‘Scully’ & His Green Thumb

At one point in its week-long tribute to master percussionists, NoelScullySimms and UzziahStickyThompson, Zero to 180 quoted Discogs.com’s bold claim that Simms is “arguably the first Jamaican artist to release a record single” — but then played the indignant card by loudly noting Discogs’ failure to identify the title of this historic recording.

David Katz - Solid FoundationMusic writer David Katz, fortunately, is able to shed light on this important historical moment in Solid Foundation:  An Oral History of Reggae beginning on page 14:

“The duo of Noel ‘Zoot’ Sims and Arthur ‘Bunny’ Robinson–known first as Sims and Robinson and later as Bunny and Skully–were the first Jamaican artists to record blues ballads and home-grown R&B, initially for exclusive sound system acetates.  ‘We started off the first recording in Jamaica on soft wax, for Dada Tewari,’ the now partially sighted Skully wistfully recalls, perched on the kerb outside Kington’s Sonic Sounds.  ‘We did the first recordings in 1953 in a little demo studio at the corner of Hanover Street and Lawes Street — he had a little matches box with quarter-inch tape, but he used to do calypso recording in there with Count Lasher [Terence Perkins], Lord Flea [Norman Thomas], Count Owen [Owen Emanuel] and Lord Tanamo’ [Joseph Gordon].

“Skully remembers cutting only two songs at this initial session:  ‘End of Time’ and ‘Give Me Another Chance.’  That was the first tunes made apart from Calaypsonians,’ he recalls proudly.  ‘That was the first R&B.’  According to Skully, Tewari was not present during the session, which was arranged by the resident pianist.  ‘He really wasn’t so much of a producer,’ says Skully of Tewari.  ‘It was an Indian who owned the theatre that they call Tivoli.  Williams played keyboard, and you had Lloyd Brevett’s father playing bass, a drummer by the name of Percy, and Val Bennett played the saxophone.  I don’t know if him release them, but we got £37 — ‘nough money for me and Bunny.”

ScullyMy favorite ‘Scully’ Simms song is one of his last as vocalist-bandleader — “Small Garden” from 1972:

“Small Garden”      Noel ‘Zoot’ Simms     1972

Fascinating moment when I it suddenly occurred to me why the “walking razor” lyric you hear in the first verse, with a chorus that threatens, “Don’t you watch them size, them little but they’re dangerous” sounds so familiar:  Peter Tosh sang something very similar for 1977’s  “Stepping Razor” (written by Joe Higgs).  Also, with respect to the song’s spoken-word intro, David Katz also points out in Solid Foundation that Simms is “one of the first Jamaican musicians to use Amharic phrases in songs after learning them from Rasta leader, Mortimer Planno.”

Honest Jon’s Records writes a wonderfully abstruse take on “Small Garden” and its allure:

“Sublime, rootical, elliptical warning about a variety of blistering, dangerous pest all of us have to cross vines with.  The small garden that gathers the bitter weed.  Enid on backing vocals.  Lovely and profound.”

This “Bunny & Skully” message thread on the Blood & Fire chatboard includes a very helpful discography of Noel ‘Scully” Simms that comes directly from Roger Dalke’s A Scorcha from Studio One discography.

Sticky & Scully:  Analog Percussionists in a Digital Age

It is sad to read a 2003 Jamaica Observer  interview with UzziahStickyThompson in which he bemoans the decreasing opportunities for hand percussionists in the new century.  Jamaica Observer’s ‘Chordially Speaking’ writes in the introduction about “the death of the reggae percussionist” and that “demand for the [hand percussion] sound has fallen out of favour with contemporary acts.”  By way of contrast, this same writer notes the plum work assignments ‘Sticky’ enjoyed going back to the 1960s:

“It was at Reid’s studio that he started playing percussion, rocking on ‘Little Did You Know’ before heading off to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s rising Upsetters label.

Thompson stayed with Perry for five years, playing on outstanding sides such as The Wailers’ Soul Rebel and Duppy Conqueror and Junior Byles’ Beat Down Babylon.  In the mid 1970s, he was a regular session player at Channel One where his sound can be heard on The Mighty Diamonds’ Roof Over My Head and John Holt’s Up Park Camp.

He was also in demand at the rival Joe Gibbs’ studio and for Sonia Pottinger, playing on several hit songs by Dennis Brown (“How Can/Could I Leave“) and Culture (“Natty Never Get Weary“), respectively.

Over the years, Thompson has recorded and toured with Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. He played on the latter’s Grammy-winning Conscious Party album.”

‘Sticky’: “Guns Fever” Vocalist?

Thanks to Harry Hawks’ biographical portrait of master percussionist (& sometime vocalist) UzziahStickyThompson for Reggae Collector’s Artists Hall of Fame, we learn that (1) ‘Sticky’ gets a shout-out in the intro to Baba Brooks’ “Girls Town Ska” from 1965 [Q: “Hey Sticks, where you going tonight?”  A: “I’m going down by Girls Town”] and (2) Thompson firmly asserts that it is he – not Baba Brooks – who voiced the ’65 ska classic “Guns Fever”!

“Guns Fever”     Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson (?) & Baba Brooks Band     1965

Hawks writes that “[Thompson] recalled, ‘I also did a song for Duke Reid named “Gun Fever”‘… which was credited to the Baba Brooks Band.”

Guns Fever 45“A classical, highly influential deejay who was great at his job before there was ever a job description,” continues Hawks, “he was rarely credited on his releases and the only way the listener knows it’s Cool Sticky is by recognising his exciting, highly individual delivery.”

Uziah Sticky Thompson-cKnockout!  14th piece tagged as a Musical Fight

“Sticky”: Mouth Percussionist

David Katz’s biography of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, People Funny Boy, provides some very useful biographical details about master percussionist, UzziahStickyThompson:

“For the rest of [1967], Perry worked closely with a variety of artists for [Joe] Gibbs, including future percussionist, Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson, then a popular deejay known as Cool Sticky.  Born on August 1, 1936, in the rural district of Mannings Mountain, Thompson was the third of five children born to a poor contractor.  The family’s poverty meant that Thompson was unable to complete his education, and at age 15 he moved to Western Kingston in search of work.

“As the ska era approached, Thompson was one of the many box lifters assisting Coxsone Dodd with the running of his sound, and his friendship with Lee Perry dates back to this period.  Gradually, King Stitt began passing the mike to Thompson at dances because of his ability to make certain sounds with his mouth, and when Coxsone heard these sounds, he recorded Thompson’s vocal oddities on the Skatalites’ hit ‘Guns of Navarone.’  The success of the song saw Duke Reid using Thompson for the exciting introduction of the Skatalites’ ‘Ball of Fire,’ and the lasting success of this rival hit saw Thompson toasting regularly on the Treasure Isle sound system”:

“Ball of Fire”     The Skatalites      1965

Katz also reveals the source behind Thompson’s distinctive stage name:

“It was while toasting on Duke Reid’s sound that his capacity to excite a packed audience led to his peculiar nickname:  ‘When I started to play Duke Reid’s sound, it always stuck up-stick up, so they just put the name on me, Sticky.’  In the late rocksteady period, Sticky provided Scratch and Joe Gibbs with a dynamic toasting style on songs such as ‘Train to Soulsville,’ an outlandish take on The Ethiopians’ ‘Train to Skaville’ given a James Brown workout.”

Uziah Sticky Thompson-bUzziah himself would like to make an important clarification via Reggae Collector’s website:

“You have a Sticky named Count Sticky … I know him!  He always worked on the North Coast.  He played the congas, but he is a calypso man!  He used to live in Pink Lane … and I’d go and check him and he’d say, ‘Hi Sticky’ and I’d say, ‘Hi Sticky!’  The two of us used to live nice, but we do a different work … totally!”

Skatalites 45

Scully & Sticky: Percussion Pioneers

Scan the musician credits on classic Jamaican popular music from the 1960s and 70s (i.e., ska, rocksteady, reggae & dub), and odds are in your favor that you will see the name of at least one of these two percussionists: NoelScully’ Simms & UzziahSticky’ Thompson.

Scully                             &                             Sticky

Noel Scully Simms-aaUziah Sticky Thompson-a

Uzziah, the elder of the two drummers by one year, left us in 2014 at the age of 78, I’m very sorry to report.  Scully, who is still with us fortunately, is (I recently discovered) another distinguished graduate of the Alpha Boys School.  And although Thompson has served as vocalist/DJ on a handful of songs over the years (including “Guns of Navarone” by The Skatalites), Simms – I’m only just starting to discover – has been both a sideman and solo artist to a much greater degree than I initially thought.

Simms also clearly has a bit of the trickster in him, as evidenced by the nearly endless number of variant names (a cataloger’s nightmare) formally noted on the Discogs.com website, including one amusing alter ego – Mr. Foundation – that was used on at least six Studio One singles for the UK market, including this chugging groove – “Timo Oh” – that instantly grabs the listener with the distinctive opening crack of the snare drum:

“Timo Oh”     Mr. Foundation (i.e., Noel ‘Scully’ Simms)     1968

Late rocksteady or early reggae?   Stylistically, the song adroitly seems beholden to neither and both at the same time.  45Cat says this disc was released September, 1968 in the UK.

Reassuring to know I’m not the only one who finds this track compelling — in 2012, someone paid the equivalent of $344 (US) for this 2-minute recording, according to Popsike.

 A Selected Discography:  Recordings That Include ‘Scully’ & ‘Sticky’

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