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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 9 « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 9

Scientist & the Greensleeves Dub Albums

Due to the fact that King Tubby had all but given up engineering music, Scientist, his young apprentice, was conscripted for the job of mixing Junjo and Jah Life’s early material. It was the very beginning of his illustrious career in dub as a mixing engineer. When Junjo and Life came along, Scientist had been just a local kid interested in how electronics worked, Tubby’s helper and student who was learning to take things apart and rearrange them to make them function again.

Like his mentor, Scientist used to tinker with electronics. Even before he met the King, Scientist was experimenting with sound amplification. “Before I was an electronic engineer, as a kid I was learning to build amplifiers. When I built my amplifier, as soon as I play reggae music – like a King Tubby mix – my perfectly working amplifier would stop working. All other music would come through. I thought something was strange, so I wanted to meet Tubbys. A friend that I have made the grill that you see outside Tubby’s house. So he said, ‘Hey, let me take you around there’. It was the happiest day of my life.”

For Scientist, a kid, with an obsessive interest in producing sound, meeting the King was a huge honor. “Me and Tubby became kinda like buddies.” Tubby began allowing him to come around and repair TVs and other electronic equipment. But Scientist had his eyes on the board. He kept begging Tubby to let him into the mixing room. “And Tubbys would say, ‘Nah, you can’t mix. It took Jammys years to learn that. It’s too hard’.” But Scientist never stopped asking.

Then, one day in 1979, Junjo came to King Tubby’s studio in Waterhouse with Barrington Levy and Jah Life. Junjo had the rhythms he got from producer Leon Symoie, including a recent re-cut of The Unique’s ‘My Conversation’. Scientist was in the studio.

“At that time, [producer Prince] Jammy was the primary engineer. Tubby never usually wanted to work and I wondered why he don’t want to mix. He only want to repair the equipment. And he would always send the producer to get Jammys. At that time Jammys was trying to build his studio. So, trying to get him to come up to Tubbys, it was very hard a lot of times.

“Junjo was there to record Barrington Levy. So, he try to get Jammy, but Jammy say he don’t want to do it. So, Junjo, he say, ‘Overton’, and Tubby say, ‘No, he’s just a kid’. And like it’s Junjo’s only opportunity to get this rhythm from Leon, the one that Barrington Levy did, ‘On my way to Marveley…’ [‘Collie Weed’]. So, he had no choice but to let me do it. So Tubby, very reluctantly, let me do it. Damn record went to number one!”

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/09/collieweed.mp3]
Barrington Levy – Collie Weed

“That really put Scientist on top,” Percy Chin, Jah Life’s business partner, reminisces. “He had his own style. Because, usually people mix from top to bottom [i.e. high-end first, bottom-end second], he mix like bottom to top. They say that’s not the way to do it. People might mix the bass first and then the drum, He would mix, like, the percussion first – from the top and go down to the bass, the last thing he mix in. He had a kind of different technique that we like.” Mixing from the top down, and focusing on the highs, Scientist brought the percussion to the front, giving it a bright, clear sound that added a fine layer of texture to the mix.

The ‘unique’ alternative mixing technique caused friction with his boss. “Tubby used to come out and argue with Scientist”, Jah Life remembers, “saying he’s playing the board back ways – something like that. That’s why I always tell people Scientist was one of the greatest engineer. His mixes come out and kick up a storm. It changed everything. Even the instrumentals sound like somebody singing. And it complements the artist too. That’s what help make Barrington.”

After the singing and the deejay versions of the rhythms hit the street, Greensleeves, in charge of Junjo and Jah Life’s products overseas, wanted an album of the dub versions. Taking advantage of the interest in the new Roots Radics ‘versions’, and the innovative mixes Scientist was providing, Greensleeves released The Big Showdown* which pitted long time heavyweight engineer Prince Jammy, against newcomer Scientist in a mixing contest. The whole idea was basically a gimmick aimed at the foreign market. Dub albums weren’t a big seller in Jamaica. It was more of a foreign taste. “Our idea was to try and make it a bit of fun,” Greensleeves founder Chris Sedgwick recalls.

* The idea of a mixing showdown was a natural extension of the sound system clash, another example of the dancehall entering into the studio recording process

Tony McDermott, Greensleeves graphic artist, remembers, “The notion of clashes had been around forever- sound clashes, deejay clashes… So, Greensleeves got presented with an album Jammy v. Scientist. And if something is a clash, how can you present it, in what context can they clash? Somebody said, ‘Boxing match – heavyweight showdown. Let’s make it a boxing theme’. So, I came back with a drawing, they said, ‘That really works. We like that’.” The album cover featured a sketch of a boxing ring with each engineer in his corner, the referee in a red, green and gold tam and a girl holding up a sign reading ‘round one’.*

* Scientist v Prince Jammy, Big Showdown, Jah Guidance/ Greensleeves, 1980

For this new dub ‘showdown’, the MC was Jah Thomas. Greensleeves overdubbed his vocals announcing each round as the rhythm tracks played, allowing each ‘contestant’ to show his special talents at the controls. Guess what? The follow up LP conveniently, proclaimed Scientist to be the winner, the new ‘Heavyweight Champion’. Now Junjo and Greensleeves had the services of a ‘heavyweight champion’, not just an apprentice from Tubby’s. It was a brilliant marketing move. Now, every album of Junjo’s material that Greensleeves released could be presented as another chapter in the saga of Scientist against various forces of evil. Greensleeves opened the floodgates and out came an avalanche of theme dub releases, all mixed by Scientist, including Scientist Meets the Space Invaders (1981), Scientist Rids the World of the Curse of the Evil Vampires (1981), Scientist Wins the World Cup (1982) and so on, ad infinitum.

“We would sit in the office and say, ‘What’s happening in the world, what are the latest crazes?’ The Space Invaders* – I don’t think Jamaicans had seen a Space Invaders machine when we came out with that album. They had just arrived in the UK and that’s just how things worked. The World Football Cup was coming around – let’s make it a world cup theme. Sometimes messages would go back to Jamaica [to Scientist], ‘It would suit the theme if you put these sound effects in it’. Some of the space effects, the boxing effects were added over here in the UK anyway.”

* Space Invaders was a new electronic arcade game

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/09/supernovaexplosion.mp3]
Scientist – Supernova Explosion from the Scientist Meets The Space Invaders LP, the original rhythm is Linval Thompson – Dreadlock Nah Run

The cover art succeeded in altering the context of the music so successfully that dub (as it was made in the ‘70s and early ‘80s) eventually faded away from the Jamaican scene and morphed abroad into several new European/North American forms like ‘drum and bass’ and ‘dubstep’. The comic book images of Scientist as a muscle bound superhero battling strictly non – Jamaican villains such as Frankenstein and Dracula, helped ease the music into the hands of a fresh, open minded generation of record buyers who were experimenting with new sounds.

The early Scientist dub releases proved so popular abroad that the name Scientist came to be a guarantee of sales. The Greensleeves label had become an instantly recognizable stamp of approval for new Jamaican music coming into the market overseas and Scientist had the requisite ‘battle scars’ to now be crowned as the top engineer working in King Tubby’s studio.

Greensleeves

Greensleeves was fast taking over the market as a new generation of reggae fans abroad began purchasing records. Having linked up first with Junjo, and later with the top producers of the decade including George Phang, Jammy and Gussie Clarke, Greensleeves enjoyed the position of ‘label of choice’ for discriminating dancehall fans in the UK and North America throughout the 1980s, and, as such, had a big part in defining what comprised the growing genre.

Previously, fans aboard had relied mainly on Trojan, Virgin and Island. But Greensleeves was different. “In the sense that Island was trying to reach into the bigger rock market, adding guitars and stuff to Bob Marley albums, we were just putting out the raw music, at street level, not trying to doctor it in anyway,” Explains Chris Sedgwick, one of the founders.

The first album that Greensleeves released was the classic 1978 deejay LP, Dr Alimontado’s Best Dressed Chicken in Town, featuring a cover shot of ‘Tado’, in his ragged cut offs, on a Kingston street, passing what appears to be a soul boy in his ‘bell foot’ pants, and carrying a chicken wrapped in newspaper. The vinyl inside was pure hardcore reggae, a collection of Dr. Alimonatado’s self produced 45s spanning the decade.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/09/bestdressedchickenintown.mp3]
Doctor Alimantado – Best Dressed Chicken In Town from the LP of the same name.

The music was good, solid roots reggae, but the cover was truly inspired. The record sold successfully to a new crowd, a young, under-twenty-five group of record buyers who were mainly purchasing punk records. For many future dancehall fans, Greensleeves was their first introduction to real yard style reggae.

The older, long time reggae fans already got their music on ‘pre-release’, imported from Jamaica. But a new generation of teenagers, both black and white, was growing up in England, looking for something new and rebellious to make their own. Dancehall was a good fit. “It was music their parents wouldn’t like, it was anti establishment, it was anti police, it was pro ganja. It had all the right ingredients,” recalls Tony McDermott. For all the people who weren’t buying the 45s straight of the boat, Greensleeves came to represent the true sound of Jamaica, albeit packaged in a format that anyone abroad would be comfortable with.

With interesting, professionally designed covers, combined with authentic music, Greensleeves quickly gained the trust of record purchasers. The Barrington material just blew it wide open. Because, along with Barrington came the whole package, Scientist, Junjo, Channel One, and the Roots Radics. And Greensleeves practically had a monopoly on them at first. Knowing they had struck gold, Greensleeves stuck closely to Junjo and Jah Life, continuing to release their material as fast as they could produce it. Over the next couple of years, Greensleeves put out the Toyan LP, How the West Was Won, The Wailing Souls’, Firehouse Rock, along with work from Michael Prophet, Wayne Jarrett, Eakamouse, Johnny Osbourne, Yellowman and many more, building up a catalogue that tracked the developments in reggae over the next three decades.

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