King Tubby - Firehouse Revolution

Anthony Red Rose Tempo
King Everall - After All
King Asha - Crank Angle Part 2
Anthony Red Rose/King Kong - Two Big Bull Inna One Pen
Conroy Smith - Original Sound
King Everall - Special Singer
Lloyd Hemmings - Rude Boy
Tinga Stewart - Dry Up Your Tears
Peego / Fatman with King Asha - Version
Johnny Osbourne - Line Up
Little John - Fade Away
King Kong - Babylon
Lilly Melody - Pressure Me
King Everall - Automatic
Anthony Red Rose - Under Me Fat Thing
Noel Davy - Version

The name of Osbourne Ruddock, King Tubby, will be forever linked with his early seventies experiments with recorded sound that the world came to know as 'dub' but, as a man consistently at the forefront of musical revolutions, there is a lot more to his story that has yet to be told. Throughout the sixties and into the seventies his King Tubby's Home Town Hi-Fi along with resident mic man U-Roy altered the nature of how a sound system and a deejay could present music, while his mixing techniques, already well documented, gave birth to the dub phenomenon. However, it is his work in the eighties while at the forefront of the digital revolution that is presented here. The music of this period does not yet form part of reggae's 'golden age' although as the sound that would give birth to ragga it is every bit as important on an international level.

While it has yet to reach the stage of being discussed in hushed and reverential tones the original seven inch releases from this era are now starting to fetch serious money in the dreaded collector's market which is a sure sign that their musical worth is finally being re-appraised, re-evaluated and given the credit that has so far eluded this music.

By the early eighties dub was no longer perceived as a cutting edge music and its innovations and inventions had long been assimilated into the musical mainstream. Tubbys realised that the days of his four track studio were numbered and he began work on updating his equipment and workshop at his legendary 18 Drumilie Avenue premises deep in the heart of Kingston 11's Waterhouse district. He recorded minimally and continued to cut dubs but concentrated on his electronics work as he watched the building work taking place in his yard on what he intended to become one of the most sophisticated studios in Jamaica with thirty two track potential, up to date keyboard equipment and a unique voicing loft in the rafters that was "not for singers who are afraid of heights!" After Tubby's engineer, Professor, had left for the USA to study electronics and computers his new apprentices Phantom, Peego and Fatman were soon to push Tubbys headlong into the Kingston musical revolution started by Prince (soon to be King!) Jammys in 1985 with the release of Wayne Smith's 'Under Me Sleng Teng'. Tubbys' original apprentice, Jammys, is rightly given full credit for the mid-eighties digital explosion in reggae music and for the sound that was to change the entire reggae business but Jammys was no newcomer to the business of making music.

His story is fully covered in PS LP/CD 25 'The Crowning Of Prince Jammy' and he had learnt his craft in Tubbys' studio before branching out on his own. The works of King Jammys define the era of eighties reggae in exactly the same way that Studio One and Treasure Isle formed the musical soundtrack to the sixties. The rest of the world now seems to be catching up with what Jammys was aiming at with his work back then alongside his team of Bobby Digital and Steely & Clevie and to many it must have seemed that the apprentice had now taken over from the master although this was not strictly true. At the very height of Jammys' incredible success Tubbys entered the arena with a brand new label 'Firehouse' and a sound that was 100% digital yet a world away from Jammys' approach. A listen to the Tubbys mix of Jammys' 'Sleng Teng' rhythm on the version side of Anthony Rose's 'Under Me Fat Thing' should demonstrate exactly where any similarities end.

It was felt that Tubbys' decision to upgrade in the notorious Waterhouse ghetto rather than move to uptown premises would mean that people would be reluctant to come to his studio but Tubbys was always positive and he believed that the quality of his new studio would actually attract people to Waterhouse and help to build it up. During the run up to elections gunshots would echo throughout the neighbourhood with such alarming frequency that the area was renamed Firehouse by local residents and its edgy atmosphere and troubled politics have produced some of the genre's biggest stars and greatest innovations as creativity thrived in its maze of potholed lanes, breeze blocks and zinc fence.

It was this unfailing belief and commitment to his roots in the area that had encouraged Tubbys to believe and invest in its people and he really did feel that music was a force for social change. One definition of a producer is "Someone who doesn't write the songs or play them...but he is in charge. The real skill of producing music is how to arbitrate, how to keep people together with a common purpose." Tubbys obviously saw his role as not only encouraging and boosting his apprentices and his deejays but also the producers whose work he remixed, remodelled and transformed. This became even more apparent when he began his own label and his innate musical ability pointed others in the right direction while his constant self-effacement meant that he would prefer to be fixing hairdryers or engaged in the task of winding electric motors rather than boosting his own achievements. He concentrated on working with local artists whose deadpan, monotone style of singing would become known as the distinctive 'Waterhouse Sound' while the content of these records, which were built specifically to be played out on sound systems, remain rooted in sound system rivalry.

Phantom was Tubbys' right hand man during the period working alongside Peego and Fatman the engineer and Tubbys gave them full control of his studio. Phantom started working at Tubbys in 1985 when his old school friend from Norman Manly Secondary School, Professor, sent for him. The message came that "King Tubbys want a man who know music beside him" and Phantom had already begun his musical career with Henry 'Junjo' Lawes and had been inspired by Captain Sinbad and Sugar Minott at Youth Promotion 'Directly'. At first Phantom built rhythms at Channel One and then transferred them to two and four track from the sixteen track tapes. The first records that they released were 'Hard Time Rock' from Sugar Minott, 'Tickle Me' from Little John and 'Love Me Forever' from Patrick Andy and 'Hard Time Rock' proved to be their first hit. He soon learnt that just because a record was made at Tubbys it didn't necessarily mean that it was going to be a hit ..."a couple nah hit" but the hits came much more frequently than the misses as Anthony Red Rose hit the number one spot with 'Tempo' and all of the dark, smouldering tension of Waterhouse is captured perfectly on this menacing musical threat. After professor left in 1986 it was Phantom who "Looked about the business. So from there we take care of Tubbys' business and look after the auditions and pass them. Me pass Admiral Tibbet, Junior Demus, Wayne Wonder and Wayne Palmer. We look after the labels - Firehouse and Waterhouse, Kingston 11 and Taurus. When money fe pay Tubbys say 'Carry this money and cut this stamper' and we Tuff Gong and pay Dynamic fe cut it. It's me who marry the singer and decide who fe play the rhythms and tell them how to lick it. Tubbys was mostly in him office and if it no sound good he would direct how to play the rhythm. 'It no sound no sound good'. Some time when a song a mix him just come help mix the song or show how to mix it."

After the Fire House Crew began building the rhythms the hits came even more frequently. "We bring them now and start work and cut a lot of hit tune. Hit by hit right up until 1989 we do good in the music business and put out an album named 'King Tubbys Presents Sound Clash Dub Plate Style'. It was a soundboy killing album and sell forty odd thousand over the world. It just sell like a forty five." The album was number one in the charts when Tubbys was shot in February 1989 outside his home. His killer has never been apprehended. For a brief time Tubbys' daughter ran things but without Tubbys' personal guidance the business ground to a halt. "We put out about another seven tune when I was there and they never sell so the daughter was vex and say 'The tune no sell'. And me just say 'I have to go to England'. Things then run down and so Sonic Sounds a buy up the whole thing."

There are many that argue that the introduction of computer technology to reggae music finished it as serious music but the critics had always dismissed reggae during its 'golden age' and even then derided the music for being soulless and mechanical. Many of the records from the digital era have already been lost in the mists of time and tune after tune, hit after hit have been forgotten apart from by serious students of the music.

The ability to see the true worth of what is happening right now has held back reggae since its very inception and it seems that whatever is currently popular with the fans and record buyers can never satisfy the critics who always need time to assimilate and evaluate before they are able to declare in retrospect that something is a good thing. By this time the public have usually moved on again to fresher music. This album belatedly attempts to alter that balance and, while the music be hardly be termed 'new', it comes from a much more recent period than the usual sixties and seventies 'revival' compilations and is every bit as exciting, as innovative, as important, as significant as anything that has ever come out of Jamaica.

Harry Hawke - July 2001

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