‘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

Won’t Someone Play This Record?

One of the original “fully fledged” 1960s mod ska participants, Arthur Kay, would play on a number of reggae hits for the Trojan label at London’s Chalk Farm Recording Studios, founded by his manager, Vic Keary, and Bluebeat label head, Emil Shallet, in 1968.     Chalk Farm would gain renown for being “the only UK studio that could properly replicate the Jamaican ska/rocksteady [and early reggae] sound” — Bob & Marcia’s classic take on “Young, Gifted & Black,” for example, would be laid down there, along with recordings by Junior Byles, Dillinger, Desmond Dekker, The Cimarons, and many others.

Ska Wars 45Kay would be invited in 1978 to record his song “Ska Wars” to test out Europa Sound’s new recording facilities in Kent.  Although virtually ignored by radio and mainstream media, the indie single’s 10,000 pressings would sell out quickly and thus, as Arthur Kay points out on his website, help galvanize a homegrown UK ska scene.  Kay would put together a backing band – The Originals – who would bring to life his second single “Play My Record,” a wry though rather pointed comment about “the way radio play-lists were (and still are) rigged by a few wealthy record labels”:

“Play My Record”     Arthur Kay & the Originals     1980

45Cat, puzzlingly, identifies the song as the B-side to “Sooty Is a Rudie” – despite the top billing accorded “Play My Record” on the 45’s own picture sleeve.

Arthur Kay 45Arthur Kay & the Originals would issue a compilation – Ska Wars 1979-1999, Featuring Judge Dread – whose reissue, Kay’s website announces, has sold out!

“I Command Thee”:  Honorable Mentions

♦   “Don’t Play This Record”     Morris Mills     1950

♦   “Please Play Our Song (Mr. Record Man)”     The Fontane Sisters     1953

♦   “Mr. D.J. (Please Play a Song for Me)”     Somethin’ Smith & the Redheads     1959

♦   “D.J. Play a Sad Song”     Jack Campbell     1965

♦   “Play That Lonely Record”     Gene Thomas     196?

♦   “Play Me a Happy Song (Mr. D.J.)”     Russ Allison     1967

♦   “Mr. D.J. Play Me a Sad Song”     Barry Mason     1969

♦   “Play the Saddest Song on the Jukebox”     Carmol Taylor     1976

♦   “Won’t Somebody Play My Record”     The Egton Runners     1979

1960s Ska in the US Market

Thousands of thanks to 45Cat chatboard contributor, OldOak, who freely offered up this bit of research related to the topic of U.S. Reggae 45s — I have simply added links to audio recordings on YouTube and/or filmed performances of the artist and song in action:

“Ska was one of the dance crazes of the summer of 1964, inspiring a fair number of records in the US — all 45 releases below are from ’64:

Jamaica Joe 45Pussycats Ska 45Coffee St. Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  “Come On and Ska” written by “Tommy” Dowd, former Manhattan Project participant who would later become audio engineer extraordinaire for the Atlantic label.]

“Here are a few more non-Jamaicans joining in on the very brief ska craze in the US. I add them only because I think we’re getting near to exhausting the ’64 US ska records.

  • Toni Fisher = “The Train Of Love/ The Springtime Of Life” (Signet 664)
  • Jimmy Griffin = “Try/ You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” (Reprise 0304)
  • Cambridge Strings = “Charmaine” (London 9683)
  • The Rhythm Kings = “Latin Ska” (Tollie 9014)
  • Frederick Fennell and His Symphonic Winds = “76 Trombones Ska” (Mercury)
  • Toni Wine = “A Boy Like You/ Funny Little Heart” (Colpix 742)
  • Lester Lanin = “West Indies Ska” (Philips 40217)
  • Baja Marimba Band = “Baja Ska/ Samba De Orfeu” (Almo 211)
  • Jerry Kennedy = “Blue Beat” (Smash 1907)
  • Woody Herman Orchestra = “C’mon And Ska” (Philips 40213)

76 Trombones Ska 45Baja Ska 45Blue Beat - Jerry Kennedy 45Toni Fisher 45

“Apparently, at this time, in addition to Prince Buster and Byron Lee & The Ska Kings, Atlantic signed the Blues Busters (who had already released a single on Capitol in 1962), Stranger and Patsy, The Charmers, and The Maytals.  Ahmet Ertegun went to Jamaica and made some recordings, intending to release a dozen or more singles (see Billboard, May 23, 1964).  I think they ended up releasing only one album with these artists, “Jamaica Ska” (SD 8098), and three singles, plus a couple by Millie Small.  Too bad.  Also, I’m pretty sure it’s The Maytals you hear near the end of “Oil In My Lamp” by The Ska Kings.

“As far as US releases of Jamaican artists go, up through 1965 there was only:

My Boy Lollipop - Millie SmallBlues Busters 45Lucky Old Sun 45Watermelon Man Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  Guitar army commando, Billy Mure, is the arranger on the last 45 listed, as well as composer of “Ska Dee Wah”]

“It turns out there were more ska records released in the US than I ever suspected.  Why then no Maytals or Jimmy Cliff?  Monty Morris [of the Ska Kings] got two!  I guess the whole thing just didn’t last long enough.  It really rode the popularity of only one record, Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop.”   The Ska Kings got to #98 in Billboard with “Jamaica Ska,” Millie’s next record didn’t break into the Top 40, and it was over.  But it’s amazing how many records were made and released within a few weeks of Millie’s brief success.  This also coincided with the top Jamaican artists performing at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.  Official embassies of dancers were also sent by the Jamaican government to New Jersey and Philadelphia to teach and promote the new dance.  Prince Buster tells what this meant for Jamaica in “Everybody Ska” (Amy 906).

“Here are a few from 1967:

Prince Buster RCA LPBlues Busters UA 45

Old Oak adds:
“‘Ten Commandments’ was actually a hit, reaching Billboard #81 (Pop), #17 (R&B).  RCA and King competed with two versions of the follow-up answer song (same lyrics, different singers), but neither charted.  As with all novelty songs, you might enjoy it the first time, but you never want to hear it again.”

King Records Goes Ska

Previous Zero to 180 posts have highlighted the strong cultural connections between Kingston Jamaica and Cincinnati, Ohio, as evidenced by (1) the radical rocksteady funk of Prince Buster‘s 1966 tip of the hat to “The Cincinnati Kid” himself, James Brown, as well as (2) the Jamaican LP from eight years prior – The Wrigglers Sing Calypso at the Arawak Hotel – in which the band (led by Ernest Ranglin) covers groundbreaking King Records composition, “Bloodshot Eyes,” a Top 10 hit for both Hank Penny (C&W chart) and Wynonie Harris (R&B chart) in the early 1950s and thus an “early landmark in racial integration” (Wiki).

But then I learned of an even more direct connection between these two unlikely cities:  Prince Buster’s 1967 single on King Records:

“Ten Commandments (from Woman to Man)”     Princess Buster & Her Jamaicans

In 1967, Prince Buster was touring the UK (where “Al Capone” was a Top 20 hit), as well as the US to promote his RCA Victor LP Sings His Hit Song Ten Commandments.  How fascinating then to discover that the “Cincinnati Kid” singer himself would end up seeing one of his productions being released on James Brown’s label, ultimately.  

This 45, interestingly, was a split single, with Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires on the flip side:

“Papa Jack”     Byron Lee & the Dragonnaires

These two songs, of course, were not recorded in Cincinnati’s King studios but leased from at least one other label.  This 45, as far as I can tell, was King‘s sole venture into Jamaican pop music.

Truth & Accuracy Dept.

Funny how one additional letter added to a song’s title can so profoundly impact the meaning of the song itself.  Imagine Spain’s citizenry in 1968, for instance, trying to make sense of Prince Buster’s 7-inch release, “Madness,” with its flip side, “Cincinnati Kids!

Cincinnnati Kids [sic] - Prince Buster 45