Reggae artist Junior Murvin died on Monday in Jamaica. Although an official cause of death has not yet been released, Murvin had been recently hospitalized for diabetes and blood-pressure-related illnesses. He was between ages 64 and 67, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Murvin, who was born Murvin Junior Smith, is best remembered for his 1976 single “Police and Thieves,” a track he cowrote with dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry and sang in a falsetto that comments on morality and immorality. The Clash recorded a six-minute cover of the song on their 1977 debut, The Clash. The U.K. punks also released a single of their version that same year.
“That was the first time any white men had attempted to cover a reggae hit,” Clash frontman Joe Strummer said, according to the 2006 book Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. “It was considered a little bit naff [poor taste] if you were trying to copy that style, but I think we did it in a way that lent something of our own to it. . . I remember being frightened as hell listening to Junior Murvin’s feathery voice, floating high above the track, and then thinking, ‘God, I’ve got to go sing this with my useless voice.'” Other artists – including the Orb, Dave Grohl and Boy George – have recorded covers of the song.
Perry discovered Murvin after seeing him perform in lounges. After the release of Police and Thieves, the song was featured in the 1978 reggae movie Rockers. The single became an international hit and peaked at Number 23 on Great Britain’s singles chart, according to Official Charts Company. It would be Murvin’s only collaboration with Perry.
Following the success of Police and Thieves, Murvin recorded a handful of albums in the Seventies and Eighties. He had reggae hits later with 1979’s “Cool Out Son,” 1982’s “Bad Man Posse” and 1984’s “Muggers in the Street,” though none would cross over in quite the same way as his breakthrough. On his final full-length, Inna De Yard, he performed Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Gipsy Woman” and “Rescue the Children,” as well as six tracks of his own.