Passed away nearly 20 years ago and even if his career was short, Tenor Saw impressed reggae history and specially the dancehall music.
Clive Bright alias Tenor Saw was born in 1966 in Kingston, Jamaica. As several artists - as Yami Bolo or Junior Reid - he began with Sugar Minott's Youth Promotion crew. But it's on George Phang's Powerhouse label that he released his first single "Roll Call" in 1984. Followed 'Lots Of Signs' and 'Pumpkin Belly' based on Sleng Teng rhythm. It's with this song that he met his first success in Jamaica. But it was nothing compared with what was going to happen…
Tenor Saw - Ring The AlarmThe hit 'Ring The Alarm' - based on Stalag 17 riddim - was released one year later, in 1985, on Winston Riley's Techniques label, at the start of digital era, where computerized rhythms dominated the dancehall scene.
With this crucial and classic tune Tenor Saw became a legend. Nowadays it's still a dancehall anthem and had been remixed many times. One famous version is Buju Banton's 'Ring The Alarm Quick' featuring Tenor Saw's vocal samples.
The first time Clive Bright sang the original one, it was during a clash between four sound systems, Youth Promotion – that he defended - versus Scorpio versus Jammy's versus Arrows. His sound ruled the dance and won the clash with 'Ring the Alarm' murderer lyrics:
Ring the alarm another sound is dying (…) four big sound inna one big land / the don sound a play the other 3 team come.
Tenor Saw didn't merely took with sound system songs' clash and light lyrics but released many cultural & spiritual tracks. He used to spread unity messages and describe ghetto reality in his songs with his sweet voice and his original singing styled.
After several singles such as 'Pumpkin Belly' released on Jammy's label in 1985 or classic 'Golden Hen' on Humming Bird, Sugar Minott produced his debut album 'Fever', released in 1985 on Blue Mountain. Here's an essential piece that traces the collaboration between the original singjay and the one who taught him the ropes with his Youth Promotion crew from Waterhouse district. It includes his first singles on classic riddims as Sleng Teng with 'Pumpkin Belly', Stalag with 'Fever', Queen Majesty with 'Roll Call' or 'Lots Of Signs' Tonight rhythm based on Keith & Tex song released in 1967.
Then Tenor Saw left Jamaica for USA. His leaving from the island signaled beginning of the end of his career. After a trip in Miami then London, he went to New York in 1987 where he worked with different producers and recorded some singles as 'Victory Train' with Freddie Mc Gregor's band and heavy 'Come Me Just A Come' on Gunman riddim, recently re-issued on Blue Mountain label and 'Chill Out Chill Out' duet with General Doggie.
Tenor Saw - Victory Train (big)One year later, Tenor Saw was killed by a car in Houston, Texas (USA) and was recovered on the road side. But a swirl of rumors and controversing ran about his death…
Somes say that he was linked to drug business and somes that Nitty Gritty shot him. The second version is not really credible insomuch as both singers were really good friends.
Maybe to reassert his innocence but most of all to pay tribute to his friend, Nitty Gritty recorded 'Who Killed Tenor Saw' on his Greensleeves' 'Jah In The Family' album released in 1992. Three years before, King Kong - a rival but also a friend - released his tribute song, 'He was a friend' on Jah All Mighty label. Nitty Gritty and King Kong were really inspired by Tenor Saw's nasal twang and sweet voice, mid-singing & mid-deejaying. Tenor Saw is singjay style originator in the 80's, when the digital music prevailed to the instrumental one.
The Jamaican career didn't end at his death. Since 1988, several compilations have been released as the great 'Tenor Saw Lives On - A Tribute To Tenor Saw', a live album including interviews clips. Sugar Minott's Black Roots label also released 'With a lots of signs' posthumous compilation featuring Nitty Gritty. Features 'African children', a single recorded at Youth Promotion Studio in 1984 and the great 'Hard road'.
Twenty two years old, four career' years, crucial 'Fever' album, a slew of singles and most of all, a recognizable and hypnotic voice. All that explain why the new artists generation took inspiration of Tenor Saw who features among essential Jamaican artists. Ring The Alarm!