Entertainment

Tenor Saw: still cutting edge

By Sade Gardner
Observer writer
gardners@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 31, 2018

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THIS month marks 30 years since dancehall prodigy Tenor Saw was found dead on a Texas roadway. While his career only lasted four years, the 22-year-old singer's legacy is immortal.

Tenor Saw (given name Clive Bright) hailed from West Kingston and had an organic interest in music. As a teenager, the aspiring deejay sought the mentorship of Sugar Minott and became part of his Youth Promotions record label and sound system. This relationship led to him working with producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James.

That partnership resulted in Pumpkin Belly, one of the hit songs on the 1985 Sleng Teng rhythm.

James recalled how the track came to be.

“Nobody knows which song would be a hit but I anticipated Pumpkin Belly,” James told Jamaica Observer's weekly Splash. “The day Sugar Minott came to record, Saw said he wanted to do a special, so he started singing and we did it on a cassette. I liked the song and I knew it was going to be special, so I asked him to come in the next day and do the same song for me, but he said he wanted an advance; I gave him $8,000.

“Well, him come back to do the song but he didn't have the same vibes that he had the day before, and we didn't like what we were hearing so I changed up the tempo as the engineer to make the song work. It's actually the cassette cut that you hear on the road now,” he continued.

Pumpkin Belly is a play on an old Jamaican proverb, which James said was Tenor Saw's signature.

“He had a unique style; deejays come now with their own styles too but not like his,” he said.

“Lyrically him always a refer to old-time people, like him granny and old people saying like, 'John Crow seh him nuh work pan Sunday' and all of that. He was a creative, spur of the moment kind of guy who could come up with a song right there.”

James said his legacy lives on.

“Up til even now, when you play Tenor Saw in a session, you get a big applause. He is sadly missed and I wish you had some artiste come wid dem talent deh again.”

Singjay Anthony Red Rose, a contemporary of Tenor Saw, echoed James' sentiments.

“His songs still have the same effect and impact,” Red Rose said. “Tenor Saw was a trendsetter; him come wid a style weh the world did fascinated with dat style and everybody was caught up with that kind of singing.”

Tenor Saw is also remembered for his sound clash classic Ring the Alarm, recorded on the Stalag rhythm for producer Winston Riley. His other hits include Lots of Sign, Fever, Run Come Call Me, and the gospel-inspired Roll Call.

Circumstances surrounding the artiste's death still remain a mystery. He was found dead with broken limbs near a Texas roadway in August 1988. No one was arrested for his death.

In a previous interview with Jamaica Observer's weekly Splash, Delores “Cherry” Prince, Tenor Saw's mother, said it was difficult coping with her son's death.

“When I used to hear his music, I used to feel sad. But now I feel happy when I hear them,” she said.

“They killed my son, but they can't kill his voice,” she added.

Tenor Saw is survived by a 31-year-old son, Justin.

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