One of Jamaica’s most popular vocalists in the late 1970s, Jacob Miller enjoyed only six short years of a bright career before he was tragically killed in a car accident while he was still in his twenties. Jacob Miller recorded some of the most powerful music ever produced in Jamaica and his career, although short, produced some of the most popular reggae songs to ever come out of Jamaica.
Although singing on ‘Killer Miller’ “I was born on Rosseau Road, the number was 21A”, Jacob Miller was not actually born in Kingston, originally hailing from Mandeville, his single mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Kingston, who happened to live on Rosseau Road.
Due to his origins, Jacob Miller’s birth year is still an unresolved issue with competing estimates of 1952, 1955 and some interviews with Augustus Pablo even suggesting a later date of 1960.
Regardless of the exact year, Miller was still no older than a teenager when his career started under Coxsone Dodd at Studio 1 in 1968 with Miller recording a handful of songs for the producer, including the single ‘Love Is A Message’. Dodd did not actively promote Miller’s early work, but ‘Love Is A Message’ did catch the attention of Augustus Pablo, who gave the song airing at his Rockers Sound System
This wasn’t enough to keep Coxsone’s interest and Miller’s career seemed to have ended before it even truly begun. Miller was not discouraged by his early experiences and kept practising and hanging around Kingston’s studios.
In 1972, Augustus Pablo and his brother Garth Swaby launched their own Rockers label, which initially served as a home for Augustus’ instrumentals, but soon branched out to recording vocal cuts.
In 1974, Augustus brought Miller into Dynamic Studios to re-record ‘Love Is A Message’, resulting in the phenomenal record ‘Keep on Knocking’, a record which served as one of the foundations for the new rockers style of reggae.
Over the next two years, Miller would cut five more singles for Augustus, each a Rockers classic which continued to further the popularity of the new style, with ‘Baby I Love You So’, ‘False Rasta’, ‘Who Say Jah No Dread’, ‘Each One Teach Ten’ and ‘Girl Named Pat’. Miller was not originally credited for his lead vocal on Pablo’s hit single ‘Baby I Love You So’ in 1975.
It was with these early singles that Miller earned his reputation. However, Rockers’ finances did not cover the constant recording that a young Miller craved, and thus when he was approached by Inner Circle, Miller jumped on board.
Inner Circle already had a few singles to their credit and had also acted as backing singers in the past originally forming in 1968. The group had since folded since then, but came back anew in 1973 as a Top 40s cover band, originally plying their trade at Jamaica’s resort circuit.
The group’s first cut together with Miller ‘Tenement Yard’ was credited to the singer alone, as were many of their future numbers, this has since created a hard task for those trying to draw a distinct line between Miller’s solo work and his work with the group, as not only were many of his releases co-produced by Miller and Roger Lewis as ABC Productions, but virtually all of the his solo work was backed by at least some of the members of Inner Circle.
Whilst Miller preferred Rockers style, while Inner Circle indulged in more experimentation with their sound often delving into pop, soul, funk and even disco sounds. While Inner Circle scored some big hits, Miller maintained his prominence on the streets with his solo work.
Throughout 1975 Miller would strike a deep chord with the Jamaican public such as ‘Forward Jah Jah Children’, ‘Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush’, the Gussie Clark produced ‘Girl Don’t Come’ and ‘ I Am A Natty’ a Joe Gibbs produced cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Soul Rebel’. Recording all these classic records while working on Inner Circle’s Trojan album ‘Blame It On The Sun’.
1976 saw further success for Jacob Miller, taking second place at the Independence Song Festival with ‘All Night Till Daylight’, and turned the soul masterpiece ‘Dock of the Bay’ into a dread classic.
1976 also saw Inner Circle sign to Capitol Records, unleashing their first two albums on the record label the following year with ‘Reggae Thing’ and ‘Ready for the World’.
Miller’s debut solo album followed in 1978, which showcased both the lighter and heavier sides of Miller’s skill set.
Miller and Inner Circle also went on to feature in the classic film ‘Rockers’ in 1978, also going on to headline the One Love Peace Concert in 1978. With Miller during a time of increasing unrest between Kingston’s rival gangs, bringing together on-stage Claudie Massop and Tony Welch, leaders of the Tivoli and Jungle gangs.
Before the end of 1978, Miller would release two further solo albums, the crucial ‘Killer Miller’ album, and the festive ‘Natty Christmas’.
‘Natty Christmas’ contained a slew a classic records with ‘Forward Ever’, ‘80,000 Careless Ethopians’, ‘Lamb’s Bread Collie’ and ‘Shaky Girl’.
Miller would release another classic album ‘Wanted’ in 1979 which again included another number of classics with ‘Standing Firm’, ‘Healing of the Nation’, ‘Sinners’, ‘Peace Treaty Style’ and ‘I’ve Got the Handle’
Miller had now reached the height of his success, which had him even overtake Bob Marley as the most powerful singer on the island. Inner Circle’s incredible performance at the One Love Concert brought the band a contract with Island Records, who released the incredibly popular ‘Everything is Great’ album, which brought two British hit singles to Inner Circle.
In March 1980, Miller accompanied Bob Marley and Island Records head Chris Blackwell to Brazil, to celebrate the opening of the label’s new offices there. Meanwhile, the rest of Inner Circle were preparing for their upcoming tour of America with the Wailers. The trio returned on the 21st of March.
Tragically, on the 23rd of March, Jacob Miller passed away in a car crash in Jamaica, on Hope Road, Miller is believed to some accounts to have been returning from a jam session at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston.
Jacob Miller is one of the foundations of reggae’s international success, an artist that helped to diversify a genre adding his own elements to it’s sound. Jacob Miller will always be remembered as one of the greatest reggae singers to grace Jamaica, producing timeless classics throughout his short career. Jacob Miller is a reggae icon in the truest sense, although having a career that was tragically cut short Miller was able to have a phenomenal impact on the sound of a reggae, an impact that is still heard to this day.