Joe Higgs Remembrances

From the people who had close relationships with Joe Higgs, here are their remembrances.


  "As one of the island's greatest lyricists with his Life of Contradiction, learning Unity Is Power, saying Know Yourself Blackman, promising a fine and final Triumph - over four decades you can count Joe Higgs' albums on a single hand, in a country where some artists put out four albums in a month. But to Father Time, it is quality that counts, and that quality assures immortality to that combative man in the red beret.

  His was indeed a Life of Contradiction - a creator of musical masterpieces played all over the world to this day, who never reaped the rewards that others, lesser talents who fed off his inspiration and wisdom, had received. He was the quintessential product of Jamaica's teeming capital, yet lived much of his later life in a self-imposed exile here in Hellay. His generosity of spirit was not limited by any racial boundaries, though he was an acknowledged champion of the Black person's rights of freedom and justice.

  He was a good friend or relative to many of us here today, who are all richer for having known him. Some knew him only on a stage, others only as voice on the radio or records, but he has touched us all, with the uniqueness of his heart. Others of us today may choose to comment on Joe's keenly honed disputatious nature. He was a man who...stood his ground, held his tile, who had deepset beliefs and was a man who looooved to argue! to reason, like someone always ready, as Michael Thomas said in Babylon on a Thin Wire, "to argue a fine point of natural history with diabolical cunning and bombast, to stretch his cool and never crack to the point where he could stop traffic with the sheer authority of his image and kill flies with the ferocity of his concentrated gaze" - that was Joe Higgs.

God - he was difficult at times!

  [The bulk of the talk that followed was of stories and text that will appear in the forthcoming Feb. 2000 issue of The Beat, which includes excepts from Joe's unfinished autobiography.]


  His U.S. album "Triumph" came in 1985, but he saw not a dime from it. He was inveigled into signing a contract for it, and unwittingly signed away all his rights to his own work.

  A 1990 project on Shanachie Records united Joe with the remnants of the Wailers Band for "Blackman Know Yourself." A planned tour fell through, and a valuable source of exposure was lost. Undeterred, Joe continued to play festivals in places as far afield as Tokyo and Paris, and throughout North America and the Caribbean. Since 1984 his base of operations has been in Los Angeles, where he has tutored a new generation who carry on his excellent tradition of discipline of one's talent, respect for the music, and desire for perfection that are the hallmarks of Joe Higgs' teachings.

  I've tried to give a broad outline of Joe's trod, for others to come in and fill in the fine details. Know this, before we turn the floor over to all the rest of you who loved him too: he supported no politician, believing instead, as he told VH1 last summer, that democracy is hypocrisy.

  He LOVED his children, all dozen of them, and another dozen grandchildren: They include: Claudia Higgs-Donovan of Tampa, FL; Marcia "Pinky" Higgs of Los Angeles, CA (vocalist with Higgs & Twin); Angela "Dimples" Higgs-Barrett (wife of Aston Familyman Barrett, bass player of the Wailers Band) of Kingston, JA; Coltrane "Paul" Higgs of Kingston, JA (Musician); Marcus "Junior" Higgs of Kingston, JA; Adria "Lovie" Higgs of St Andrew, JA; Christopher "Chris" Higgs of Kingston, JA; Maxine "Max" Higgs-Brown of Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Patricia "Pat" Higgs of New York (vocalist); Sean "Baller" Higgs of London, England; Jaha "Princess" Higgs of Los Angeles; Kenneth "Folly Bush" Higgs (deceased).

  12 grandchildren; Nikki, Mike "Righteous"(vocalist) , Damien "Roots"(vocalist), Marsha (vocalist), Chevette, Bjorn"Dantu", Jobeth, Kevin, John, Cindy, Julie, Aston Jr., and greatgrandson Paul Marcus. Haul and Pull Up while we pass the torch on to you today.

  Toward the end he compared Sam Cooke with Otis Redding. "They both recorded 'Try A Little Tenderness'," Joe said. "Sam sang it soooo sweet. But when Otis sang it, it was pure soul!"

  It is unnervingly ironic that the last record released under Joe's name came just two months before he passed, a reissue from Coxson Dodd of a song by him called "Worry No More." On the flip, he placed a different artist, Derrick Morgan. His song? "Leave Earth."

  Leave earth?! Not as long as there are men and women on earth to sing the songs of solace and salvation of Joe Higgs. Joe will never leave earth!

  There is a poem which has brought some of that same solace to me over the years. It has only 21 words. It's written by an English woman named Rosemary Tonks. It wasn't written about Joe, but it could well have been:

my heart is full
but sometimes
only of your absence

i have been healed
but sometimes, still
the whole heart hobbles

  But how we all wish today that we could raise up our voices and beg Almighty Jah to "Haul and Pull Up, Joe Higgs - Haul and Pull Up, Jah! We're not finished yet - we want you here with us now, just one more time - Haul and Pull Up Brother Joe and hit us from the top, and make the music funky!" - Roger Steffens (January 2000)


"Joe Higgs was a brother amongst the Wailers for years. He was encouragement, and he inspired us and kept us together." - Peter Tosh (1976)

"We looked up to Joe Higgs. He was something like a musical guardian for us. He was a more professional singer, because he was workin' for years wit' a fella named Roy Wilson as Higgs & Wilson. They had a lotta hits and they had the knowledge of the harmony techniques, so he taught us [The Wailers] them. And he 'elped in the studio, to work out our different parts." - Bunny Wailer (1980's)

"Joe Higgs helped me understand that music. He taught me many tings." - Bob Marley

"I thank you very much for forwarding this information about my grandfather "Joe Higgs" passing away. Right know my family and myself are very sad about the death of my loving grandfather. I love him very much and will never stop loving him. The memories of him will aways be with me. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!" - Kevin Barrett (one of Joe Higgs' grandsons)

"He was a good brother, I always knew only good things about him, he lived his life good. I knew him a long time, back before he recorded any music, and I knew his babymother, Miss Richards, as we went to school and grew up together, so I know him a very, very long time. I saw him last year in Los Angeles for the last time. Then I heard he was sick. I will be traveling to Jamaica next week for a concert, and I will think of him often there. He was a very good man." - Donald Manning, of the Abyssinians (December 1999)

"One of my much treasured memories from my 'Complete Wailers' August 1996 trip to California is my meeting with Joe Higgs. It was a treat for me to meet this legendary musician in such a context. I remember watching with him and our party lengthy rushes I had shot in Trench Town a couple of years earlier and hearing his astute comments that night. I remember a warm person, tolerant to my ever ego-tripping personality that felt like boasting after he'd told me that to his knowledge no-one had ever dared to film Trench Town as it is because it is so dangerous to just go there." - Bruno Blum

Marcus Garvey Quote