I’m a little surprised more ink has not been expended on a snappy early reggae 45 from 1970 on the Doctor Bird label that can command up to £200 [i.e., $300ish] at auction:
“Rum Bum a Loo” The Message 1970
“Rum Bum a Loo” was produced for the UK market by an entity named Philligree, which Discogs informs us, is the production team of Graeme Goodall and/or Phil Chen:. Meanwhile, the “reggae formation” known as The Message would release no fewer than four singles in 1970.
Desmond Dekker fans will recognize “Rum Bum a Loo” as a near-instrumental version of Dekker’s 1st place winner of the 1968 Jamaica Independence Festival Song Competition, “Music Like Dirt (Festival ‘68).” That same year the song would also be issued in the UK, though with the B-side (“Coconut Water”) imaginatively re-titled as “Coconut Woman”!
“Initially a ska label, Doctor Bird was started in 1965 by Graeme Goodall; it issued its first single in 1966 and put out around two hundred more before expiring in 1969. It qualifies for a mention in this list because Trojan revived it briefly in the early 1970s, for a handful of reggae singles.”
Will Ferrell’s inspired sketch idea as a cowbell-wielding member of Blue Oyster Cult named Gene Frenkle may have lost some of its freshness, however Ferrell deserves credit for galvanizing interest in this long-neglected member of the percussion family. Five years after that Saturday Night Live sketch originally aired, Paul Farhi would reveal in The Washington Post’s January 29, 2005 edition that Frenkle was, indeed, a fiction. Furthermore —
“According to former BOC bassist Joe Bouchard, an unnamed producer asked his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, to play the cowbell after the fact. ‘Albert thought he was crazy,’ Bouchard told the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press in 2000. ‘But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together.'”
How interesting, then, to discover the existence of a cowbell Golden Age just eight years before the release of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in a parallel musical universe located within the Western Hemisphere – and yet not actually of it. That’s right, 1968 was a peak moment for the cowbell on Jamaica’s radio airwaves and in their dancehalls — but for most of us here in the States, that fact would only come to light 3 decades after the fact, when CD reissues of reggae and its predecessor, rocksteady, began to appear here.
Today’s piece, therefore, salutes the cowbell in rocksteady’s magical-but-oh-so-brief moment in history. Zero to 180 welcomes your suggestions to this (incomplete) list:
R o c k s t e a d y & E a r l y R e g g a e C o w b e l l C l a s s i c s
At one point in its week-long tribute to master percussionists, Noel ‘Scully‘ Simms and Uzziah ‘Sticky‘ Thompson, 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.
“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.”
My 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.”
“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 Uzziah ‘Sticky‘ Thompson 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.
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: Noel ‘Scully’Simms & Uzziah ‘Sticky’Thompson.
Scully & Sticky
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’
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.”
Keyboardist, 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
Trailblazing, by definition, can be a lonely enterprise – but someone has to move civilization forward. Therefore, hats off to Jamaica’s first woman music producer, Sonia Pottinger, who managed to navigate a path through a field that is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and left future generations a legacy of classic recordings.
“Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl” – one of the few photos of Sonia Pottinger
Upon her passing, Howard Campbell in the November 7, 2010 edition of The Gleaner would pronounce her “Jamaica’s most successful women producer” although, curiously, neglect to point out she was the first. Campbell would also write:
“Born in St Thomas, Pottinger was introduced to the music business by her husband L.O. Pottinger, an engineer who had relative success as a producer in the mid-1960s. She went on her own during that period, scoring a massive hit with ‘Every Night‘, a ballad by singer Joe White. Pottinger had considerable success in the late 1960s with her Tip Top, High Note and Gay Feet labels. She produced Errol Dunkley’s debut album, Presenting Errol Dunkley, and hit songs by vocal groups like The Melodians (‘Swing and Dine’), The Gaylads (‘Hard to Confess’) and ‘Guns Fever’ by The Silvertones.”
I was also intrigued to learn that, as Campbell notes, Pottinger bought the catalogue and operations of the esteemed Treasure Isle label after the passing of its founder/owner, Duke Reid (but only after first doing battle in Jamaica’s Supreme Court with Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd, as well as Duke Reid’s son and Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee’; sadly, she would die the very next year after winning her case). Incredibly, this same publication – just 16 months later – would publish a piece entitled, “Women Who Shaped Jamaican Music” … and fail to even mention her! Is my indignation righteous enough? Today’s piece, consequently, is my attempt to bring about some measure of pop music social justice.
Sonia Pottinger, who would go on to receive Jamaica’s Order of Distinction
As pointed out in yesterday’s piece, Sonia Pottinger issued two singles by pioneering reggae vibraphonist, Lennie Hibbert. Additionally, Pottinger would be among the first of the producers in Prince Buster’s wake to incorporate the traditional and deep Nyabinghi hand drum rhythms into rocksteady and reggae music, as evidenced on Patsy Todd’s uniquely Jamaican interpretation of Miriam Makeba‘s big hit, “Pata Pata” (with backing by Count Ossie’s mighty band) – both versions released in 1967:
“Pata Pata Rocksteady” Patsy Todd with the Count Ossie Band 1967
Every Culture album that bears the Pottinger production mark is top-notch and a must-own. Other crucial Pottinger productions worthy of your time include this short list:
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.
Lennie 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.
Thanks to Courtney Tullock’s original review in the March 4, 1971 edition of Rolling Stone for tipping me to a 1970 documentary entitled, Reggae, that was directed by Trinidadian-born British filmmaker, photographer, painter & writer, Horace Ové. Originally broadcast on BBC TV, Ove’s documentary deserves credit for being, as Marco on the Bass points out, “the first in-depth film on reggae music to be produced.” Fortunately, YouTube contributor, Copasetic Boom, makes the entire (and extremely rare) documentary available online:
*The Heptones – Message From A Black Man
The Pyramids – (Pop Hi!) The Revenge Of Clint Eastwood
Noel And The Fireballs – Can’t Turn You Loose
The Pioneers – Easy Come Easy Go
*Laurel Aitken – Deliverance Will Come
Black Faith – Everyday People
*The Beatles – Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da/Get Back
John Holt – I Want A Love I Can Feel
*Dave Barker (Tommy and The Upsetters) – Lockjaw
Count Prince Miller – Mule Train
Millie Small and The Pyramids – Enoch Power
*Mr Symarip – Skinhead Moonstomp
The Maytals – Monkey Man
Desmond Dekker – Israelites
Bob & Marcia – Young, Gifted & Black[
[*studio recordings – otherwise, live performances]
Around the 22:05 point in the film, there is a discussion about the use of Jamaican rhythm and musical elements by The Beatles. Worth pointing out that the unedited full-length version of “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)” – recorded during the Sgt. Pepper 1967 sessions but only released in 1970 (in shortened form) as the B-side to “Let It Be” – features what can only be considered as a “ska section” at the 1:05 mark in the song. This entire ska motif would be removed from the 45 mix and only get official release on the Anthology 2 collection issued in 1996. The Beatles Bible tells us that “Brian Jones performed on two parts: a ska section with piano, drums, guitar and saxophone, and a jazz rendition featuring piano, drums, guitar, saxophone, bass guitar and vibraphone.”
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.
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.
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.