Judge Dread was a white reggae and ska recording artist who had a string of hit singles during the 1970s. He sold millions of records, and was the second biggest selling reggae artist—only beaten in album sales by Bob Marley, though Dread scored more hit singles than Marley—and had the dubious distinction of being the most banned recording artist ever—with a total of eleven singles deemed unsuitable for broadcast during his career.
Born Alexander Minto Hughes in Snodland, Kent, England in 1945, Dread first became a fan of reggae in the 1960s while living with a Jamaican family in Brixton, London. He was passionate about the music and became friends with the legendary ska and rocksteady artists Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan, who were to have an influence on his musical career.
Dread was a giant of a man, weighing in around 250 pounds, which more than helped with his choice of work as a club bouncer, wrestler (under the monicker “The Masked Avenger”) and eventually debt collector for the ska record label Trojan. It was while working for Trojan that Dread cut his first self-financed single “Big Six.” The track was inspired by Prince Buster’s banned 1969 underground hit “Big 5”—a catchy number about weed, sex and spunk, which Dread used as basis for his own salty take on traditional nursery rhymes in 1972.
Dread was a master of the smutty double or perhaps more correctly stated, the single entendre, and although some songs were explicit, he always claimed the innuendo was all in the mind of the audience, as the lyrics to “Big Five” show:
There was an old sailor, who sat on a rock,
Waving and shaking his big hairy…Fist
at the ladies next door in The Ritz,
Who taught all the children to play with their…Ice-creams
and marbles and all things galore,
Along comes a lady who looks like a…Decent young woman,
who walks like a duck,
She said she’s invented a new way to….etc. etc…
After the success of “Big Six” more hits followed in a numerical order with “Big Seven,” Big Eight” and “Big NIne” before Dread recorded his own novelty versions of “Je t’aime… moi non-plus,” “Come Outside” and “Y Viva Suspenders.” Most weeks his mug with his Brian Connolly haircut and paintbrush beard was regularly flashed onscreen during the chart rundown for Top of the Pops but his songs were never played. Which makes Judge Dread’s success all the more incredible, as he never received any airplay—or perhaps it says more about the (lack of) taste of the record-buying public during the 1970s? Whichever—Judge Dread was once a major phenomenon, who continued performing through the less successful 1980s and 1990s until his sudden and untimely death right after a gig in 1998.
Understandably, TV footage of Judge Dread is rare, but here is the reggae giant performing “Big Six” in front of group of topless dancers on Musikladen from late 1980.
Listen to some more of Judge Dread’s smutty reggae, after the jump…