The singer – born Winston Rodney – has been performing regularly for more than three decades, rarely taking more than a few months off the road.
“I kind of slow it down now, for I’m not young like before,” Burning Spear told Pollstar on the eve of his new album’s release. “Got to take it easy, you know?”
Taking it easy is a relative term, and for Burning Spear, it doesn’t mean sitting still. Our Music – the second album released on his own label, Burning Music Productions – hits stores September 20 and he’s kicking off a three-week tour in New York City to promote it.
The singer emphasizes that this outing is no biggie, however.
“We didn’t plan to do a tour this year,” he said. “It’s because of the releasing of the album that I’m on the road doing my little thing here and there, but next year will be the big one.”
The “big one” he refers to is a world tour, including Europe, the U.S., Canada and “other places.” For now, though, the fall itinerary is no cakewalk, taking him from NYC’s Irving Plaza to San Diego’s House of Blues and back to Boston to close the trek at The Roxy October 12.
The singer did a warm-up show at Chicago’s House of Blues September 16, where, he said, “everything was rockin’.”
While Burning Spear is eager to bust out the new tunes, including Our Music’s “Walk” and “O Rastaman,” he understands the need to include crowd-pleasers like his hits “Marcus Garvey” and “Red, Gold and Green.”
“If you don’t sing those old classics, [you may as well] not do anything,” he laughed. “That is what the people really want to hear. They’re familiar with those things, they sing along with them, and man, if you don’t go there and do that, you’re gonna be in trouble.”
Since recording his first single, “Door Peep,” in 1969 – when the name Burning Spear referred to a duo – the singer has worked to spread the reggae message to the world. He began touring abroad in the 1970s, before most fans in North America and Europe knew what to make of Jamaican music.
“My first solo tour was in Canada,” he said. “And it was like 65 people, at that time, in the club … . It take a while.
“You know, from at that time, as a new person in the business, I think what really kept me [going] was my patience. I tried to flex my patience as much as I could.”
When he came back for his second North American solo tour, the numbers made a modest increase – to about 85 people, he said. But it just kept “growing, growing and growing” until he was playing in front of thousands – numbers which have only continued to increase as he enters his fourth decade of performing.
When asked about his longevity, the singer is humble.
“There’s a lot of us who are not around at this time, and I’m still around, so I have to give thanks to the Father and I have to give thanks to the people who’ve been supporting I-man works.”
This has been no slouch of a year for reggae music in general, with artists like Willie Nelson and Sinead O’Connor recording reggae albums and Damian Marley burning up the charts. Burning Spear is adamant about the genre’s staying power.
“I feel like the popularity is going be there,” he said. “It’s not like something that’s going to die. … It’s getting more life and more energy than before.”
Having lived in Queens for the past 18 years, Burning Spear decided to record Our Music in a New York studio, making it the first album he has ever recorded outside Jamaica.
Releasing his music on his own label is the culmination of a lifetime spent learning the business the hard way, he said.
“I’ve been dealing with various record companies over the past years, and I never yet get a proper count of how many records sold, when, unto who, and where it go to. And now, at least I can get a count for my own record, based upon how many sold – which is very good. I’m happy about the whole thing.”
Though he runs his own record company and continues to mount at least one nationwide tour per year, Burning Spear insists he’s moving at a relaxed pace.
“I’m takin’ it easy,” he said. “I’m in my pre-retirement right now; I’m just slowing it down, you know?
“[I may retire in] a couple more years; I myself don’t even know. I know when the time is right, I’m going to feel it, and then I will just say it, in public, that this is it.
“But for now, I’m just going with the flow, within this pre-retirement stage.”