Josey Wales is one of founding father of dancehall, building on the innovative work of his mentor U Roy, to help push dancehall towards what it became in the 80s and 90s. Helping to create a style that resonated not only in the streets of Kingston, but with people from around the world.
Born Joseph Winston Sterling in West Kingston, Josey Wales took his stage name from the Clint Eastwood Western Outlaw Josey Wales, with ‘The Outlaw’ becoming a nickname for the deejay, along with ‘The Colonel’.
Wales began performing professionally with the Roots Unlimited Soundsystem in 1977. He made his name whilst performing as part of U Roy’s King SturGav HiFi Sound System, where he spent three and a half years during the beginning of the 80s.
At King SturGav’s he teamed up with sparring partner Charlie Chaplin, the combination of the two became a massive draw for the soundsystem making it arguably the biggest soundsystem in Kingston.
Wales’ first recordings were from live performances and were issued on Bunny Roots’ label. Wales didn’t begin recording in the studio until he linked up with one of the most influential producers in early dancehall, Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes.
Wales then became the main feature of Lawes’ Volcano sound system. Which led to his first single being released in 1983 on the Volcano label with ‘Baby Come Home’.
‘Baby Come Home’ wasn’t a particularly successful single for the deejay, but it’s follow up ‘Let Go Mi Hand’ was a smash hit and really established Wales as a recording star, not just a soundsystem deejay.
Wales’ debut album, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ would appear later in 1983 and established him as one of the top deejays in Jamaica, with many only rating Yellowman in front of him. ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ featured amazing tracks like ‘It A Fi Burn’ and ‘Stalk of Sensimilia’.
Further hits like ‘Bobo Dread’ which featured on his joint 1984 album ‘Two Giants Clash’ with Yellowman and ‘Drug Abusing’ which featured on Wales’ second solo album ‘No Way No Better Than Yard’, really cemented Josey Wales’ position at the top of dancehall.
In 1985, Wales moved to King Jammy’s label and recorded a slew of hit records including ‘Na Lef Jamaica’, ‘Ha Fi Say So’, ‘Right Moves’ , ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘Water Come A Mi Eye’.
The ‘Rulin’ album would appear in 1986 on the Black Solidarity label and several collections of his work for Jammy would appear in the later 1980s.
Towards the end of the 1980s Wales’ style was becoming increasingly out of date as other deejays were starting to focus more towards lyrical technique slackness and gun talk, which did not really fit the mould of Wales’ staunch Rastafari beliefs.
Wales remained active on the music scene, acting as a mentor for upcoming deejays, like the young Shabba Ranks.
He made an album with George Phang in 1989 called ‘Undercover Lover’. Wales mainly focused on collaborative work during the early 90s creating duo albums with U Roy and Charlie Chaplin.
A duet with Beres Hammond ‘Hey Girl’ was a big hit in the UK in 1993.
A solo album followed in 1994 with ‘Cowboy Style’ which released on King Jammy’s label.
In 1997, Wales was robbed whilst at a bar in Kingston and sustained gunshot wounds during the confrontation. This incident led to the release of the hit single ‘Bush Wacked’ which retold the story of the incident.
In 1998, Wales joined the reunited King SturGav Hifi Soundsystem, touring with Charlie Chaplin, Brigadier Jerry and U-Roy.
Josey Wales was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government in October 2017.
Josey Wales is one of the most underrated pioneers in dancehall, who alongside Yellowman dictated the direction of early dancehall and built on the work of the likes of U-Roy to help popularise the dancehall movement throughout Jamaica and around the world. Josey Wales should be given more credit for this influence on a genre of music that has had such a huge influence globally, he is yet another Jamaican artist that is criminally under respected on the global stage.
Check out more of Josey Wales’ incredible music below.