Horace Ové & UK Reggae, 1970

Thanks to Courtney Tulloch‘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:

[Clip no longer available — apologies]

*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.”

Michael de Koningh and Laurence Cane-Honeysett devote a few chapters to this seminal event in the history of UK reggae in 2003’s Young Gifted and Black:  The Story of Trojan Records:

“The first major Reggae Festival, held at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on Sunday 26 April 1970, found Bob & Marcia performing their hit, with Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, The Maytals and John Holt in the line-up and with backing from Byron Lee’s band and The Pyramids.  The show was compered by Count Prince Miller, who also belted out a lively rendition of his current smash, ‘Mule Train‘…

The event was captured on film by director Horace Ove in a documentary called simply Reggae, which cut the concert performances in between interviews with leading figures in the music of the day.  DJ Mike Raven provided a very succinct and insightful progression of the music and the trials of getting mainstream airplay.  He also commented that the newer UK sound wasn’t to his taste and he preferred the ‘real Jamaican stuff’.

Trojan Records Lee Gopthal and Graham Walker concurred on the difficulties of getting daytime radio play, providing illustrations of the vast numbers of units sold with still no help from the BBC.  Gopthal went on to say that general record buyers did not classify music; they just bought what they liked.

Meanwhile, UK producer Dave Hadfield, along with Doctor Bird Group owner Graeme Goodall, confirmed just how hard it was for non-Jamaicans to pick up the beat.  They predicted that they saw reggae as the next big thing, albeit in a more commercialised style.

Reggae saw a very limited release into specialist cinemas at the time.  Sadly, it has now not been aired for over 30 years and is unavailable on any video or DVD format.  That is a great pity, as it is one of the only professional films covering the UK side of reggae development as the ’60s turned to the ’70s and has some sparkling concert footage.”

“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.

The Earliest Reggae Recording?

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

“Press Along Nyah”     Larry & Alvin    1970

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 Studio One’s Coxsone Dodd, 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

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 Your Donkey” by The Tennors (with its one drop supplied by Hugh Malcolm) has the first true reggae beat.

Coxsone Dodd, as quoted in Peter Simon’s Reggae International (1983):

I remember what changed the whole sound from rock steady to reggae.  We did a recording by the name of ‘Nanny Goat‘ by Larry [Marshall] and Alvin [Leslie].  A very popular record.  At that time, I had been in England and came back with quite a few gadgets … like a delay.  After ‘Nanny Goat,’ we had a series of recordings with that sound but it was like the guitar being on the delay meshed with the organ shuffle.  This was coming on as something new, and this is where the change came from rock steady to reggae. And you can listen to the guitar change in ‘Nanny Goat’ and quite a few of the Cables‘ tunes.”

Lloyd Bradley offers another perspective in Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King (2001):

People Funny Boy‘ [Lee Perry] wasn’t, however, the first example of the changeover from rocksteady to reggae.  That distinction would have to be shared between Larry Marshall’s ‘Nanny Goat‘ and ‘No More Heartaches‘ by The Beltones, with both records’ producers — Coxsone Dodd and Harry J (Johnson), respectively — claiming the credit for entirely different reasons.  Dodd has cited his use of a delay echo unit he’d recently imported from the UK, which he hooked up to the guitar to end up with a distinct skanga … skanga … skanga sound on the previously straight-down timekeeping stroke; a state of affairs that naturally served to hurry the music’s pace along.  Johnson, however, maintains that it was the rhythmic combination he created of arched fingers stabbing at an organ chord, a conventional guitar stroke and a far more percussive bass pattern that produced the same effect

In truth, both men have a point, and you’d expect nothing less from how this story’s shaping up.  But if you listen to the overall feel of each record rather than try to isolate particular elements, each one clearly occupies a different notch on reggae’s chronology.  Harry’s horn-laden piece of harmony may demonstrate reggae’s characteristics but it’s essentially a rocksteady record dressed up in some flash new clothes; Dodd’s tune, however, utilizes what was then cutting-edge gadgetry — as well as the delay echo he introduced at the same time — and, almost immediately, so many other studios began to adopt and adapt that sound through the same technology.  ‘Nanny Goat’ would seem to be linking forward, while ‘No More Heartaches’ ties with the past.  Thus, it could be argued that, while each played a significant part, Johnson’s record is, in fact, the primary example.

What they both shared, although ‘Nanny Goat’ showed it off more prominently, is what was known as the ‘shuffle organ’, a bubbling, brisk-paced keyboard style that allowed former pianists to show off on the electric organs that were by now studio staples.  The first two real reggae tunes showed up on the Studio One and Harry J labels, and each set-up employed one of the style leaders along this new ivory way:  respectively, Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright.  Mittoo, once the Skatalites’ keyboardist, was now, at the tender age of twenty, Coxsone’s resident musical arranger/talent scout.  Wright had become acknowledged as Jamaica’s undisputed master of the Hammond when, as one of Tommy McCook’s Supersonics, his lush, infectious tones had been a signficiant factor in Duke Reid’s ruling of the rocksteady roost.  Wright had now gone freelance, and found regular employment with Harry Johnson.  Johnson had no studio of his own at this point, and booked a room at Coxsone’s for those sessions, which meant that both songs were recorded at 13 Brentford Road, with one of the best electric organs on the island.

Chris Salewicz and Adrian Boot add their two pence in Reggae Explosion:  The Story of Jamaican Music (2001):

There were other contenders for the title of first reggae record.  Because of his guitar sound, Alva Lewis claims it for the tune ‘Bangarang‘, a Bunny Lee production recorded in 1969 at Treasure Isle and credited to Stranger Cole and Lester Sterling:  the song was a development of ‘Bongo Chant‘, a British bop tune from a decade before by Kenny Graham and the Afro-Cubists.  Producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee also argues that ‘Bangarang’ was the first reggae song, but not, he insisted, because of the guitar sound but because of novice organ player Glen Adams‘ riffs — Striker was adamant that it was kind of a slurred organ sound, as specialised in by Jackie Mittoo (who was also an arranger and A&R man for Coxsone) that defined the first reggae records.

The 4th edition of All Music Guide – The Definitive Guide to Popular Music (2001) makes a different assertion altogether in its section on Reggae:

In 1966 [Derrick] Morgan issued “Tougher Than Tough,” widely credited as the first record in the rock steady genre.  He continued to innovate in the years to follow — among his most enduring contributions were “Went to the Hop” (the first Jamaican song with an electric bass guitar), “Blazing Fire” (the first song to employ an electric piano), “Love Not to Brag” (the first duet with a female artist, Millicent Patsy Todd) and “Seven Letters” (the first reggae song, produced in collaboration with brother-in-law Bunny Lee).

Patricia Meschino, who authored “As Reggae Celebrates 50 Years, Some of the Genre’s Pioneers Look Back on Its Worldwide Ascent” for Billboard‘s July 1, 2018 edition, identifies a handful of notable candidates for “first reggae song” — including “Long Shot (Bus Me Bet)” by The Pioneers — and also solicits feedback from long-time session bassist, Jackie Jackson, who fingers “Feel the Rhythm” by Clancy Eccles as significant and notes, “Right about there, that was a real reggae song, identifying the heart and soul of reggae and alongside Toots’ ‘Do The Reggay,’ those two songs really helped to put reggae on the map.”

“Bangarang Festival”: The Sound of 1969

Very little information seems to exist about this Jamaica Independence Festival song contribution that bears the classic sound of vintage 1969 reggae – “Bangarang Festival” – from The Peter Ashbourne Affair:

Bangarang Festival – Peter Ashbourne Affair

[Pssst:  Click the triangle to play “Bangarang Festival” by The Peter Ashbourne Affair.]

Peter Ashbourne

Present-day Peter Ashbourne find him teaching at Edna Manley College’s School of Music and composing for theatre, dance & film, as well as producing, arranging, writing & performing popular music with an array of Jamaican and international artists.  Ashbourne has not only worked as a studio musician accompanying such artists as Bob Marley, Beres Hammond, Paul Simon, Eddie Kendricks & Manu Dibango, but has also served for three decades as one of Jamaica’s top commercial composer-arrangers, having been creatively involved in the production of over 700 jingles – and winning the CLIO for his 1983 Air Jamaica North America campaign.  Click here to learn more about Peter Ashbourne’s many accomplishments.

Peter Ashbourne Affair 45

“Midnight Confessions”: Breezy Pop Recast as Menacing Dub

I’d have to agree with the lone reviewer on Amazon UK who says that Treasure Isle Dub is his favorite dub CD “by quite a margin” and points out this interesting fact:  “available as mp3 on The Complete Treasure Isle Dub Collection with another 12 tracks beside.”

Treasure Isle Dub

        King Tubby vs. Errol Brown:  Who Mixed Treasure Isle Dub?

All this time I’ve been laboring under the delusion that King Tubby did the Treasure Isle Dub mixes, but now I’m beginning to get the idea that maybe Errol Brown really did put these treatments together like it says on the disc – that there wasn’t any conspiracy to write Tubby out of the picture, after all.  What’s funny is that Lloyd Bradley’s definitive history of reggae, Bass Culture:  When Reggae Was King, devotes quite a bit of ink to King Tubby and his legendary prowess with electronics and audio engineering —

“As an electrical engineer and disc cutter, King Tubby was a perfectionist.  His skills as an engineer led to him doing repair jobs or uprating for several studios and sound systems, while his rig, Tubby’s Home Town HiFi – put together in 1968 – was perpetually evolving as a result as much of his natural curiosity and audaciousness as of his vocational training.  He was probably the first to use high-frequency horn tweeters, and later made full use of the embryonic transistor technology and custom-built filters to split his frequencies between two different amplifiers:  a valve amp for the bass, transistor for the treble (‘weight and treble’ as it still is known).  He introduced echo, reverb and sound effects to the dance by bringing a range of specially built or modified outboard gear to his control tower.  But he never forgot that the primary purpose of a sound system was to entertain the crowd with recordings of songs, and so his tone and resonance were always second to none.

The book continues — “As a disc cutter, Tubby’s attention to detail meant he’d make several test cuttings of the different aspects of a track, just to make sure everything was set up right – that is, he’d cut with the voices only or with the instruments by themselves and listen to how each sounded on the disc.  Even accounting for [Treasure Isle owner] Duke Reid’s finicky ways as a producer, Tubby’s flawlessness in this area has a great deal to do with Treasure Isle’s later rocksteady sound:  he would always make sure nothing went on the stamper until it sounded exactly as it should, making full use of the entire bandwidth to give that full, almost self-satisfied feel to the records.  One of the reasons Duke Reid’s rocksteady stands the test of time so well is because the recordings were physically so well made and therefore, prior to all the remastering that’s gone on of late, were less likely to sound primitive when listened to years later.  And it was in these test cuttings that King Tubby’s dub adventures began to take root.”

[The author then burnishes the Tubby legacy for another eight more pages.]

And yet in the book’s only reference to Errol Brown, I now see [as I re-read it 13 years later] that it says right here plain as day, “Treasure Isle dubs came courtesy of engineer Errol Brown, the late Duke Reid’s nephew, and owe their standing more to the bass lines of the rocksteady classics they were built on than to any particularly innovative mixing.”

Well.   Pregnant pause.   I guess that clears that mystery up.   Although, I hotly dispute the author’s brash assertion that the quality of Errol Brown’s mixing is garden-variety.

Anyway, it is fun to see one particularly shiny piece of AM pop ~ “Midnight Confessions” by The Grass Roots ~ get the early reggae treatment by Phyllis Dillon (with Treasure Isle house band, Tommy McCook & the Supersonics) and then unexpectedly launch into a moody dub remix from Treasure Isle Dub that features vintage Echoplex effects — an exclusive version available only on Zero to 180:

Midnight Dub – Phyllis Dillon with Tommy & the Supersonics

[Pssst:  Click the triangle to play “Midnight Confessions” (in dub) by Phyllis Dillon with Tommy & the Supersonics.]

Phyllis Dillon

“Blue Boot”: Next-Generation Musical Footware

A key transitional moment in the history of popular music largely went unnoticed when  Eric Donaldson took the baton from early rock & roll pioneer, Carl Perkins – writer of    “Blue Suede Shoes” – upon the release of his great single from 1972 on the Jaguar label, “Blue Boot”:

“Blue Boot”     Eric Donaldson   1972

Eric Donaldson, who has won Jamaica’s famous Festival song competition seven times, (most recently 1997) will be forever linked with his first big win in 1971, “Cherry Oh Baby” – a smash single from his debut album and famously covered later by The Rolling Stones and UB40.  With “Blue Boot,” Donaldson was confident of a second straight victory at Festival.

As Eric’s bio on the Trojan Records website points out —

In 1972 Eric and Tommy [Cowan] linked up with Warwick Lynn, who produced      “Blue Boot”, in the hope of repeating the singer’s success at the song festival.  In an interview in 1974 with Black Music’s, Carl Gayle, Eric stated, “Well I really had a song called ‘Blue Boot’ for the festival.  But it was like I just woke up one morning and found myself singing ‘Cherry Oh Baby’.”

Sadly, although the song had all the ingredients for a second victory, Toots & the Maytals entry, “Pomps And Pride”, also produced by Warwick Lynn, won the contest.  Eric failed to take the prize that year, but from now on, he would be known as “Mr. Festival”.

Blue Boot 45

Wake the Town and Tell the People

Trojan would also write in the liner notes to its anthology of Festival songs, Baba Boom!:

“Eric Donaldson’s 1972 entry, ‘Blue Boot’, was almost as good [as ‘Pomps and Pride’] and along with its U Roy version, ‘Festival Wise‘, brought the DJ [i.e., “toasting”] phenomenon to the Festival for the first time.”

Breakout Star

I found cause to kick myself for not making the connection that Eric is also the distinctive lead voice behind 1968’s great rocksteady single “I Mean It” by The West Indians, backed by Lyn Taitt and his fabulous Jets:

“I Mean It”     The West Indians     1968

Says Trojan:

“Eric embarked on a musical career in 1964 when he recorded acetates for Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd at Studio One and Duke Reid at Treasure Isle Studios.  Following his experience of recording exclusive dub plates for the island’s leading Sound Systems, Eric was inspired to form a vocal group, suitably named the West Indians.  He recruited Leslie Burke and Hector Brooks to provide backing harmonies that melodiously punctuated his incredible falsetto.  The group initially worked with J.J. Johnson who in 1968 produced their notable hit ‘Right On Time’, alongside ‘Falling In Love’, ‘Hokey Pokey’ and ‘I Mean It'”.

“Weather Report”: Play the Simon & Garfunkel Game

Here’s a fun game – a public service of Zero to 180 – you can play with a group of friends:

  1. Get a time piece (or watch with a second hand)
  2. Click the triangle below to play “Weather Report” by The Tennors.
  3. Make note of how much time elapses before the first person in the room correctly identifies the Simon & Garfunkel song being covered/adapted by The Tennors.
  4. Optional:  wage bets prior to playing the game.

“Weather Report” re-titled take on “The Only Living Boy in New York” would initially be released in Jamaica on Treasure Isle, although “produced by S.E. Pottinger” (not Duke Reid !), as well as on Pottinger-owned High Note.  In 1973, this single would also enjoy release in the UK (on Explosion) and the US (on Duke Reid Greatest Hits).

Compare both 45s below and note the producer credit discrepancy

Tennors & Supersonics 45

An Exceptionally Brief History Behind the Song

The Tennors, who enjoyed a big hit in Jamaica in 1968 with “Ride Yu Donkey” on their own Tennors label, released “Hopeful Village” on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label in 1970 — and then returned to Treasure Isle three years later to record “Weather Report.”

Tennors 45

“Mother Benge”: Rocksteady Shakes Hands with Reggae

Very little seems to be known about this great single from the late rocksteady/early reggae era other than the artist name (Cliff & the Diamonds), the producer (Joe Abrahams), and song title (“Mother Benge”) – check out the hip musical non-sequitur that opens the song:

“Mother Benge”      Cliff & the Diamonds     1968

Subtle sweet moment at the 1:21 mark when guitarist, Lyn Taitt, swipes the strings in  inimitable fashion.

Released 1968 on Jamaican label, Hornet, this 45 would later command big prices decades later [$245 in 2011 and $126 in 2010].

Mother Benge 45

“Musical Fight”: Most Literal Song Title

Musical Fight” by The Crashers is, literally, a fight set to music:

“Musical Fight”     The Crashers     1970

Produced by Sonia Pottinger and released in early 1970, this A-side was initially titled “Target,” with the artist name listed as The Gaytones.  For the first few seconds of the song, you can hear the engineer hold down the “flange” of the tape reel, slowing down the song’s intro — a manual technique known as tape flanging.

Musical Fight 45Reggae & Strings – You’ve Gone Too Far

Syrupy strings would seem to undermine the menacing broken-bottle sound effects in this special mix of “Musical Fight” with spoken intro — a naked bid, perhaps, to use strings as a way to lighten the sound and help pave the way commercially?

“Musical Fight” — with strings

A YouTube commenter helpfully points out that The Crashers (a.k.a., Gaytones) were the house band for Sonia Pottinger’s recording studio.

“Little Nut Tree”: Rocksteady Revamped as Reggae

In 1968 The Melodians recorded two versions of the same song – “Little Nut Tree.”

What a difference a year can make.

The first version – recorded with underappreciated and pioneering producer, Sonia Pottinger, after the group had enjoyed a succession of hits on Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label – is definitely on the rocksteady side of the reggae divide:

Little Nut Tree I – The Melodians

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Little Nut Tree” by The Melodians.]

Later that year The Melodians headed to Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label for a “one-off” session that resulted in a new arrangement of “Little Nut Tree” in the ‘herky jerky’ style of reggae that was being popularized then by such groups as The Ethiopians:

Little Nut Tree II – The Melodians

Little Nut Tree - The Melodians