Britain's most admired singing producer, Dandy Livingstone brought homegrown reggae to homesick West Indians, helped establish Trojan Records, and was instrumental in turning what was initially a novelty genre into a nationwide obsession. Born Robert Livingstone Thompson on December 14, 1943, in Saint Andrews, Jamaica, the star-to-be immigrated to London in 1959. The teen had little interest in music at the time, and when he left school he was intent on pursuing an engineering career. His friends, however, felt differently, and watching their practices slowly kindled his interest. Eventually Livingstone recorded a demo, which he gave to Lee Gothal, who then handed it on to Rita King, who released it. The first the singer knew about it was when he heard it on the street. Throwing caution to the wind, Livingstone threw himself into music. With duos all the rage, he took on the moniker Sugar & Dandy, initially double-tracking his own vocals, before bringing in first Roy Smith, then Tito "Sugar" Simone. In this guise, and as the solo "Dandy" (among many other aliases), Livingstone unleased a deluge of popular singles between 1964 and 1968. They appeared on myriad labels, although the singer remained under contract to Rita and Ben King. But with royalty checks few and far between, it never became an issue. In 1968, however, his contract lapsed, at which point Pama handed Livingstone an advance for his debut album. At precisely this point, Gothal offered him a job as an independent producer at the newly launched Trojan Records. Pama got its money back, and Trojan got itself a star. Livingstone provided all the label's recordings, at least until licensing deals were struck with a clutch of Jamaican producers.
Trojan's initial attempt to sell albums to the massive was a failure, but it did result in Livingstone's excellent Follow That Donkey and Dandy Returns sets. However, his third full-length, 1969's Let's Catch the Beat, was a smashing success, the first in Trojan's budget-priced series, and the label's first brush with the U.K. charts. Meanwhile, Livingstone's Down Town imprint was also going gangbusters, with such hits as his own "Reggae in your Jeggae" and Tony Tribe's "Red Red Wine." "I Need You" and "Morning Side of the Mountain" in duet with Audrey Hall were also hits, while 1970 brought the smash "Raining in My Heart." Even the latter, however, was kept out of the U.K. chart by the industry's refusal to include specialist record shops in its counts. This fate also awaited 1972's "Take a Letter Maria," with the eponymous Dandy Livingstone album arriving that same year. In September, however, the singing producer finally broke into the charts, when "Suzanne Beware of the Devil" wormed its way into the Top 15, with its follow-up, "Big City"/"Think About That," dancing into the Top 25. "Come Back Liza," however, failed to repeat these successes. Thoroughly disillusioned, Livingstone left Trojan soon after. He released a clutch of fine roots singles and a trio of excellent albums later in the '70s, though by then his interest in music was already waning. So were his feelings for Britain, and in 1983 Livingstone returned home to Jamaica. Helping to ignite the skinheads' love of reggae, penning classics that inspired the 2 Tone crowd (including "Rudy, a Message to You"), and overseeing myriad rocksteady and reggae masterpieces, Dandy Livingstone was synonymous with British reggae for an entire generation. ~ Jo-Ann Greene