An Introduction To 70s Roots Reggae, by Kris Needs
“There are some people who realise there is a similarity between the black movement and reggae guys and the punk thing. And that realisation of facing the same problems together is very important.” - Don Letts, March '78.
By 1977, we were both in the same boat. Punk rockers and black youth were up against the same system, same prejudices and same police oppression. In London the motivating inspiration was Don Letts and his sets at the Roxy. Paul Simonon had already made sure the jukebox at Rehearsals Rehearsals was stacked with classics by the likes of the Abyssinians. To the rest of the UK, it had taken The Clash and their genre-spanning cover of Junior Murvin's 'Police And Thieves'. The politics were accompanied by some of the most fearlessly innovative and beautiful music around.
When this punky-reggae crossover happened I was already there. Another case of blame it on Keith Richards. This had started sometime in '74 when Zigzag carried an interview where Keith explained how, after seeing massively-influential Jimmy Cliff movie The Harder They Come, he was propelled headfirst into Jamaican culture. Keith loved everything about the island - the music, the idyllic vibe, the lush scenery, the lethal weed, the guns....
'I'd say definitely that Jamaica is the now the most music-orientated country in the world,' he declared.
I had to know more. Ten years earlier he'd got me investigating Bo Diddley, Howlin' Wolf and the incredible world of the blues - from which I'm STILL discovering more soul-tingling delights. Now Keith had opened up another sound which would run around my brain forever.
Obviously, the Wailers had already opened the door. 'Catch A Fire' and 'Burnin'' were conscious reggae pointed at the rock crowd. But only the tip of a mighty iceberg. While rock fans had that holy gaggle of influential scribes to guide and inspire them, the UK had a magazine called Black Music covering reggae music. A writer called Carl Gayle wrote about artists I'd never heard of like Burning Spear and Big Youth, while describing the cut-throat music industry in Kingston and these things called pre-releases which were knocked up in sheds. Piracy, blood and even murder as version pursued version for the day's hot rhythm. It sounded exciting.
Apart from the obligatory Wailers, my first reggae album wasn't conventional. It was a triple set by Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelations of Rastafari, which Keith had mentioned. Basic grounation chants set to hypnotic heartbeat drumming. Rastafarian hymns. I did manage to mail order a couple of albums by Burning Spear and he instantly became my main man. Reggae stripped to its bare roots. That's what they were calling this style of no-frills, soul baring. Roots.
There was something thrilling and slightly dangerous about reggae music in the mid-70s. In late '74, I sought out an address in Black Music to grab some of those pre's (pre-release sides to you squares, daddio – Terminology Ed.). Daddy Kool was situated in Hanway Street, off Oxford Street. A narrow little place manned by a pleasant fellow called Keith. Swallowing my lack of knowledge, I asked what had come in that week. Keith plonked a succession of 45s on the turntable. I could only nod at every one, calling a halt when I'd bagged about eight. Here were those names Carl Gayle had written about: Dennis Brown, Lee Perry, Augustus Pablo, Big Youth, the Mighty Diamonds. The pre’s looked rough and primitive. Some sounded like they'd been manufactured out of compressed buffalo dung. Some artists, like Big Youth, Pablo and Perry, had their own labels. Most exciting was the discovery that, if you turned the record over, you didn't get a weak filler b-side, you got the dub. Often more importance was laid on this than the song. Here you could hear the session crew - at that time usually the Revolutionaries, who included the mighty Sly and Robbie rhythm section - turned over to the creative manoeuvres of the producer. The results were often terrifyingly innovative and new sounding. This was previously unheard electronic boundary-pushing as the bass and drums were blown up to cavernous proportions and other instruments subjected to every trick on the desk. Reverb drenched the shards of vocal. This was sound painting. The principles of 60s psychedelia unwittingly applied to Jamaica's body pulse rhythms.
For the next few years I would visit Daddy Kool as often as possible. As long as there was this flow of pure gold coming in from Jamaica. A different world from punk rock but still boasting a distinctive DIY aura. At that time there was no alternative to the mass dross of rock. In Jamaica they'd had it sewn up for years. Spoilt for choice.
1976 was the pivotal year. As Marley's star rose, Virgin got in on the action by starting its Front Line offshoot. In my capacity as editor of Zigzag, the Virgin press office invited me to board a coach they were running to that year's Reading Festival to witness some of the signings.
First up the Revolutionaries got up and kicked off the groove. Sly Dunbar, the human metronome, solid as a rock. Robbie Shakespeare holding down the bass. The three-piece mighty Diamonds came on to drop their sweet harmonies which seemed directly descended from the New York doo-wop ensembles. They had a great album called 'Right Time', which spawned gems like 'I Need A Roof' and the title track. Then I-Roy, the veteran toaster. Of course, this was lost in the middle of a field in broad daylight in front of a bunch of rock fans but a first glimpse of studio legends in action.
As the coach was about to leave London, a late crowd came running around the corner. It was the Sex Pistols who I'd read about in the music papers. Or at least, Johnny Rotten. He didn't get on the coach though. Just this tall mate of his with spikey black hair and a couple of the girls. Sid Vicious on the reggae freebie. Seemed like a nice enough bloke.
It would fall into place later in the year when I checked out the new club which had opened in Covent Garden called the Roxy. By now I'd seen The Clash and the Pistols and, having hung out with them, knew that their preferred style of music was not the solitary Vibrators or Eddie and the Hot Rods singles purporting to represent the new punk rock movement. It was the roots reggae being selected from the DJ box of the club's resident dread DJ
It's well documented that Don played reggae to the punks waiting to watch the Adverts or the Heartbreakers because there were no decent punk records around and, also, he felt it his duty to educate. This he duly did and sent hundreds of kids off scouring the pre-bins. Don Letts started the punky reggae party and the guests just kept coming.
Don talked to Sniffin' Glue about it at the time. His status merited a place on the cover. 'I'm getting more asking me for reggae than punk. They come in and actually tell me to take it off.. It's true. Joe and Mick from Clash....even Johnny Rotten...everybody! I think the majority of the Roxy audience dig it. The Clash guys, they all like it. I can talk to them and tell that they like the music.'
'He would play a lot of reggae records that we hadn't had the chance to come across,' said Strummer in Don's excellent Clash documentary Westway To The World. 'That gave us a lot of new information. That Rasta-Punk crossover was really crucial to the whole scene.'
My chickens had come home to roost led by Foghorn Leghorn with a 10-foot hard on when I discovered that Joe, Mick and Paul were into reggae music. Apart from the Roxy regulars dub squad, things like turning up at a Clash sound-check and they're running through Junior Murvin's 'Police And Thieves', the anthem of the '76 Notting Hill carnival. Or later Lee Perry producing 'Complete Control', while Don becomes the tour DJ. Going round to Lydon's Gunter Grove flat and hearing non-stop dub [Just like Keith Richards' dressing room!]. Later Wobble smashing out earthquake bass-lines with PiL. A photo session with the Slits degenerating into a skanking blues party.
To get some idea what was causing the fuss, the essential purchase is Don's divine Heavenly Records compilation from 2001, 'Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown'. King Tubby, Junior Byles, Big Youth, Mighty Diamonds, the Congos, Tappa Zukie, Jah Stitch, Horace Andy, Junior Murvin's 'Police And Thieves', U-Roy's major 'Wear You To The Ball', Lee Perry, Augustus Pablo and a vocal group called Culture who had a classic called 'Two Sevens Clash'. Awesome, spiritual, soaring, hallucinogenic and irresistibly dance-able.
Why did I place reggae on an equal footing with punk rock in Zigzag? Because the records from Kingston were Molotov cocktails of political comment, protest and sublime music which could be incendiary or lazy, depending on the mood. Like punk, this music had its short golden age. Don's compilation is a good leaping off point to say something about some of the names and their immortal contributions before I go sailing into an unashamedly personal selection. Just a tiny taste...
CULTURE - 'Two Sevens Clash' [Joe Gibbs, '76]
Like I said, the Jamaican music industry was audaciously cut throat. No rules or scruples. Recording was the only lifeline to making money in Trenchtown. Youths queued at the studios for a chance to record. The major producers had their own studios where session players like the Revolutionaries would whack down a bunch of ridims for later use. That's why so many songs used the same backing track. If a groove was catching fire then milk it to death!
Joseph Hill cut his musical teeth and got his experience working with infamous Studio One overlord Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, the most renowned ripoff merchant in Jamaica. He cut a classic single called 'Behold', which I managed to unearth one day in the Virgin Warehouse store whilst rummaging for reggae with John Peel [Did I mention that he was the only DJ in the UK playing this stuff on a mainstream basis back then?]. Breaking free of Coxsone, Joseph hitched up with Kenneth Paley and Albert Walker and formed Culture. First single was 'This Time' in August '76, closely followed by 'Jah See Them A Come' then 'Two Sevens Clash'. That was the tune which brought them crashing through the door in '76. Produced by Joe Gibbs and first available on his label, it showcased the group's beautiful close harmonies, dread lyrics and the shimmering sound of that time which Lee Perry had also used on 'Police And Thieves' - mind-swishing textures, slow, steady rolling groove and hovering, swelling melodies. When 'Two Sevens Clash' took off, Gibbs followed up with the sublime 'I'm Not Ashamed', then a whole album called 'Two Sevens Clash'. Solid roots vocal music, accessible but full of thought and conviction.
But they were stitched up. 'We used to work every day,' bemoaned Joseph. 'We did nine songs straight before the first one was out because we didn't know.' The album put together after the success of 'Two Sevens Clash' was cobbled together from Gibbs' stash. They didn't receive a penny.
'Some form of bread should be donated to the group....it isn't what the law permits,' bemoaned Joseph. I put the next bit in capitals. He was talking LOUD. 'I HEREBY TELL THE GOVERNOR OF THE WORLD THAT JOE GIBBS IS A GENERAL LAWBREAKER WHEN IT COMES TO THE RECORDING BUSINESS.'
This was the complaint I heard most as I continued to interview many Jamaican recording artists of the day. Maybe only the American soul and blues industry of the 50s came close in terms of blatant exploitation and non-payment. I mention this because it's intrinsic to understanding what made the reggae business such a unique hot-bed of multiple versions, battles and grievance. It took UK labels to give any form of financial compensation. For example, Dennis Brown appeared on Warner Brothers.
Culture broke from Gibbs, who retaliated by putting out a second album from his archives called 'Baldhead Bridge'. They hitched up with a more respectable producer called Sonja Pottinger, started a strong chain of 45s including 'Work on Natty', 'Stop The Fussing And Fighting', 'Trod On' and 'Never Get Weary'. All incisive, irresistible and danceable. Once Virgin became their label in Europe and the US, they cut the 'Harder Than The Rest' album and subsequent outings like 'International Herb'.
The Kingston three-piece were part of Virgin's Front Line, which at one point employed John Lydon as A&R man after he'd left the Pistols. I interviewed Joseph Hill, Kenneth Paley and Albert Walker one afternoon in August '78 while they were over promoting their 'Harder than The Rest' album with a massively successful UK tour. This could be hazardous as, when I did these reggae interviews, the subjects would politely check their patois although, like Culture spokesman Joseph, let fly with a speed-of-light JA-speak babblelogue which left me scratching my head. But an hour in a room with Culture was enough to soak up their warmth and positivity which uplifted the soul in more ways than music.
'I think we come with one desire, one intention - to smash the show', declared Joseph Hill, boss eyes twinkling like harbour lights at night. 'Mash up Britain! The main message is peace, love and harmony throughout the Earth. Goes for everyone. When I say everyone I just mean EVERYONE! I come here on a special command given by a spiritual movement....I prefer to give than to take. The more positive is you live is the more positive you sing is the more positive sale your company make with your records. The positivity of the music arrive from the positivity of the life the artist lives.'
In the feature I sound trepidacious when Joseph says cut out the wine, women and whoopee. This happened a lot but I can honestly say I rarely got so wankered as during some of those interviews. At this time, the smoke we got was solid and fairly tame. I remember sitting with Dennis Brown and having a casual blast on the ice-cream cone rammed with prime weed he was clutching and spending the rest of the interview gurgling like an idiot. Happily, he expounded freely and it was all on tape [along with a few casual inquiries about the colour of the carpet].
Culture were a good example of the typical mid-to-late 70s Jamaican group. Stunningly prolific, battered by the ruthless Jamaican music business and capable of songs of extreme spiritual beauty. I wished Culture well but, sadly, the reggae boom seemed to peter out with punk rock as far as white kids went. Diehards remained and the music would always be popular but trends turned to new romanticism while movers and shakers were now more likely to bathe in the escapism of disco than the reality of reggae. Reggae itself changed too. Softened by the prospect of money.
AUGUSTUS PABLO - 'Wareika Hill' [Rockers]
Augustus Pablo is one of the giants of Jamaican music. He started a label called Rockers - named after his brother's sound system - in '72 and steamed in with a sound that hasn't been heard before or since. Pablo - real name Horace Swaby - favoured the melodica to add his ghostly presence over grooves which sometimes came from the Wailers' rhythm section of Carlton and Family Man Barrett. The list is seemingly endless: 'King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown', 'Park Lane Special', 'Jah Dread' and this sublime, pulsating glide into the ether called 'Wareika Hill'. You may laugh. A melodica. But it's some of the most compulsively brilliant reggae music of all time with Pablo's melodies approaching classical feel in places.
Pablo spun his magic at King Tubby's studios and his knack for spotting cool vocalists played an important part in his music. One example is Jacob Miller: rotund, quaver-voiced frontman in the Inner Circle vocal group. I always think of 'Tenememt Yard' but Pablo productions like 'Keep On Knocking', ' Each One Teach One' and 'Who Say Jah No Dread' are outstanding. He also worked with Dillinger, the man immortalised alongside Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson, 'the cool operator', in The Clash's '[White Man] In Hammersmith Palais'.
The man with the melodica's place in reggae history was cemented in '82 when Greensleeves released 'Original Rockers', a kind of greatest hits. At that time Horace Swaby was still only 26. The rhythms are taut and lethal and Pablo's melodica is supernaturally atmospheric. He looks like he's smoking a miniature vacuum cleaner on the sleeve.
Another of his protégés was a young singer called Hugh Mundell, whose 'Africa Must Be Free By 1983' was a roots anthem, a magical combination of voice, melody and rhythm. Hugh had trouble following this one but turned out a real head-griller in '80 with 'Feeling Alright'.
Primal Scream are massive Pablo fans and, in '97, sought him out, flew him over and got him to play on 'Star' for the 'Vanishing Point album. The legend walked in, set up an enormous pipe on the floor, heard the track once, played and left, without saying a word.
Finally, special mention for one of the best dub albums ever unleashed: ‘Rockers Meets King Tubby's In A Fire House’. Here Pablo directs the Rockers All Stars through dub-aphonic minefields: fat, atmospheric and busting with ethereal melody and texture. Here he's taking a directorial back seat with only the occasional flash of melodica. The man's a genius.
BLACK UHURU - 'Shine Eye' [D-Roy, '79]
Black Uhuru were another three-piece vocal unit with the usual superstar session backing group - but there was a difference, as singers Michael Rose and 'Duckie' Simpson were joined by exotic chanteuse Puma Jones. Although they got a good UK thrust via Island to become one of the success stories of '79, Black Uhuru released a string of corkers on D-Roy back in Jamaica.
'80's 'Showcase' was a monster - strong, moving statements like 'Abortion' and 'General Penitentiary'. In '81, they looked poised to step into the void left by Marley with the release of the accessible 'Red' album. Except nobody could step into Marley's place.
'Shine Eye' was one of their finest moments. Slinky and haunting – with tasteful guitar flourishes from none other than Keith Richards. In true Jamaican style, Keith had jammed on some grooves in the studio and then found his guitar work emblazoned on the credits. He didn't mind though. Typical Uhuru harmonies soar sweetly while that has to be one of the all-time groin-grabbing basslines, which is given full rein in the dub. The Disco Mix 12-inch was a great development for late 70s reggae as the song section would make way for a crashing dub finale.
BURNING SPEAR - 'Dry And Heavy' LP [Island, '77]
The brooding, titanic presence whose records still stand as some of the most evocative, moving and compelling in reggae. Winston Rodney kicked off his career with Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. 'Rocking Time' stood out cos it took its time on gritty, ominous narratives like 'Bad To Worst' and 'Weeping And Wailing'. Then he switched producers and labels, ending up with producer Jack Ruby for the career-swivelling 'Marcus Garvey' album. It made a massive dent in '75 and Spear was off on the path which would lead to some of the most startling music of the 70s.
After the furore caused by 'Marcus Garvey', Winston Rodney could have taken an easier, more accessible route but subsequent albums saw him get deeper, more introspective and sometimes frighteningly dark. The best are 'Man In The Hills' [''76] and 'Marcus Children' ['78]. Although I snarfed the later as a Jamaican import on Spear's own eponymous label, it later spawned a discomix 12 on Island showcasing two killers - 'Social Living' and 'Civilised Reggae', which showed a biting, swaggering maturity which went beyond the spiritual. The pain of 400 years seemed to cry out from the grooves as Spear rumbled over suitably cavernous backdrops [which are well worth checking in their own right on the two volumes of 'Living Dub' instrumentals and the 'Garvey's Ghost' dub extravaganza]. 'Marcus Children Suffer' is peppered with the howls of the damned.
It's a hard choice but 'Dry And Heavy' is the one for me. It's not like Winston Rodney used different musicians from the other Jamaican artists. He just coaxed this hazy, subterranean pulsebeat out of them which seemed to boom up from the centre of the earth. Here he's at his most drawling but also pulling out direct messages like 'Throw Down Your Arms' and 'Black Disciples'. The title track is probably the best description I can think of for Burning Spear's music. Just throw in head-spinningly brilliant.
Spear was also responsible for one of the best gigs I've ever witnessed when he invaded the Rainbow Theatre [I think in '78 but I went with Robin Banks!]. If you don't believe me, try and find the live album.
THE ABYSSINIANS - 'Satta Massa Gana' [Clinch, '69]
Certainly one of the most under-rated groups during roots explosion time. The Abyssinians debuted in '69 with the monumental anthem 'Satta Massa Gana' on their own Clinch label. They then spun out a string of classics in its wake, but never seemed to bust through in the same fashion as Culture or Black Uhuru, although towards the end of '78 they did manage to sign with Virgin.
Lead singer Bernard Collins was a master of delivery, sympathetically accompanied by Lynford and Donald Manning. They were simply ahead of their time. The 'back to Africa' message of their debut might've been the rage in '76 but in '69 it was positively out there.
WILLIE WILLIAMS - 'Armagideon Time' [Studio One, '79]
So it's established that The Clash assimilated reggae into their melting pot and gradually honed their take into something untouchably glorious on such outings as 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais' and their sublime cover of Willie Williams' 'Armagideon Time'. Willie himself had based the song on the popular 'Real Rock' rhythm by Sound Dimension which was first heard in '68 on Studio One. Williams' vocal cut boosted the popularity of the rhythm to the extent that it has now been versioned over 250 times by different artists. The Clash started jamming the rhythm at sound-checks and loved Williams' lyrics of apocalyptic dread.
Willie is well worth noting for the other work which sprang out in the wake of his success. Obviously, this was was forthcoming in Jamaican deluge tradition by Clement Dodd. A whole album showing a sensitive, conscious talent and another single, 'Jah Righteous Plan', which was another roots classic.
MIKEY DREAD - 'Dread At The Controls' [Dread At The Controls CD, 2005]
This one's here because it's a most recent compilation of classic early stuff from Michael Campbell, one of the longest-running and most consistent talents in reggae. Mikey Dread will probably be best known to trakMARXists for his work with The Clash, especially 'Bankrobber' [Well-documented in last issue's revealing interview]. That's only a fraction of what he's achieved since he launched himself into the world nearly 30 years ago with his seminal Dread At The Controls radio show for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. tapes of the show would filter back to London. It was mad and totally unheard of at the time as Mikey fired a barrage of doorbells, police sirens and surreal exclamations between his patent stream of exclusive dub plates.
Once he had the most happening radio show in Jamaica, King Tubby took him under his wing and Mikey began making his own records which came out on his own Dread At The Controls label. I seemed to gather another Mikey gem every week in '79 and many were collated on the classic [and recently reissued 'African Anthem' album]. Special mention for the lysergic rainforest crawl of 'Butter 'Gainst Sun' and it's 'Yoruba Dub' which hit the UK on the Sufferers Heights label in the late 70s.
Since his dalliance with The Clash, which ranged from fun [our forming a group of mystery skankers to cavort behind Mikey during his set on the 16 Tons tour] to fraught [Mikey's grievances about remuneration and credit], he's continued to fire out albums. 'World War III' is regarded as a classic but there's been a heap more, like 2002's 'Best Sellers'. Mikey is planning a series of UK events to celebrate his 30th anniversary in the music business as an often under-rated innovator – so watch this space.
BUNNY WAILER - 'Blackheart Man' [Island, '76]
Not including Marley here as he's not exactly gone unheard. But his former Wailers companion Bunny deserves a special mention for this superlative set which managed to hit a vibe of calm optimism and wisdom rarely equalled, except by talents like Ijahman Levi. The title track, 'Armageddon' and 'Battering Down Sentence' show Bunny's lyrics to be as eloquent as any ever encountered on a reggae album. Again, he uses the usual session guys - including some Wailers - but, like Spear, manages to work them through his personality into a fresh, uplifting wall of sound that's unique to him. For 'This Train' Bunny goes back to the original Rasta heartbeat drumming which captivated Keith Richards enough for him to make a whole album around it in '97.
When Bob Marley died in '81, Bunny had his own way of showing his respect, which hadn't dissipated with the split of the Wailers]. He recorded 'Tribute', an album of Marley songs he released on his own Solomonic label. Songs like 'Crazy Baldhead', 'Redemption Song' and 'Slave Driver' given poignant, powerful interpretations. I did the last UK interview with Marley and it still haunts me, along with this record.
DOCTOR ALIMANTADO - 'Best Dressed Chicken In Town' [Greensleeves, '78]
Alimantado was a one-off, a former student doctor and shoe salesman kicking off his recording career in 1970 and firing out a barrage of classic singles which ranged from surreal - this one - to cuttingly real. He wrote the majestic 'Reason For Living' after he was run down by a bus because of his dreadlocks. John Lydon said that was the song he played after he was attacked outside a Finsbury Park pub. 'Best Dressed Chicken In Town' – which came on egg-coloured vinyl - was a metallic, fun skanker with a 'brerk' noise at the end later adopted by The Clash for their dressing room moth impersonations.
Zigzag interviewed Alimantado in August '77 and he made a plea for unity amongst black and white. 'And right at this precise moment you're a white yout', and I'm a black yout' and we together here. I don't see we're tearing at one another. We're dealing, right? So why can't every yout' just take our example? For a start, take our example.'
PRINCE FAR I - 'Psalms of Wisdom' LP [Carib Gems white, '77]
The late great Prince Far I had the most distinctive voice in reggae. A righteous roar from the subterranean gravel pit - the Louis Armstrong from 50,000 fathoms. I could name many - and also the ‘Cry Tuff Dub Encounter' companion pieces - but settled on 'Psalms Of Wisdom', which I was given as a white label at the Carib Gems office in Harlesden in '77, because it's a solid representation of the wrath of Far-I. This is also the guy in 'Clash City Rockers'.
Also special mention for 'Words Of Far I', a gorgeous Orb-like bootleg which emerged in the early 90s and planted the man's words over perambulating proto big-beat. That voice - Jamaica's Paul Robeson. 'I reckon he could move a mountain with one bellow', I wrote then. Still do.
WAILING SOUL - 'War' [Greensleeves, '78]; CAPITAL LETTERS - Smoking My Ganja [Greensleeves, '77]
Around '78, I started dj-ing in a pub back room in Aylesbury where we put on local punk bands. Aylesbury's answer to the Roxy. Surfing on the buzz from Daddy Kool, Letts, Peel, Lydon and Clash, I found myself playing records to a room-full of people on two decks for the first time. A lot of the records were on Greensleeves. These two were titans.
Easy skanking 'War' put its cards on the table. 'War in the East, War in the east' over booming bass and drums, impassioned vocals, angelic chorus harmonies and a spiritual shimmer. This went down a storm.specially on the killer toast entry for the end dub section. All hail the disco mix! Ranking Fucking Trevor! 'Truly' was the first 12-inch single I ever got. A crucial missile when it unexpectedly gives way to cavernous dub and incoming atomic toast. The flip's 'Jah Give Us A Life Don't Feel No Way' is classic late 70s roots. Haunting soaring vocals, howling and cajoling over honky-tonk piano.
'Smoking My Ganja' said just that with melodic decisiveness. It boasted the rim-shots from heaven and propelled along via a delirious hell-beast of a bass-line.
KEITH HUDSON - 'Nuh Skin Up'/'Felt We Felt The Strain' [Greensleeves]
Hudson's dark, smokey incantations and backdrops could often have qualified as the work of genius. Rich, impassioned vocals combined with dense atmospherics to make monoliths of brooding majesty. Hudson's 'In Dub' album remains one of the peaks of the genre.
CLINT EASTWOOD & GENERAL SAINT - 'Two Bad DJ' [Greensleeves album, '81]
This pair were great. One day they came to see me in the Zigzag basement bearing gifts. First, this album: a 24-carat slab of lunacy-with-character. They could get political ['Special Request to All Prisoner', 'Can't Take Another World War']. Or they could get just rock the dance ['Hey Mr DJ', 'Dance It Have Fe Nice']. Or just deliver a killer single like 'Another One Bites The Dust', which came out on 12” to deadly effect. Recorded at King Tubby's and Channel One [Engineer - Scientist]. A backing group containing Sly and Robie, Chinna Smith, Ansel Collins & percussionist Sky Juice. How to make politics and surreal humour knock heads.
Between the years of '82 and '85 I lived with Youth, fresh out of Killing Joke and then revelling in the delights of the new dance music sounds emanating from New York City. The art of the mastermix as perpetrated by Shep Pettibone. This was in attendance with the rapidly-rising hip-hop sounds which were giving birth to electro. This was where our beloved dub was leading us. Regular visitors like Dr Alex Paterson would later apply the Jamaican studio approach to what became known as acid house and, never forgetting the punk roots, spawn another awesome mutant. But by this time, we kind of agreed that reggae had come out of his golden age. Dancehall, digital and just the sheer violence escalating in Kingston, took away the voyage of discovery feeling which excited and incited between '75-'80. We all moved on and were already treating masterworks like I've just described as walks down memory lane. Bit like I'm doing now. Like punk, the attitude will never die, even if the technology has taken it some place else.
Like I say, this is just an off-the-top-of-the-head dub mix of some of my reggae collection. I'm totally aware that Lee Perry, Trinity, Israel Vibration, the Congos, Tippa Irie, Freddie McGregor and any other names you're probably howling at the screen aren't here. Neither is the insane 'Wolf Out Deh' by Lloyd & Devon [Black Art, '77].
Injustice! But they could well be. Just a quick flick of the faders...
Kris Needs – tMx 22 – 11/05