Freddie McGregor Celebrates Reggae for the Ages at Crossroads

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"I feel more 28-ish," said a nearly 50-year-old Freddie McGregor on Sunday. The veteran Jamaican singer's birthday isn't until June 27, but Crossroads threw him an early party and McGregor responded with a 100-minute celebration masquerading as a concert.

Adding icing to McGregor's cake was fellow reggae-soul singer Richie Stephens, who mixed a rangy Luther Vandross-like voice with the skills of a Vegas showman -- a compliment. The way Stephens and the way-tight Millennium Band vibed during their 30-minute opening set was a joy, with the singer frequently directing the musicians to "wheel" and start the song over to tease the crowd or directing the audience to croon along.

Stephens was the perfect opener, but it was McGregor's night. He has sung professionally since he was 7, standing on an orange crate to reach the microphone while cutting singles at Studio One, but McGregor isn't content to rest on his laurels. Accompanied by the Millennium Band and three backup singers, a spirited McGregor sang 29 harmony-filled songs, mixing his own classics ("Bobby Bobylon," "Big Ship") with a virtual Jamaican jukebox of "big chunes" by Justin Hinds ("Carry Go Bring Come"), Stranger Cole and Lester Sterling ("Bangarang"), Derrick Harriott ("The Loser," redone as "I Was Born a Winner"), Bob Marley ("Redemption Song," "One Love") and Dennis Brown ("Revolution," "Love Has Found Its Way," "Here I Come").

After Marley, the late Brown is possibly the most beloved singer in Jamaica, and what McGregor shares with him -- besides a strong, soulful voice -- is the ability to shift smoothly between serious-themed roots reggae and more commercial lover's rock without losing his Rasta credibility or melodic appeal. But unlike Brown, who died at 42 due to drug-related problems, McGregor is healthy and singing as well as ever. Then again, he's only 28-ish.

-- Christopher Porter

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