Luciano’s father, Arthur, built his own guitar. Luciano told Bret Lueder of the Synthesis website that he was fascinated to see how his father bent the wood for the guitar, soaking it in water to make it supple, then laying it out in the sun with weights on it to make it curve to just the right shape. “I was very impressed to see the advanced technology of my father’s carpentry,” he said. Even more impressive was the sound of the guitar. To this day, Luciano strives to capture the resonance and emotional feeling that he heard and felt while listening to his father play. “Even unto today, I see myself as fulfilling my father’s dream.”
As a young man, he took the name “Stepper John” and moved to Central Village in Kingston, Jamaica. He worked as an upholsterer through the mid-1990s, at which point he began recording his songs. Unlike many musicians, he was not drawn to singing for its own sake, realizing later what he wanted to sing about; rather, he felt the need to express his views and decided that singing was the best way to reach as many people as possible. In an interview on the FM radio station KAZI in Austin, Texas, available in transcript at AC’s Roots Reggae online, he said that he used to go camping in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains and pray “for the Almighty to use me … to glorify him, and to be a living testimony for him.” He continued, “I promised to be true to the Almighty and to my people and I will never cheat or give the people less than they deserve and I say the people need the truth.”
In 1991 he recorded his first single, a cover of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s hit “Ebony and Ivory,” for Earl Haynes, owner of Kingston’s Aquarius Record Shop. He followed this with a string of singles, mostly covers of other artists’ songs, recorded with such small labels as Big Ship, New Name, Sky High, and Star Trail.
While recording with New Name, he changed his name to Luciano and recorded his first Jamaican hit, “Give My Love a Try,” in 1993. In 1994, working with Big Ship Productions, he recorded Shake It Up Tonight, which became a reggae hit in the United Kingdom. However, Luciano was still not happy with his musical life. He told Oumano, “All I had within me I couldn’t express at New Name. The teamwork required wasn’t there.” He moved to Xterminator Productions, also based in Kingston, and recorded with Philip “Fatis” Burrell in 1993.
Luciano’s first album with Xterminator, Moving Up, included “Poor and Simple” and “Chant Out,” which had been hits in the United Kingdom. His next album, Back to Africa, had even more hit tracks. He was now writing all his own material, and the combination of his soulful baritone with instrumental backing inspired by classic reggae led to widespread recognition.
This success proved to be a mixed blessing: the stress of recording, performing, and being a star wore him down, and he took some time off for rest and meditation. He told Sista Irie of KAZI that he was disillusioned with the shallowness and materialism of “the music fraternity.” He commented, “Because a man have a one hit tune, him start to wear the biggest gold chain in town and fancy car and pretty woman and all of this. I am not saying that we don’t deserve these things but we must not go on as if we are worshiping these things.”
He elaborated on this belief to Elena Oumano in Interview, commenting, “This Western way of life, where people see themselves as individuals, is wrong. They grab and scrape for themselves. The tension even here in Jamaica has come about as a result of the so-called Western civilization that has been brought upon us: the desire to have a big house, big car, big pieces of land.”
In 1995 Luciano moved to a new label, Island/Jamaica, and his popularity soared even higher with the release of his album Where There Is Life. The first single on the album, “It’s Me Again Jah” made him ” thesinger in Jamaica right now,” as DJ Karl Anthony, of New York’s WNWK, told Oumano.
Island/Jamaica emphasized Luciano’s positive, spiritual themes–which contrasted sharply with the guns, drugs, and violence featured in many other popular songs–and his link to grassroots, ethnic reggae. Luciano was inspired by the work of past reggae greats, such as Bob Marley and Dennis Brown, and found strength in that tradition. He told Sista Irie, “So it is the same way which I view my works and my contributions as the spiritual inspiration to the people.” Luciano toured the United Kingdom to promote Where There Is Life, leading his single “How Can You Fly” to the top of world reggae charts.
In 2001 he toured the United States to promote Great Controversy. He followed Great Controversy with A New Day, and by 2002 he had produced such a large body of work that he decided to release The Best of Luciano, a collection of his most popular tracks. In addition to rereleases of previously recorded songs, the album also included live recordings of “It’s Me Again Jah,” “Who Could It Be,” and “In This Together,” as well as two tracks not previously released–covers of “Material Girl” and “Rolling Stone.”
Luciano told Oumano in Billboard, “Even when I hold a high note on top of my lungs, it’s nothing more than an apparatus for hypnosis. Music is a medium through which you and I link with each other upon a spiritual level.” In the KAZI interview, he noted that he is inspired to see, in his audience, people of many races joining as a community: “To see the people, my greatest vision is to use my inspiration in a positive sense to encourage people to unite humanity and to being about love and unity within the community.”
(by Kelly Winters)