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Rub A Dub Style: Chapter 13 « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style: Chapter 13

Lone Ranger & the Eastern Kingston Artists

The social environment in Kingston, played out like a tale of two cities. Kingston contained sharp divisions, not only between the upper (newer) areas and the lower (original city) area but also between the east and the west. The division that has received the most attention is the one marked by the Torrington Bridge, between uptown and downtown. Above the bridge rest the more well off neighborhoods like Barbican, Lingueanea and Jamaica’s own Beverly Hills. Below the bridge sit the ghettos and the garrison communities.

The division between the east and the west was more subtle. Although there were no checkpoints, and no one was preventing easterners from setting foot in the west, there were unwritten rules that people respected.

“It was just a big divide,” Carlton Livingston explains. “I have a friend that always say to me that the thought process in the west is different than in the east. There were more sound systems in the west, more deejays definitely in the west. A lot of the eastern Kingston guys couldn’t get along with the western Kingston guys. They were always in war. They were saying the same thing politically*, but for some reason, they couldn’t get along. Rockfort man don’t deal with the west man, Dunkirk man don’t deal with the west.

* They supported the same parties. Both the east and the west had both PNP and JLP garrison communities. “In the west you’d have Mathews Lane, you had Payneland, you had Concrete Jungle all PNP areas. In the east you have Dunkirk, Rockfort – all PNP,” Reports Zaggaloo, Arrows’ selector. “But for some reason, apart from politics, badman has a mentality – so they supported the same political party but at the same time, they want to come out on top, who is the baddest of the baddest. So, based on that, they were always proving on each other.” The east and the west were worlds apart, even when it came to style and fashion. “The western guys back in those days, we call ‘modelers’”, Carlton remembers. “And the eastern guys were more laid back, very old school. The first time I saw a dreadlocks wearing a ‘bell foot’* jeans was in the west – bad boys in the west. In those days, bad man was dreadlocks, to be feared. It wasn’t about Rasta in the ‘70s. Bad man and them all wore dreadlocks and riding these big bikes. But the eastern guys were more laid back – Clarks shoes, ‘terleen’** and wool pants and them Arrows shirt***. No bell foot pants and all of that.”

* Bell bottom.
** Terylene, a synthetic fabric
*** To Arrows’ selector Zaggaloo, as an eastman, an Arrow shirts was the height of fashion, “I was surprised when you look on the back of the label and it says ‘Arrows’. There were some with short sleeves, but it was mostly long sleeves [they wore] and you had to have cufflinks.”

According to Sonny, Arrows sound owner, the west had the reputation as the birthplace of reggae. “Most of the artists, if they come from county, when they come up they live in the west. Bob Marley started from Trenchtown, Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingston, Leroy Sibbles, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson – all of them were in west Kingston. They [the popular artists] were from Greenwich Town, Trench Town, Denham Town, Allman Town, Jones Town they all come from the west. The west was known for artists.”

“The west was where what’s happening was happening. [When] you were there, you saw the new fashions, the new outfits, the new styles,” Carlton Livingston remembers. “All of the studios were in the west. There was not one studio in the east until Arrows came on in the ‘90s. There wasn’t a record shop in the east. You go by Randy’s [Record store in the west], you see all the artists- Leroy Smart, Trinity, all of them. The west was more flashy. I would be standing in Randy’s, [as] a little unknown, watching Leroy Smart, Trinity, Dillinger – like them just come from England, have on the latest Clarks boots, knits ganzie *, gold chain, and modeling, at the top of them voice: [says it in a low Leroy Smart imitation], ‘Ooo. We mash up England’. U Brown, all of them, Ranking Trevor would ride up and I was just standing there, all amazed and just looking at them, star struck.”

* ganzie- refers to any t shirt, golf shirt, or any top of ‘knit’ fabric (meaning a loose weave as opposed to a tight weave cotton suit shirt). Possibly derived from the Irish Gaelic word for sweater, geansal.

This division had a considerable affect on the music. As all the studios and record stores were in the west, the western artists jealously protected their territory from the eastern outsiders. “It’s just a psychological thing,” Eastman Carlton recalls, “We found it pretty hard to get things done in the west because west people would try to keep us out. I can remember an incident that happen with Blacka Morwell. I went to Channel One and he basically ran me out the studio and he was like, ‘You can’t sing’, and I was like ‘OK, no problem’. But after a while, he accepted me coming around to Channel One.” Yet, despite the challenges, the east produced several of the most influential artists of the decade. Ringo, Welton Irie, Lone Ranger and Carlton Livingston all hailed from the East. As it was harder for them to gain acceptance on the music scene at first, the four stuck together, forming close bonds that have lasted their lifetimes. “Even to this day we are still very good friends,” Carlton Livingston says of his close relationship with Lone Ranger. “It’s just that we went to our different parts. But we always stuck together – always.”

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the eastmen finally had their day, albeit on western sounds. Ringo, Welton, and Lone Ranger carried the slackness style from the west into their home turf and back again to the west. The three dominated the dancehall scene, carrying sounds like Gemini and Virgo to the top. Carlton Livingston, and later Lee Van Cliff, added to the list of eastmen who made it on the western sound system circuit. The end of the ‘70s and the early ‘80s saw the advance of the western sounds manned by eastman deejays and their slackness, as they took over considerable chunks of the audience from the western cultural sounds.

Lone Ranger

Lone Ranger always stood out among the throngs of would-be toasters in Kingston in the ‘70s. His voice was clear and strong, and he had a way of enunciating words that other deejays just strung together in long, indecipherable lines of patois. Ranger was different, perhaps as a result of his years abroad as a child. As one of the top ten deejays of the decade, Ranger left his mark on the dancehall scene.

In the ‘60s, Ranger and his mother spent seven years living in the UK.They left Jamaica when Ranger was five. While abroad, Ranger’s mother enrolled him and his brother in after-school lessons in dance and theater. He also studied trumpet and violin. Ranger’s still young mother used to go to parties where sound systems would be set up. She would often bring along her boys and Ranger would listen to the English deejays. His mother also kept small parties in the house. Besides ska and rock steady, his mother and her friends would play the new British and American pop artists like Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, and Cilla Black. Ranger and his brother would lie in their room listening late into the night.

But, London didn’t turn out to be the haven his family expected and, in 1971, they moved back. At first, both Ranger and his mother found the transition very difficult. “When we came back to Jamaica in the ‘70s, Jamaica was kinda slow. You now, you’re coming from London. It’s like you’re coming back in the past. Everything is slow, there are no jobs. So my mother didn’t want to stay.” And she didn’t. She went straight to the U.S.. “She left me here with a big house and every month she would send my big fat check come.”

Tony Walcott And The Eastern Dancehall Scene

Left alone, Ranger found a new ‘family’ through Chester Symoie, his next door neighbor where he was living in Bowerbanks. Chester used to move with Tony Walcott, the eminence grise behind several Eastern entertainers. All the eastern sound aficionados would hang out together in a loose circle that centered on Tony.

Although Tony had a regular nine to five job, his real passion was records. Tony was an avid record collector. With his huge collection of Studio Ones, Tony would hire himself out to sounds as a freelance selector. He was joined, at various times, by Welton Irie, Ringo, Lone Ranger and Chester Symoie. Tony had all the music and all the contacts, so it wasn’t long before he had Ranger singing on the local Merry Soul Disco.

Tony also hosted a weekly practice session at his home where all the eastern entertainers underwent their training. “Sunday mornings we usually end upgoing out there and rehearse with Lone Ranger, Puddy Roots, Welton Irie and a guy who lives in New York now named Dexter Macintyre,” Carlton Explains. “Tony was our mentor. I mean for me, Ranger, Puddy, Welton, Dexter – even Ringo was there with us too. Anywhere we are as musicians now, the credit goes to him. After God, it’s him.”

Tony gave the artists a thorough work out. He challenged them. “I remember when we started going out there first, there was one rhythm he would play nearly every morning – Alton Ellis, ‘Pearl’,” Carton continues. “It’s a very difficult song. The changes are so sharp and unique. And Tony always say, ‘If you can sing to ‘Pearl’, you can sing to anything’. Even Ranger and Welton deejay to ‘Pearl’. Because ‘Pearl’ had changes. Not just a bridge- there were like three changes in that song.”

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/pearl.mp3]

It was also Tony who first took Welton and Ranger to audition at Studio One and Channel One. When the two deejays were up and running, Tony took Carlton to do the rounds. Eventually, Tony got married and became a Christian, so the weekend practices ended and the eastern friends had to string up the sound during the day to rehearse on their own.

Soul Express

Carlton Livingston was originally a country boy, born in St, Mary’s, but he came to Kingston with his family when he was 11, in 1970. “My big sister lived in Kingston for a long time, and my mother was raising my sister’s kids [in St Mary] and then she decided it was more economical if we move to Kingston and live with her”. The family settled in Franklyntown, in the east.

As a youth, Carlton would follow his sister to the dancehall. “My sister used to sing. She was my greatest influence, apart from my mother. And she was the one who usually go to dance – I mean a lot! And my mother usually get on her case. So, my big sister, when she sneak out, I usually wait till she goes out, then I go sneak out and go watch her dance.”

The challenge for the young Carlton was to find a way of getting to the dance without walking on any main street where he could be spotted by nosey neighbors. “Way back, there was a sound named King Edward that played ska and R&B. I was young at that time. I couldn’t take any chances going on the street. I had to go through the bushes. So, I just jump people’s fence and go and listen to the sound. The dancehall was pretty close to where I live. You have to pass a lot of graves. And my mother would say, ‘You’re not afraid?’ I would walk through the graveyard to go to dances!”

Carlton first attempt to sing professionally was in a duo with future Knowledge member, Anthony Doyley, a friend from Trenchtown Primary school. They went to Beverly’s Records on Orange Street to audition, but, “Leslie Kong turned us down. I just really got up and chill and learn a trade and stuff.”

Discouraged, at least for the moment, Carlton apprenticed himself as an electrician to a man who worked as the chief transmitter engineer for RJR. “I started out by getting transistor radios and me and my friends build amplifiers. The guy that worked at RJR, he would teach us how to build the stuff.” Starting out building transistor radios, he and his friends from work soon progressed to making amplifiers and other sound equipment. With the new skills, the apprentice electricians decided to build themselves a starter sound, originally called The Fabulous Three. Then one of the partners sold out his share. No longer ‘three’, they changed the name to Soul Express and began to play more reggae and “hardcore dub”.

Tony Walcott often brought his records to play on Soul Express. From the start, Tony had been helping the young men develop their skills as sound operators. “He would show us pointers, like how to play in sequence when we were selecting,” Carlton recalls. The set had two selectors, Carlton would play the R&B that he loved, and his friend would play the Jamaican material. That’s when Lone Ranger came around and started working on the set singing, while Carlton was still deejaying, beginning a friendship that has lasted decades.

Soul To Soul

Ranger was still spending most of his evenings on Soul Express when a new sound came to town, Soul to Soul, in 1980.

“One night I was going to a Gemini session uptown – Ringo, and probably Welton, was working. And everybody was talking about this new sound from Montego Bay coming to Kingston to gets roots and to build up his sound”, Ranger explained. “So, I said, I’m gonna pass through and listen to that sound. So, when I pass, there was a lot of people from Montego Bay and police officers – cause it’s an uptown people’s sound. Someone must have told them that Lone Ranger is in there, cause they asked me if I could deejay one or two tunes. And I say, OK no problem.”

Ranger gave them some lyrics and the place went wild. So, the next day, “I was at my house, and some policeman came to my house and told me that the ‘soop’* down the central police station wanted to talk to me. So I said, ‘But what did I do?’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s OK. He just wants to talk to you’.

The ‘soop’ turned out to be the “top cop in Jamaica at that time,” Superintendent Oliver Grandison from Montego Bay, owner of Soul to Soul. “When I went down there to the station, I went in his office, he said, ‘Welcome Lone Ranger. I hear about what you did the other night with my sound system, and I would like you to work for me. I told him I couldn’t cause I was working with a sound called Soul Express. He said, ‘No you are not. You are gonna work for me. I’ll pay you double. Whatever it is, I’ll pay you’. So I said OK. I’d be more facing the uptown crowd now.”

* “Soop”- here he is referring to the Police Superintendent, but the term became stylish in the ‘80’s and was used to ‘big up’ people, meaning something more like ‘Super-dooper’

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/SoultoSoulwithLone%20Ranger.mp3]

The ‘uptown crowd’ included a lot of police officers and their girlfriends. Soul to Soul was playing to the comfortable, well- heeled crowd at the time, but once Ranger came with this rub-a-dub grove and his slackness, the sound took a turn and began to build up a roots following, “It was doing good,” Chester explains. “It was the strongest sound in Montego Bay but it didn’t have nothing great ina Kingston – until Ranger take it up. Kingston and Mobay – him have the date them book. I think only pon Monday them no play. But them play every other night.”

Soul to Soul* was started by Tony Green, aka Rosa, and three friends in Montego Bay. Rosa explains, “I used to have a sound before called Supertone and it was three of us that owned that sound. One of the guys went away to Bermuda. And then after that, a couple of the guys on the set get together and ask me if I want to set up a thing. We had a meeting and we decided to start the sound and I gave it the name Soul to Soul. One of the owners was Oliver Grandison, just a sergeant at the time. We specialized in a lot of soul music in the beginning.”

* The name comes from Soul to Soul, the 1971 documentary film of a concert in Ghana that featured artists like Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, Santana and the Staple Singers.

Soul to Soul had a peaceful start in Montego Bay. “In those days it was different,” Rosa comments. “There wasn’t that much violence in the dances because of the police presence that we had. A lot of people came out to dances because they feel secure and safe. We catered for a more peaceful crowd. You know, you come to the dance and you see a lot of soldiers and police, you find that a lot of bank clerks follow the sound, nurses and doctors, everybody on that upscale fraternity used to follow the sound because they used to feel so safe and secure. We used to play like an hour of reggae music, half an hour of soul, another 15 minutes of calypso. We were playing reggae, calypso, rock and roll, everything—everybody was being entertained.” There was no need to have a deejay, at least in the beginning.

But times where changing. Soul and funk sets in the city were playing more reggae and starting to feature a live deejay for the reggae segments. In 1978, Soul to Soul started using deejays. At first, Rosa explains, not everyone appreciated the change. “It wasn’t everybody who liked the deejays. So, we didn’t make the deejays be too monotonous [i.e. by performing all the time]. We did it in different segments. Like in one part of the reggae we used to play singing songs and then in the other part we used to play singing songs for about a minute then we would turn over the record – the version is on the other side – and the deejays would deejay it. A lot of deejays and signers started following our sound. All the top deejays used to come around. They loved to deejay in the set because the environment was so different.”

Before Lone Ranger joined, it was Rosa alone and selector Captain Ritchie on the sound each night. “After Ranger started that first night there, the following week he was permanently on the set as the deejay. It was him [alone] until Ringo came, Welton Irie came, Mikey Dread – we had too many deejays. But, apart from Ranger and maybe Ringo, and Welton, the other deejays weren’t on the staff. They would get something when they work, at the end of the night. But Ranger and Welton and Ringo, they used to get regular payment.”

The slackness part would be saved for after midnight. As Rosa explains, “Those days in dance, you’d be playing in a lawn there would be 100 people inside, and outside there would be like thousands of people. So, the people would not be coming in the lawn until they hear the deejays. And after the deejays start deejaying, there is a rush at the door – everybody is coming in until it is fully packed. Once they were inside, that’s the time the deejaying slackness really started.”

Ranger remembers the huge response slackness got, “The Soul to Soul crowd love that kind of songs. People would follow me [to] 14 parishes just to hear me deejay my slackness round. What I did sometimes, I have a special hour that I say, ‘I’m going to do strictly slackness for this hour’. So you have people come from far just for that hour. Sometimes I don’t deejay it until one or two o clock when they are crying for it. When I give it to them, the place is up and down!”

By this time, Ranger was headlining dances all across Jamaica, as well as performing at Sunsplash and touring abroad and, at home. “Right in that time, ‘Barnabas Collins’ went to number one. I got deejay of the year, and Soul to Soul got number one sound of the year in 1979 at the El Suzie award. It was through Rosa that I made my first appearance on Reggae Sunsplash in 1979 and 1980, with Bob Marley, and Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, Joe Higgs and Jacob Miller.

Virgo

Carlton and Ranger had been separated when Ranger was with Soul to Soul, but they were to meet again on Virgo Hi Fi the following year. Ranger had gotten too big for a sound that played so much soul and ‘funky’ [funk]. So, he took his talents to Virgo. “Soul to Soul used to play rub-a-dub, soul and disco music. Virgo, now, was a rub-a-dub sound. Virgo don’t play soul music. Virgo don’t play disco music. They used to. But when I come, and rub-a-dub era start, it was strictly rub-a-dub,” Ranger recalls.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/Virgo81.mp3]

Lone Ranger was the first of the pair to join the crew of Virgo. But eventually, Ranger managed to coax Carlton into joining him. Very few sounds had resident singers back in the ‘70s. “Virgo was one of the sounds that waa leader in that,” Carlton remembered. “Ronnie Virgo [the owner] had a vision. Sammy Dread was with the sound about two years before I came. He would come around to certain big dances but there was another sound from down around where he comes from and he was singing on it*. I think that Ronnie loved singers. Of all the sound systems, Ronnie treated his singers pretty good.”

Owner Ronnie Virgo was a businessman who had a little trucking operation and took on construction and demolition jobs around the island. Even before he started Virgo, he used to play a little component set for parties. And he used to play pure soul. But everyone was playing soul back then – Gemini, Kilimanjaro and the special soul sets like Afrique and Mellow Canary. Virgo’s future Selector Tony Virgo admits, “I never stop play soul, but I never play as much like before when Ronnie used to play him office party. Cause he used to be living in Havendale. He grow in the ghetto, but he was a Havendale guy. He was wealthy and he love to have his nice parties with the soul.”

When Ronnie started the sound around 1977, Virgo had deejay Ray I. “Used to start like 100 people, 200 people”, Tony Virgo recalls, “Two night a week, three night a week. There was some big clash come up now between [Virgo and] Ray Symbolic with Ranking Joe, then [with] Arrows, Emperor Faith – so we start to get tough now. We would play every sound you can think of in Jamaica. Some we lick down, some lick we down.”

It was at a Virgo dance that producer Derrick Harriott spotted Ray I and started recording him. In fact, Ray I’s 1977 LP, Rasta Revival, on Move and Groove Records (produced by Derrick Harriott) featured a shot of Virgo sound in action on the front cover. Tony used to go to Derrick’s record shop a lot, as he puts it, to “hunt records”, so when Ronnie decided to try his hand at producing with his own Virgonian label in 1977, he gave the 45s to Derrick to distribute. The label had a handful of releases, produced and arranged between Ronnie Virgo and I Roy, including Brent Dowe’s ‘Come On Pretty Girl’ and ‘Things You Say You Love’, a couple from Cornell Campbell, ‘Confusion and Heartache’, and Tinga Stewart’s cover of soul singer Timmi Thomas’ ‘Why We Can’t Live Together’. The Brent Dowe LP was popular and brought a new crowd out to see the sound.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/whycantwelivetogether.mp3]

After he had a falling out with Papa Gemini, Welton Irie joined Virgo for a short time, but he soon returned to share the spotlight with Ringo. “Ringo was there first [on Gemini],” Welton recalls. “I leave Virgo and left Ranger alone there, and I went to the country for some time, on Echo Vibration in St Marys. Then, when I came back in town now, 1982 – on Gemini, again.” And so began the famous combination of Ringo and Welton that kept Gemini on top. Ranger remained on Virgo where he was joined by lifelong pal, Carlton Livingston and later, U Brown and Nicodemus.

Ronnie had to travel for his work, so Tony Virgo was the one keeping the set going. Traveling frequently gave Ronnie the opportunity to pick up any thing the sound might need, all those things that were ‘expensive and dear’ at home, like boxes of dubplates, and phonograph needles. Officially, Tony was the selector. He would normally arrive at the dance at 10 pm and play until three or four in the morning. In the early evening, the warm up crew would be in place. Tony still played his 20 minutes of soul, but focused on the rub-a-dub, constantly updating his dubplate collection at Channel One, Gussie’s and King Tubby. Virgo was getting so popular, they started getting calls from abroad begging them to tour.

So, two weeks into October, 1982, the sound packed up and flew to New York. When they showed up in Queens, to play their first dance, they were greeted like celebrities. Radio jock Gil Bailey* came out to interview Tony and the crew for his program. For a while, Virgo ruled. But things started going bad. Nicodemus was shot at a dance that Tony was selecting with Emperor sound in Washington, DC. “Then, I went to Chicago and that same problem [occurred] and I say, ‘It’s coming like this thing getting out of hand’. Then I play in Connecticut one night and one my way there some police stop me and ask me if I am Tony Virgo.”

*Gil Bailey is now into his fifth decade on the air and has an upscale fashion shoe named after him, The Bailey, by Clae.

Things were getting too hot for the selector. “Shortly after, I play in Queens one night and leave the sound in Queens, and they burn off the lock that night and thief the amplifiers them and some of the speaker, and mash up some of the dub[plates].” Tony had to borrow equipment and cut some new plates, but he was starting to long for the tour to wrap up and see the sound safe at home. Life in the U.S. wasn’t turning out to be as easy as it looked from afar.

At that point, Tony suggested to Ronnie, “‘Let’s not live in America. Let’s take the sound and go to England and move on, and go back to Jamaica. Make we just play four more dance here and move again’. But Ronnie got caught up in a lot of woman stuff and stuff like that.” The sound was going down, so, eventually Tony left and started to select the champion New York set, Papa Moke.

Tony ended up staying in New York as a coveted selector for many years. He finally gave up the sound business and got more involved with his church. But for a long time, he continued to keep busy producing a few artists like Cocoa Tea and his good friend, Carlton Livingston. Meanwhile, Soul to Soul hadn’t weathered the change to rub-a-dub well. In 1982, Rosa sold the equipment to Studio 54 and moved to Canada, went back into the sound business, where he became a leader and a role model for local sounds in the burgeoning Toronto dancehall scene.

The Lone Ranger Style

In 1980, Lone Ranger was sizzling hot. Every sound he touched reached number one. “Being with Coxsone, with my first song for Coxsone, which was ‘Answer me Question’, and during that time, me and Welton Irie, we did a combination, ‘Chase Them Crazy’, on the ‘Mr. Bassey’ rhythm. And then I did the ‘Love Bump’ and it shot straight to number one. I got deejay of the year. Virgo got champion sound for the year. Virgo won champion sound again, for 1981 and I recorded a thing for Winston Riley, ‘Rosemarie’ that went to number one again! Virgo got number one sound again. We had a sound clash with Jammys, Jack Ruby and Scorpio in Skateland. We threw them down. We beat every sound.”

Ranger stood out from the pack. Because of the time he lived abroad as a child, Ranger developed a different style of toasting that greatly influenced the way deejays approached their material in the ‘80s. Despite being new in town, Ranger was quickly getting recognized on the circuit. With his typically disciplined approach, he would begin by studying the styles of the most popular toasters of the day. He would write down all the lyrics from the A side of a 45 and then practice them over the B side version, with special attention to the work of U Roy and Big Youth.

Thus, Ranger’s style certainly had its roots in the founding fathers, but his having attended school so long in London gave him a unique delivery. English music had made a big impression on him, as had his time in an English school. He had a way of enunciating each word so that his delivery, although in patios, was clear and his words distinguishable. “I was going to Tottenham
County Grammar school, so you know, you have to speak proper grammar, English, yes, and I was doing drama in school at the time.”

Whereas U Roy had the swing and tended to slur his words for effect, Ranger had clear diction and kept to a straighter, almost metronomic timing. The major difference, however, was the way Ranger filled the spaces with words. He didn’t wait out the bars for the right spot to jump in. He just talked right through, telling fabulous stories, using his imagination and sense of humor to spin a tall tale, just like General Echo used to do.

Recording

Chester Symoie believed in Ranger from the start. Early on, he had booked time at the Treasure Isle studio and recorded two songs with Ranger deejaying backed by a group called I-Fenders. Like many other deejays, Ranger started out singing, but the deejaying experiment sounded so professional that Chester decided to stick with it. “When we see that he was doing so good with the deejay, we park the singing and follow the deejay career.”

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/theanswer.mp3]In fact, Chester was so impressed with Ranger, he rounded up Tony Walcott and they both took Ranger to Studio One, to be presented to Mr. Dodd. There, Ranger deejayed a version of the ‘Answer’ rhythm and Coxsone immediately gave him the key to the vault and let him pick out some rhythms he wanted to voice for an LP.

In 1977, two years after having released deejay Dillinger’s LP, Ready Natty Dready, Studio One owner Coxsone Dodd recorded an album called On the Other Side of Dub with newcomer Lone Ranger. Instead of presenting the LP as a ‘showcase’, i.e. the vocal followed by the version, Coxsone put all the vocals on one side, and all the versions on the other*.

* The idea was used again in 1980, by Jah Life and Junjo on Jah Thomas’s LP Dance Pon the Corner.

At that time, Chester’s brother Leon Symoie was producing for his own label, Thrill Seekers, but without much happening for his records. So, he and Chester borrowed some cash from an older brother and invested in building five new rhythm tracks at Channel One*.

* Included was the Conversation rhythm that eventually made its way to Junjo and Jah Life.

The rhythms turned out to be the perfect vehicle for Ranger’s broad talents. Leon recorded a full LP, and they decided to release ‘Barnabas in Collins Woods’ as a seven inch on the Thrill Seekers label. Afterwards, they approached various distributors and producers with the tapes for the LP. First they gave the two-track tape to Miss Pat at Randy’s. After a year, Randy’s still hadn’t done anything with it, so the next stop was GG, Alvin Ranglin’s label.

Mr. Ranglin took the 45 to distribute and gladly released the LP on his own label. Chester recalls, “When he press the first set of the record, he put we name on it- that we produce it. But when the tune take off, him don’t put our name with it. Him behave like him is the producer of the song. We never get we fair share, but during those time, it was like a learning process.”

The LP showcased Ranger’s excellent song writing capacities as well as his top notch deejaying. In the song ‘Annie Palmer’, Ranger manages to toast a lyric telling the old legend that every child learns in school, the story of Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall, the powerful and cruel plantation owner who allegedly kept her slaves under her control by using ‘obeah’ (witchcraft or sorcery).

The title song, ‘Barnabas in Collins Wood’, was influenced by ABC’s soap opera serial, Dark Shadows , which appeared in the U.S. from 1966 to 1971. In the lyrics, Ranger gives a hilarious account of Barney’s night out on the town.

Me seh, twelve o’clock Barney come out of him box
Him eye get red and him ears start dread
Him teeth get long, man, him start feel strong
When him forward pon the scene, you hear a gal start scream…
Gal, me seh, out the candle, take off your bangle,
Turn you neck pon the right angle…

Love Bump

Despite its evident quality and appeal, the album ran into problems when GG licensed it to Island records without Chester or Ranger’s knowledge, leaving Ranger to have his greatest success with his next release in 1981 (back again with Studio One), the rollicking 45, ‘Love Bump’.

The lyrics were inspired by a recent news story about some canned fish that had gone bad. Ranger explains the story behind ‘Love Bump’, “Bob Marley was around in those times – well, you know Bob Marley and the dreadlocks- he was going to foreign countries and the white people were starting to locks.* Hippies all turn on to Bob Marley music. They were coming to Jamaica a lot.

* Grow dreadlocks

“During that period of time, we had some problems in Jamaica with the tin mackerel. Mackerel used to come in tin and some bad batch would come to Jamaica and you would eat it and get ptomaine poisoning and bumps.* All that was going on in Jamaica.”

* The song said, “How you get the hippy bump? Through me nyam tin mackerel and feel ill”. “Nyam” means ‘to eat’.

Somehow, people got it mixed up and thought that the ‘hippies’ (or white rastas) were bringing the ‘bumps’ in. So, it turned into a big controversy – some people said it was the food, some blamed the hippies. So, Ranger tied it all to another ‘bump’, the ‘love bumps’ as Jamaicans would call a teen’s first pimples. “You know when you’re young and you fall in love, you start to get pimples on your face, they say, ‘Oh, that’s a love bump. You’re in love. You have a girl’,” Ranger explains.

Like Echo, Ranger presented the story with humor, imitations, and interjections – more like a routine than just a song. Done over the Studio One version of Slim Smith’s rock steady classic ‘Rougher Yet’, ‘Love Bump’ was upbeat, cheerful, and the lyrics were catchy. Ranger animated the songs by emphasizing certain words and varying his vocal range. Love Bump became
one of the most well known and well loved songs of the entire decade and Ranger one of the biggest stars.

“I was so hot on sound system at that time. I was deejaying seven nights a week all over Jamaica, and tapes* were going all over the world,” Ranger recalled. Cassettes of dance with Ranger at the mic where being passed around at home and abroad like hot potatos. The mark of a good deejays was always the value placed on cassette recordings of his performances on a sound. Ranger tapes were in high demand. His friend in New York, deejay Mikey Jarrett** got a hold of one and took it to Jojo Hookim at Channel One and told him, “Listen to this deejay!” It was brilliant marketing. Mikey played Jojo the part of the dance cassette where Ranger was toasting live over rhythms that had been made in the Channel One studio, and told Jojo, “You get him to voice them on an album, that would be a seller!” Ranger continues, “When Jojo heard it, I got a phone call in Jamaica, ‘I want you to go round by Channel One Studio and wait on [Jojo’s] call’. So I went to Channel One studio and Jojo called and asked me, ‘How long will it take you to do this album?’ I said, ‘It will probably take me 20 minutes, half an hour’. He said, ‘Ok, do this’. I went in there and in half an hour, the album was done.”

* Cassette recordings of the dances.
** Mikey Jarrett was a polular deejay who had emigrated early on to NY. Had an ex-pat hit with Sadat for Jah Life in 1981 and in 1983, started his own label, What’s Up Doc.

The album was M 16, perhaps Ranger’s strongest work to date. The only two tracks to be released on 45 in Jamaica where ‘Fist to Fist Days Done’ and the title track. But ‘M 16’ was so popular that the original rhythm, recorded Lloyd “Matador” Daley and voiced by U Roy in 1969, was never called ‘Scandal’ again. Its new name was ‘M 16’.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/M16.mp3]

The powerful backing tracks for the LP were laid down by Sly and Robbie and mixed by Soljie – in fact, ‘M 16’ was the first tune he mixed as an engineer. “It’s bright and it’s mixed properly”, Ranger asserts. “And the words are clean. And the ‘slurs’, and the ‘Bims!’ and the ‘Rights!’ Everything is so clean*.” ‘M 16’ was another one of the biggest songs for the decade, inspiring a tidal wave of gun lyrics that lasted the entire ten years and still continues in the dancehall today.

* meaning clear and crisp sounding

Not long after M 16 came out, Ranger began working with producer Winston Riley. This time with the rhythms laid down by the Roots Radics band, Ranger voiced a new LP, Rosemarie. For the title song, an update of Ray Charles’ 1955 massive hit, ‘Hallelujah I Love Her So’.

Ranger and the band developed an original backing track to which Ranger added his percussive “slurs”- “I’m always full of ‘Bim’, ‘right’, ‘ribbit’”. The final song opened with a loping beat and Ranger chanting, “Widly bong – slong. Let me tell ya bout a girl I know. Wuddlyey bong – slong.” It was another chart buster for the deejay.

Freestyle To Composition

Although his career had been short, General Echo was an innovator and a pivotal deejay in the development of modern toasting techniques. The mic chanters of the ‘60s and ‘70s, like U Roy, Dennis Alcapone, or Jah Woosh, tended to be ‘freestyle’. They allowed the strands of vocal left in the rhythm by the engineer to dictate the theme, or at least suggest the starting point for what they would say. What followed was up to the mood of the deejay and the atmosphere of the dance. The deejay could go into folk songs, children’s nursery rhymes, pop hits or scat singing. The deejay’s lyrics didn’t have to
make logical, sequential sense. They didn’t have to function as a whole, as a singer’s would. They could start anywhere and end up somewhere unrelated with no apparent link in between. The beauty of this style was that it allowed for maximum freedom and complete spontaneity.

As ‘70s deejay Crutches explains it, “Those things was ‘style’. When you go a dance, it’s not like you make the lyrics from two, three days before. In the dance those things come to you. One night, me and Ivan [the owner] playing the sound in Kencott. I was [selecting] the sound and we want Bill…and I was like, ‘Bill, you’re wanted at the control’. And something just come to me and I say, ‘Bill Bo Bill Bo, in and out the window, Bill Bo Bill Bo, tell me what you really know’. It’s just like something come to you. It’s not a thing like you plan.”

The deejays of yore rode the melody and the rhythmic waves with all the dips and peaks. They went with the music’s swing. As they said, they would ‘lay down pon the rhythm like a lizard pon limb’, relaxing into it and taking its shape. They let their words mark a pace within the time structure of the song. So, rather than going with a narrative, they tended to go with loose phrases, words, syllables and cries`. Trinity recalled that, back in the early days, deejays didn’t even plan for recording sessions. “We just go in and listen to the rhythm and freestyle it out of we head. Cause sometime, when it come out of your head, you get more vibes. When you a look pon the paper, and stand ‘round the mic, it’s like you a recite. People can listen and say, ‘a read, him a read’. Them hear you like you a count lyrics. But when it build ina your head, it flow more.”

But, newer deejays were becoming more apt at filling up every beat with words. No syncopation, no swing. One of the popular shared lyrics in those times, was a round of adding sums that went, “two and two – that a four. Four plus four – that a eight…” and so on, ad infinitum. It became a popular way to fill in the gaps – gaps which were increasingly viewed as empty space rather than rhythm enhancing pauses.

“Style” had ruled the ‘70s. “Those deejay were free – right off the top of your head,” Welton Irie explains. What was most important was the deejay’s tone of voice and his timing. “There was a lot of repetition. There wasn’t a lot of lyrics. Maybe only one thing – but it sounded nice,”

Popular hit making deejay Dillinger began to change that style. “Dillinger took it a step with the lyrics and then Ranking Joe took it another level,” Welton continues. But even though Dillinger’s lyrics contained a more complex narrative, he never wrote them down. “I just do them in my mind anytime I get an inspiration. I just practice, practice on the sound system,” Dillinger explained. “Then guys like me and Ringo came on,” Welton adds, “Especially me and Ringo – we started writing.”

They had to. Slack lyrics required forethought. “You have to sit down and really put the slackness together, cause it’s actually like a story you are telling. Some times when we just wrote a lyrics we would take the book with us and read from it until we got it down. Me and Ringo had our book there, open it, and we had our ear phone on. And we be reading it. Sometimes we make a little mistake. Eventually, we would memorize it fully; we wouldn’t need the book anymore.”

The slack style relied on a story line to support (however loosely) the bawdy sections, like Ringo’s ballad about romping in the White House (to the tune of ‘Ali Baba’):

I dreamed last night I was in the White House,
Ronald Reagan say him catch crab louse,
His wife, Nancy, she wan’ sex me,
She just a stare pon me long cockie,
(chorus) I slept with the president’s daughter and his wife,
When I done fire off, I have to run for me life.

Lone Ranger, in his later sanitized incarnation, carried the same writing style into his culture and reality lyrics. Choosing each word carefully, but spicing it with some scat, like the popular ‘right’ and ‘ribbit’, he created a new
hybrid style that came to dominate the dancehall world.

Ranger’s lyrics were no longer spontaneous outpourings, driven by the beat. They were written for presentation, as carefully as any song. When he left the slackness field, Ranger took his composing style with him and began writing deejay lyrics for the dance that fit the format of a song. They were two-three minutes in length, had a chorus, a bridge and a few verses.

The lyrics to Ranger’s hit ‘Love Bump’ were originally Ringo’s. But Ranger took the idea and polished it, using all of General Echo’s best loved devises – impersonation, exaggeration, humor – and carefully constructed a funny story that was safe for the whole family.

The gal say she wan’ go show!
Take her to the show that she wanted to go
Nuff entertainment, Nuff excitement
Little after that she say, she want refreshment!
(croons)
A whe’ you give your daughter, Lone Ranger, a whe’ you give the daughter?
(deejays)
Ice mint and ice water (Rasta me did bruk!)
Ice mint (? unsure of lyric)
and ice water – kiss me neck!
When me reach home, she back her cutlass
(Angry girl voice)
Me gwan have fe kill you cause you nearly mek me dead with gas!!

Ranger recalls, “It was comedy. In those days, when we were writing our lyrics, we put a little humor in it too.” In the ‘80s, people began to demand humor from their deejays, and to comply, deejays began to take more care in writing complete, coherent lyrics. Deejays like Josie Wales, Charlie Chaplin, General Trees, Early B, Lt. Stitchie, Peter Metro and Yellowman came up with fairly complex stories, full of fantasy, imaginative scenarios, jokes and punch lines. Even later, came men like Tiger and Professor Nuts who staked their careers on being funny. Deejays were coming to the dance prepared with prewritten scripts and not much freelancing was heard anymore.

Producing

At this point, with so much going for him, Ranger, like so many other deejays and singers, began to feel the need to control his own product. So, he got together with Clive Jarrett and formed the Dynamite label with the support of Sly and Robbie who played on the tracks. The first release was Ranger’s ‘Johnny Make You Bad So’ 45, followed by the album, Hi Yo Silver Away which was released by Greensleeves in 1981. The producing team followed up with several releases with Carlton Livingston including the classics, ‘Marie, Confusion’ and ‘Rumors’. Dynamite also released Welton Irie’s LP, Army Life. Meanwhile, Ranger developed his own label called Silver Bullet.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/13/johnnymekyoubadso.mp3]

Around this time, Ranger left Jamaica, like so many other artists, and took up residence in New York. Chester explains the move, “His mother and brothers had gone. He was the only one here [in Jamaica] after his old man died. So him do some show and him start tour with a bredder name Sam [Selkridge] and then, one of the times, him never bother come back. Get himself straight, and get him green card and stay up there.” When he abandoned his homeland, Ranger left the job of maintaining slackness in the dancehall to his east side buddies, Welton Irie and Ringo, who carried it on with conviction.

Once in New York, Ranger did the rounds of appearances on stage shows and sound systems. Then came the missing years during which nobody heard very much from him. As happened to so many other artists who left promising careers in Jamaica, New York seemed to swallow him whole. There were some Silver Bullet releases out of New York, like the disco 45 of ‘Four Season Lover’ with Ranger back into singing mode, proving himself a competent balladeer, as well as some combo tunes with Carlton Livingston and Sammy Dread. In 1984, Ranger recorded the LP, D.J. Daddy for Winston Riley, and 1985 also saw the release of ‘Learn fe Drive’, for Clive Jarrett. Then, nothing much until the 1994 LP Collections was released. Still, Collections was basically a sampler containing work from his previous releases, not new material.

Coming to New York proved the downfall of many Jamaican artists. Lone Ranger was one of the fortunate ones who went through the worst and had the strength and courage to come out of it alive. “In 1984-85, when the cocaine was the ‘in’ thing in New York, if you didn’t have a dollar bill filled with cocaine, you weren’t partying. Remember those days? That was the ‘in’ thing. You go to Reggae Lounge, you go to Manhattan, you go to Brooklyn, you go to Bronx session – everywhere. Some of them get in the game and can’t come out. Some of them get dead in the game. Some of us go through the struggle and manage to get out of it.”

The result was almost a decade of silence. Apart from a handful of 45s, Ranger recorded nothing until 2002 when his loyal friend of so many years, Coxsone Dodd, released the LP Top of the Class. That gave him the boost he needed to jump back in and start working again in earnest.

Like many of the founding dancehallers, Ranger found his niche as a producer and began working once again, choosing artists he really respected, artists from the past like The Silvertones and Raking Trevor, trying to raise awareness that ‘real’ dancehall music was still around.

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