‘When the roll is call up yonder, I got to be there. When the roll is call up yonder, I got to be there. When the roll is call up yonder, yes, I want to be there, but when the rhythm is playing in the dance, I got to be there.’
When the roll was called in August 1988, Tenor Saw was not there, He was dead. He was the victim of an apparent hit and run in Houston, Texas. The young reggae sensation with the golden voice older than his years was found on the side of the freeway in a remote area in Texas with his legs broken, and injuries to his head. The official cause of death was ruled as pneumonia, but it is believed that he would have probably died from his injuries because he laid helpless out in the open for hours, maybe days before he eventually died.
Tenor Saw was born in West Kingston, Jamaica on December 2, 1966. His mother was a church-going lady, and it was in church that young Clive first exhibited his singing skills. In his teen years, probably bitten by the music bug and knowing that his religious mother would not approve of his musical ambitions, he went to live with his father in another part of Kingston. Clive would still visit his mother, but she wondered why he preferred living with his father. Mama Cherry had no idea her son was pursuing music until a friend told her that they heard one of his songs on the radio. That song was the religious-tinged “Roll Call” produced by George Phang and released on the Powerhouse label in 1984.
It was in 1985 that Tenor Saw would get his first big hit with the song “Pumpkin Belly” on the “Sleng Teng” rhythm. That same year he would record arguably his biggest hit “Ring The Alarm” on the “Stalag 17” rhythm. Tenor Saw was in demand and was riding high on the success of his recent releases. America was calling and Saw answered. According to his mother, he fell in love with America and would spend more and more time in the U.S. Tenor Saw left Jamaica for the last time in 1986. By 1987, he was touring extensively with reggae legend Freddie McGregor. Rumors started going around that he was abusing drugs and was not all there mentally. In 1988, Tenor Saw was signed to RAS Records with the hopes of releasing an album. When it was time to record, Saw was a no-show.
In August of 1988, Tenor Saw was cut down in the prime of his life. He was only twenty-one years old. His lifeless body was found on the side of a road in Texas. Saw suffered broken limbs and injuries to his head. A hit and run accident was deemed to be the cause of his injuries, but they could have just as easily been from a merciless beating. How did Tenor Saw end up on the side of the road in the first place? Who was driving the car that allegedly hit him? Why wasn’t/hasn’t there been more interest in this case over the years?Those are just a couple of the many questions I had since this cruel and senseless incident all those years ago.
Strangely, on October 26, 1988 a local newspaper [Jamaica Gleaner] in Jamaica reported that Tenor Saw had been shot and killed in New York City. By this time, Tenor Saw would have been dead for about two months.
Over the years, many rumors have circulated and many opinions put forward as it relates to Tenor Saw’s death. The most popular is that he was a victim of a hit and run driver. Others believe he was swindled and then murdered. Some say he was involved in drugs and that his murder was drug-related. There are those who think he owed the wrong people money for a show and was killed because he took the advance, but never performed. Another story said he was murdered by promoters who didn’t want to pay him for a show. Probably the saddest and most cautious rumor is that he was killed by his friends and his show money stolen.
There were similar rumors and conjecture with the murder of Peter Tosh one year earlier in 1987. Two talented souls with unique and powerful voices that were tragically and senselessly silenced way too soon. At least in the case of Peter Tosh, his killer was brought to justice, and his family got closure. Tenor Saw’s family may never know the truth as to how and why he was killed. Mama Cherry and his family, however, can take solace in the fact that he is a bona fide reggae legend and can rest assured that when the final roll is called up yonder, he will be there!