10 STUDIO 1 ROOTS 45'S - THE DUBWISE ERA

10 STUDIO 1 ROOTS 45'S - THE DUBWISE ERA

 

This Studio 1 Dubwise 10 is a little introduction into the mid-late 70's phase of production at studio 1, when Rastafarianism and Roots music had become a staple at 13 Brentford Road. This was in contrast to the early days when Coxsone had a more conservative attitude and was not so keen on the unshaven, herb-smoking rasta brethren. By the mid 70's, rastafarian musicians like Count Ossie, Pablove Black, Cedrick “Im” Brooks, Freddie McGregor and many others were regulars in the studio and produced some of the deepest roots music of the time. There are many hidden gems from this era, as with all era's of Studio 1, and the catalogue is so endless there is always a chance of finding something generally unknown or unheard. 

This is a small selection of a few of my favourites from the Roots era that came on 45 with dubs. By this time this was standard practice – the dub side was provided for sound system use with toasters / dj's performing live over the rhythms at dances. With some early examples like Far Beyond and Strange Things Happening (both around '74) these are just deep instrumental mixes of the vocal, whereas by the time Double Minded Man ('79) and Big Car ('81 for this mix) were released, the technique of mixing the dub side had progressed a lot and had become an art in itself. Sylvain Morris is believed to have mixed many of the better dubs in the 70's, having been the studio engineer for many years, but many say Coxsone himself was the “Dub Specialist” mentioned on the Studio 1 Dub LP's. Unfortunately the LP's rarely give credits for mixing, if anything! 

 

DOUBLE MINDED MAN – ANTHONY “ROCKY” ELLIS - STUDIO 1 (JA)

 

Anthony "Rocky" Ellis did not record many sides for Coxsone, but those he did manage have gained legendary status. Early rocksteady monsters such as The Ruler are now highly revered by collectors and selectors. A decade after the rocksteady era, Rocky Ellis' sweet and yearning voice returned for this one-off late 70's roots number. The lyrical content is complex and interesting with Mr. Ellis telling the tale of modern man and his misguided ways. I have often wondered if perhaps this was recorded earlier and then given the drum-machine treatment and dubby mix after the fact, as was the convention at Brentford Road by the late 70's - intended to breathe new life into earlier and (at the time) seemingly outdated tunes. This record appears to use the Maestro Rhythm King drum machine first brought to the island by Aston "Familyman" Barrett of the Wailers and Upsetters bands. The constant cricket-like ticks in the background are reminiscent of the Wailers' Guided Missile which was an early example of the classic drum machines use. Here the machine is used to add a relentless, pumping quality, blending seamlessly with the organic bongo playing to create a driving rhythm behind the sublime sax and backing harmonies. When flipped over to the dub side, we are treated to a masterpiece of rhythm-mixing, bringing the various tuneful elements sparsely into play over the bubbling bass-line. 

 

BIG CAR - JACKIE MITTOO & ERNEST RANGLIN - COXSONE (US)

 

This record is, strictly speaking, a remix - with the new methods of making a rhythm "harder" employed over an earlier track which had already been released. This obviously appealed to Coxsone Dodd's legendary business acumen, as he could effectively sell the same record twice - this time reconfigured for the current trends in the dance halls. Lincoln "Sugar" Minott has stated that it was with the beginning of his career at Studio 1 in the late 70's that Coxsone - at Minott's suggestion - realised this idea would take off, and subsequently all of Minott's tracks recycled already existing Brentford Road rhythms of the past but with new modern flourishes added. These recycled, revoiced tracks were massive hits and so the new era of Studio 1 production was born in response to the cleaner dancehall sound of the massively popular Channel One, who themselves often simply replayed old Coxsone rhythms in their own modern style. Big Car had already been released in around '74 and the original sounds sleepy and not particularly exciting compared to this later cut, which is around '81. One reason for this is the addition of Ernest Ranglin, Studio 1 guitar genius, to the mix. Master maestro and arranger Jackie Mittoo himself seemed very much at home in the new rootical era of dub and made some truly sublime music employing these new dubwise techniques, Wall Street being one highly recommended example. This 45 is from around the same time and takes us on a hypnotic instrumental journey with the two Studio 1 masters bouncing off of one another in a jazzy, loose mood. The dub side really comes into it's own and is among my all-time favourites. The mix is liberally scattered with delay on the drum hits, causing that characteristically hard edge to the rhythm working in perfect contrast to the melodic tone of the instruments and mesmerising bass-line. This is one example where the new remix techniques created a version that bettered the original cut.

 

MOTHER AND CHILD – FABIAN COOKE & THE VIBES - STUDIO 1 (JA)

 

Fabian Cooke is most famous in roots circles as a singer with the Legendary Wackies label in New York in the early 80's. To my knowledge this is the only tune she made at Brentford Road, and it's a heavy one. In contrast to Big Car, this rhythm was a new composition born in the roots era and made in it's image. The heavy skank-chords and one-drop bass-line are typical of the mid to late 70's minor-key roots style, as is the subject matter - this is a tune that deals with the depressing social reality in contrast to the happy-go-lucky style of many earlier reggae styles. Fabian Cooke's heartfelt lyrics are about a mother left on her own to cope with her new-born baby, since the father can't bear the responsibility. As we turn to the dub side, the already sparse rhythm is stripped down further, with the menacing guitar licks and relentless wood block driving the rhythm into even heavier terrain. 

Natural Misty

Artist: 
Label: 
Producer: 

 

NATURAL MISTY – JENNIFER LARA - STUDIO 1 (US)

 

Studio 1 must surely be the most imitated label of all time in Jamaica and beyond in the world of international Reggae. It has always been a convention in Reggae to "version" earlier rhythms, copying the bassline and mood but putting the new artists' own slant on them. Coxsone Dodd himself was not opposed to employing this practise at Studio 1 himself - in response to Channel One's appropriation of his own rhythms as discussed earlier, he actually recorded a version of Channel One's hit for The Mighty Diamonds I Need a Roof (which had in any case stolen the rhythm of Larry Marshall's Mean Girl at Studio 1) with Sugar minott - a release that was "Straight To The Head" of Channel One, as they say in Jamaica! Natural Misty is of course the Coxsone take on the famous Bob Marley and the Wailers tune Natural Mystic - a spiritual and rootical affair as the title suggests. This tune had gained international fame through Marley's world-wide promotion by Chris Blackwell and his Island label. Many of Marley's hits in this era had a distinctly soft and rock-like feel due to Blackwell's bastardisation of the Wailers heavy roots style aimed at his intended International audience. However this is one tune that survived with it's dread intent still in tact - a testament to the deep and spiritual vibes emanating from Jamaica and the Rastafarian culture. Jennifer Lara was another artist who cut her teeth at Studio one during the late 70's, and she seems the perfect choice for this remake, her young feminine voice and the gentle harmonies giving a new and different dimension to Marley's composition. While the bass-line is almost identical to the original, you can hear immediately that this is Studio 1 music, laden as it is with the characteristic pulsating drums typical of this era at Brentford Road. Even the vocal side has a fair few dubby touches - the delay on the guitar chops, usually a flourish reserved for the dub, is present throughout the a-side adding to the mystical feel. The dub takes us even deeper, again with delay employed on the drum hits turning them into mini explosions in the mix. The searing horns come forward and then echo off into the distance, transporting us to another place.

Jah Hold the Key

Artist: 
Label: 
Producer: 

 

JAH HOLD THE KEY – DEVON RUSSELL - COXSONE (US)

 

This is another example of rhythm recycling at Brentford Road. This time Coxsone revisits Rastaman Camp, Freddie McGregor's roots anthem, which sums up the victimisation and marginalization of Rastafarians in '70's Jamaica (a little tip - the LP cut of this first version is 1,000 fathoms deeper than the 45). This Devon Russell vocal is a few years later, and searing horns have been added to the mix. As with the 45's above, this is a further example of the rhythm being improved by the new techniques employed in the studio at the time - the sparse backing of Freddie McGregor's cut is embellished with a dubplate-style mix, both on the vocal and the dub, with liberal use of delay to harden the drums. And of course, Devon Russell is no slouch. Another Studio 1 stalwart who joined the camp in the 70's roots era, he cut some incredible sides for Coxsone, although he had already had some success elsewhere by then, often paired up with Lloyd Robinson as Lloyd & Devon. The pair did work at Studio 1 together too, producing the upful and in demand classic 12" Push Push around the end of the decade. Here he delivers a characteristically raw and dread lyric, adhering to the moody groove of the original cut. Once again, the dub shakes the earth with it's bassy forcefulness as the sinewy guitar and echoed drum hits surround us with majesty. This is deep, prophetic roots of the highest order.

Far Beyond

Artist: 
Label: 
Producer: 

 

FAR BEYOND – LEROY “HORSEMOUTH” WALLACE - BONGO MAN (JA)

 

"Where I and I Belong? West? But I and I no Indian! Then which country I and I belong? Watcha! I gwan trace i original place, and find out where I and I belong…." So begins this seminal roots masterpiece from the genius drummer Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, who later achieved a degree of international fame through the excellent '70's reggae film Rockers. He is better known for his work as a musician than a vocalist, and produced some incredible rhythms for the likes of Lee "Scratch" Perry, but here he proves he can toast with the best of them. I'm sure he hand a hand in the downright funky roots rhythm too. This 45 is in a class all it's own, combining haunting melodica (possibly from Leroy?), a masterful beat and one of the most mesmerising bass-lines ever devised. Add Horsemouths original approach to the subject of his roots and his one-of-a-kind delivery, and this has to be one of the heaviest tunes to come out of Studio 1 in this era, and that is no mean feat! This is a little early for the pulsing, rhythm-machine style of some of the tunes i have already covered here, but the dub still manages to be earth-shattering thanks to the pure force of the rhythm. A little echo on the melodica is all that is really needed. 

To Survive

Artist: 
Producer: 

 

TO SURVIVE – W. BROWN - LONDON RECORDS (JA)

 

This series of 45's, released on the London Records imprint by Coxsone in Jamaica and bearing the tell-tale Jamrec Music mark on the label, are the subject of some controversy among Studio 1 twitchers. Syd Bucknor, a UK producer, definitely had a major hand in the production of these recordings, which include L. Crosdales incredible Set Me Free, and some say he was the sole producer. The UK musician Drum Bago (not to be confused with the earlier Jamaican musician of the same name) is credited on the flip and it seems likely that he had a large musical input, probably adding the bubbling bongo's that are present in all of the releases on this label. However, the style of the records does have an element of the Studio 1 sound - although Coxsone rarely ever added the strings which are present on this 45 to anything! Maybe these productions were just mixed at Studio 1 after being recorded in the UK, or possibly some elements were added at Brentford Road after the fact. Whatever the truth of the matter, the handful of tunes on this imprint are some serious roots music and since they were all released by Coxsone are interesting additions to this list. They all include hard dub cuts on the b-sides which do sound like they could have been mixed at Studio 1, with the standard echo, delay and hard stripped-down instrumental vibes all present and correct, Sylvain Morris being a definite candidate as the engineer to my ears.

 

STRANGE THINGS HAPPENING – JOHN HOLT - TRANQUILITY (US)

 

This 45 is very little known. One of a handful of Coxsone-produced tunes released on the US Tranquility imprint, which also released a few other Jamaican producers work, this is the Studio 1 re-lick of the famous John Holt tune Strange Things - the original of which he sang for Phil Pratt and saw release on his Sun Shot label. The original is a massive tune on the roots scene, and as i write the Legendary John Holt has just passed away, another in a long line of sad losses for the Reggae fraternity. Holt was well known by Studio 1 fans from his early days as a leading member of The Paragons, a group with a prolific recording career at Brentford Road as well as with other producers such as Coxsone's main rival in the early years - Duke Reid. John Holt's voice had a wavering, haunting quality and this 45 is no exception - when he hits the high notes the power of his voice is quite stunning. Both with the original and this Studio 1 cut, Holt's voice is the perfect vehicle for this lonely man's song. It's the tale of an outsider, watching lover's as he sits "under the golden moon that shines a silver light" feeling the burn of solitude. This timeless classic is the perfect selection to remind us of the soulful, melancholy heights Mr. Holt was capable of. The version on this 45 is just a straight rhythm track with Holt drifting in and out, but as usual the rhythm speaks for itself and the tune drops like a ton of bricks.

 

YOU'LL GET YOUR PAY – LINTON COOPER - MONEY DISC (JA)

 

Without a doubt, this tune qualifies as one of the hardest, dreadest releases of the roots era. Linton Cooper was another here-today-gone-tomorrow artist, and to my knowledge his only other recording is the disappointingly twee Happy Birthday. This 45, however, is a militant expression of the Rastafarian belief in the coming judgement for the iniquitous in society. The rhythm is hard, driving and relentless, with some parametric EQ'ing subtly blended in. This is a technique that was employed heavily by the dub-masters such as the one and only original - King Tubby - in order to make parts of the rhythm, in this case the snare hits, undulate and jump out of the mix. The method is used on both sides of this 45 and it is a rare example of it's use at Brentford Road, pointing to the possibility of someone other than the usual suspects being present behind the mixing desk at this time. The menacing rattling of an instrument that sounds like a clavinet kicks off the intro and from there the sparse, atomic bass-line and loping beat provide the mood for Cooper's unforgiving and prophetic lyrics. The delivery is stark and accusing - and it must be said, not particularly tuneful, but that fits the mood of this record perfectly. Cooper wails on behalf of the poor and downtrodden in society, striking a deep chord with many roots fans over the years as he admonishes the wicked. 

This Population

Artist: 
Label: 
Producer: 

 

THIS POPULATION – BURNING SPEAR - BONGO MAN (JA)

 

This 45 is another masterpiece of social commentary, and is my favourite of the many such sides released by Winston Rodney - the Burning Spear, named after Jomo Kenyatta - throughout his long and prolific career. Rodney, like Marley, found a degree of international fame through his work with producer Jack Ruby after it was licensed and released after the fact by Chris Blackwell's Island records. Thankfully Blackwell didn't tamper too much with Rodney's work and LP's such as Marcus Garvey were released with their rootical nature still in tact, introducing many outside of Jamaica to the heavy and dread side of Reggae music. Burning Spear was another master singer who was given his first break at the "Motown of Jamaica" after he travelled to Coxsone's yard from his rural home of St. Ann's. Although his early prototype-roots style was not fully appreciated by the Jamaican public at the time and didn't achieve the success it deserved, these early works are now seen as an essential cornerstone in the foundation of Roots Music, particularly at Brentford Road. Raw and timeless tunes such as Door Peeper never fail to get a massive forward in the dance even today. This Population is at the same time subtle and mellow, yet raw and heavy. The flute (or possibly early flute-like keyboard voice?) provides a haunting and tuneful counterpart to the monstrous bass-line as the Spear assumes the voice of modern society and it's obsession with progress to the detriment of the poor and needy "Through this population - we want more convenience, against one another - we want more convenience". This prophetic tune, like the others mentioned here, is as relevant today as it was then - if not more so - as we reap the rotten fruits of the selfish way of thinking Rodney is describing - possibly the fruits of our own destruction.