‘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.”

‘Scully’ Advises: Take It Cool

$521 on Ebay confirms my suspicion that the swaggering rocksteady tunefulness of 1967’s “Take It Cool” was a breakout moment, artistically speaking, for master percussionist and sometime-vocalist, NoelScullySimms:

 “Take It Cool”     Mr. Foundation (i.e., Noel ‘Zoot’ Simms)    1967

Would you believe someone paid the staggering sum of $700 at auction two years agoNinety dollars is a relative bargain, given that others have paid $108 and $345 dollars in the past for a copy of this 45.

Zoot Simms 45

Amazon Japan (and Amazon Germany) both offer this song for sale in MP3 format – fascinatingly enough – as part of a compilation entitled Skinheads on the Dancefloor:  Obscure Rocksteady, vol. 7.

Even more intriguing is the eyebrow-raising claim by Discogs.com that Noel ‘Scully’ Simms is “arguably the first Jamaican artist to release a record single” — without then identifying the title (!) of this historic recording.  What gives?

Noel Scully Simms-bb

“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

“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

“Ital Vibes”: Vibraphonic Reggae

Reggae is another realm of popular music where the vibraphone so rarely makes a foray.  As a result, Jamaican vibraphonist, Lennie Hibbert, pretty much has the field all to himself, as the intersection of reggae and the vibes essentially begins and ends with this one soul. Hibbert’s theme song – if one were to exist – would most definitely be “Village Soul,” easily his best known composition, but 1974’s tuneful instrumental “Ital Vibes” is another great starting point for vibraphone-infused reggae:

“Ital Vibes” – Lennie Hibbert – Produced by Harry Mudie

The bulk of Hibbert’s early work appears to be with Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label, where he recorded as part of Coxsone’s house band, The Sound Dimension, and also released a few singles under his own name.  Hibbert did appear, however on at least two Nyabinghi-inflected singles recorded at the studio of pioneering female producer, Sonia Pottinger:  “The Retreat Song” (with Millicent ‘Patsy’ Todd) and “Pure Soul” (with Count Ossie & Lyn Taitt), both from 1968.  Hibbert would record two long-playing releases as a solo artist on Studio One – 1969’s Creation and 1971’s More Creation – before moving on to Harry Mudie’s label in the early to mid 1970s where he recorded a handful of 45s.

rear cover – 1969 Studio One LP, Creation

Lennie Hibbert

Hibbert’s biography on AllMusic points out that in 1976 the vibraphonist would be awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music, as well as his work as an educator at Kingston’s legendary Alpha Boys School, training ground for an extraordinary number of Jamaica’s top musicians and where a hall would be named in honor of Hibbert, who passed in 1984.

Lennie Hibbert photoLennie Hibbert enthusiasts may want to seek out his exceptionally rare debut album, Moon-Light Party at the Myrtle Bank Hotel, although be prepared to pay through the nose: one copy sold in 2006 for $760.  Be advised, however, this is actually a studio album and not a live recording as the title would seem to suggest.

Claymation Christmas (Is Here)

Someone went to great effort to animate “Christmas Time Is Here” by The Heptones in this charming claymation-style video:

This song provokes the question:  where exactly does rocksteady end and reggae begin?

“Tea for Two”: Heptones at Studio One

Tip of the hat to Joe’s Record Paradise, Silver Spring’s legendary music store (that also sells 8-tracks, cassettes, 78s, books, magazines, videos – and includes a shrine to one-time Silver Spring resident, Root Boy Slim, plus lots of other great DC music memorabilia) for a sweet deal on a stack of wax, including a great 1968 Studio One album from the beginning of the post-rocksteady period, Reggae Time.

Reggae Time LP

Nestled among the album tracks is a song by The Heptones – “Tea for Two” – that features a great rolling bass line played in unison with piano, along with nice horn accompaniment and fun special effects that open and close the song:

No songwriting credits are listed for any of the songs on the album, however, I was able to confirm that “Tea for Two” was written by Leroy Sibbles, who is still very much active on the music scene.

Reggae Time back cover

“Juvenile Delinquent”:  Musical Blooper Extraordinaire

In today’s digital environment, where Auto-Tune and other corrective software can smooth out all the rough edges, this human quest for perfection paradoxically can sometimes leave music feeling a little – what’s the right word? – sterile.  Or soulless.  Not fully human. One of my previous pieces identified and celebrated musical bloopers that, refreshingly, remind the listener that music is a human endeavor – and that, perhaps, maybe we need to revisit our attitude about what we consider “mistakes.”

One of the more endearing moments in Jamaican music occurred when a bassist lost his way temporarily – and provided an intriguing, shall we say, harmonic counterpoint that makes the song a heckuva lot more interesting than if he had played his part straight.  Check out the bass lines on rude boy rocksteady classic, “Juvenile Delinquent,” by The Sensations and note the musical tension induced around the 1:20 mark when the bottom end diverges from the rest of the band.  Will the bassist for the Baba Brooks Band find his way home again, the listener is left wondering.  Happily, the bassist catches up with the chords … but then loses his way again briefly at the next chorus.   Delightful.

UPDATE:  Just discovered (January 2, 2017) that this song is a lyrical – if not musical – take on “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

“You Don’t Love Me”: Where Blues and Reggae Intersect

Thanks to Steve Hoffman‘s blues show on WPFW, today I was able to make the connection (as many others have done before me) that the inspiration for Dawn Penn‘s massive 1967 rocksteady hit, “No No No,” came directly from Willie Cobbs‘ hugely influential 1960 blues single, “You Don’t Love Me” — which, itself, was derived from a Bo Diddley tune five years prior, “She’s Fine She’s Mine“:

“You Don’t Love Me”     Willie Cobbs     1960

Click here to check out Dawn Penn’s interpretation – or click here to hear the prototype as laid down by Bo Diddley.

Long before Kingston, Jamaica became known as the “Nashville of the Third World,”  some of reggae’s most famous producers and label owners originally gained fame as mobile sound system operators playing obscure (at least, at that time) American jump blues and boogie 45s — albeit with identifying information removed from the labels to prevent other sound systems from knowing the names of the songs or artists behind their most popular records.   Relying on non-Jamaican recordings worked well enough in the pre-Internet 1950s.  ClementCoxsoneDodd, for instance, long enjoyed a reputation as the ranking sound system operator whose signature tune, “Coxsone Hop” (in reality, a 1950 honking sax instrumental called “Later for Gator” by Willis ‘Gatortail’ Jackson) ruled the Kingston dancehalls for an impressive seven years.  Until, that is, the fateful night Coxsone’s chief rival, Duke Reid, pulled the rug out from underneath him completely.  Prince Buster witnessed it all go down (as recounted in Lloyd Bradley‘s definitive history of Jamaican music, Bass Culture):

“I was at the counter with Coxsone, he have a glass in him hand.  He drop it and just collapse, sliding down the bar.  I had to brace him against the bar, then get Phantom [compatriot] to give me a hand.  The psychological impact had knocked him out.  Nobody never hit him.

We hold him up against the bar and try to shut out the noise.  Not only they play ‘Coxsone Hop,’ but they play seven of Coxsone’s top tunes straight.  When that happen, you know that tomorrow morning those tune’ll be selling in every fried-fish shop.”

Fortunately for the rest of the world, what initially seemed like a door slamming shut was actually a window of opportunity for sound system operators instead to obtain their musical “exclusives” by forging their own original sounds – which, in Coxsone’s case, led directly to the creation of Studio One, whose songs continue to rule the dancehalls today.

Coxsone behind the board

CoxsoneHow interesting to see Dodd draw on his prior experience as a sound system operator in refashioning “You Don’t Love Me” for a Jamaican audience.  Even more interesting to learn that Dawn Penn, who initially dropped out of the music business in 1970, would re-work “No No No” in a more contemporary dancehall style and hit the top of the Jamaican charts in 1994.   Most fascinating of all is that fact that two of the world’s top pop singers, Rhianna and Beyonce, breathed new life into this nearly 60-year-old tune when they covered “You Don’t Love Me” in 2005 and 2010, respectively.

Wait – didn’t Willie Cobbs (or Bo Diddley) write this song?

You Don't Love Me 45

“Press Along Nyah”: Harder the Battle, Sweeter the Victory

Three years ago, someone paid $99 for this great single by Larry (Marshall) & Alvin (Leslie) that was recorded at Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s legendary Studio One in 1970:

“Press Along Nyah”     Larry & Alvin    1970

Click on link for streaming audio

Last year the Jamaica Observer checked in with Larry Marshall (now residing in Florida), who feels unappreciated as a musical trailblazer and unhappy about the lack of financial compensation in spite of his popularity in the record shops, as well as dancehalls.  Click here for lengthy interview in which Marshall discusses, among other things, the particulars of his contractual relationship with Coxsone, as well as the Babylonian workings of the music business (e.g., the 1986 UK release of Marshall’s 1975 album, I Admire You, against his express permission).

Alvin, by the way, is not, as some (including myself) have hypothesized, Alvin “G.G.” Ranglin of GG Records fame.

Dance Crasher UK includes illustrated listing of all 7-inch Supreme Records releases.

“Press Along Nyah” (Version) on the flip side.

Press Along Nyah 45

New Parlor Game:  Can You Pinpoint the Moment Rocksteady Became Reggae? 

Larry Marshall will be forever linked to his landmark 1968 Studio One recording “Nanny Goat,” a song historians have long noted as having helped define the original reggae sound.  As Howard Campbell writes in the Jamaica Observer:

“Others argue that Toots and the Maytals’ ‘Do The Reggay,’ also done in 1968, and ‘Games People Play’ by Bob Andy the following year, marked the transition from rocksteady to reggae.  But for most, ‘Nanny Goat’ was the game-changer.”

Boris Gardiner, in a 2012 interview in Real Time Magazine, meanwhile, firmly disputes the received wisdom about “Nanny Goat” (calling it a “thorough-bred rocksteady beat”), as well as “Baby Why” by The Cables (another oft-cited contender for “first reggae song”).  Gardiner ultimately agrees with legendary Studio One house drummer, Joe Isaacs’ assessment that “Ride Mi Donkey” by The Tennors (1968) has the first true reggae beat.