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Rub A Dub Style Chapter 12 « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style Chapter 12

Gemini Disco with Welton Irie, Ringo & Squiddley Ranking

Despite condemnation in the media, and the cultural deejays’ admonitions that slackness would “bite the dust”, slackness refused to die. In the years after the demise of General Echo and the closing of Stereophonic, slackness found a new home, Gemini Disco. With the relative peace that arrived in 1980 at the end of the violent election campaign, all sounds had the potential to attract bigger crowds and Gemini was at the right place at the right time. With a roster including the top slack deejays and two selectors- one for reggae and one for soul, and a club all its own to play home sessions, Gemini was the perfect sound to open the new dancehall decade.

In 1980, the big music in Jamaica was soul, not reggae. American soul, and its cousins, disco, funk and R&B, were played in stores, homes and on the radio. As Singer Anthony Malvo recalls, “We grow up on soul music, R&B. I love soul music.” So did the majority of Jamaicans. Soul was the most popular music on the island. So, most sound systems played it.

In Jamaica, there were two kinds of sounds. According to Producer Gussie Clarke, “the ones that were playing Jamaican music and there’s the ones playing foreign songs – the soul sounds. It was pretty hard to get the soul records, [so] I used to import records and sell to the sound systems.”

“Back in those days, most of the sound were called ‘-tone’, like Echotone, Soultone,” Welton Irie explains. “And those were the sound that normally play mixed music- a little soul, a little reggae, a little disco. And the sounds that were called Hifi, play pure rub-a-dub. King Tubby’s Hifi, Arrows Hifi, Tippertone Hifi, Black Harmony Hifi. All the hifis were rub-a-dub sounds. That’s how we distinguish. Gemini Disco, Channel One Disco – from they say ‘Disco’, you hear mixed music. When it is a hifi, you’re gonna hear rubabdub all the time.”

Well, almost all the time. Even roots-man selector Jah Wise played soul on Tippertone, Big Youth’s home sound. He explains, “Jack Ruby’s sound was a soul sound. Most of the sounds, everybody used to play soul, real soul, The Impressions, Drifters. That’s where they [producers and artists] get the cover versions.”

King Trevor recalls, “Most of the sets still played their 30 or 40 minutes of soul, disco and funky in between rockers sets because it attracted a ‘better’ class of people. Rough guys used to hang out at sounds like Tubby’s – rude boys. That’s why those sounds got mashed up so many times.”*

* There were a special group of sounds that played mainly dubplates of locally made reggae music. Like Emperor Faith, as Mikey explains, “I was the dubplate sound. I had the most plates, I used to play pure dubplate right through, a rhythm sound. Sometimes you had the singing, but I had the rub-a-dub rhythm [without the vocal) and I used to play them one after the other and the deejays love that. It had to be a special music. I hardly play music they play on the radio. Our music was different. If you wanted regular music you had to go somewhere else. We were the innovators. Some sounds could get away with it, but I couldn’t get away with it cause when the crowd come to listen to me, if I woulda start play radio music, they would leave very disappointed.”

Most of the soul sounds would still play a portion of reggae. “They start [the session by] playing reggae,” according to Anthony Malvo. “Then, after that, they start to play disco music. After that, soul music play for an hour. When it reach down to like one o’clock, two o’clock, then they play reggae. It depends on the type of party. Some parties you play everything and it’s just cool. Some parties it’s just soul and reggae.”*

* The reason people don’t realize the amount of foreign music that was played is because the fans would wait until the reggae part came on to start taping the sessions. Anthony Malvo explains, “When the reggae start now and the deejays take the mic- then everybody turn on their tape recorders.”

The mixed sounds like Gemini were more commercial than the roots sounds of the ’70s. It was a question of survival. The soul sounds attracted a wider audience including a more uptown crowd, while the more specialized, ‘dubplate’ sounds like Papa Roots and Emperor Faith maintained a smaller, more hardcore following. Squiddley Ranking explains, “Gemini is mostly like an uptown sound. They used to play in Gemini Club, Skateland, and that club in New Kingston, Tropics. Gemini was the sound that carry the most spenders, the most respectable men who have money. Everybody wan’ follow Gemini sound and when you keep a dance with Gemini, in those days, your liquor must sell off, because Gemini carry a spending crowd.” But, Gemini could also shock out in the ghetto. Gemini was at home anywhere. Uptown or down, Ocho Rios or Portland, it always drew a crowd. In the country, “it would be chaos,” says selector Deejay Funky. A crowd of one thousand people would be blocking the road.

Gemini

Gemini first appeared on the scene in 1967 with the owner, Papa Gemini, doing all the selecting. Papa Gemini (Gerwin Dinal), started out as a record collector and his love for the music led him into the sound system business. In the early days, he worked as a machinist in a work shop near Cross Roads and it was in that little shop that he started playing records for the public. From there, he and his partner started to put together the sound. They started with three tube amps and a turntable. In 1974, they had well known technician Denton make them a new amplifier. The sound was expanding.

It wasn’t long before Papa Gemi was deep into the sound scene, clashing with the top sounds of the day. His first major clash was against Stan the Soul Merchant on Musgrave Avenue in the ’70s. Soul Merchant was the number one sound at the time but Gemini won and became the Champion Sound. By that time, Mr. Dinal wasn’t selecting anymore. Archie had arrived. Back then, Ranking Trevor was the main deejay, but all kinds of artists would drop by including General Echo who Archie (in 1983) ranked as “the best one so far”. In 1975, Gemini added a second selector to control the soul music, DJ Funky. “I was more on the funky side of things. Archie was the main guy for the dubplates. We complement each other.”

Gemini’s first home base was Love Shack, on Retreat Avenue, a little dead end street off Brentford Road, in the Crossroads area of Kingston. The club belonged to sound owner Gerwin Dinal. Around 1978, they moved to the Gemini Club, a restaurant they bought at Half Way Tree.

Gemini was officially a ‘disco’ and played a bit of everything – funk, soul, disco, reggae. The soul and funk was an important part of Gemini’s repertoire. “Gemini was popular because of its versatility,” DJ Funky recalls. “Woman used to dress up and they were drinking like they were men. A lot of them was not there because of the dubplates, but because of the soul music. They love their soul music.” To determine the right mix, Funky explains, “We base it on crowd reaction. We play like four, five, or six funk and then we play a few soul music. Those days you could get away with a lot of soul music compared to now. You could play eight, nine, ten soul music and everybody’s bawling for more. Then we would go back into the reggae and play that for an hour or more.”

In 1976 downtown Kingston, the cool guys were the ‘soul boys’ and Archie, despite his role as the rub-a-dub selector, was the quintessential soul man. “All of us used to dress,” DJ Funky explains, “but Archie was the guy to watch. Whenever he stepped into the dancehall, he would have on a white shoes, white bell foot pants – he loved white. And he was ever slick! And he always wear a beaver hat and gold chain. I would pick up Archie and we would show up as aristocrats. And when we finish playing, Charles and his crew would pack up back the sound and I would drive the truck.” As the technical person, Charles, nicknamed Apache, was responsible for stringing up the set and running the wires to connect to the light pole for the power supply. In the mid ’80s, with Archie traveling frequently, Charles got bumped up to part time selector, even appearing at the big venues such as Skateland.

Welton Irie

Although he had been around longer than most of the Gemini crew, Welton never really got the boost he deserved as a foundation deejay. Welton didn’t hang out with the crowds on the corner. He never smoked weed and wasn’t, in his own words, a ‘modeler’. For a deejay who could come up with such outrageous lyrics, Welton was remarkably reserved and very serious about his music.

In the beginning, he did more selecting than deejaying. He and record collector Tony Walcott used to work freelance. Sometimes they would select a dance together. Sometimes they were working separately.

Welton found his niche in the ’70s acting as a lyrical liaison between the east and the west sides of Kingston. “The deejays were in the west. So, all the styles, all the lyrics were in the west. We [in the east] were secluded. We just had two top deejays at the time, Puddy Roots and Crutches [on Arrows]. Those were the big deejays in the east- for the entire east.”

So Welton rode his bicycle to the various dances in the west and brought the new styles back to the east to perform. “When I started out, I sounded exactly like [Ranking] Trevor. I used to go over to Channel One Sound and all those [sounds]… Ranking Trevor was the deejay in the late ’70s – songs like ‘Truly’, ‘Queen Majesty’, ‘Answer Me Question’. So, sounding like him was a plus for me, especially in the east. People, who would normally have to leave and go all the way in the west to hear to hear Ranking Trevor on King Attorney, had me in the east now sounding like him.”

Welton started out on Sir John the President, the sound that would soon become Stereophonic. “I built that before Echo came on, from about ’75. I was just 14 plus going on 15. I started doing a little bit [of slackness], but in the east here, there wasn’t anybody really doing it, so I started building more and more slack lyrics. But I always tempered it with some culture lyrics and some reality lyrics. There would be a little period in the dance where I would say, ‘Bwoy, the dance is too tight, I going to slack it up now’, and I would give a few [lyrics] and then get back to some culture. And my slack lyrics, me and Ringo were usually humorous, telling a story. Not just raw slackness. You found yourself laughing”.

Welton didn’t record much. He was first and foremost a live performer. But, he managed to do several 45s and a handful of albums. His first recording was a duet with Lone Ranger, with Ranger doing the singing. Welton remembers, “I was nervous man! Tony [Walcott] took me to Studio One and my first recording was ‘Chase Them Crazy’, the ‘Mr. Basie’ rhythm*. And Lone Ranger was singing the part of Horace Andy, cause Long Ranger used to sing like Horace Andy. So he was singing, ‘Hey Mr. Bassie’ then I would come in and deejay. And I would say that was the first duet style. Before Michigan and Smiley, me and Ranger been doing combination.” The two good friends recorded another combination, ‘The Big Fight’ (Chord, 1978) on the Joe Frazer rhythm.

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*Original song by Horace Andy, Mr. Bassie, Studio One; Chase them Crazy, Studio One, 1977.

Welton’s biggest hit, ‘Army Life’, created contention between him and deejay Peter Metro. Metro was the first to come up with the song. “After hearing it, I came up with some other ideas that could fit it. Sometimes you hear a deejay and say, ‘I would say this here’ or ‘I would add this to it’- you are always thinking.” So, Welton began deejaying his own version of the lyrics.

“‘Johnny Dollar’ was the rhythm it fit and that’s the rhythm Peter Metro used to deejay it on [live].” The ‘Johnny Dollar’ rhythm easily accommodated an army theme with its solid ‘one two, three four’ marching beat and regular slams. “Left right, left right, government boots is not your own. They say that in the army the shoes are very fine. I ask for number seven, they give me number nine.” The blaring horns added to the military feel. ‘Johnny Dollar’ was Sly and Robbie’s take on the ‘Mad, Mad, Mad’ rhythm (Alton Ellis, Studio One). Voiced by Roland Burrell, on the Taxi label, the ‘Johnny Dollar’ rhythm was one of the hottest of the 1980’s pre-digital period. “‘Johnny Dollar was mashing up the place. [But] there was no deejay [voiced] on the rhythm yet,” Welton recalls. So, he offered to get the rhythm for Peter Metro to voice but Peter ended up voicing it over a slower rhythm produced by Clive Jarrett. “After his own [was] released, I say, ‘Alright I’m going to do it on the ‘Johnny Dollar’ rhythm.’ And from it came out – right up the charts! No more Peter Metro.” Understandably, there were some words, but the two made it up in the end. Still on the army theme, Welton voiced a song called ‘Soldier Take Over’, on the Admiral label, in 1981, only to see Yellowman voice a song by the same title, again, on Sly and Robbie’s ‘Johnny Dollar’ rhythm, a year later. (‘Yellowman, Soldier Take Over’, Taxi 1982)

Welton had another record, but this one Jamaicans knew nothing about. “I did an album for a guy named Glen Brown called Ghettoman Corner”*.

* Pantomime Records 1977. Later released as Sylford Walker & Welton Irie – Lamb’s Bread International- combination of the two albums.

“That’s my biggest songs in Europe. In all of Europe, that’s what I’m known for. Nobody know ‘Army Life’ in Europe. All the tracks are original…’cause he wanted a roots album. That’s what Europeans love – they love roots. It was surprising for me ‘cause when I was doing that album for him, there was nothing I was doing on the album that I was pleased with. But that’s what he wanted. The ‘Dirty Harry’ rhythm, I did that twice for him, but The Lamb’s Bread – I had a hard time with that, it was just weird! All those lyrics were made in the studio. And I’ve never done any of those lyrics on the road.* And sure enough, that’s what they want in Europe.”

* ie. He never performed them at dances, they were made up for the LP.

Ringo

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Every night was a new party on Gemini with Ringo and Welton Irie outdoing each other with silliness and rudeness. “Seckle [settle] crowd of people, you fe seckle. Me and Welton coming like Heckle and Jeckle”, Ringo used to chant. Like the two mischievous magpies, Ringo and Welton liked to provoke the crowd with their libidinous and licentious lyrics.

Without Welton Irie, there would have been no Johnny Ringo. Ringo came into the business inspired by the older deejay and the two became a team, the main attraction of the sound. Both men could be either topical or raunchy. Ringo was a careful lyrics writer who could always be found with his notebook and pen, carefully working out a song the way a singer might. Everyone who knew him in the business at the time commented that he was ‘the most intelligent deejay’ in terms of writing well thought out lyrics. Ringo set the standard, at least until deejays like Early B and Peter Metro (and Lt. Stitchie) came along.

Ringo started out in music selling records in Randy’s Record shop on North Parade. Then, one night, he went to a dance and heard Welton. From that time on, Ringo would follow Welton, learning his slack lyrics and coming up with his own styles.

“I heard Ranking Trevor and became a deejay,” Welton Irie remembers. “Ringo heard me and became a deejay. When he started, exactly like me he was sounding. He even tell me he used to come a dance and write up my lyrics I was doing. Jot it down. He tell me so himself. So, me and him start to spar together, cause I never have a problem with that.”

Ringo remembered being impressed by the more established deejays, Welton Irie and Lone Ranger. He said at the time, “I started off playing sounds, cause that’s what I really love, playing sound system. Welton and Lone Ranger used to come along and [Welton] used to influence me. When he was carrying a swing, he was really ‘carrying a swing’*, and that inspired my style. And I sort of create, lyrics for my own self. Now, he knows my style and I know his style so we get along better than any other deejay.”

Like Welton, Ringo spent some time as a freelance selector working with Chester Symoie and Tony Walcott. He was selecting a small sound in the east, between Rollington Town and Franklin Town, named Ripatone, when the opportunity arose to work at Gemini. Welton left an opening there when he went to work for Virgo temporarily. Since Ringo sounded like Welton and knew all his lyrics, Papa Gemini offered him the spot.

Welton came back to the set soon after and Gemini was a slackness free for-all. Ringo proved more than capable of carrying on, and even furthering, the slackness tradition. Welton recalls, “Ringo had it down to a ‘T’. Ringo wrote some of the toughest slack lyrics, like ‘Dry Head Hadassah’ and all those. Story telling. And they’re funny. People would die of laughter, man.” It had to be funny. Ringo commented at the time, “When you make it too serious or too real, it sound vulgar. You have to make it a spicy and nice.”

Typically, the dance would begin on neutral territory with cultural and reality lyrics. Welton Irie, explains, “We started the dance with culture, always, and riding the rhythm, you know – sometimes a little freestyle. Cause you want to hold back on the tough lyrics, especially when you got a new song. In the early part of the dance, all the new stuff was being played. Usually, the newest songs, the songs that just got released, was played early as an introduction for the people, so you would be feeling it out and doing some freestyle things”.

But later on, when the crowds thickened, the real hard core music would come out. “You just went to Tubby’s and got some tune on dubplate and you would be featuring up a lot of those going up to midnight, now, when it started to get tough, when the dance is packed. Then you start to unleash the lyrics and the popular songs of the day would be played. And later we would start to touch slackness. Sometimes, we would go for a while, then we would change and back into some culture throughout the night, in and out, like that.”

When the rhythms got hot, Ringo would prepare for the slack part of the evening. Starting out mild (“Water Pumpee, Bubble pon me frontee, water coconut, bubble pon me tea pot”), he would continue through STDs and sexual acts (“Me go down on me knee, fi go ram the fisheeee”) and soon reach the scatological stuff, (“She work at Belleview and wipe mad-man batty when they done doo doo” or, as in Roach ina the Toilet, “Them nah pay me no mind, Them make a long line, A very long line and start tickle me behind”). But mostly, Ringo sounded like a spirited, young man with one thing on his
mind

Everyday the girls go a beaches
and them a model ina skin tight bikini
When them bend down, the fishy exposes
And when me see that, mi hood it increases

Ringo recorded much more frequently than Welton. In the early ’80s, his LPs were coming out in rapid succession. Woman A Ginal for Top Ranking, Johnny Ringo Rides Again for VP (Junjo), Johnny Ringo for Absissa, Eye Witness for Dynamic, Push Lady Push for Black and White, Pancoot on Hitbound, Cool Profile for Mikey Dread’s Musical Ambassador But the song he will always be remembered for is ‘Push Lady Push’.

I was born ina the labor ward down in Jubilee
In the waiting room was my maaga daddy
Cost him a fee of two guinea
While me in the belly the doctor shout to mommy, say
Push Lady Push, Make the youthman born

The lyrics, already extremely popular in dance circles, just grabbed the nation’s attention. They were topical, they were appropriate, every mother readily identified with the theme, and Ringo pulled it all together with his usual confidence and humor. Kids were singing the song on street corners, hands on their bellies, laughing. The phrase quickly entered the national vocabulary and every pregnant woman was seen as an opportunity to sing a few
lines.

Squiddley

The story of slackness wouldn’t be complete without Squiddley Ranking, Peter Metro’s little brother and ‘Jamaica’s skinniest deejay’. Squiddley could hold his own with the big boys and he was completely dedicated to slackness. “When I was a little boy, me and Peter Metro, we used to go to dances and listen to Johnny Ringo, Welton Irie and General Echo – they were the slack deejays – slack, real slack – and we would say, we want to be like them.”

Squiddley chose to follow the slackness path while brother Peter stayed largely with culture and reality. Perhaps that explains why Squiddley was noticed first. By 1982 he was a well known, up and coming deejay on Gemini, while his brother didn’t make his name on Metromedia until ’83/’84.

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Squiddley and Peter grew up with in Arnett Gardens, a.k.a. Concrete Jungle. At first, their parents were not too happy about their choosing musical careers. “When I just started they never like it too much. [They thought] Peter and me never going to make it in the music. We make too much noise, and we have to deejay slackness and it don’t sound right and reh reh reh… until about five years after that when I went to England in 1983 on Gemini sound on tour with Welton Irie and Johnny Ringo. I went to England for eight months on tour. When I came back, my family them say, ‘Whaaa?! Money a mek!’ and that’s the time now them start say, ‘Well, stick to it’.”

As a youth, Squiddley used to deejay smaller local sounds like King Phillip, Stax Disco and Hot Sizzler. His lucky break came when Ringo and Welton left Gemini temporarily. At the time, he was deejaying a small sound named Black Hawk who used to play in his home area. “Johnny Ringo and Welton leave the sound and go to Virgo, so Gemini was searching for some younger artists and I was the one who was available at the time. I was a little bit maaga*, good looking, and bad.”

* Skinny

Right off the top, Squiddley was into the slackness. ‘The reason why I deejay slackness, I think you get more attention. People love hear about sex. And when you sing about a girl and you ‘turn her this way’ – or about how your Johnny is big – people wan’ hear that something there. That is the reason Lady Saw and Tanya Stevens bus’ out so quick. When you deejay slackness, you quicker fe bus’ than even a man who sing culture. I think people love hear sex argument*.” The other reason for the popularity of the genre for budding deejays, according to Squiddley, “When you deejay slackness, you get more
girls.” As evidence, Squiddley, points out his numerous progeny. At last count, he had 13 children, between two weeks and 23 years old.

*’argument’ meaning theme.

The downfall of Gemini

Everything was going smoothly with Gemini on top and its deejays rack-ing up the number one hits, until the sound left Jamaica for an extended tour. Squiddley recalls, “Gemini went on tour to America in 1983 – carry all them sound box with them too. And after that, Gemini went to stay a England too long and all the sounds [in Jamaica] just screechy back and take Gemini space. When Gemini come back, Gemini was slow. Metromedia [had] screechy through. Metromedia a bus’ out while Gemini deh a England. Metromedia, deh a Jamaica, a gwan bad.”

The absence of Gemini had left a hole in the sound scene that every little set was rushing in to fill. Metromedia was smart. They began playing regular Wednesday night sessions at their home base in Allman Town to replace the regular Wednesday spots Gemini used to play. Gemini never recovered the territory. New sounds like Kilimanjaro were emerging that were flashier and more up to date.

Around 1984, Ringo and Welton left Gemini with a great flourish and began playing a new set named Lees Unlimited. Lees was a huge sound from St.Thomas that began making inroads into Kingston when it acquired Gemini’s star deejays. The owner, a wealthy businessman, had the funds to build a powerful sound. But it only lasted a few years. Mr. Lee just wasn’t a music person and he couldn’t sustain the effort, and the deejay pair found themselves back on Gemini.

Ringo’s personal decline started when he left the country and settled in New York. Following the move, people heard little from him. His health had been declining for several years due to his substance abuse. DJ Funky recalls, “Ringo was really down and out but he got sober and he got cleaned up and he started putting his life back”. But it was too late. Ringo passed away on July two, 2005 at the age of 47 of complication due to pneumonia.

Although he never became as big a star as Lone Ranger, Welton hung in there. He stayed with his first love, selecting music, and now plays an oldies disco. On Saturdays and Sundays, he also plays music on Jamaican radio station, Mega Jams. Meanwhile, Squiddley is still in the business, living in Jamaica and deejaying specials for dances. Selectors Archie and Funky now live in Toronto, Canada.

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