“Black Onion”: Healing Organ

According to Doctors Across Borders, “when compared to every other natural remedy for auto-immune disorders,” black cumin (also known as black onion seed) “is the most effective” and “has the power to restore harmony.”

Black OnionKeyboardist, songwriter, and musical director, Jackie Mittoo, gets an organ workout, thanks to his musical compatriots (i.e., The Sound Dimension), on the instrumental  “Black Onion” — released on Studio One imprint, Bamboo:

“Black Onion”     Jackie Mittoo & the Sound Dimension     1969

According to the vinyl vendor who sold a copy of this single on Ebay in 2010:

“1969 release ‘Black Onion’ by organist Jackie Mittoo was produced by Clement Coxsone Dodd on his Coxsone label.  Recorded at Studio One, the studio band is Sound Dimension featuring Leroy Sibbles on bass, Fil Callender on drums, Jackie Mittoo on organ, and Eric Frater on guitar, among others.  This instrumental is cut to the 1968 riddim of ‘Things A Come Up To Bump‘ by the Bassies (a.k.a. the Victors).  The B-side is ‘Hokey Jokey’ credited to Larry [Marshall] & Alvin [Leslie], but it seems Alvin is now within earshot on this one from 1969, backed by the Sound Dimension, including Vin Gordon on trombone and Deadly Headley Bennett on alto sax.”

Some enterprising soul (the aptly-named “DJ Algoriddim”) has put together an extended 10-minute mix that stitches together pieces from 11 different versions (!) based on the original riddim “Things a Come Up to Bump” — with ear-tickling stereo panning effects that can only be found here:

“Things a Come Up to Bump”    Special Mix by DJ Algoriddim

01. “Things a Come Up to Bump”:  The Bassies
02. “Things A Come Up To Version”:  The Bassies
03. “Things A Come Up To Dub”:  The Soul Vendors
04. “Bumpy Stomp”:  The Sound Dimension
05. “Dubbing The Bump”:  Big Joe & Scorcher
06. “More Scorcha”:  Count Machuki
07. “Whey No Dead”:  Glen Miller
08. “Whey No Dead Version”:  Sound Dimension
09. “Plant Up A Vineyard”:  Lone Ranger
10. “Black Onion”:  The Sound Dimension
11. “More Scorcher”:  Jackie Mittoo

Reggae + Strings: Crossover Need Not Be a Dirty Word

For so-called secular pop music, reggae is pretty deeply rooted in matters of spirit – an element that makes the music so distinctive.  Just as John Lennon once dared to imagine “all the people living in peace” undivided by religion (still one of the most radical lyrics ever to hit the Top Ten), seven years earlier Bob Marley had forthrightly declared that we are all “one love, one heart” and should join together in joy and brotherly spirit.

As the 60s slipped into the 70s, reggae became more and more commercially viable, particularly in the UK, where single releases were increasingly supplemented with strings to sweeten the sound.   The inevitable backlash against the slicker and more overtly commercial sound was certainly understandable, but we can now see in hindsight that in some instances, the use of strings wasn’t simply a shameless bid to sell records but rather an inspired choice that suited the song.  I would contend, for instance, that the strings at the beginning of “New Morning” by Nicky Thomas give the mix a buoyancy and hope that underscores the song’s title (alternatively, as the person who posted this YouTube audio mix declares, “strings reggae is good!”).

In a similar vein I find the highly-augmented sound on Jackie Mittoo’s 1971 album Wishbone – achieved with the help of a 32-piece orchestra on many tracks – to be a musical marriage that works.  Wishbone is one of three albums released by the legendary Skatalites keyboardist and Studio One session bandleader after Mittoo emigrated to Canada at the end of the 60s.  Unusually, for a Jackie Mittoo album, there are a few vocal tunes, such as excellent album closer, “Right Track”:

Jackie Mittoo - Wishbone

Jackie Mittoo, curiously in the music news this past July when indie-pop veterans, Superchunk, announced the title of their latest single, “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo.”

Cheaters Sometimes Prosper

In a curious twist, 1973’s hit by The Heptones, “Book of Rules” – whose first verse and chorus were largely taken from “Bag of Tools” by American poet, R.L. Sharpe – would itself be appropriated 27 years later by Noel Gallagher for the musical bridge to “Go Let It Out,” a #1 UK single for Oasis in 2000.

Bag of Tools” by R.L. Sharpe

Isn’t it strange how princes and kings, and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common people, like you and me, are builders for eternity?

Each is given a list of rules; a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.
And each must fashion, ere life is flown; a stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.