Romeo was a performer who managed to rise above the rudest of
beginnings (recording-wise) to become one of the first Rastaman
singers to record a series of deeply spiritual and socially
conscious roots songs.
He was born Maxwell Smith in Kingston and first became famous for
his raunchy early '60s hit "Wet Dream," containing suspiciously
suggestive lyrics concerning a man in bed with his woman. The song
was a runaway hit in Great Britain until older people began
listening to it closely and banned it. Though Romeo publicly
claimed the song was about a leaky roof, the ban remained. This
did not stop the song from making it to the British Top Ten thanks
to its popularity amongst London's rebellious young skinheads.
With that success under his belt.
Romeo released a few
more similarly themed "novelty" tunes such as "Wine Her Goosie"
and "Pussy Watch Man" with only modest success. As the '70s
progressed, Romeo underwent a few profound spiritual changes. By
the time he teamed up with production wizard Lee Perry in the
mid-'70s, he had become a committed Rastaman and was singing
visionary songs praising Jah and calling the sufferahs to social
consciousness and culture. Songs from this period include "Let the
Power Fall," "Pray for Me," "Every Man Ought to Know" and "Black
Equality." With Perry, Romeo recorded his magnum opus, War Ina
Babylon (1976), with the Upsetters. Though Romeo penned or
co-penned most of the songs, and sang all of the songs, most of
the album's success has been attributed to the genius of Perry and
many consider this one of his finest albums ever. Romeo continued
recording singles with Perry for a short while afterward, but then
the two had a falling out and split up. Since then, though he
continues to record and perform, Romeo has yet to find the perfect
niche for his silky, haunting voice and earnest style, releasing
Selassie Forever in 1999.