Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 4

The Studio One Revival

During the ‘70s, Studio One, previously a giant of rock steady, lost its prime vocalists to the more happening studios like Channel One, Joe Gibbs and Randy’s. Coxsone Dodd tried to rebuild the studio’s rub-a-dub credibility with a series of Dub Specialist LPs*, but without much success. The slightly muffled, underwater Studio One sound didn’t interest fans who preferred their dub sharp, crisp and edgy.*

* According to David Kingston : “The first set of dubs (Zodiac, Hi Fashion etc) were all mid-’70s, and were mixed by Selwyn Morris. The latter dubs, like Juks Parts one and two, with the overdubbed effects and additional instrumentation, were mixed primarily by Coxsone himself. The appearance of these LPs in the late 1970s,, together with a new stable of artists (Johnny Osbourne, Freddie MacGregor etc), reminded reggae fans of Studio One’s relevance during those transitional times.”

For a time, in the early ‘70s, Studio One was on the way down. The singers had moved on and the rhythms had fallen out of favour. But the story wasn’t over yet. “Interestingly enough, Channel One actually started the Studio One revival in some ways,” comments David Kingston, selector and former radio host in Canada. At least, they took the first step.

[audio:]Mighty Diamonds – I Need A Roof

Sugar Minott – I Need A Roof

Channel One began working with The Mighty Diamonds and gave them a couple of rhythm tracks to sing over. Both were updates of Studio One classics. When Coxsone found out, he got really angry. Sugar Minott recalled, “The first one that cause a big war between Coxsone and Channel One was the [Mighty] Diamond’s ‘I Need a Roof’. Because they used the Larry Marshall rhythm, ‘Mean Girl’. They change the horn section and they say Spa da da dap Daaah. That was the first time somebody did that and Coxsone himself, he didn’t know it was his rhythm cause he [Channel One] disguise it, right? But I’m the man who was listening to sound since I was eight years of age, six or whatever, so I’m knowing every rhythm- you can’t fool me. So, when I heard it, I went to Coxsone and I said, ‘Look Mr. D, they’re making your rhythms over, don’t you hear that Mean Girl, man?’ So, he got time to listen it good now. He said, ‘Ahhhhhh. It’s True! Raharahararah….’(like he’s mad). So, what I did, I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to answer them. Then I went for Larry Marshal’s rhythm and I [recorded the song], ‘I Need a Roof Over My Head’. That’s why you have a Studio One version of ‘I Need a Roof’. That was answering back to Channel One, like a war.”

So, when Channel One followed up with another Diamond’s hit, Have ‘Mercy’, using Coxsone’s ‘Baby Why’ (originally by The Cables), Coxsone, according to David Kingston, “responded by releasing ‘Rearrange’ by The Gladiators, which mocks [Channel One] for basically ‘rearranging’ The Cables tune. It was probably at that point where Mr. Dodd felt that it was fair game to ‘version himself, so to speak, and realized the value of his riddims”*

Mighty Diamonds – Have Mercy

Gladiators – Rearrange

* “What was temporarily ‘out of date’ in the mid-’70s saw a re-assessment in the late ‘70s. He realized the value of the bedtracks, and had musicians like Pablove Black ‘update them’ with over-dubs to give them a bouncier, heavier sound.”- David Kingston

The fierce competition between studios and producers lead to even more versions of old classics surfacing in new styles. And the versions were being played on the many sound systems throughout the island. At the time, Sugar Minott was selecting and singing on a sound system in Maxfield Park called Sound of Silence. “I used to play Studio One dubs [dubplate versions of the rhythms] on my sound and I used to make up songs to them.” So, when Sugar went to Studio One to audition for Mr. Dodd, he explained that he wouldn’t need Mr. Dodd to make any new rhythm tracks for his music. He could sing on what Coxsone already had in the vaults*.

* The most common method for recording a vocalist was to have the band create a backing track around the singer’s vocals. Sugar was, instead, building his vocals over already recorded backing tracks

Sugar Minott – Wrong Doers

Coxsone Dodd was interested in the idea and cut some dubplates for Sugar to take home and practice with. Sugar returned with ‘Wrong Doers’, sung over the version of Leroy Sibbles’ ‘Love Me Girl’. Mr. Dodd was impressed and ran off eight more rhythms for Sugar to play with. Sugar took the rhythms and composed songs with his characteristic lyrics of suffering and struggle. Mr. Dodd selected 10 of the songs that Sugar brought to him and released them on the album Live Loving in 1977, songs like ‘Hang On Natty’, ‘Live Loving’ and ‘Jah Jah Lead Us’. The lyrics were true roots and culture, but Sugar sang them in his romantic, melancholy style giving the songs the feel of a ballads rather than protests.

The reaction to the first album was so favorable that Mr. Dodd followed it up with a showcase LP that contained some of Sugar’s strongest and best loved work, including the classics ‘Vanity’, ‘Mr. DC’ and the afore-mentioned “I Need A Roof”. The release of the two albums gave Studio One a new lease on life. “Everybody start to find out that Sugar Minott has Coxsone rhythms that nobody could ever get,” Sugar recalled. “So, all the sound people start coming to me for dubplates, so I was like the king, man! Jack Ruby come in, Scorpio, Arrows. So that’s how the whole revolution start, of singing on rhythms. And at that time, I was like a savior to Studio One, cause, remember, there was no more Ken Boothe, there was no more nobody. It was different. Freddy McGregor was there, Silvertones and some people like that. it’s like a new studio one started cause Everybody started singing on the rhythms. I did a song called ‘Come Now Natty Dread’ and that’s how Freddy McGregor got his first hit song – by making an answer to that, like ‘Come Now, Sister, Come right now’.”*

Sugar Minott – Hang On Natty AKA Come Now Natty Dread

Freddie McGregor – Come Now Sister

* The original of the rhythm was The Heptones’ In the Groove

Freddy was a lot like Sugar, a rootsman with a ballad style who could sing cultural material convincingly handle the love songs as well. His follow up was another song on timeless Coxsone rhythm, ‘Bobbly Bobylon’, sung over Coxsone’s ‘Hi Fashion Dub’*, which became the title track of his well known LP.

* The original rhythm was a Jackie Mittoo organ instrumental, ‘One Step Beyond’. even though the riddim is commonly called “Hi Fahion” because of the fact it appears on the dub LP of the same name

Freddie McGregor – Bobby Bobbylon

Freddy McGregor had recently become a Rastafarian and joined the twelve Tribes of Israel. The 1979 album contained, like Sugar’s recordings, mainly roots lyrics sung effortlessly over Studio One’s rock steady standards. It was a good example of Coxsone willingness to experiment with more ‘cultural’ material. The Freddy McGregor album featured strong, though understated, roots ballads like ‘Bandulo’, ‘We Need More Love (In the Ghetto)’, ‘Bobby Bobylon’, ‘Wine of Violence’, ‘Rastaman Camp’, and ‘I Am a Revolutionist’. Freddy, like Sugar, had a way of singing about the painful truths of ghetto life in a soothing, open, melodic style that flowed along with the Studio One Rock Steady backing tracks. The formula not only saved all kinds of money in studio expenses by eliminating the need for a band to play on every song, but it was wildly popular with record buyers and sound system operators. These releases were, again, that tantalizing mix of something old and something new.

Johnny Osbourne

Johnny Osbourne – Truth And Rights

Johnny Osbourne was also a good fit for the format. His come-back LP in 1979, Truths and Rights, mixed rock steady rhythms with social commentary in songs like ‘Truth and Rights’, ‘The Children are Crying’, ‘Jah Promise’, ‘We Need Love’ and ‘Love Jah So’. The new activity over the old rhythms was creating a stir. “When I start singing pon them rhythm there, everybody who
start hearing them tune pon them rhythm ya, want fe sing pon them rhythm,” Johnny recalls. “It’s like it was a revival period fe them rhythm there.”

In the ‘60s, Johnny had been singing with a group called The Wildcats and afterwards, with a band he created from among his friends, called The Diamonds. His parents still opposed his career in music and kept encouraging him to practice a trade. “I study book keeping and accounts. And I learn welding and all that. After a time, I realize that them things there is not me. So, me just ha’ fe get them out of my mind and just go ina the music.”

To keep him off the streets and out of trouble, Johnny’s parents decided to send him to the Alpha Boy’s School, but this only encouraged his interest in music. Aside from his academic work, he helped out as an office boy and studied the trumpet under teachers Lenny Hibbert, David Madden and Nathan and Arnold Brackenridge. But, instead of sticking with the trumpet, Johnny found that by listening to horns, he could learn a lot about singing, and about music in general.

When his group The Diamonds folded, Johnny managed to stir the interest of producer Winston Riley. Riley, a member of the vocal trio, The Techniques, was just starting out as a producer and he knew Johnny well from the neighborhood. The first song Riley recorded with Johnny was ‘Come Back Darling’, followed by an LP of the same name released in 1970 on Trojan. The songs, in which Johnny is backed by The Sensations*, had a post rock steady, pre-reggae feel.

Johnny Osbourne & The Sensations – Come Back Darling

* Johnny Osbourne recalls, “The Techniques and The Sensations was two friend groups and at night time we’d sit down and sing. I used to go round by them, walk from my area. They have a music corner. Them sit down and sing, sing a lot of harmony, which I used to love. I leave from my corner and go to their corner and listen to them.”

Then, just as he had recorded his first album, Johnny’s mother, who had migrated to Canada, sent for him. “The political scene was very violent. We get used to that already and deal with that. But in 1968, ‘69, it just come up wicked. Jamaica was getting very violent politically.” Johnny’s mother got worried and went down to Jamaica to fetch her errant son and bring him north to safety. He went reluctantly, but stayed for ten years. Despite his active musical career as both a solo artist and founding member of the group Ishen People (who enjoyed a modicum of success in Canada), Jamaica was always calling him home.

One of the things pulling Johnny back was the music, specifically Studio One. “Them rhythms there is some standard rhythm whe’ I used to listen to, even when I did deh a Canada- listen them and think about when I would get a chance to go to Jamaica. And I thought, I have to sing pon them rhythm there.”

Johnny Osbourne – We Need Love

So, after ten years abroad, Johnny returned in 1979 and sought out Mr. Dodd. Under Mr. Dodd’s supervision, he selected his favorite rhythms and voiced the songs that became the LP Truths and Rights, 1979. “That’s one of my best albums to date and it’s like a collector’s item. That one deh a I love more than most albums.” Johnny proved so adept at singing over studio
rhythms, he went on to become one of Dancehall’s greatest dubplate and special singers in the 1980s, as well as a huge hit maker for the top producers of the decade.

Smiley and Michigan

Smiley & Michigan – Rub-A-Dub Style

The deejay duo, General Smiley and Papa Michigan, proved to be dancehall’s first media darlings. The Jamaican newspapers loved the pair and wrote about them glowingly as their songs ascended the charts. On their way up, the duo even picked up an official manager, Janet Enwright, something quite new for dancehall deejays. The pair had been working with Third World Disco when a man named Ragamuffin heard them deejaying in a combination style and was struck by the novelty of the act. He not only brought them across the railroad tracks from Union Gardens to work on the Greenwich Farm based roots sound Black Harmony, he also took them to Mr. Dodd to audition.

The two had been practicing together on the sound for so long, they were well prepared for an audition. When Dodd told them to hit it, Michigan recalls, “We went in the studio and said, ‘Go ina it – Outasight! Dynamite! Music make you feel alright! Is alright, is alright, watcha man!’ Wop!” They did the recording seamlessly in one take. Coxsone, impressed with both their style and professionalism, released the recording. ‘Rub-a-dub Style’, over the same rhythm Sugar Minott used for ‘Vanity’. Sugar recalls, “I just did my thing, ‘Mary Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?’ and they came with, ‘Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your rub-a-dub flow’. That started a whole new revolution right there.”

Smiley & Michigan – Nice Up The Dance

‘Rub-a-dub style’, and the equally successful follow up, ‘Nice Up the Dance’, were pivotal records in the transition from roots to dancehall. Both songs acknowledged, and paid tribute to, being in a dancehall session. As Michigan explains, the current music “wasn’t rub-a-dub ‘style’- it was rub-adub.” He was referring to the practice of playing the version after the vocal the straight rhythm track for the deejay to talk over. Smiley and Michigan didn’t invent the term. It came from the way couples danced, pressed tight together, ‘rubbing up’ against each other. The follow up 45, ‘Nice Up the Dance’, over an updated version of Coxsone’s thumping ‘Real Rock’ rhythm, was also a song about being in the dance.

People outside can’t get into the dance,
them really have fe dance on the street tonight

The sound system was the focus of the lyrics, which glorified and celebrated the live session. Both songs reached number one at home and penetrated the markets abroad where this new style of reggae was attracting a fresh, younger generation of fans.

‘Nice Up the Dance’ was named song of the year and so was their follow up, ‘One Love Jam Down’, written and produced by their manager Janet Enwright. The theme of the new song dealt with the opening up of Jamaica’s entrenched class system.

Smiley & Michigan – One Love Jamdown

No more uptown- downtown, we all rock together on a one ground.
Social barriers bruk down, together ina One Love Jam Down.
The ‘Risto and the dreadlocks, come together ina I-tal wedlock

“That song – that’s [about] when Bob Marley married Cindy Breakespeare,” Smiley explains. “Bob Marley, from out of Trench Town, Cindy Breakesapeare was Miss World, Miss Jamaica World. So, Bob Marley is a dreadlocks Rasta man. That just move the clouds from over the sun a little bit. All of a sudden you look up on the hill, you start to see some little youth – drive, go uptown, go home.”

Kingston still had territorial markers, but by the ‘80s, the barriers were beginning to weaken. As the land begins to slope upwards, the houses take up more space, sitting farther apart from each other, with gardens and well tended lawns in between. You didn’t see often dreadlocks above Half Way Tree. That is, until Bob Marley moved his motley crew of dreads and ragamuffins up to Old Hope Road, into a mansion they turned into a crash pad and studio.

“We never [used to] go above Half Way Tree, [to] Constant Spring, Cherry Garden. As you come out of the bus, Police come pick you up – ‘A whe’ you a do here? Whe’ you a come to? A whe’ you going?’ That’s how it was at one time,” Smiley explains. That was about to change, at least for the two deejays.

With the success of that song, along with their two previous hits, the two deejays were being invited into uptown locations to perform their downtown, rub-a-dub style material. “We were performing in the high schools uptown, up at Merle Grove, at Queens High school, all these nice places,” Smiley still marvels at the idea. “And we from downtown, ghetto! Bob Marley – Cindy Breakspeare, come on man! ‘No more uptown downtown.’”

The biggest hit for Smiley and Michigan came when they met up with Junjo Lawes and recorded ‘Diseases’, a song that predicts calamities for those who don’t uphold the teachings in the Bible.

Smiley & Michigan – Diseases

Jah Jah lick you with diseases, the most dangerous diseases, like the elephantitis (sic) and poliomyelitis, and the one diabetes. Smiley and Michigan recorded the song for Junjo over one of his most popular rhythms, his remake of Alton Ellis’s Studio One recording, Mad, Mad, Mad, little knowing the effect it would have. “I wasn’t trying to bring down disease on anybody,” Michigan apologizes for what happened next.

Right afterwards, Jamaica suffered an outbreak of polio. Some people actually accused the duo of causing the problem. If the record hadn‘t been such a big hit, it wouldn’t have mattered. But, by the time the disease struck, the lyrics were known by every Jamaican, so the question was actually taken seriously enough to be debated in local newspaper columns.

By the late ‘70s, Studio One had come full circle. No sound could play without a full complement of Studio One originals. Mikey Faith recalls, “Coxsone rub-a-dub sweeter than anybody else’s own and I don’t know why. Coming like rubber, like a bouncing ball. I find out that if you are in a competition, if you just kick into the Studio One rhythms, they can’t get you out you know. Cause when it’s time for your music to come on, your music have them rocking! Studio One music have them rocking. There is no comparison.”

In the late ‘70s, after the dance was in full swing, the selector would start playing the ‘Midnight Attraction’- an hour or so of pure Studio One versions. As Selector Danny Dread recalls, “It was like one or two A.M. – Break out the Studio Ones. All the sounds did that, all the roots sounds – Jah Love, even Stur-Gav.”

With all this new momentum swinging in his favor, Mr. Dodd packed it up and left the island for New York in 1979 leaving the store open but in the hands of Miss Enid. In New York, Mr. Dodd started back into producing from his new location in Brooklyn where he began rereleasing a lot of titles that were out-of-print for years. Although he continued to record new artists over old rhythms, like Lone Rangers’ Badda Than Them and Earl Sixteen’s Showcase, he never quite matched his former level of quality and originality. Nevertheless, through updating his work, Mr. Dodd had ensured that Studio One riddims would never die. Channel One spent the ‘70s and ‘80s versioning the old rhythms, as did every future producer, Junjo through Jammy.

Mr. Dodd passed away in 2004, leaving an abundant legacy of innovative and inspired music for future generations to enjoy , a catalogue of classics that formed the foundation of the developing dancehall style that came to rule Jamaican music in the ‘80s and beyond.

Chapter 5: Channel One Studio

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