Perfect Sound Forever


King Tubby

King Tubby tribute by Steve Barrow

ED NOTE: these excerpted notes come from the excellent compilation Dub Gone Crazy on Blood & Fire which was also compiled by Steve Barrow.

Today the remix and dub version are commonplace in popular music; less widely appreciated is the fact that these techniques were pioneered in a tiny studio at 18 Dromilly Avenue in the Kingston district called Waterhouse. That pioneer of dub was an electronics engineer and sound system operator named Osbourne Ruddock, but to the crowds who flocked to his dances, and the countless singers and record producers who utilised his skills, he was known as King Tubby.

 Tubby was born in Kingston in 1941; by 1968 he was running his own sound system, the Home Town Hi-Fi. As always, rivalry between sound systems was fierce, with operators seeking to gain a competitive edge via the exclusivity of their music. One of the biggest systems at the time was owned by Rudolph Redwood of Spanish Town, the former Jamaican capital situated some 10 miles from Kingston. His set was impossingly named Ruddy's Supreme Ruler of Sound. According to veteren deejay Dennis Alcapone, Rudy would come to Coxsone's Studio each week and buy everything that had been recorded. He would then cut this music on acetate discs which were played on his sound system exclusively. This was an effective way of previewing music; tunes which went down well with the dance hall crowd could then be released after sufficient demand had been built up; the sound system which played exclusives would naturally attract patrons who wanted to heaer the latest music. Ruddy's began making new versions of well-known songs with engineer Byron Smith at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle Studio.

 Taking his lead from the aforementioned Spanishtownian sound men, like Ruddy and Seymour Williams (aka 'Stereo'), Tubby soon established his supremacy. When Tubby played versions of old Rock Steady tunes on his set he also had the great foundation deejay U Roy toasting on his rhythms, a precursor of today's rappers. By the early seventies, he had acquired a disc-cutter and was busily mastering dub for other sounds. By 1972, he had a two-track tape machine and a home made mixer and began working more closely with producers like Bunny Lee and Lee Perry. With the latter, he made the stereo dub album 'Blackboard Jungle' in 1973. He also worked with less prolific (but equally innovative) producers including Glen Brown, Augustus Pablo, Winston Riley, Roy Cousins and Carlton Patterson. Bunny Lee linked Tubby with Dynamic Studio, who sold him their four-track mixing board. With his background in electronics, he was able to construct specially-customized equipment, including faders which enabled him to slide tracks in or out of the mix smoothly. This gave Tubby an edge over engineer Errol Thompson at Randy's Studio 17, who punched tracks in more abruptly, via buttons, and who was putting rhythm versions on b-sides of singles and calling them 'dub.' Tubby even made his own echo delay until by passing a loop of tape over the heads of an old two-track machine. 1974 saw Tubby's stepping up the pace; Bunny Lee became the studio's foremost client, supplying hundreds of rhythms, and voicing all his hit artists, including Johnnie Clarke and Cornell Campbell, in the tiny studio.

 Improvisation was the order of the day; most of Tubby's dubs were mixed live, with the engineer playing his board like a great jazzman blowing solos on his horn, deconstructing and reinventing the music. Each time Tubby mixed a dub, it was different. Producer Lee would be on hand to give his vibes as well.

 Tubby would also physically hit the spring reverb unit to create a thunderclap sound, or put a brief frequency test tone on deep echo; later he would use sound effects like sirens and gunshots. The impact was sensational; dub albums like the Lee-produced sets 'Dub From the Roots' and 'The Roots of Dub' sold by the cartload.

 By the mid-seventies, Tubby was training other engineers in the intricacies of dub; early assistant 'Prince' Philip Smart went to the States (today he runs the top Reggae Studio HCF on Long Island) and was replaced by Lloyd James, better known as 'Prince' (later 'King') Jammy, who had returned from Canada in 1976. Jammy, born 26th October 1947 in Montego Bay, had originally introduced Bunny Lee and Tubby when he ran his sound system in Waterhouse in the late sixities with deejay Lizzy. Jammy mixed hundreds of dubs for Bunny Lee, including many of this present compilation. In 1978, Jammy started his own label, Imprint, with a storming instrumental version of 'Shank I Shek' which another of Tubby's patrons, producer/vocalist Vivian 'Yabby You' Jackson had given him. By 1985, Jammy had become the dominant Jamaican producer, responsible himself for bringing a whole new generation of musicians and mixers into the music.

 As the seventies came to a close, Overton 'Scientist' Brown became the leading Tubby's engineer. Every man who mixed at Tubby's got his own sound, yet no matter which mixmaster was at the board, the resultant music always bore the authentic stamp of King Tubby's.

 During the early eighties, King Tubby devoted himself to building his new studio. Completed in 1985, it soon produced its first hit, Anthony Red Rose's 'Temper.' Tubby looked set to become a leading producer in Jamaican music, building tough rhythms with the excellent Firehouse Crew.

 But tragedy struck on the early morning of 6th February 1989. After leaving the studio in Waterhouse, King Tubby was murdered by a lone gunman outside his home at 85 Sherlock Crescent in nearby Duhaney park, and Jamaican music lost one of its most influential talents. The gunman has never been identified, let alone brought to justice.

 Nevertheless, Tubby's innovations continue to resonate to this day. The dub remixes he pioneered constitute his living legacy to popular music culture worldwide and chnaged the way we listen to it.

 He was the dub organiser.

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