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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 22 « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 22

U-Roy’s King Stur-Gav Sound with Josie Wales and Charlie Chaplin

Violence In The Dance

Alongside the broad audience and the fans from all walks of life, the dancehall had always attracted a certain population that came for the excitement and stimulation. These young men came to model and show off, to pose as the ‘tuffest’, to tell the world they ‘ruled’ and would brook no challenges. “There was too much injustice,” singer Percy Williams explains. “You have boys who start to make gangs and then you have the Spanglers and all these people start to make them own gun with bicycle bar. They call it the ‘Bucky’. Buck shot. It cannot hurt you at a distance. But close to you, at arms length, it could blow you away. That started in the late 60’s – ’67, ’68.”

The rude boys evolved into gangs based in small areas of the city. These men were often considered local heroes and were the envy of many a youth in the ghetto. Ranking Trevor remembers watching them filing into the sessions in Waterhouse in the 70’s. “You had the Spanglers and the Skull. The Spanglers is like from Princess Street, downtown, and the Skull them is from Southside, Tel Aviv. Them and the Spanglers used to war. I remember when I was a kid, I’d watch them come a King Tubby’s dressed slick. Those guy know how to dress! White shirt and black pants with a little bowtie.”

The dancehall sessions attracted all kinds of youth, some well mannered, others bored, restless and ready for anything. When they all came together in a noisy, crowded space with the excitement of the dance, under the effects of liquor and ganja, the slightest provocation could spark an incident (For example, a stampede erupted at Cinema 4 during one of the huge 4 sound clashes when a rumor started that armed men were climbing over the wall).

When people got too out of control, the deejay had to cool things down. As Sonny, Arrow’s owner, explains, when the dance got hot, “They would just run up and down. They would be firing shots on the air- from the excitement, not violence against each other. Or, it’s a security guard firing shots.” That’s when the deejay had to step in. “Because he has the mic and everybody can hear him. So, he would say, ‘Just cool! Just cool, man. Everything nice’ and ‘More music’ and ‘Stop your run up and down’.

Arrow’s selector, Zaggaloo remembers the very first time he took in the sound. “I live in Franklyn Town and I had been hearing the name [of Arrows]. I ask my parents, cause much as I was working, in those days you have manners for your parents. That was my first trip to hear Arrows. They played at Bower Bank, in east Kingston. It was a Labor Day night. Crutches was deejaying. I remember that dance specifically because, what happened, police came into the dance. They were just patrolling, but the dance was so crowded that people get bummy and start run up and down. That was when they put on Burning Spear name ‘Run Up and Down’. Crutches start to deejay and the crowd got so settled, everybody [who had run outside] came back. On the mike, he was like ‘It’s Ok officer, we are enjoying weself on Labor Day, and we are just playing some music’. It calmed them. He played it and they just calmed down. And the flow of the crowd- some people were moving towards the gate, and from he played it, they come right back into the dance and everything was OK. The officers never even come out [of their car]. They just look around and then drove out back. I always remember that. A lot of people don’t understand that. That’s why most of these artist nowadays, I don’t’ think they understand the magnitude of [the power] they have towards people. Just listening to lyrics, music, it makes a big difference to a lot of people.”

The opposite held true as well. The deejay had the power to disrupt the dance and provoke trouble. People came to the session ready to listen. Whatever the deejay talked, the audience did. If the deejays said ‘wine up on your toe’, that’s what they did. If the deejay said, ‘cock out yu foot and make me see your Clark bootie’, the well dressed would lift up a well- shod heel. If the deejay said, “Gun man move”, someone would take out a gun and fire shots in the air. And that is exactly what happened in 1982 when Ringo came to Canada for a few dances with Leroy Sibbles’ sound Papa Melody Hi Fi. Everyone told him, ‘Don’t deejay anything about guns’… Unfortunately, the M16 rhythm was popular at the time, and sure enough, as soon as Ringo started talking guns, shots rang out and a bystander was hit. The next day, the police came looking for him. For this reason, in the early 80’s, most audiences were opposed to the liberal use of gun lyrics.

No matter how well planned, or how much security (if any) was around, something was bound to happen eventually. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. Inspector Willie, from U Roy’s Stur-Gav sound, explained that steady exposure to the threat of violence was a hazard of the job. “I remember being at one dance. About seven people died. It was an awful experience. The police said someone fired a shot at them; they was patrolling and somebody fired a shot at them. They just radio up more police and start firing shots. I get low, went into a little room. It’s a good thing it was concrete. See, when I look, pure hole in the wall. And some of the equipment got shot up. But it didn’t really affect us. See, it’s like I get used to those things still. Not to say that when I am at a dance, I like it. But, I get used to it. Like if something should occur, I know what to do.”

Sometimes, it was the police who were to blame, not the rude boys, for mashing up a dance. U Roy recalls, “They didn’t love when a sound carry a certain large amount of crowd. There would be some feelings – like maybe if you’re not dealing with a certain set of police, they carry feelings and mash up your dance. They just come and see a big crowd and they fire shot and people run up and down.”

Stur-Gav had gained a reputation for such incidents. “You have all kinda rude boy,” Selector Jah Screw recounts about his time working with the sound, “That’s why Stur-Gav end up branded with the name ‘Stur-Grave’ – cause you would have shoot out.” Stur-Gav deejay Charlie Chaplin says, “Wherever we go them always say, a pure badman and gunman. Through the area where the sound come from, whe’ it represent, and the type of people who love the sound. People who were known as ‘hardcore’ or dangerous men follow the sound. But we a play the sound fe everybody. We cyaan tell who fe follow it. Through the police see that, they kinda target all of our dance, shoot it up and throw tear gas pon we. Nuff time them tear gas the dance, we have fe run out of it.”

It wasn’t all bad, however. Getting shut down was a status symbol. “The only sounds that don’t get shut down is the sounds that wasn’t popular,” Screw contibued. “If you sound is a popular sound, or a number one sound as we put it, you will get shut down.” Stur-Gav, wasn’t a ‘badman’ sound. With veteran Daddy U Roy as the owner, it became of the 1980’s most well known and most influential sounds though the introduction of deejays Josie Wales and Charlie Chaplin. But that hint of danger gave it an edge that other sounds lacked. Unlike the fun-loving and sometimes silly nights with Gemini, and the wild party that was Volcano, Stur-Gav was serious and down to earth.

Stur-Gav Hifi was all roots, but ‘royal’ roots, as the sound traced its lineage right back to King Tubby’s where U Roy held court in the late 60’s. In the 80’s, Daddy Roy didn’t spend much time around the Stur-Gav, although he did make an occasional, sensational, appearance on the mic. Mostly he left it to the crew to run and maintain. But his musical experience infused everything the sound did and played.

Around 1971, U Roy broke away from King Tubby and King Attorney and started his own set, King Stur-Gav [The name, which has been often written as Stereograph, really is the oddly spelled Stur-Gav. U Roy explains, “Stur-Gav is two piece of two of me sons names. It’s three letters out of one and 4 letters out of the next one. It’s not a counterfeit name. This is a real name. This is not no joke name. The sound register like that.”]. The ‘originator’ found himself on his own now, backed only by all his professional experience in the dance world. “I tell meself, this is something whe’ me love, this is the only thing that me know. This is the only trade that the Father give me whe’ me master. So, I decide to start my own little sound. And believe you me, it was the best thing me ever do. And me no really regret nothing about sound work.”

For the first little while it was a one man show, with U Roy selecting, deejaying and operating. “It was a little sound at first, you know, but this little sound have the biggest crowd behind it. It just pure joy ina me heart!” At the very start, people weren’t impressed. “I used to gwan make two little talk ina the nighttime until some people start talk and talk and say, ‘Whe’ the dread a go with the little sound there?’ Them time Stur-Gav just young. Them time there me just have two little box and anytime rain fall, them two little box there just crumble.”

So, U Roy bought some fresh boxes, but the crowds still weren’t coming. “I hear some people say, ‘A whe’ the dread go with that foo foo sound? Him think the sound can reach all certain sound?’ And me a stand up and listen to them man good, and me a tell myself, seh, ‘Well all right, unu gwan see. Gwan make unu eat them word there!'” And he did.

For the first few years, U Roy kept the sound going all on his own, barely earning enough to survive. Then he found Little Joe, who grew up to be star deejay Ranking Joe, and the selector Jah Screw. Joe and Screw became one of the hottest combinations going. Joe was a seminal deejay who influenced a whole generation of younger men who rose to fame in the 80’s. Charlie Chaplin, who came on board during this time, started out as Joe’s apprentice. Not only was Joe one of the first to promote the slackness style, but his “fast talking” was heard all the way to the UK where it was morphed into an English pattern and bounced back to Jamaica in the mid eighties. Throughout the decade, Jamaican deejays could be heard echoing his ‘bong didley, bong diddley’.

Ranking Joe

“The deejay that I used to like was Ranking Joe,” Emperor Faith Sound owner Mikey Faith reminisced. “Out of all of the deejay, when him come to work, him come to work. I used to pick him up and we would go. I used to operate the sound- I was the selector, so I would go to the dance early and I would pick up Joe and Joe would start to talk and wouldn’t put down the mic until dance done.”

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Ranking Joe – Mr Finniegan

As a youth starting out, Joe worked with El Paso sound as Little Joe, where he was taught by a deejay named Waistline. Like the sound’s principal deejay, Dennis Alcapone, Joe’s style was upbeat and energetic. When he was 15, he went to Studio One to audition for Coxsone Dodd. Dodd was open to recording deejays and released Joe’s first song, ‘Gun Court’, which became a hit. Joe continued recording regularly, with a variety of producers, including Bunny Lee, and Sonia Pottinger, before he had his break-through hit with Tony Robinson, ‘A You Mr. Finnegan’, in 1977.

By this time, U Roy had left King Attorney and formed his own sound system, King Stur-Gav. Well established and respected in the music business, U Roy was the ideal person to run a sound system. He was soon joined by the then young and slim deejay, Little Joe and the selector Jah Screw. Together, on the sound, Joe and Screw were a powerful force. “Me and Jah Screw have a combination and a chemistry,” Joe reminisced. “He was very special. He would know my voice, my tempo, and I wouldn’t have to look at him to know the song playing, just know. We have that down pat, you know.”

U Roy was in demand for overseas tours, and in his absence, Jah Screw would take care of the music. Jah Screw recalls, “U Roy’s girlfriend, Vivian, she was the manager who runs the sound. U Roy often have to go and tour. And between me and she, at that time, I would take care of all the dubs and all the specials, all she would have to do is just give me the money. So, often, at the time, he wasn’t the one who was paying us. She was the one. When we mash up the place, she was there, taking care of all the business. When U Roy gone about him thing, I said to her, ‘Vivian, you got to change those boxes, we need bigger boxes’, she would work along with me cause I was there. I spend most of my youth days, giving all of my time to King Stur-Gav.”

Despite Vivian being an easy person to get along with, it was hard to work for a sound with an absentee owner, so Joe and Screw took their act to Ray Symbolic around 1975. Joe describes Ray Symbolic as “a discotheque sound – They used to play a lot of soul records, R&B, and they was doing their thing before I come along. [In those days,] they have sounds like Stan the Soul Merchant, Gemini, and a lot of sounds that were playing R&B stuff, like a mixture. Ray Symbolic used to play that way. But, when I come along [to] deejay, they turnover to the reggae part now. I start to deejay and then they go back to the soul. But after playing more and more, a lot of promoter wouldn’t want us to play the soul. We become hard core.”

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Ranking Joe – Drunken Master

For the following years, Joe and Screw switched between the two sounds, Ray Symbolic and Stur-Gav, easily and often. Joe was becoming more popular every day. Now working with Errol Thompson at Joe Gibbs Records, he scored big with ‘Leave fe me Girl Arlene’ and ‘Drunken Master’. At the time, Joe was talking slackness on the sound. “[Joe] did slack when him just come a Stur-Gav. He was one of the slackest, most dirty mouth deejay you ever hear,” U Roy ruefully recalls. “Same thing with Charlie [Chaplin] when Charlie just come.” U Roy had to tell them to cool it.

But the style that Joe will always be remembered for is the fast talking style. Joe would punctuate his phrases with a quick ‘Bong diddley’, or suddenly launch into a lengthy, “bong didley bong diddley bong woodely woodely…” It was Joe’s signature scat singing style, different from U Roy’s distinctive, ‘yea, yea, YEA’, and ‘Waaaaaahh!’ Joe’s style was a little more modern – something new that spread among the deejays until it became part of every toasters repertoire. Hardly a song went by in the dance with at least one diddley or woodily. Soon deejays were coming up with their own improvised riffs, like ‘cree cree cree cracka’ and adding ‘bim’, ‘right!’ and ‘ribbit!’

Stur-Gav In The 80’s

Stur-Gav suffered a significant setback in 1980 when it was shot up during a session in Jungle. U Roy remained quiet for a year or two and then brought the set back with a new configuration including deejay Josie Wales as “The Colonel”, Joe’s previous apprentice, Charlie Chaplin as “The Principal”, and a new selector, Inspector Willie.

It was an uphill battle, working in the early 80’s. “We get a lot of fight from the police. Like certain area they don’t want us to play, certain area we go, they say we have to lock off certain hours, especially uptown, like Barbican and those places,” U Roy recalls. “Cause they would say, it’s first class citizens living there. They don’t want them to be disturbed.”

Josie and Charlie had a natural chemistry rarely found between two performers in a dance. “Jah works’, comments Charlie with a tone of puzzlement and resignation.”Me and Josie never sit down, not even one minute and say, ‘mek we plan it this way’. We come to the dance, and him lick a lyrics and me listen it and me counteract it, or me do a lyrics and him listen it and counteract it. A so we deal with it. We haf fe make everybody happy.”

A 1982 live Stur-Gav session was a brisk and rousing experience. Josie and Charlie could be light hearted or deadly serious, but their words were never frivolous or petty. Their dedication to entertaining and maintaining a responsible, educational vibe, separated the sound the slackness sounds where some deejays seemed to parade their immaturity. The rough edges just gave Stur-Gav that 100% ghetto authenticity. But, behind the ragamuffin exterior, Stur Gav was about quality and hard work.

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Charlie Chaplin & Jim Kelly – Sturgav Special

Even during the overpopulated dance hall explosion of the early 80’s, U Roy ran Stur-Gav like an older sound from the 70’s – no little youth grabbing the mike, no line ups of beginners waiting for their turn to say two little lyrics and ‘gone’. Each man had his apprentice. Desi was attached to Josie and Buzzy to Charlie. Special guests made appearances. But the atmosphere was always work, not play.

Josie Wales

Josie was always seen as the roughneck of the duo. He was shorter, with a solid, stocky build and a deep, gravely voice. He kept his gaze to himself, rarely looking directly into anyone’s eyes. Charlie, on the other hand, was social. He was relaxed and gentlemanly, at ease in any group of people. Tall and slim, bubbling with energy, Charlie never stopped moving. “Anytime I hear music, even if I sick, I have to wiggle up like a worm”. Charlie came across as educated and sophisticated, a huge contrast to Josie’s deep, ghetto vibes.

The name Josie Wales came from his reputation of being like a cowboy, always roaming the land. “Them time, I never really have no resting place,” Josie recalls. On his own from the age of ten, Josie had to look out for himself. He spent most of his youth on street corners, “running jokes” and talking. He wasn’t holding down any job, just drifting. “I never really go to high school, you know. Just leave at primary age. I get most of my knowledge off the sidewalk, off of the street. I don’t really grow up with no family. I grow up on my own.”

Having virtually raised himself, Josie developed a cowboy outlook on life. He saw himself as a Wild West drifter, traveling with his horse and his “one frying pan”, sleeping under the stars, fending for himself. Life in the ghetto was kind of like that. “It was just reality,” he sighs. “Funny enough how it becomes music.” Like the best deejays of old, Josie also liked to sing, and made a specialty of doing cowboy tunes, like ‘El Paso’ and ‘Wolverton Mountain’. He got them from an old Marty Robbins LP his grandmother used to have.

During the early years, Josie wasn’t serious about music. He used to go to dances and deejay – mainly small sounds like Roots Unlimited, Black Harmony, and Rebeltone. He admits freely that he was doing the wrong things back then, that he was into ‘badness’. But Josie found his dedication to music grew as he got more involved. “It’s like an inborn thing”, he commented remembering how easily it all came to him in his youth. Music reached him, deep inside his soul.

Reality Lyrics

In the early 80’s, most deejays were moving away from the slackness. But the slack lyrics weren’t being replaced by the cultural sounds of the 70’s, but by a new style that spoke of current events, from local runnings to national social and economic conditions. Reality lyrics began where culture left off, dealing with whatever was happening in the community – ganja smoking, going to sessions, dancing, being harassed by gatemen, being harassed by the law, unemployment – all the little stumbling blocks of life ‘a yard’.

No one represented the style better than Josie Wales. He was a keen observer of life and he described what was going on around him with humor and compassion. Like Kingston Hot, which provides a compact but vivid picture of what the Jamaican capital was like in those days:

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Josie Wales – Kingston Hot (Live)

The youth dem make a hustling by selling Kisko Pop
Dreadlocks just a jog ina dem sweatsuit top
Bad boy and police just a fire pure shot
Kingston hot! Lawdagod me say, Kingston Hot!

One of Josie’s signature reality lyrics, “It haf’ fe Burn”, looked at the relationship between police and ganja smokers (and the very strict laws against it). Josie came up with the words on the spot during a dance that took place across the street from the station.

“It was a dance with Stur-Gav one night and [the sound] was playing exactly in front of a station, a police station, and them dare me- them dare me! They was daring me to see if we a go burn the chalice tonight. Cause we carry the chalice go a every dance. Cause it was a part of the dance to have the chalice there. [So, they] dare I fe go burn it that night”.

Josie took up the challenge. There was a notorious bad boy police in the crowd. “But I was a daring youth and a brave youth.” At 20 years old, Josie feared no one. He took out the chalice and lit it up with a piece of paper. Inspector Willie dropped the needle down on the Mighty Diamonds’ ‘Pass the Kutchie’ and the crowd went mad. And Josie began to chant:

Ina the dance early one Friday night
Me and my bredren just a burn ganja pipe
Rip out a road and then we sight a bright light
Babylon a come in him red, black and white
Coming in the dance wan’ give I a fight
It have fi done, Jah know, it haf’ fi’ done
From Inspector, Corporal to Sergeant
Whole of them have a gun ina them hand
Push down the damn gate man
Say move your hand when you sight Babylon
Then him lean up him M16 in a corner
And jack up himself on a stone
Say, ‘dreadlocks you take me for fool?
Ganja pipe is my favorite tool
I man burn this from I go a training school
It haf’ fi’ burn, Lord it haf’ fi’ burn!

Perhaps because of his checkered past and bad- boy reputation, Josie was careful to stay away from anything that sounded like he was advocating or supporting violence. He had already come into the business with a reputation. A lot of promoters and producers were afraid to work with him. Still, a certain amount of violence went with living in the ghetto and Josie found himself in trouble over the words to his hit, ‘Leggo Mi Hand’. The media objected to, what they perceived to be, gratuitous violence.

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Josie Wales – Leggo Mi Hand

Based on an event in Josie’s own life, the song told the story of an experience familiar to everyone who has gone to many dances.

Went to a dance down a Clarendon
Me and a big fat thing name Pam
When we reach at the dance gate
The gateman just a hold on pon me woman hand
One box me gi’ him in his blasted face
Money scatter out all over the place
Babylon come butt me with a big 38
Hear me now dread
Leggo mi hand, gateman make me come in

In the story, the protagonist encounters a gateman who doesn’t recognize him, says he looked “too simple” to be the real Josie Wales, and won’t let him into the session. The ‘violence’ that ensues in the song is more verbal slapstick than a promotion of badmanship. Josie intended it as humor. To Josie, these things were part of everyday life in the ghetto. “That’s where you were born, where you are coming from. So, it make no sense you hide from reality. Someone like me, I’m a street guy. I know the runnings. I lived there. I walked there. I know it!”

Yet, Stur-Gav seemed to carry a stigma that gave everything the two star deejays did, a patina of suspicious intent. Although Josie and Charlie were making hits on the radio, and selling out concerts all over the island and abroad, the media didn’t really like them or trust them completely. There was always a tension in the relationship. Stur-Gav just wasn’t like Gemini, with two soul boy selectors who were eager to please. The fact that no slackness was allowed gave the set a gravity that alienated a certain audience that night have legitimatized the sound for the upper echelons.

Charlie Chaplin

It was Chaplin who gave each man his official nickname, Josie Wales as The Colonel, Charlie Chaplin as The Principal and Willie as The Inspector. Charlie Chaplin was a nickname he had already earned for being such a comedian. With his artless charm and understated humor, he was able to bring out the clown in the often reserved Josie Wales as well. Both Josie and Charlie liked to act the funny man, and both injected a lot of humor into their lyrics.

Although he appeared stiffer and more distant at first, Josie also loved to be drawn into a joke. Being around Chaplin encouraged Josie’s lighter side. One of their classic joint lyrics was their ‘Musical Diseases’ [An answer to the Smiley and Michigan, Diseases] which includes “donkey-mylitis and the cow-arthritis”. Josie had a few droll lines of his own in his story of trying to import a car, “Them get me rude, them get me rude, in a the Honda Prelude” The way they worked, Josie would start off with some serious subject and Charlie would come in with something absurd. When Josie would deejay ‘Kingston Hot’, Chaplin would follow with “England flat…”

Chaplin grew up in Spanish Town. As a child, he didn’t really have it in his mind to deejay, but he never strayed far from the music. “I used to look up to Bob Marley because Bob Marley used to send me go buy him cigarette and him spliff them thing there, when him a play [foot] ball. So, me used to kinda involve ina the music them way deh. But me never know me woulda be an artist ’till me start listen Stur-Gav. Ranking Joe used to deejay that time. When him deejay and dance done, like 5 o’clock ina morning, him always call me and give me the mic. The dance empty but me still talk pon the rhythms dem. So, people start hear the tape and start talk to U Roy and them take me on officially.”

At first, Chaplin wasn’t ambitious. He wasn’t even looking for a recording career. Luckily, it came and found him. Producer and lead singer with The Royals, Roy Cousins, approached him and offered to take him to the studio. “Me just a do it for ‘do’ sake, cause me never make no money. Me never money motivated. Me just fascinate fe go ina the studio, do a couple of songs, and him release them, put them out.”

Roy Cousins released two LPs, ‘Presenting Charlie Chaplin’ and ‘One of a Kind’. But, people in Jamaica still didn’t know Chaplin as a recording deejay. The Cousins material was released in the UK and only available as an import. The real recognition started when he voiced ‘Que Dem’ for George Phang.

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Charlie Chaplin – Que Dem

The oddly titled ‘Que Dem’, was Chaplin’s first Jamaican release and his big break at home. The song, originally named ‘Credel’, criticized deejays for using pejorative names to refer to women [There was a trend of deejays referring to women in their songs with names like credel, tegereg, pancoot, Jezebel, kinarky, etc.], but the label on the 45 was printed incorrectly. When the song became a hit, there was no reason to change it [That sort of thing happened all the time in Jamaica. For example, Frankie Paul’s version of ‘Worries in the Dance’ for Junjo came out, on the 45 and LP, as ‘War is in the Dance’. Anthony Redrose’s ‘Temper’ came out as ‘Tempo’. What surely ought to have been ‘Jump and Prance’, was rendered an unlikely, ‘Jump and Prawn’ (Clint Eastwood, 1977, Ossie Sounds).]. Since people knew the song by the strange name, Phang allowed the LP to retain it. Phang released another 45 from the LP, ‘Diet Rock’, which also became popular. He then followed it up with another LP named ‘Fire Down Below’, which contained ‘Dance in the Atlantic Ocean’.

Naturally, George Phang was interested in recording the other half of the duo. Seeing the success of the work Phang was doing with Charlie, Josie agreed give Phang a try. His gamble paid off immediately. The LP ‘Undercover Lover’ came out in 1985 and contained some of his most beloved dance lyrics, like ‘Throw Me Corn’, ‘Hoola Hoop’, ‘Ganja Pipe’, as well as new material like the title song which came with a video, one of the first in the emerging medium of Jamaican music videos.

Although they recorded separately and maintained independent careers, Josie and Charlie continued to perform live, on the sound or in concert. They had developed such a close working partnership, their lyrics could flow into each other’s. Chaplin saw his relationship with Josie as something organic, something so natural that it almost had a life of its own, “If I have a shilling, is not only one side. It’s two sides. So, it’s two sides to everything.” He once described the power of Stur-Gav, “We try to spread something around so that the people, so that their eye can be more wider. And Inspector Willie, him is a man now, him always know the right stuff at the right time. I and Josie like a spiritual business a gwan. Sometimes, we listen back the cassette and we shake we head.”

Today, Chaplin is involved in a variety of business ventures, including a security company, a rent-a-car company, a construction company and his own music company, Government Yard production. As if that weren’t enough, he’s taken over George Phang’s old post as the manager of the Arnett Gardens football team. To Chaplin, music and sport, in Jamaica, go hand in hand. “Bob Marley always have a football on him guitar when him a go pon tour. Them two things go along.”

Inspector Willie

“Selecting a sound is not so easy. You don’t just play the tune. You have to listen and follow up the deejay all the time. It take a lot of concentration,” Willie explained in 1985. “You have to study the crowd. Cause, you see, I am studying the crowd. Like, if I should play a tune and I hear them, like, “Farward!” and make enough noise, well, I know instantly what type of tune they like. I just keep on the same line.”

The selector was the glue that held the whole sound together. Without a solid selector to maintain the pace, nothing else would function properly. “It’s no use having a big sound and no selection of music or a selector [who knows] when to fit in a tune,” U Roy recalls. “Because you have certain dance time when a lot of people out on the street. If they are not hearing the type of tunes for them to come in, they just not go to come in. Willie is good at that.”

Inspector Willie came from musical roots. His father was Count Lasher, a well known old time calypsonian. Willie got his start selecting with the Stur-Gav back when Ranking Joe was deejaying. But his first night proved to be his last- at least, for a couple of years. That same night he played out, was the night the sound got mashed up and closed down.

To his credit, Inspector Willie never ‘mixed’ on Stur-Gav. The current trend, heavily used by Gemini and almost as much by Volcano, involved dropping out the music for a beat and bring it back with a slam. Willie let the music play as it was mixed by the engineer. Unlike other selectors, Willie varied his selection greatly instead of sticking with the hits. He wasn’t afraid to play artists who weren’t considered cool at the time, like Beres Hammond, who, at the time, was dismissed as middle of the road, not roots enough for a dance. Or he might throw in very un-dance hall styles of music, like festival songs. He would play Tinga Stewart’s ‘Float a Come’ or even a deejay 45 like Smiley and Michigan’s ‘One Love Jam Down’. He could pull out oldies like The Eternal’s ‘Stars’ or The Mad Lad’s ‘Ten to One’, or more current but less common selections like Hugh Griffith’s ‘Cool Operator’ or ‘I’m Coming Home’, The Wailing Souls’ ‘Ishen Tree’ or the wicked Freddie McGregor tune, ‘Roman Soldiers’ (produced by Niney the Observer). One of his favorite pieces was the smooth and uplifting ‘Skin Up’ by Ernest Wilson. Another was the Meditations’ ‘Turn Me Loose’. Willie liked to vary it up so that no two nights were the same.

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Freddie McGregor – Roman Soldiers

Stur-Gav could hold its ground in U Roy’s home turf. But when it first came back on the road, I Roy started trying to muscle in with his Turbotronic sound. “U Roy is more strict with his sound and wouldn’t, say, give you a date unless you pay down some money,” Willie explained. “Well, after a time now, is like the people couldn’t keep up to it, so I Roy come around and start giving people date for no money. So, him start saying him control the area. The people he was giving free dates say him sound was better than U Roy’s sound. They was just, like, boosting him up. So they say, alright, since its better, we gonna have a competition. So we had a competition one night at 5 Southgate Plaza. It was the new Stur-Gav’s first competitive outing.” When the dance got hot, Willie pulled out his unlikely secret weapon, a dubplate of the Meditation’s song, Enemy, (a song he claimed, at the time “no one wanted to hear”) and, “from I put it on, pure noise! Boy, I Roy cried that night!”

Phillip Frazer

Willie stood out as a selector because he didn’t follow trends. As Josie states in his lyrics, “Stur-Gav don’t rewind”. You didn’t hear a lot of ‘haul and pull up’ on the sound. Just music, cool and steady. The continuity created a smooth, flowing vibe that could be very intense but never out of control. Willie played according to his own tastes, which ranged from the hottest dubplates to oldies like ‘Evening News’ and ‘Clarendon Rock’. Phillip Fraser was one of his favorite artists and Willie gave his material a lot of play, songs like ‘Blood of the Saints’ and ‘When I Run Out’. Phillip later credited his exposure on Stur-Gav as giving him the boost he needed in the early 80’s, when he was trying to get his career back on track. Willie would play ‘Please Stay’, on the Johnny Dollar Rhythm, to which Josie would chant, “Everything gone electric”. From there, Willie would go into his special dubplate of ‘Goodbye My Love’, on the Live and Love rhythm, and then into Phillip’s dance hall classic, his rendition of the Manhattan’s ‘Shining Star’. Willie made Phillip one of the biggest dance hall singers of the early ’80’s.

Phillip’s style, with the vibrato at the end of each phrase, seemed to inspire the deejays duo. Many of the Josie’s greatest hits arose in response to Phillip Fraser selections. Josie commented, “Phillip was my artist, and a friend, and then the songs that he sing really touched me. Like one called “Special Request to the Manhattans”, ‘Come on baby, Let me dance, we never danced to a love song. Come on Baby’ – on the Hi Fashion [rhythm]. Those songs- it was the joy of my life. I live to go to the dance, just to be on those versions. It gave me a high there, a high like where you feel extra fit, to the utmost. Words cannot express that feeling. And you lost yourself in the music and you skank your life away.”

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Phillip Frazer – Please Stay

Phillip can remember the way he and Josie interacted musically like when Josie came up with his lyrics, Leggo Mi Hand. “It was over one of my songs,” Phillip commented. “‘Girl I love you and I don’t want you to leave me please stay…'” Willie was selecting and, as usual, playing the Phillip Fraser, ‘Please Stay’, “Josie is at the mic and he haf’ fe find something to say,” Phillip continues. “That’s when he came up with, ‘Leggo mi hand gateman, make me come in…’ Also, every time I sing Never Let Go, Josie would do [his lyrics] ‘Kingston Hot’. Phillip was so well loved by Stur-Gav that he was often invited to sing live, although he was much more a recording singer than a dance hall artist.

Greenwich Farm

In the 70’s, Greenwich Farm had been one of the most active music neighborhoods. After all, reggae Don Bunny Lee lived “up at the top” on West Avenue. So, all the singers would pass through to check him – John Holt, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson. Situated right next to Trenchtown, the other great birthplace of musicians in Kingston, Greenwich Farm was a little pocket of intense creativity. “Greenwich Farm was one of the nicest area as a ghetto community. It was a residential area. We have seaside, we have the best herb, All the singers used to go there,” Phillip reminisced. [Phillip also had an illustrious father, the dancer Sparky of the duo Sparky and Pluggy who performed at various venues around Jamaica and on the Vere John’s Opportunity Hour stage show. Close as brothers from childhood, Sparky and Pluggy grew together in Greenwich Town. Sparky started out dancing with a man name Gandi, Gandi being the other half of the duo named Sparky and Pluggy. When Gandi left to go to a trade school, John Peck (Pluggy Satchmo) filled in and the duo returned to the stage. Eventually, Sparky relocated in the UK and Pluggy teamed up with female dancer Beryl McGar and continued performing their “swing tempo” routine until the two immigrated to Canada in the late 60’s.] In addition, they had Earl Chinna Smith’s Soul Syndicate Band, who provided the backing for many of the roots classics that were recorded by local artists.

Phillip grew up in Greenwich Farm as one of the last generation of singers in Jamaica to learn their trade accompanied by live musicians rather than recorded tracks. Phillip’s generation included singers like Sammy Dread, Earl Zero, Michael Prophet, and Rod Taylor, singers who later became popular in the dance but who started out accompanied by acoustic instruments.

“We were practicing with Earl Chinna Smith and Earl Zero- fishing line and sardine pan to make guitar – that how they made the guitar – and we would sit down and play. And then we took it from there and the Soul Syndicate band was formed- in the same place, Greenwich Town. Then we started recording with Soul Syndicate. We would go to rehearsal at 9th street and then we would go into the studio.”

Desperate for the opportunity to practice, even when there wasn’t anyone around with an instrument, the youngsters would go to the closest bar and sing along to the music on the jukebox. Phillip recalls how they would, “Punch in the version and sing. That was before I was singing on sounds. Punch the version in on the jukebox and sing on it.”

Sammy Dread was always there with them, “It’s like Phillip Fraser is one of my best friends. Me and him grow up together, spar together. We used to go to the juke box because you used to have the vocal and the version. A lot of us used to go to the bar. We used to compete – me, Phillip Fraser, Michael Prophet, Peter Ranking, General Lucky. And you know [in] Jamaica, people used to be drinking the white rum, Heineken. They would be drinking and then somebody would come in and punch the jukebox and punch the version of the music and everybody used to take it up. Whoever sound good, get that praise for that day. That’s how we used to do it.”

Neighborhood producer Bertram Brown released Phillip Frazer’s first LP, Come Ethiopians Come, backed by the Soul Syndicate on his Freedom Sounds label in 1978. The Freedom Sounds style was strictly roots. The Soul Syndicate provided deep, complex, moving rhythms to back singers like Phillip, Earl Zero and Prince Allah. The tone was serious culture but the music was fluid and melodic.

When Freedom Sounds folded, after trouble with a bogus label with the same name in the UK that was pirating their records, the territory was taken over by Don Mais, also a native of the area, and his Roots Tradition label. The Soul Syndicate band had morphed into High Times, but Chinna Smith was still at the helm. With Don Mais, Phillip recorded Never Let Go, the beginning of his passion for doing over the songs of his long time hero, rock steady singer, Greenwich Farm’s own local star, Slim Smith.

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Phillip Frazer – Never Let Go

“Slim Smith never really teach me,” Phillip recalls, “He was an elder in Greenwich farm. His baby mother was a friend of mine and her brother used to stay in the same yard. I used to love him. I used to admire him for his voice. If you notice, his songs were my biggest songs – “I will never let go” – cause people didn’t know that song until I did it on 45. I record it over and then people realize it’s a Studio One. Also Watch This Sound. He was my idol.”

While Phillip loved Slim Smith’s smooth, malleable, soulful vocals, he also felt for his pain. Slim Smith was one of the long list of great Jamaican artists who succumbed to mental illness. “This business now, it’s not an easy thing’, Phillip lamented in 1986, “It’s a very bad thing. You have to have your head pon your body. You can’t let them rob you and you just go mad and stop sing. You have to just gwan and take the robbery and gwan sing the same way.”

Phillip claimed his independence around 1992 and began producing for his own Razor Sound label. ‘The music business has always been hard because it’s like a mafia thing. People don’t want no one to reach to the top. That’s why right now I have my own thing going. I have my own label, my own distribution, everything.” He works with a “whole heap of artists- Al Campbell, myself, Candy Man, Tristan Palma. I recorded Michael Palmer, Wayne Smith, Tony Tuff, Sugar Minott, The Meditations. Also my son, Ras Frazor Jr. I put out an album with him- Philip Fraser and Son, Roots Man Time.”

The Decline And Re-Birth Of Stur-Gav

By the time Stur-Gav left for its New York tour in 1984, both Josie and Charlie were showing signs of being too big to be contained in one local sound. They were performing on major Jamaican stage shows, along with superstar Yellowman, as the three top deejays (often joined by the forth, Brigadier Jerry). Both were beginning to kick up and assert their freedom, often appearing on other sounds. In 1984, Stur-Gav peaked. The tour abroad was the culmination of Josie and Charlie’s organic development as a team and the beginning of each one’s independent star status. When Stur-Gav returned home in 1985, Josie and Charlie were gone and the main deejay was Principal Grundy, formerly Jah Grundy. The audiences started fading away and other sounds, like Kilimanjaro and Stur-Mars took over.

During its short reign, Stur-Gav had been unique in maintaining a vital balance between professionalism and street credibility. Despite the rough necks, the gun salutes, the posses, Stur-Gav maintained a quiet dignity, an air of pure professionalism. As Chaplin explained at the time, “Stur-Gav, it no ‘just come up’ – like most of these sound. U Roy have a following from him deejay King Tubby’s and he go through the struggle.”

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