Tenor Saw: Icon of Reggae Dancehall Music

Clive Bright better known as Tenor Saw, was a  dancehall singjay in the 1980s, considered one of the most influential singers of the early digital reggae era. His best-known song was the 1985 hit “Ring the Alarm” on the “Stalag 17” riddim.

Tenor Saw – Ring The Alarm

Bright had a religious upringing and sang in the Seventh-day Adventist Church of God choir in Olympic Gardens.  Seeking to make it as a recording artist, Bright approached several of Kingston’s producers. After being rejected by several others, George Phang gave the youngster a chance;
His first single, “Roll Call” was recorded in 1984 for Phang’s Powerhouse label, on the “Queen Majesty” rhythm.

Tenor Saw – Fever

He moved on with his friend Nitty Gritty, to work with Sugar Minott’s Youth Promotion sound system and Black Roots Records label, having hits in Jamaica with “Lots of Sign”, “Pumpkin Belly”, “Run Come Call Me”, and “Fever”. His most successful single, however, was “Ring the Alarm”, voiced over the “Stalag” riddim for Winston Riley’s Techniques label.

Tenor Saw – Shirley Jones

The singles’ success saw Tenor Saw work with King Jammy, recording “Pumpkin Belly” on Jammy’s (then) new “Sleng Teng” rhythm. Further hits followed in 1986 with “Golden Hen” (on the Uptempo label), and Minott issued Tenor Saw’s debut album, Fever, that year.   In common with most dancehall albums of the period, most of the rhythms were digital adaptions of older tunes from the 1960s and 1970s, usually produced originally by Coxsone Dodd or Duke Reid.

Tenor Saw – Golden Hen

“Shirley Jones” is based on the “Rougher Yet” riddim (named after Keith “Slim” Smith’s “Rougher Yet”), and “Eeni Meeni Mini Mo” uses the “Real Rock” riddim from Studio One, while “Roll Call” versions The Techniques’ “Queen Majesty” from Duke Reid, and “Lots of Sign” uses the bassline of “Tonight” by Keith & Tex, produced by Derrick Harriott.

By the time the album was released, Tenor Saw had relocated to Miami, joining the Skengdon crew, where he recorded “Dancehall Feeling” and “Bad Boys”. He recorded “No Work On a Sunday” for Donovan Germain, before moving to New York, where he recorded with Freddie McGregor (“Victory Train”). His last recording, “Chill Out Chill Out”, was a duet with General Doggie.

In August 1988 he was killed by a motor vehicle in Houston Texas, with the official cause of death determined as a case of hit and run accident, although other sources insist that he was murdered.   He died at 21 years of age. Tenor Saw is regarded as one of the most influential singers of the early digital reggae era of the mid-1980s.

Tenor Saw’s friends and colleagues Nitty Gritty (“Who Killed Tenor Saw?”) and King Kong (“He was a Friend”) both recorded tributes the year after his death.  Super Cat’s song “Nuff man a Dead” is about the death of Tenor Saw and other superstars of the time.

The guitar riff at the beginning of Sublime’s song “Greatest Hits” is the same as the one at the end of Tenor Saw’s song “Golden Hen” which is in itself a version of the Junjo Lawes’ riddim Diseases.
The rap group Fu-Schnickens recorded a rap cover of “Ring the Alarm” sampling the original.
Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub also covered “Ring the Alarm” on their self-titled debut album.  The song “Fell, Destroyed” by Fugazi from the album Red Medicine includes the line “Ring the alarm or you’re sold to dying” and the lyric sheet included with the album pays “respects to Tenor Saw”.

German rap group Dynamite Deluxe produced a track called “Lots of Sign”, with guest-appearance Patrice singing the hookline taken of the same titled Tenor Saw song.  Hip hop crew Lifesavas from Portland use the melody and lyrics of “Fever” for a song of the same title on the Spirit in stone LP, released 2003.

Independent rap artist Brother Ali samples Tenor Saw’s “Ring the Alarm” in his song “Champion” from his album Shadows on the Sun.  Brooklyn MC Mos Def references “Ring the Alarm” in his single “Universal Magnetic”. Big Audio Dynamite’s “Rewind,” from their Megatop Phoenix album, quotes “Ring the Alarm”.

Tenor Saw – Lots Of Sign

38 thoughts on “Tenor Saw: Icon of Reggae Dancehall Music

  1. his voice is like a melody by itself; whom ever killed him you can trust it was jelousy thing. Even in death his music still get big ups! renowned artist til this day uses his music and music style.


  2. nitty gritrty introduced Tenor saw to producer george phang{powerhouse} who cut his first tune called “roll call” in 1984
    they did an lp together called “tenor saw meets nitty gritty 1984-1986


  3. My favourite tenor saw songs.

    1.roll call 84
    2.victory train 86
    3.ring the alarm 85
    4.run come call me 85
    5.fever 85
    6.african children 84
    7.praise jahovia 85
    8.golden hen 86
    9.lost of sign 85
    10.just a come 84


  4. They killed him in texas after he did a few shows and sold some records but they did not want to pay him so they decided to out his life. His son need answers as to what happen to his dad in texas.


  5. Tic a Tic a Toc my golden hen wow!!!!!!!!!! Its like am in heaven when I listen to it. The guitar, the trumpet and Tenor Saw’s voice! Think am Lying? put your head phones on and have a listen foe yourself. What a classic? this is real treasure right here.


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