Stanley Beckford was born in the north-eastern Jamaican parish of Portland. His mother died during his infancy. At seven, following the death of his father, he was raised by his grandparents, between the west Kingston ghetto areas of Greenwich Farm and Maxfield Avenue. He began singing in the local Church of God, and became choirleader, while neighbour Carlton Smith taught him guitar. Beckford gained recognition outside the church by winning one of journalist and radio presenter Vere Johns’s talent contests at west Kingston’s Majestic theatre.
In 1968 Beckford joined a neighbourhood reggae band, Soul Syndicate, but his high-pitched, nasal timbre and mento-influenced style did not fit with its focus. He was soon ousted, and subsequently he became a telephone company night watchman.