Yabby You passed away at home on January 12, 2010. Of Yabby You, noted author and friend of the blog David Katz wrote in the Guardian on February 1, 2010:
“Known as the “Jesus Dread” because he wore dreadlocks but adhered to the Christian faith rather than the conventional beliefs of Rastafari, he produced a series of sublime devotional recordings from the mid-1970s onwards. The apocalyptic spiritualism of his lyrics, the superb musicianship of his backing band, and the uncommon arrangement of his material, kept his output among the most compelling roots reggae releases ever issued.
He was born Vivian Jackson and raised in poverty, with his six siblings, in the ghetto of western Kingston. His father, a carpenter and Kingston native, was a staunch follower of Marcus Garvey, the radical champion of black self-determination. His mother was a dressmaker who hailed from rural Clarendon. He was taken to church from an early age. As recounted in Randall Grass’s book Great Spirits, he was fascinated by the Bible and decided that the best way to understand its words was to directly experience them. Choosing to emulate Jesus, he left home at the age of 12 to discuss religious doctrine with the learned men of the land. This led him to various Rasta communities on the periphery of the west Kingston ghettos, while he earned a living at a metal foundry in the Waterhouse district.
At the age of 17, Jackson was taken seriously ill, his ailments including malnutrition, pneumonia, brain fever and an ulcer. Following an operation, he was no longer able to walk without crutches, and was subsequently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. He began to live by his wits, often by offering betting tips at the racetrack.
His path to the music business was particularly strange: in 1969, following an argument with his peers about Haile Selassie’s alleged divinity, a thunderstorm started, during which Jackson said he heard angels singing, “Be you, yabby yabby you.” He was compelled to enter a recording studio to imitate the chorus on record, but had no money to do so, and was only able to achieve the goal in 1972, after convincing musicians such as the bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett, drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace and guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith to provide backing for free. The result, Conquering Lion, which was mixed by the renowned dub engineer King Tubby, ultimately led him to adopt the moniker Yabby You.
After recording sporadic singles with members of the Gladiators and the Congos, You formed the Prophets vocal trio with Alaric Forbes and Bobby Melody. The debut album, Conquering Lion (aka Ramadam), was a stunningly intense work containing fiery numbers such as Jah Vengeance and Run Come Rally, both recorded at Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio, where You produced Wayne Wade’s Black Is Our Colour, one of the most outstanding releases of 1975. The subsequent albums Chant Down Babylon Kingdom and Deliver Me From My Enemies maintained the same standard, each containing works of fearsome religious and political retribution, interspersed with the occasional love song. In the same era, You issued compelling dub albums in conjunction with King Tubby and Tommy McCook, including the menacing Beware, and two different sets both confusingly entitled Prophesy of Dub.
In addition to his work with the Prophets, You produced superb albums with upcoming talent, including the debut LP by Trinity, Shantytown Determination; Wayne Wade’s Dancing Time; the self-titled debut of Tony Tuff; and Serious Reasoning, the debut album of Michael Prophet, who became one of the biggest reggae stars of the early 1980s.
After the unauthorised UK release of You’s album Jah Jah Way and the US issue of African Queen, another period of ill health slowed his output. Then, in the early 1990s, You cut a few releases with lesser-known talents such as Shuggy Milligan and Curtis Prophet, and a lacklustre solo set, Presenting New Roots Reggae. After living above the producer Mad Professor’s south London studio, he voiced the competent album Yabby You Meets Mad Professor and Black Steel at Ariwa Studio. The concerted reissue campaign carried out by the label Blood and Fire also brought You’s best works to a new audience.”