Thanks to Harry Hawks’ biographical portrait of master percussionist (& sometime vocalist) Uzziah ‘Sticky‘ Thompson 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.”
“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.”
$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, Noel ‘Scully‘ Simms:
“Take It Cool” Mr. Foundation (i.e., Noel ‘Zoot’ Simms) 1967
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?
As his empire grew, [Ken] Khouri became the figure that sound system proprietors went to for their one-off acetates. He arranged the first Trojan and Hi Lite 78s, featuring vocalist Lord Power and pressed exclusively for Duke Reid’s sound system. As the island’s recording industry blossomed, other sound systems were quick to take advantage, having realised that putting local talent on record was a sure-fire way of garnering exclusive material to impress patrons. The first Jamaican artists to record blues ballads and home-grown R&B were the duo of Noel Bartholomew ‘Zoot’ Simms and Arthur ‘Bunny’ Robinson, known first as Simms & Robinson and later as Bunny & Skully.
“We started off the first recording in Jamaica on soft wax [acetate] for Dada Tewari,” the near-blind Skully wistfully recalls, perched on the kerb outside Kingston’s Sonic Sounds. “We did the first recordings in 1953 at [Motta’s] little demo studio at the corner of Hanover Street and Laws Street: he had a little matches box with quarter-inch tape.”
David Katz‘s biography of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, People Funny Boy, provides some very useful biographical details about master percussionist, Uzziah ‘Sticky‘ Thompson:
“For the rest of , 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.”
Uzziah 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!”
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’
The Rocksteady Kid — Zero to 180’s radio alter ago — once had the good fortune to experience the frantic exhilaration of spinning classic Jamaican pop of the three-minute variety on the University of Maryland’s student radio station. I very quickly learned you can’t be complacent when the tunes are coming so fast and furious: stop to think for very long, and you just might miss your cue for the next track.
Things got even nuttier when the late, great Charlie Coleman (on Eastern Shore’s WKHS) allowed me to program a couple all-truck-driving radio shows in which a goodly number of the tunes were of the two-minute variety. We were playing with fire each time we tried to carry on a conversation, and sure enough, one time we ended up playing one Moby Grape song too many.
Charlie Coleman & The Dieselbilly Kid @ WKHS December, 2004
I can only imagine, therefore, the considerable ease of being a disc jockey in the 1970s when “Album-Oriented Rock” was the dominant format and short, sharp songs were the exception to the rule. Stories are legend of DJs putting the needle on such long-winded tracks as Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain” (ten minutes), Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” (sixteen minutes), or that hoary cliche “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” (seventeen minutes) so they could then disappear from the control room for vast stretches of time to do whatever.
One of the Rocksteady Kid’s favorite memories – and proudest radio moments – was when he had to cut the radio show short unexpectedly in order to allow the station to broadcast that night’s University of Maryland basketball game. Thus, with nearly twenty minutes to fill, the Kid made an executive decision to play one final track as a swansong. And it’s a doozy:
Lee Perry “Free Up the Prisoners” 1978
I’m a little surprised that, with Lee ‘Scratch‘ Perry‘s world renown as an “audio alchemist” of the First Order, only one audio clip exists on YouTube (with a paltry 1,248 “views,” no less).
“Also noteworthy [from 1978] was ‘Free Up the Prisoners‘ – a vocal magnum opus from Perry himself cut on a peculiar ‘Disco Prisoner’ 12-inch single at 33 RPM. Issued on his new Conquering Lion of Judah label with a beautiful picture sleeve, ‘Free Up the Prisoners’ was nearly 13 minutes of Perry listing the reasons why those in captivity should be freed over a relaxed and rolling re-cut of [Clancy Eccles‘] ‘Feel the Rhythm‘; two versions of the single were issued in quick succession, the second made notably different through its inclusion of a prominent piano riff. As the song progressed, a crescendo of sound effects emerged, with sine waves and electric seesaw sounds gradually overpowering the mix; the sobering B-side, ‘Chase Them,’ spoke of non-Rasta elements such as income tax and birth control that needed to be chased away.”
In the early part of this century, reissue label, Hip-O, put out a comprehensive series of James Brown single releases that were issued from 1956-1981. Historians & researchers will no doubt be studying these liner notes in decades to come as they try to organize and make sense of the James Brown legacy, particularly given the volume of recordings issued over the course of his lifetime.
One thing I discovered by simply looking at the musician credits: those bongo drums sound unusual on “Let Yourself Go,” because bongos – believe it or not – were not part of JB’s pioneering percussion sound, generally speaking. According to the musician credits in this singles series that someone kindly posted on the Discogs website, I only see a handful of recordings (five by my count) between the years 1966-1973 that include the bongos.
Thanks to the missus, I am fortunate to own the 2-volume reference set, The King Labels: A Discography as compiled by Michel Ruppli. And yet I am discovering time and again that Ruppli’s discography is not authoritative as I had originally assumed. Thank goodness, therefore, for the input of other music fanatics and actual participants who were there when history took place. For example, if I simply relied on Ruppli, I might have continued to labor under the delusion that the Famous Flames backed James Brown on another great single from 1967 when, in fact, it was The Dapps.
James Brown & The Dapps (Les Asch holding horn)
My appreciation to Mitch Bowman, thus, for pointing me to James Brown’s “Funky Soul #1″ b/w “The Soul of JB” 45 originally released on King. Ruppli tells me that the A-side was recorded on August 17, 1967 in Cincinnati but has very scant information about its mate. Moreover, the B-side is attributed (wrongly) to “James Brown and the Famous Flames” and adds (incorrectly) “probably band without James Brown.” That’s about it for the historical details – only the year is listed, no musician credits – although Ruppli does add, intriguingly, that another composition of “unknown title” was recorded but remains (to this day?) unissued.
Thanks to James Brown – The Singles, Volume 5 (1967-1969) for affirming Bowman’s assertion that his brother-in-law, Les Asch, and his fellow Dapps were the musicians who backed James Brown on this double A-side instrumental excursion. Gather around everybody for a musical fight, and hear for yourself as the organist and saxophonist duke it out on their respective instruments:
Organ: James Brown
Guitar: Eddie Setser & Troy Seals
Bass: Tim Drummond
Piano: Tim Hedding
Drums: William ‘Beau Dollar’ Bowman
Trumpet: Ron Geisman
Alto Sax: Alfred ‘Pee Wee‘ Ellis
Tenor Sax: Les Asch
Baritone Sax: David Parkinson
Producer & Arranger: James Brown
If I were in the producer’s chair (I see you rolling your eyes), I would have followed James Brown organ solo in the left speaker with Pee Wee Ellis’s alto sax solo in the right speaker in order to underscore the dueling aspects of this musical match. As it stands, both solos erupt from the west. Note, too, the writing credits that include Gladys Knochelman – would love to know her role in the creative process, as her name appears ever so infrequently in the epic story of James Brown.**
There’s no denying the global impact of the fresh funk created by James Brown and his various support players over the years, much of which was recorded in Cincinnati — note the impact felt as far away as Japan, as this web tribute to JB attests. Hey, check out some of the prices that Dapps singles command on Ebay.
Don’t believe the hype: The Dapps are the backing band here
Biff! Bam! Pow! This is the thirteenth bout tagged as a Musical Fight
Tony Oulahan would subsequently contact Zero to 180 to shed light on this piece’s playful reference to Gladys Knochelman‘s artistic contribution to “The Soul of JB”:
“So my grandmother was Syd Nathan’s assistant for most of her time at King records. She also was a copywriter at one point as well. She died close to 20 years ago. She had close relationships with James, his band and many of the other artists at King. She had a couple of engraved jewelry pieces that James gave to her. I wish I could say otherwise, but she had nothing to do with the creative process on the album. And from what I know it wasn’t James directly that gave her the credit. She loaned someone in his group some money and they couldn’t pay her back. They gave her this credit in lieu of payment. It could have been his manager or someone else in the band. I’m almost positive that it wasn’t James himself, I can’t remember exactly who it was.”
Years ago I remember being spellbound by a Mojo feature article that interviewed several of the musicians in TheFamous Flames who had toured Vietnam with James Brown in 1968 and played for a large number of very grateful soldiers right in the heart of the war zone. I quickly devoured this piece – and then filed it away with my other 20 years or so of music magazines … into the abyss.
Recently, in the course of researching SW Ohio’s glorious contributions to the history of funk and soul, I got to thinking — “Sure would be nice to put my hands on that article about that harrowing time James Brown and his band did a musical tour of Vietnam in 1968.” Fortunately, I got the urge to try an Internet search, and lo and behold – “July 2003” would be the Golden Ticket. One minute later, after a trip to the archives, I had the July 2003 issue of Mojo in my hand. What on earth had I been waiting for all this time?
Hats off to James Maycock, who tells this incredible story where music and politics would intersect spectacularly, with lives being put on the line in a moving demonstration of the American credo, E Pluribus Enum. How fascinating to find out, for example, that James Brown had offered to take his entire 22-piece band orchestra to entertain the US troops in Vietnam on his own dime – and yet the federal government, surprisingly (or not), said no. James Brown would eventually lobby LBJ himself at a Presidential State Dinner in May, 1968 — a direct consequence of Brown’s own heroic intervention in Boston in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination that kept untold numbers of people safe at home and out of harm’s way due to his insistence that his group’s live performance on April 5, 1968 be locally televised.
JB & Boston Mayor, Kevin White – Boston Gardens – April 5, 1968
Maycock reveals the political machinery at work:
“The trip was the outcome of James Brown persistently pushing the US authorities for offical consent to tour. ‘I’d been trying for a long time to get the government to let me go over there. I offered to pay all my expenses. But for some reason they didn’t want me to go. I don’t know if they thought I would be too political.’ Like an increasing amount of the American public, Brown was also conscious that a disproportionate number of Afro-Americans were being drafted.”
JB’s stylist, Marva Whitney, grappled with vietnam’s heat & humidity – to no avail
Thus arranged (or so they thought), Brown’s 22-member ensemble began their musical tour in Korea, with the understanding that the whole orchestra would press on to Vietnam. But with the escalation of hostilities, Brown was given word that only a 6-member musical crew would be allowed to continue at that point. How moving then to discover that, while most of the group was only too happy to bow out of the tour, Tim Drummond (a “playing cat” as Brown would characterize him) immediately jumped at the chance:
“I said, I want to play Vietnam, because I want to show people back here that black and white can get along.”
Ultimately, Brown would carry out his musical tour of Vietnam with these six band members: Clyde Stubblefield (drums), Tim Drummond (bass), Jimmy Nolen (guitar), Maceo Parker (saxophone), Waymon Reid (trumpet) & “esteemed funky diva” Marva Whitney. As the writer points out, “Bob Hope retreated to the safety of Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand after each of his shows, but as Drummond points out, ‘We were in the thick of it.'”
By way of illustration, Tim Drummond would recount:
“So we come in 20 feet off the ground where the Viet Cong were sleeping. They only moved at night … Right where we had just [crash] landed, here comes the Viet Cong who were coming after the plane. We’d woken them up. [The US] were bombing the Viet Cong, who were coming after the plane thinking we’re still on it. That was a real toe-tapper!”
Marva Whitney describes the preceding “white-knuckle emergency crash”:
“The pilot said, ‘Everybody get out! And I mean move it! We’re in the marshes, the doors open, no time for a ladder. Would someone give me a helping hand? Forget it. It was every man for himself, including me. I had to jump from the plane.”
Clyde Stubblefield (out of view), James Brown & Maceo Parker
Being in a war zone meant having to be ever alert and strategic in your actions – Drummond describes one particular situation:
“In my hotel room, the window was facing the president’s palace. It had a sign on it saying, ‘Don’t open the blinds with the light on behind you at night, you will be shot as a sniper.'”
These seven musicians (appointed honorary Lieutenant Colonels for this tour) would play three performances a day, often in the sweltering 120+ degree tropical heat. According to Drummond, “That was the best the band ever sounded, stripped down like that. Oh, we got tight! Man, I wish we had recordings of that [stuff]! We were smoking!”
James Brown & the Famous Flames “Let Yourself Go” 1967
[Check out Brown instructing 2nd drummer, John “Jabo” Sparks to hit an accent on the snare each time JB emits a grunt (*note: video since removed – above mix differs).]
Brown claims that it was Hope himself, interestingly enough, who would clinch the Vietnam tour at the May, 1968 State Dinner: “[He] told some of the USO people, ‘If you’re going to get anybody to perform for the troops, James Brown is the man.” The sad joke at the time was that “Armed Forces Radio Network offered two kinds of music: country and western.” Soul offerings were rather limited at the military PX — says Maycock:
“Prior to Brown’s 1968 visit, the United Service Organisations had brought over to entertain soldiers were generally insipid country and western troupes. Drummond admits, “We’d call them ‘Tex Nobodies’ – meaning they were country singers who hadn’t made it!”
Compared to previous USO offerings, these shows were clearly a huge deal for the soldiers – Drummond says they easily outdrew Bob Hope (over 40,000 at one show, he claims). According to Brown, “Dug out of the side of a hill, around the rim, at the top, tanks were pulled up like at a drive-in. Guys were sitting in their hatches looking down on the show.”
And yet the surreality of the bitter warfare, coupled with the rampant drug use among the soldiers, would induce serious cognitive dissonance amongst the musicians. Maycock writes: “Indeed, the musicians were understandably uptight, although they concealed their feelings from JB. Marva: ‘They weren’t going to let the boss man see.'”
Whitney remembers, according to Maycock, “some GIs just wanted to touch her hand. Others confided in her. Marva says, ‘The fellas with the less education were put on the front lines — “We’re in trouble over here!” They would say that.'”
Several months after returning home, Whitney would be completely thrown by an unexpected moment of post-traumatic stress:
“I’m walking down New York City, shopping. All of a sudden, I start shaking and can’t stop. I’m going into shock. I know it.” Brown himself would later say, “I don’t know how I made it. God was carrying me all the time, it was like footprints in the sand.”
One final quote from Maycock’s riveting piece of history underscores music’s special ability to nourish the soul and bring people together in peace and fellowship (from Vietnam veteran and musician, Dave Gallaher):
“Tim Drummond being there did more good than anyone might realize. Because of the hostilities that had developed racially, I think James showing up with a white musician put everyone on a little bit of notice about cooling out. Showing that a white man could get in there and play that music. I think it was very timely.”