Published Sep 08, 2009One of the most influential producers in dancehall history has died. Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson, one half of the Steely and Clevie production team, died of a heart attack at the age of 47 following a bout with pneumonia on September 1.
Originally a keyboardist, Steely (pictured above right) began sessioning in 1974. By the early '80s, he played frequently with the Roots Radics band, which were the cornerstone of dancehall's nascent sound.
Working intermediately in King Jammys studio, he welcomed the sudden, digital shift in Jamaican music wrought by Wayne Smith's "Sleng Teng" in 1985. Teaming up with fellow session musician Cleveland "Clevie" Browne, he began to score hits in the late '80s, featuring a sparse yet still musical digital sound. This partnership would define the first wave of digital dancehall, stretching into the early '90s.
Some of the duo's biggest hits were voiced by Shabba Ranks, including the controversial "Twice My Age" and "Wicked Inna Bed."
Steely and Clevie also looked back to the past with tributes to Studio One's evergreen musical output; Dawn Penn's re-recording of "No No No" became a huge international hit in 1994, while Sean Paul and Sasha's version of "I'm Still in Love with You" hit the Billboard charts a decade later.
Steely had experienced numerous health problems in recent years. He suffered from diabetes, kidney problems and hypertension, and had just undergone brain surgery in July, which reportedly wasn't a direct factor in his death.
He leaves five children and a strong legacy as a musical pioneer behind.