Max Romeo (born Maxwell Livingston Smith, 22 November 1947, St. D'Acre, St. James, Jamaica) is a reggae and roots reggae recording artist who has achieved chart success in his home country, and in the United Kingdom. Romeo was responsible for launching a new sub-genre of reggae with overtly suggestive lyrics. At the time of release of his infamous "Wet Dream" in 1968, Romeo had already had several hits with the vocal trio the Emotions. Romeo established himself as one of the most important figures in the roots scene.
Romeo left home at the age of 14 and worked on a sugar plantation outside Clarendon, before winning a local talent competition when he was 18. This prompted a move to the capital,Kingston, in order to embark on a musical career. In 1965 he joined up with Kenneth Knight and Lloyd Shakespeare in The Emotions, whilst also working as a record plugger for Ken Lack's Caltone label. The group were unsuccessful in auditions for other producers, but Lack offered them an audition after overhearing Smith singing to himself while working. In 1966, the group had their first hit, with the Lack-produced "(Buy You) A Rainbow". The Emotions went on to release several hit singles and by 1968, the singer, by that point known as Max Romeo, launched a solo career. Working with producer Bunny Lee, he recorded a number of pop songs, mainly love ballads, which failed to achieve any success. Romeo returned to The Emotions, now recording for Phil Pratt, and founded a new band, The Upsetters.
1968 saw the breakthrough in Romeo's career, when he wrote "Wet Dream", a song that became a massive hit in Jamaica. The track was banned by the BBC Radio in the UK due to its overly sexual lyrics, although the singer claimed that it was about a leaking roof. Nevertheless, "Wet Dream" became a Top 10 hit in the UK, where it spent six months in the chart. A number of follow-up singles in a similar vein was released in 1969: "Belly Woman", "Wine Her Goosie" and "Mini-Skirt Vision", as well as Max Romeo's debut LP, A Dream. A UK tour also met with Romeo being banned from performing at several venues.
Romeo returned to Jamaica in 1970, setting up Romax, an unsuccessful record label and sound system, and released his second album, Let the Power Fall, in 1971. It included a number of politically charged songs, most advocating the democratic socialist People's National Party (PNP) which chose his song, "Let the Power Fall", as their campaign theme for the 1972 Jamaican general election. After this, Romeo worked with producer Lee "Scratch" Perry on an album Revelation Time (1975), which featured the classic song "Three Blind Mice", an adaptation of the nursery rhyme with lyrics about a police raid on a party. 1976 saw the release of War ina Babylon, an album perceived as Max Romeo's best work. The politically and religiously themed album included the popular single "I Chase the Devil", which would become one of his most known songs. Shortly after this, the pair fell out, leaving Romeo to self-produce his follow-up album, Reconstruction, which, however, could not match the success of its predecessors when it was released in 1977.
Romeo moved to New York City in 1978, where he co-wrote (with Hair producer Michael Butler) the musical Reggae, which he also starred in. In 1980 he appeared as a backing vocalist on "Dance" on The Rolling Stones albumEmotional Rescue. In 1981, the favour was returned when Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones co-produced and played on Romeo's album Holding Out My Love to You, an unsuccessful attempt to break into the North American market. The rest of his output during the decade went practically unnoticed, with Romeo finding work at a New York electronics store. He returned to Jamaica in 1990, and began touring and recording more regularly. He visited the UK again in 1992, recording albums Fari – Captain of My Ship (1992) and Our Rights (1995) with Jah Shaka. He joined up with UK rhythm section/production team Mafia & Fluxy in 1998 for the album Selassie I Forever. A compilation album, The Many Moods of Max Romeo, was released in the UK in 1999.
Max Romeo still remains in active, regularly releasing new material and touring occasionally.
- The Prodigy sampled his track "I Chase the Devil" for their 1992 UK top 10 hit "Out of Space".
- Kanye West has used samples from "I Chase the Devil" to produce Jay-Z's hit song "Lucifer", which appeared on Jay-Z's 2003 release, The Black Album.
- "I Chase the Devil" is featured on the reggae radio station K-Jah West in a popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, released in October 2004.
- Dreadzone sampled 'I Chase the Devil' on their song 'Iron Shirt'
- Romeo's single "Sipple Out Deh" appeared in a 2005 documentary John Peel's Record Box.