Bobby Kalphat & The Sunshot All Stars - Zion Hill

Terminal Rock
What About The Half Version
Counter Punch
Counter Dub 
Zion Hill
Dub Hill
The Sound of Now Dub
Fat Keys
Collie Collie
Behold I Come
Garla Zar
Azar (Get Wise)
Raw Roots
Strange Mood
Dub In Fruits
I Don’t Want To Go Version

In the fifty odd years of musical history of Jamaica's popular music and the development of its styles through ska, rocksteady, reggae and onwards, time has now allowed some perspective so that the major players who created and changed styles and formed the music's sonic backbone can be identified and recognised for their achievements.

The names that come easily to mind, as far as the players of instruments are concerned, are people like Ernie Ranglin, Lynn Taitt, Bobby Aitken, Jackie Mittoo, Tommy McCook and so on, there is a whole premier league of major movers that have become familiar over time. However, hidden to those with only a casual interest is a deeper layer of musicians and arrangers who were equally key in the development of the music, such a player is keyboardist Bobby Kalphat, best known for his work with producer Phil Pratt but who worked with a series of some of the top artists of Jamaica from the late sixties through to the present day.

"Booby Kalphat is one of the greatest keyboard players that came from Jamaica. He, just like Jackie Mittoo, and most of the musicians, they're not given the true credit that they deserve". Willi Williams
(Interviewed by Carter van Pelt)

This release features the legendary album Zion Hill Dub, originally out on pre-release only on Pratt's Terminal imprint in 1977 and never reissued until now; the set is a collection of a few 45s bearing Kalphat's name as an artist plus a number of other sides where he featured as the main player, either on keys or melodica. In addition to the original ten tracks from the album a further seven contemporary cuts are added as a bonus. Most of Kalphat's work was issued on Pratt's Terminal or Sunshot labels run out od 29 Beckford Street in Kingston. The Terminal label name was derived as Pratt's shop was close to the Kingston bus terminal. Other tunes saw the light of day via the Faith label in the UK or Sounds Unlimited.

Bobby Kalphat grew up in the Rockfort area of eastern Kingston, near Warricka Hills, later he moved to the city's downtown ghetto and home to many of the island's greatest musical talent. He was a latecomer to music, getting into the raging ska scene in his early twenties. originally he wanted to be a singer but realised he could not compete with his heroes like Ken Boothe, John Holt and Pat Kelly. Instead he was advised to become a drummer by a local bandleader, Mickey O'Brien, but after his father refused the necessary funding he turned to keyboards on the basis all venues had a piano therefore avoiding expense and the trouble of lugging a set of drums around! He took his piano study seriously progressing to the Royal School of Music and gaining his certificate. Around this time he played in Bobby Aitken's band the Carib-Beats producing his first solo record in 1968, an instrumental called 'Rhythm & Soul' on his own label, Soul Sounds, which he licensed for twenty pounds in the UK to New Beat, a Pama subsidiary. In the rocksteady era Kalphat also played with Lynn Taitt & The Comets, Tommy McCook & The supersonics and also claims to be the first keyboard player in the Hippy Boys playing alongside the Barrett brothers Aston and Carlton, although his favourite keyboard player and main influence was Jackie Mittoo.

Before becoming involved in music full time he was a correctional officer in the Jamaican prison system, which was how he saved money to run sessions and buy his first keyboard, a second-hand Wurlitzer, one of "those big models, two decks with the knobs and the bass and all that". He was soon playing six nights a week in clubs like Tit For Tat and Stables, all down Red Hills Road the city's nightclub area of choice for the time. He toured the UK with Greg Isaacs, the Wailing Souls and Dr. Alimontado.

When he left the city to return to the countryside he picked up a melodica for the first time, the rural areas having no pianos and little electricity. Consequently he began to arrange tunes with melodica as a lead instrument and claims this was before Augustus Pablo hit big in 1971 with 'Java', although readily admits that Pablo rightly claims the accolades for popularising the instrument. 'Counter Punch' Kalphat's first released tune with a melodica lead was not released until 1974 on the Sunshot label, a reggae version of Dave Brubeck's cool jazz classic 'Take 5' recorded with Lee Perry at the newly opened Balck Ark. The musicians were likely Glen Adams on keys, Alva 'Reggie' Lewis on guitar/bass and Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace drums. Along with Pablo and Bobby Kalphat the melodica was also used by Joe White, Glen Brown and Peter Tosh in recordings of the time, although there were no melodica albums other than those made by Augustus Pablo.

"Being a wind instrument, more feel into it...when I play it's like I'm singing, yunno. It's how I feel about it. Ca' it's a breath control instrument and all a that. my copy was a Hohner, a German made".
Bobby Kalphat interviewed by Peter I

'Counter Punch' was released for Kalphat by producer and label owner Phil Pratt, they met at Randy's Studios, 17 North Parade and became friends, although they had likely already encountered each other earlier on the rocksteady circuit. Over the following few years Kalphat became a regular session player for the producer, who reputedly had a 'hands-on' approach in the studio as opposed to being just a 'money man'. The growing popularity of Augustus Pablo's melodica sound gave Pratt the idea of putting together an album from some of the sides where Kalphat had contributed melodica for the version. From the original track list the opening track, titled 'Fat Keys' for this release, is an as yet unknown rhythm, followed by 'Collie Collie' a version to Al Campbell's 'Take These Shackles', 'Behold I Come' is the flip of Al Campbell's 'Gee Baby' but bearing no relation to that rhythm neither to other tunes with the same titles by Culture and Larry Marshall whose tune's dub was also graced by Kalphat's melodica and a storming mix from King Tubby, 'Azar' aka 'Get Wise' is a version to the title track from the Horace Andy Sunshot album of 1974, the album's title track 'Zion Hill' is a version to the Heptones' 'Party time', 'Strange Things (Upstairs At 18 Orange Street)' is a cut to the John holt song originally on Studio One but re-made for Pratt in a much spookier version. 'Money' is a dub to Horace Andy's 'Money Is The Root Of All Evil', 'Terminal Rock' is, of course, a cut to one of Denis Brown's finest moments 'What About The Half' and 'Garla Azar' a nod to Augustus Pablo in a revisit of his classic tribute to King Tubby 'Dub Organiser'.

Amongst the extra cuts included, mot notable is 'Raw Roots', an update of Ken Booth's 'Artibella' with a bassline bearing remarkable similarity to Ernie Ranglin's immortal 'Surfing', sourced from Burning Spear is the Sunshot Band's 'Dub In Fruits' the flip of Flaming Arrow's (aka Watty Burnett of the Congos) 'Where Can I Lay My Weary Head' itself a version to Spear's 'Resting Place' and closing the album a pumping melodica dub to Pat Kelly's 'I Don't Want To Go'.

Just a few amongst the reggae greats Bobby Kalphat has worked with, in addition to the above, are the Uniques, Willi Williams, Bunny Wailer, Prince Far I, Pablo Moses, The Royals, I Jahman Levi, Dr. Alimantado, Johnny Clarke, the Revolutionaries and the Roots Radics; perhaps with the overdue re-release of 'Zion Hill' he can now take his rightful place amongst these luminaries. When speaking to Bobby on how he felt about this recognition of his work he replied "Elevated! - I feel good" and then proceeded to ask me about Snoop Dogg aka Snoop Lion's recent cover version of 'Artibella' as he had played on that tune.......

Steve Barker - BBC/On The Wire - March 2013

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