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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 1 (Part 1) « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 1 (Part 1)

The Early Days

In the early 1980s, when Dancehall hit the record markets abroad, many long time reggae enthusiasts were disheartened. Fans had been comfortable with roots music – Burning Spear, Bob Marley, Yabby You, Augustus Pablo, Culture. They felt they knew what reggae was. As they most people understood it, reggae was music that carried a message. Reggae advocated change, overthrowing the colonialist system and lifting the suffering masses out of poverty. Reggae was the music that gave a voice to those who would speak out against a status quo that had traditionally silenced the voices of the poor. Young people around the world felt a firm affinity with this message. It resonated with their ideal of creating a world without war, oppression and commercialism.

But, the mood in Jamaica had changed. The new decade saw a move away from reggae as reggae fans had known it for almost a decade. Many roots artists seemed to fade into the background as young unknowns arose to take their place. When Bob Marley, the undisputed king of reggae, died in 1981, many people felt that reggae had ceased to exist- that without Bob, there could be no reggae. In an attempt to keep his legacy, and the music, alive, efforts were made to name various bands and individual artists as his heirs to the throne. But, the attempts were fruitless, because by 1981, the music had changed.

The music that replaced roots reggae seemed, to the many disillusioned fans, to be trivial and devoid of deep meaning, lacking the potential to right the wrongs and injustices of society. All the brimstone and fire where gone. The new music of the ‘80s appeared materialistic. It was often sexually suggestive, sensationalist, focused on the excitement of the moment. A large group of former reggae supporters felt abandoned and moved away from the music. But many more new fans flocked to this exhilarating, provocative, bracing new form of entertainment. Jamaica was reclaiming its music and bringing back home. After years of artists vying for foreign exposure, reggae was becoming more purely ‘Jamaican’ than it had even been in its short history. Dancehall had arrived and was bringing big changes to the musical landscape.

The power of the Sound System

Jamaicans loved their music, and they liked to adapt anything new that came along as a way of accessing music – like radio, TV, personal record players and tape recorders. Jamaicans, at least in the ghetto areas, lived every day surrounded by music in a way that people in colder climates have never experienced. Music was there because people wanted it, and sought it out. In earlier days, before radio and personal stereos, people would stand outside record shops just to hear the new jazz tunes from the U.S.. Self-taught dancer Pluggy Satchmo remembers his youth, just after World War II, “We go out to the record store, Hedley Jones [Bop City], evening time and listen him play jazz and we used to practice dance. People coming from work used to see me, Pam Pam, Fish and the rest of little youth them that deh bout there a dance in the evening.”

Pluggy and his friends would wander day and night in search of music. Even the Pocomania meetings provided some relief in the quest for melody and beat. “If you want fun, you have to go out there and listen the street meeting- people playing drum and singing revival songs. They have three drum and they preach and they tie they hair and they sing. And if there is no [other
music], we go and listen them.”

Two other options were the ‘Garvey meetings’ and the massive funerals the UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association) held on Sundays in downtown Kingston. At the meetings, the representatives of the UNIA would dress in white with red, green and gold braids and military style decorations. A speaker would address the crowd, a military drum band played and the chorus sang songs of repatriation, of returning to Africa. On occasional Sundays, the UNIA held massive funeral processions that would wind their way through the downtown area. Those who agreed to give over their property or savings to the organization were guaranteed to be taken care of on passing away. They got a funeral worthy of a head of state, and the city dwellers would watch the grand parade, often the most exciting entertainment a Sunday had to offer.

While downtown ghetto-ites didn’t go into the more upscale clubs, they had access to live bands through the Coney Islands that would crop up on the weekends. Inside a designated area (like a “lawn”, as they were known), people would set up tables for gambling with dice. A band would play and people could come in for free and dance. At the time, the bands were playing American music of the swing era. That’s what Jamaicans wanted to hear. “Most of our habits come from the American music,” Pluggy remembers. “It make me a dancer – Ella Fitzgerald, Glen Miller, Mister Jordon, Louis Prima, Thelonious Monk, Gene Krupa.”

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Louis Prima

Before the Second World War, big bands flourished in Kingston. According to Bunny Lee, “They used to play over some American tune like Sentimental Reasons. You used to have the bandstand in the nighttime – you used to go up there and hear them playing. [Jamaican] bands like Sonny Bradshaw and Eric Dean used to play at Beaumont and all them place.”

But the war proved to be a fatal blow to the big band scene. The orchestras, which contained as many as ten people, were decimated by the call to arms. Nightclubs shut down. As former Bop City owner, Hedley Jones explained, “Live music had all but disappeared in the city, most musicians having been absorbed in farm or munitions work, aiding the war effort in the USA, or engaged in the then growing North Coast Tourist Industry.”*

* Hedley Jones, The arrival of LP Hi-Fi records in Jamaica, personal communication

What were denizens of the nation’s capital to do for entertainment when the bands started dwindling? Two men in Kingston who owned PA systems, Count Nick and Count Goody kept the music flowing, albeit on record rather than live. These public address systems were designed to amplify the spoken word, not to handle the subtleties of music. But they made some kind of “musical noise”*. So, people began using them to amplify records and inviting crowds to come and listen and dance.

* According to Hedley Jones Sr.

Back home from the war, Hedley Jones Sr. took a government offer of a loan of 50 pounds and invested in a repair shop that also sold imported records, Bop City, that soon began to attract dancers and music fans from all over the city. In 1947, “With my record sales department in place, I designed and built a high fidelity audio amplifier using my newly acquired electronic technology. Equipped with what I presumed to be the best recorded sound reproducer anywhere, I set out on a Saturday night near mid 1947 to demonstrate my thunder. I started to play some Perez Prado recordings. A crowd gathered and from the crowd emerged two street-side dancers. They called themselves Pam-Pam and Chicken. Little did I realize that Tom Wong’s sound was contracted
to perform at the Jubilee Tile Gardens, almost opposite my business place. Tom’s puny sound with his re-entrant steel horns was no competition for my bass reflex baffles, mid-range speakers and high-range tweeters. His dance, in Jamaican parlance, flopped.”*

* Hedley Jones, The Jones High Fidelity Audio Power Amplifier of 1947, personal communication

Tom Wong, a table tennis player from Jones Town who operated a hardware store, took in the whole scene and, according to Mr. Jones, “The following Monday morning, I was in for a surprise, as Tom paid me a visit, complete with cash down for one of my amplifiers. Within two weeks his system was transformed with a Jones amplifier and two bass reflex speaker baffles loaded
with twelve-inch heavy-duty Celestion speakers. The true Jamaican Sound system was born and scratchy recorded noises receded into oblivion forever.”*

* Hedley Jones, The Jones High Fidelity Audio Power Amplifier of 1947, personal communication Mr. Jones continues, in an essay named “ THE JAMAICAN SOUND SYSTEM Pt.one, Its purpose, origin and growth”, that “[t]he power output end was designed with 807 power pentode tubes, then used as modulator input drivers in radio transmission systems, and capable of delivering 120 watts
RMS (Root mean square) or true value of raw audio power. To effectively handle that— at the time—enormous power, two English Celestian 18 inch diameter100 watt peak, heavy-duty woofers, (speakers) two twelve inch heavy duty mid-range and two 6inch high end tweeters, mounted in bass-reflex speaker baffles (boxes) were employed.”

With his new-found powerful and clean sound, Mr. Wong started calling himself Tom the Great Sebastian, and his ‘set’, now more than just a P.A. system, he began to call a “sound system”.

Sound Systems Rule

From that day on, ‘sound systems’ ruled Jamaica. Carlton Hines named his vocal trio after Tetrack, a sound system that used to play in his childhood neighborhood of Franklyn Town, Kingston. The three members of the group Tetrack grew up with the sweet rock steady melodies constantly in the background, day and night, during lunch, after school, when eating dinner and even while doing homework. As the children fell asleep each night, the music continued to drift in through the windows and into their dreams. Children grew up wanting to be close to where music was happening. The challenge for the young ones was how to sneak into the dancehalls at night. Jah Wise remembers, “In those days, little boy don’t go to dance. They wouldn’t allow that. You could go in the dance early, but when the dance start, you have fe come out. The promoter [tell you to leave]. You could go in there early, but when the liquor start sell, the teenagers have fe come out. When I was little, nine, ten, if you do something on the street there, they would tell your mother. So, you would behave.” To begin the session, the selector would play the ‘sign – on’ tune, “and the small kids step out now.” But you didn’t really need to go inside the ‘lawn’ to hear the music; the power of the equipment pushed the sound waves for miles through the moist Jamaican air.

“Those times, you could listen to sound anywhere. Could be one mile, five mile, you could listen to the sound,” Jah Wise recalls. The memory of music floating by from a close, but uncertain, location is still palpable for many Jamaicans. Deejay Dillinger recalls, “They used to climb the ackee tree and put the steel horns – so you could hear the sound from all three miles [away]. The steel horns carry the sound from afar. You could be miles away and hear the music playing. Sometimes I would be in my bed and I hear a steel horn clapping on my window pane and I would have to get up and follow that sound. It’s like I’m in a trance. So I would just have to walk until I find that sound. Like it hypnotize you.” Zaggaloo, selector for Arrows in the ‘80s, remembers the first dance he went to, drawn by the sound of Cornell Campbell singing ‘Stars’ carried on the night breeze.

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Cornell Campbell & The Eternals – Stars

A youthful Flabba Holt would follow the melody in hopes of finding a session where he could show off his dancing skills as a “legs man”. “When I was small, I usually go up and down the place to hear sound. I walk from Trench Town go to Jones Town, listening the steel horn in the tree tops. And sometimes when the wind blow, you can hardly hear the sound so you have to keep on listen, listen, listen…”

Sound system sessions were more than mere entertainment. They became the life sustaining cultural and economic centre of a community. Some sets where small affairs, mainly used for weddings and private parties. Some were massive and played to large crowds in established venues. Some played funk and others, rockers. But even the tiniest community had someone playing music for public consumption. The underground economy they created allowed ordinary people who had a small amount of money to invest and experience a modest return on capital. However risky it might be, with the police breaking up sessions and the ever present possibility of violence, it was one of the few opportunities available. Furthermore, employment with the sound provided an alternative to crime for the unemployed. Each dance session offered the whole community an opportunity to make a few dollars on the side. As evening fell, the street leading to the “lawn”, the venue for the dance, would be lined with food vendors selling complete meals of curry goat or jerk chicken with rice and peas, while the peanut sellers would walk along the side. The ‘cane man’ would be chopping the sugar cane into individual pieces. Inside, the promoter would be sure to sell off a quantity of Heineken, Red Stripe and Guinness. “At the time, there was nothing else [to do for a living] but music,” Recalls Prince Jazzbo, one of the deejay originals. It wasn’t much. Music was not a money making career choice. Salaries were low. The sound was being paid maybe $300 by the promoter, and ‘playing out’ involved purchasing records and ‘dubplates’, maintaining the equipment and hiring a crew of anywhere from five to 15 people.

Despite the low pay and the tough conditions, it was a way of surviving with the added bonus that the men who worked with the sounds were big men in the community. Kids used to dream of growing up to be deejays or selectors. “When I was a kid, I used to put up empty box and run telephone wire and pretend I am playing a sound,” Ranking Trevor recalls. Parents didn’t take to the idea very well. “[My mother] thought it was just for rejects, like music is nothing. Not important. Music is joke,” recalls singer Anthony Malvo. “That is when you want to [be] idle. That is not a profession.”

Working with a sound involved following a clearly defined career path. The aspirant generally entered at the bottom, as a ‘box man’, carrying the boxes from the truck to the venue and back again. “That was the start of it, until I start to work with Gold Soul [Sound System],” Trevor continues. “[I had to] lift up the box and go around with the sound until I start holding the mic. [The deejays] start out as box men. You work with the sound first.”

The day of the dance, the crew would load all the boxes onto the truck. Then, each man hopped into the back, and found a seat on top of the equipment for the long and bumpy ride. People often died falling off the back, as the truck careened around sharp curves on the twisting mountain roads. At the other end, the sound was unpacked and the wires connected. “Your face was so black from the exhaust,” singer Anthony Malvo explains. “[But] you didn’t care. You just get a little [water] pipe and wash off and you start to sing from [when] the sound turn on. You go all night until the dance done… By the time you pop back the sound on the truck, you have a little time to sleep, but you have no bed. So, you sit on a chair, or find a corner where you can get
a little nap. Then you are back on the truck again.”

The main jobs in the crew were the performers – deejays, singers, and even instrumentalists, the selector – the man who picked out and played the records, the operator who adjusted the sound, the technical crew who wired the sound on location, the box men who lifted the heavy equipment and loaded it on and off the truck and the driver. The only requirement for these jobs was an ability to forgo immediate comforts and to dedicate oneself heart and soul to music, where ever it lead. The reward was the love and admiration of the community, the ability to bring a little money home to the family, the excitement of going around the island with the crew and being greeted by enthusiastic fans in every town.

Count Machuki

The sound system culture grew as records became more available. Early owners created a grand pageantry around sound engagements, like Duke Reid who would arrive a in truck back wearing a crown. The rivalry between owners lead to ‘sound clashes’ which pitted one sound against another in a live competition, with fans lining up on either side, proclaiming their loyalties with shouts and cheers. The winner was the man who had the most exciting, the most rocking, the hardest to find records.

In the beginning, the music was foremost and all – important. The early sound system was functioning as a kind of ‘live and direct’ radio program with the ‘selector’ in the role of the disc jockey. In front of a live audience, the selector would spin the top songs of the day. The format was modeled on the radio stations in New Orleans that played the R&B Jamaicans loved. To imitate the radio jocks, the selector would introduce the records with a little jive talk. He might follow that with hoots and hollers, rhythmic interjections- Hep! Hep! Hep! or Yupyup Yupyup. Eventually the job of vocalizing became a separate function assigned to the deejay. But at the start, the selector did everything – rotate the discs, call out the song titles and artists, and ‘lively up’ the place with his words and interjections.

As sound system functions became specialized, a deejay began to handle all the vocal elements of the performance. The deejay style, at first, was simple and unrefined, consisting mainly of stock phrases and rhythmic vocalization. The deejay sought only to emphasize the beat of the music, not distract from it with too much talking. Like the jazz ‘scat’ singers, they used nonsense syllables – ‘ska ba do, ska ba dooba day…’ The deejay wanted people up on the floor and dancing themselves into a great thirst so they would ‘buy out the bar’, making the whole undertaking a financial success. This practice was referred to as “toasting”, as in public speaking or the act of offering up a few words on behalf of someone before sharing a drink. The great “toasters” of the early years included men like Sir Lord Comic, who used to work for King Edward the Giant, Lizzie from Prince Jammy’s, Prince Pompidou on Kentone, the sound from Kencott, King Stitt with Sir Coxsone and Dennis Alcapone on his own sound, El Paso.

At this point, toasting was still considered a live performance art, not something that translated well onto record, although several early examples of recorded deejays exist. Foundation Deejay Dennis Alcapone remembers, “Once in a while you would hear a deejay record but it wasn’t much [talking].

It was mostly introduction with the instrumental [following] – like [for] Baba Brooks, Skatalites and those instrumental groups. King Stitt did come and do a few tunes for [producer] Clancy Eccles – ‘Fire Corner’, ‘Vigerton Two’, ‘I’m the Ugly One’ – that was before U Roy. They were hit songs.”

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Prince Busters Allstars – Gun The Man Down

But, more commonly, in the ska days, the idea of a deejay making a full record seemed absurd to most people. According to Dennis Alcapone, “The bigger heads were not used to us making records, so when I did a record, they would laugh and say, ‘But Dennis, you don’t sing, a talk you talk. How you mek record?”*

* Jamaican Sunday Gleaner July five,1998, Dennis Alcapone, Godfather of reggae

Many people consider the first toaster to really ‘deejay’ on a sound to have been Count Machuki. Count Matchuki, like many other reggae legends, started his public life as a dancer but, by 1950, he was working as a selector for Tom the Great Sebastian and later moved on to work with Clement Dodd’s Downbeat sound.

“He had that little flavour in him, and he brought it on with a lot of style,” explains Clive Chin who used to see Machuki in the dance. In those early days, Machuki was officially employed as a selector. “Selectors, at the time, all they could know to do was pick up the record, put it on, pick it up, put it on, and they had nothing in between because, you must remember, it was just one turn table they using at the time. So, they had that break. And in that break now, Machuki would do his toasting. He brought in that whole style of saying something before he put the needle onto the vinyl. He was the first- before Lord Comic, King Stitt.”

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Count Machuki & Randys Allstars – Pepper Pot

Legendary toaster U Roy used to listen to Count Machuki. “I used to love to hear that man talk because when him talk it’s like you wan’ hear him say something again. So, I always try to be in time, the way he was in time with the rhythm. Cause there’s a little art to it. You have to listen and be in time with the rhythm. Them things me learn from dem man there.”

Machuki, though, had a secret source of inspiration. Producer Clive Chin remembers him carrying around a particular book. “There was one he said he bought out of Beverly’s [record shop] back in the ‘60s. The book was called Jives and it had sort of slangs, slurs in it and he was reading it, looking it over, and he found that it would be something that he could explore and study, so he took that book and it helped him.”*

* Clive can’t recall the exact name of the book Machuki was reading at the time. One possibility would be The Jives of Dr. Hepcat, written by Austin disc-jockey, Albert Lavada Durst (Dr. Hepcat), 1953. Dr Hepcat worked in Austin, Texas on KVET

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King Stitt – Fire Corner

Yet, even with so many deejays performing regularly in the dance, Jamaicans didn’t take deejays very seriously as artists. “People didn’t really recognize the deejay stuff until U Roy took over,” explained Dennis Alcapone to writer Carl Gayle. “King Stitt did a good thing with things like [hit 45] Fire Corner, but it didn’t really get off until U Roy came along. I came on the scene about three months after U Roy. Then Lizzie came – he used to play Jammy’s Hi-Fi. And then you had Scotty…[but] I rate U Roy, up to now, as the greatest, Yeah! I used to go and listen to him and I admired the sounds he put out. He used to play King Tubby’s sound system. That was, and is, the best. It had everything a system should have. When you sat down and listened to that man [U Roy] playing that sound system, it really blew your mind.”*

* From the vaults of Black Music (1974), Dennis Alcapone and the Rise and Fall of the DJ Cult, by Carl Gayle

U Roy

“King Stitt made it interesting. We hear King Stitt and we were like, ‘WOW! This guy’s talking!’ And then we hear about U Roy and [his 45], ‘Wear You To the Ball’. U Roy came and mashed the place up!” – Singer Madoo

During the ‘60s, a small but increasing selection of deejay records was released. “You had deejays that actually recorded in the Ska era, you know. Lord Comic, ‘Ska-ing West’ – ‘Adam and Eve went up my sleeve…’ And then Machuki,” Producer Bunny Lee explains. “But those deejay didn’t follow it up. Machuki do a nice tune for Clive [Chin]. But when U-Roy come on the Duke Reid rhythms and say, ‘Wake the Town’, it take off everything else.”

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Sir Lord Comic – Ska-ing West

U Roy, teamed up with producer Duke Reid, shot off like a rocket. U Roy, himself, was stunned by the songs’ success. “Not long after the two tune recorded in the studio, me hear them a play pon the radio station. When I hear the two tunes playing pon the radio, I just tell myself, seh, ‘Oooooo, a just two little stupid tunes whe’ them a play pon the radio, just like how so much tunes just a play pon the radio and don’t get nowhere. That is the first thing I tell myself.” But, the tunes didn’t disappear. They just got bigger. “I hear them everyday! Them things was a big surprise and that was the starting of something good for me”

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U Roy – Wake The Town

‘Wake the Town’ went straight to number one on both radio stations. And so did U Roy’s next two 45s, ‘Rule the Nation’ and ‘Wear You to the Ball’. “To my surprise, those two songs become number one and number two,” U Roy recalls. “It was like a blessing to me. A deejay never do that. And a couple of weeks after, I had the one, two, three on the radio station. ‘Wear You to the Ball’ stay pon the chart for 12 weeks in the number one position.” The fact that U Roy was talking over the versions of the most popular records of the day made all the difference. It was the U Roy/John Holt combination that made the records work so well. As Singer Madoo explained, “The reason that U Roy got so popular is because John Holt* was already an international star. If U Roy didn’t join with somebody who was already making hits, it would never have happened.”

* John Holt was the lead singer of the Paragons, a hugely popular rock steady group who often had several songs on the charts. Holt. So, there was an element of nostalgia in play. In 1970, the reggae beat ruled the day. The Duke Reid tunes were rock steady, and people loved to hear them again, but now with a modern twist- a toaster on top. So there was an element of familiarity coupled with something current and modern.

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U Roy – Wear You To The Ball

The U Roy releases with Treasure Isle were revolutionary. Each 45 featured something old and something new. The John Holt songs were already well known throughout the island. But the toasting was new. The combination of something familiar and something different caught fire, paving the way for the deejay revolution. Dennis Alcapone remembers, “It took the place of the vocals that was going on at the time, because U Roy actually took over the charts. He had one, two, three [songs on the top ten]. Deejay records took center stage at the time.” After U Roy’s success, everyone wanted to be a deejay. And every producer thought he could get a hit by putting a deejay over his old vocal tracks. And a whole generation of young men had a new hero to emulate.

U Roy also deserves credit for his style of deejaying, which was very different from was going on earlier in the dance. Deejay Dennis Alcapone recalls, “U Roy actually did change the whole thing. Because U Roy made up his thing like it was a complete song, like a singer. Lyrics were going straight through the rhythm and he actually made up a song that people could sing along to. [Before that, the deejay was] in and out, in and out. No one wasn’t filling out the whole rhythm with lyrics. It was regular dancehall jive, in those days. Then U Roy came and filled the rhythm out with lyrics, and that was something new.”

The deejays who were toasting over instrumentals left a lot of space for the music to flow in between the words. U Roy recalls, “That’s how it used to be when you at a dance and talk on a sound. You generally never used to crowd the music. Just say a couple of words and the people long fe hear you again. [When] you say a couple of words, it reach the people outside deh a street and, yea, your dance get cork up with people of all descriptions.”

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King Stitt – Lee Van Cliff AKA The Ugly One

That was the way it always had been. But when U Roy began making hits, he set a new standard. Earlier deejays used to start with a spoken introduction and then add a few carefully placed interjections to accentuate the beat. King Stitt’s song, “Van Cliff”, consists of Stitt intoning, after the introduction: “Die! Meet me at the big gun down. I am Van Cliff, Die, Die Die! I am Van Cliff. Die!” That’s it. And it was great for instrumentals, especially in the upbeat Ska age.

But when Rock Steady took over, it was a different story. While mixing, the engineer left strands of the vocal in the version. This gave the deejays a jumping off point, something on which to base his lyrics. For example, in the song ‘Merry Go Round’, the engineer leaves the opening where John Holt sings, “Where must I go, if there is nowhere that I know.” As the vocal drops
out, U Roy comes in with, “That is a musical question and it needs a musical answer. Where do I go from here? Got no place to go. Got to stay right here and work my musical show.”

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U Roy – Merry Go Round

Ironically, at the time, U Roy didn’t fully believe that deejays could make legitimate recordings. When he was working with King Tubby’s set in the late ‘60s, U Roy wasn’t thinking of recording retail selling 45s. He was making dubplates for King Tubby’s exclusive use on the sound. “When I used to play with Tubby’s sound, Tubby used to have a dubbing [dub cutting] machine. So, if he want a special tune to make for his sounds, he could just make it. So, that was the only thing that ever got me to record at that time, doing certain tune for the sound.”

Tubby’s recorded some exclusive discs for his sound system with U Roy toasting over some of the rhythm tracks Tubby had mixed in his studio. Rock Steady producer, Duke Reid, heard them playing and was fascinated. “Duke Reid … heard the music and he said, ‘I would love to see this man’. So, I went to the studio with him and made some arrangements. So, I start recording for him and the first tunes I do was Wake the Town and Tell the People and This Station Rule the Nation.”

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U Roy – Rule The Nation

Duke Reid knew exactly what he was doing. He had a sixth sense for knowing which songs would go straight to the top. According to U Roy, “Duke is a man whe’, when him hear a hit, him know it- that it’s a hit. At first, him know it. The man used to have a gun and when him have a hit, whenever it’s a hit, the man bust up pure shot in the room.” The U Roy recordings were never meant to remain dubplates for a sound. When he made those first recordings with U Roy, he was aiming for the commercial market. U Roy recalled, “This is a record fe go out there for sales, and it’s a different thing from when you deh a dance. He [Duke Reid] definitely do them for sale purpose. No question about that. This go there to the public for sales, it haf fe more professional.”

Once U Roy hit the charts, deejays were freed from their live status and joined singers as regularly recording artists. A deejay on vinyl was no longer just a dubplate thing. Not only did U Roy’s popularity launch a continuing barrage of deejay recordings, it struck the first rock from the wall dividing uptown and downtown Jamaica. People from all over the island bought the new releases, not just the folks in the ghetto who went to dancehall sessions.

“There is a lot of people from up Beverly Hills, Red Hills, (from) all about, that buy a lot of my tune”, U Roy commented. The popularity of the songs bridged a great social divide and also created a market for downtown music uptown and all over. It also made U Roy the musical granddaddy to generations of youth that followed.

U Roy was, and is still, well loved by Jamaicans. Former pupil, deejay Josie Wales used to look up to him, “U Roy used to be a pace setter like that and we used to admire him, as youth, and want to be like him.” With his gentle manner and warm humor, he inspired confidence in people. U Brown, the heir to U Roy’s vocal styling, followed the teacher closely in those early days. “On any given day, I wake up and I’m walking around Towerhill, when I see U Roy ride past on his motor cycle or on his brother-in-law peddle bike, It was like a joy to see him. It was like my musical god [is] there. I speak honestly. And I never get a chance to express these things to U Roy. He don’t have to put out a lot, like some people have to come and do a lot of physical things to make themselves recognized. U Roy just a humble person. But once you and him click, from there, the rest is just joy. I respect him a lot to be honest. I adore U Roy so much because the inspiration I get from U Roy, it makes me be who I am today, music-wise. Even clothes, I used to love how he dressed.”

Wearing his tall beaver hat with his red, gold and green robes, U Roy always looked the part of the star deejay. To U Roy, looking ‘trash’* was a professional requirement. “We learn to buy good things – it’s nothing about no show off thing, but you ina the music, music is a ting whe, is different from when you come out of a yam field. You cyaan go up on stage and look like you a come out of your yam field. If me sit down pon me corner then, those are the clothes me sit down pon the corner in, not the clothes me come pon the stage, you know?”

* Well dressed

Spending over 40 years in music, U Roy saw the whole scene take shape, climbing the ladder from selector to deejay to sound owner. “If me didn’t enjoy it me woulda never, never do it. Until this day it’s my trade.” He influenced so many people and set the stage for what was to follow musically, a 50 year reign of dancehall music from Jamaica spreading throughout the world.


Chapter 1 Part 2

2 comments to Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 1 (Part 1)

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