“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.

“Space Walk”: Psychedelic Vibes, Man

Paul ‘Ollie’ Halsall, as previously noted, was one of the rare rock musicians to utilize the vibraphone – an instrument that is often confined to jazz and 1960s pop & northern soul, sadly.  The vibes, when placed in the right context, can add such gorgeous tonal color to a song, as demonstrated on Jimi Hendrix’s dreamy ballad, “Drifting” (as played by Buzzy Linhart, who had been given exactly one hour (!) to learn and execute his complex part) – or on the mysterious and foreboding intro to “Monkey Man” by The Rolling Stones (as played, surprisingly enough, by bassist Bill Wyman) just to name two obvious examples.   Perhaps the vibraphone is ripe for rediscovery by the next generation of popsters?

VibraphoneA number of years back, my life had been inadvertently saved when I hastily tried to sell back a bootleg compilation of psychedelic 45s burned to compact disc.  Fortunately, Baltimore’s Sound Garden music store refused to take The Psychedelic Experience Volume 1, thus forcing me to re-evaluate the contents of this collection.  Somehow I had overlooked the second track on the disk — “Space Walk” by The Astros:

This arresting instrumental immediately grabs the listener with an intoxicating sound that is achieved in no small part by the unlikely use of the vibraphone.  How on Earth did this tune escape my attention the first time around?

45Cat informs us that this single had been predicted by Billboard to reach the Hot 100 — and yet it seems never to have even charted.  Most interestingly, this forward-looking piece of pop was released in June, 1965 (just three months after cosmonaut Alexey Leonov became the first human to walk in outer space), thus anticipating to some degree the psychedelic sound that would follow one to two years later.  Could this be among the first “psychedelic” recordings?  Tantalizingly little appears to be known about this recording otherwise.

Many thanks to Office Naps for singing the praises of label owner, Leo de gar Kulka, the unacknowledged star of the song and whose engineering prowess at Golden State – one of Northern California’s largest studios at the time – would help pioneer “the San Francisco sound” of such artists as Sly & the Family Stone, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Charlatans, Sons of Champlin, The (pre-Dead) Warlocks, and many others – click here for a Golden State Recorders discography.  Check out this brief bio of Kulka courtesy of Studio Electronics Inc – founded by none other than Kulka himself.

“Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye”: Unlikely Alien Invasion

Eyeballing the list of artists who released 45s on Decca’s progressive imprint, Deram, I am amused by the “far-out” names that remain largely unknown on this side of the pond:  West Coast Delegation; The Wards of Court; Rubber Bootz; Cuppa T; Granny’s Intentions; John Street & the Inmates of No. 12; The Crocheted Doughnut Ring; The Virgin Sleep; Bernie & the Buzz Band; Anvil Flutes and Capricorn Voices; Martin’s Magic Sounds; Currant Craze; and The Syn, among others.  A shameless attention-getting ploy perhaps but a harmless one.

Similarly, a song title such as “Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye” practically begs to be heard — fortunately, this tune about Martian invaders armed with lethal pastries does not disappoint:

Timebox – “Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye” – March, 1969

“Baked jam roll in your eye:  are you trying to kill or feed me?” the humans straight-facedly inquire of Martian commander, Klaus.  Will the Earthlings prevail armed only with song?

“Baked Jam Roll in Your Eye” is Timebox’s successor to “Girl Don’t Make Me Wait,” with its brilliant B-side, “Gone Is the Sad Man” — a song that could easily be mistaken for some long-lost Beatles single.  Would you be surprised to learn that one of the song’s co-writers, Paul ‘Ollie’ Halsall, would later become part of the Pre-Fab Four (depicted as Leppo, “the fifth Rutle” in the faux-documentary, All You Need Is Cash)?  Neil Innes, at a 1997 Beatlefest in Los Angeles, would identify Halsall as a primary contributor in the making of the first Rutles album and pronounce him “the most underrated guitarist in the world.”  Halsall, who died in 1992, enjoys distinction as one of rock’s only vibraphone players.

A-Side composed by Mike Patto & Ollie Halsall

Timebox 45