”
Leroy Smart – ‘Ballistic Affair’
Leroy’s rough and rugged upbringing had shown him many years previously who the real enemies of ghetto poverty were… and it certainly wasn’t your brother suffering in a similar ghetto half a mile down the road. Years later Jo Jo(Joseph Hookim) reminisced that Mr Smart was one of his favourite artists… “the only one I would work with again was Leroy Smart”.
Now known as ‘The Don’ Leroy’s outrageous stage shows were hugely entertaining performances where his acrobatic agility was as much on display as his incredible vocal talents. His cameo appearance in 1978 in Theodoros Bafaloukos’ ‘Rockers’ film added to his growing legend and, as the Seventies turned into the Eighties, Leroy Smart was never far from the charts. “Working for myself and other people gives me more establishment…” and he recorded for many top producers including Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes on the dynamic ‘Trying Very Hard’ but increasingly concentrated on self productions for his own WWS (World Wide Success) label including the scornful ‘She Just A Draw Card’ and the bombastic ‘I Am The Don’ which, as ever, told it just like it is.
“From an orphan to a superstar of ambition…”
With over thirty long playing albums and countless seven inch records to his credit Leroy has demonstrated that he was never backward in coming forward when it came to the recording studio but he never gave less than 100% on every release. He has enjoyed a long and successful career and, in a cast of thousands of outstanding characters, the name of Mr Leroy Smart will always stand proud.