Fred Locks’ Black Star Liner album is still a collector’s item among hardcore roots fans.

Anyone who goes studio hopping in Kingston, or attends live events in the Jamaican capital, is likely to run into Fred Locks (watch our 2019 interview). Even though he is a fixture, the composer of one of reggae’s great anthems is unknown to many contemporary fans.

In February, VP Records reissued Black Star Liner, his classic 1976 album which contains the seminal title song. It also includes I’ve Got A Joy, another fan favorite, as well as True Rastaman and Wolf Wolf.

This is not the first time the album has been re-released, as dub and vinyl versions preceded the latest product. The burly Fred Locks credits its timeless message and outstanding musicianship for enduring shelf life and believes each time the Hugh Boothe-produced set hits the market, he is introduced to new fans.

“Mi feel good ‘bout it still ‘cause a lotta people who neva know ‘bout it, will know ‘bout it. When dem album dey come out, a lotta youth neva born yet, so I think this release is a good thing in di sense dat it going to reach different places, different countries. Wi give thanks, ‘cause a we do di works, an’ a we plant di seeds,” Fred Locks reasoned.

A member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, his commitment to Rastafari is as passionate as the day he embraced the faith in April, 1966 when Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I visited Jamaica. 

His father’s roots are in Manchester and St. Elizabeth, rural parishes in the country’s south-central region. Fred Locks is a cousin of Maxi Priest, Jacob Miller and the rapper Heavy D whose lineage is also traced to districts in those areas. 

Fred Locks started his career at Studio One in the late 1960s as a balladeer, but after seeking Rastafari, the direction of his songs took on a more militant tone, resulting in him writing Black Star Liner in 1968.

It was not until 1975 that it was recorded, with Boothe, a fellow ‘Twelve Tribes’ member, as producer. They are also from Harbour View, a middle-class community in east Kingston where Fred Locks saw Selassie I shortly after his arrival 58 years ago.

Black Star Liner, the album, was recorded at three historic studios: Randy’s, Harry J’s and Treasure Isle. The song, inspired by Marcus Garvey’s shipping line of the same name, featured guitarists Earl “Chinna” Smith, Jerome “Jah Jerry” Haynes and Howard Roberts; drummer Benbow Creary, keyboardist Pablove Black and bassist Earl “Bagga” Walker.

Released at the height of the roots-reggae revolution in Jamaica, the song was a revelation. The album is considered a collector’s item among hardcore roots fans. Fred Locks says it, and songs from that era, deserve to be played on Jamaican radio.

“Of course! But is because of di payola thing, dat kinda stagnate our thing. I don’t know if people  accept nowadays dat is Rastafari bring reggae music an’ everything Jamaica to have to di table,” he stated.

Born Rasta, Fred Locks’ previous album, was released by Montego Records in December, 2022.

By Howard Campbell for