|Bunny 'Striker' Lee - Next Cut
Down In A Babylon aka Live Up Jah Man - Johnny Clarke
Blood of Babylon - Barrington Spence
Blood of Babylon Dub - The Aggrovators
Enforcement - Vin Gordon and the Aggrovators
Death Trap (Steppers cut) - Tommy McCook
Big Big Girl - Linval Thompson
Ethiopian Girl - Linval Thompson
Blood Dunza - Johnny Clarke and DJ
Tapetone Special - Barry Biggs and Tommy McCook
A Friend Indeed Dub - The Aggrovators
Crucial Dub - Prince Jammy
Split Second - Vin Gordon and the Aggrovators
Satta Dread - Wayne Jarrett
Satta Dread Dub - Scientist
The Gorgon (Steppers Cut) - Cornell Campbell
Supernatural Love - Linval Thompson
It's A Disgrace - Johnny Clarke
It's A Disgrace Dub - The Aggrovators
|Jamaica is not an easy place to preserve master tapes. Heat, humidity and hurricanes have destroyed many collections of priceless recordings. Bunny 'Striker' Lee's archive of tapes have survived a biblical list of disasters, including termites, flood and two fires, but he still has a mighty treasure trove of material stored in the musical vault of his Duhaney Park studio. When Bunny invited me to stay with him in Kingston, I jumped at the chance, and we spent many nights listening back to unmixed performances from the 1970s on the raw multi-track tapes.
Bunny 'Striker' Lee: "Them time me never used to let the musicians listen back to what they had done. Cos is you do stop, then the vibes change and you never get it back. So me just in the control room, and as soon as one tune finish and me happy, me shout out 'next tune', and we never stop record."
At a time when studios in Europe and America were moving up to 16 and 24 tracks, Jamaican studios were almost all still using ½ inch 4-track tape. Typically, the instrumental backing was recorded to three of these 4 tracks. One track was for drums, one for bass and one for all the other rhythm instruments together - guitar , piano and organ. If horns were used, then they had their own track, and the bass and drums would be tied together on a single track. The spare 4th track would then be used later for overdubbing vocals.
Listening back to Bunny's 4-track tapes today, what you hear are two separate layers of recording. First the music, with Bunny giving instructions over the talkback as the backing track is recorded at a large studio, such as Harry J's or Dynamic Sounds. And second, the vocal session recorded afterwards, with Bunny or the recording engineer guiding the singer at King Tubby's Studio.
The great stylistic innovation pioneered in Jamaica was then to add a further layer into the recording: the actual mixdown process became the third real-time performance to appear of the final record. The delay effects and dropping out of tracks pioneered at King Tubby's studio where a whole new musical process, creating a strange time-shifting effect. In fact, by layering three live performances on top of eachother - musical backing, vocals and mixing - time was indeed being shifted.
King Tubby's studio gave Bunny the space to experiment with these new techniques.
"At studios like Channel 1 we didn't have much time, everything just a rush, and there always a whole gang of man around. But at Tubby's we would lock the gate round the front to keep out intruders, so it was only my crew inside. Sometimes when you do something new you want to keep it to yourself."
Although Tubby's studio was really only intended for voicing and mixing, Bunny also recorded live musicians there, and even overdubbed new drum patterns onto some older recordings to update them for a new audience.
"At Tubby's the drummer more relaxed so we had time to do it. We put the drums in the voice room and mic them up, and we get Santa to play him drums over the original track. We sometimes had to wipe over the original drums and just use the old countoff, so the drummer know when to start.
Friday night was dubplate night at King Tubby's Studio in Waterhouse. lines of soundmen would queue up outside to get unreleased 'specials' to play in the dance that weekend. The tune would be cut onto a one-off 10" acetate disc, and a sound system's success could depend on the number and rarity of these discs.
"Dub is a thing been around a long time now. Dub get the name from dub plate - or soft wax. It actually marked dub plate on the box; when you buy a box of dub it come with the name now, so it name itself. When we mix my thing with pure noise and effect, the people them love it and just rush Tubby's place and ask fi cut dubs."
Other Jamaican studios could cut dubplates straight from the mixing desk, but only from their 2-track tapes.
"Duke have a cutter in the studio, Coxsone have one and the radio station RJR have one. But Tubby's was the only person could cut straight from the 4-track. Then after, Channel 1 start doing it straight from inside their studio to their dub cutter.
So at Tubby's you could not only get a rare tune, but each 'special' cut straight to disc, was a totally unique mix of that tune from the original multi-track tape, with all the echo, reverb and filtering effects that were changing the sound of music at the time.
"Tubby's have a wardrobe. It was inside the control room, and we always keep all the 4-track tapes there, through in there it was air-conditioned. I used to keep all of my tapes there. And I don't mind when Tubby's cut dub off my tune, through the tune get exposure."
These exclusive dubplate mixes were also sold for high prices to the sound systems in England and America, who sometimes added their own extra layer of sound effects and vocals to the mixed track, to create a further unique version of the already exclusive mix.
"I would bring 2-track tape to England and give to the soundmen there to cut dubs. Me gave them for nothing. One time me bring a whole suitcase of tape and give it to (Jah) Shaka to cut dubs for him sound."
This compilation comprises rare sides, one-off dubplate mixes transferred from the original 10" acetates, and unreleased cuts taken from the unmixed 4-track tapes. These multi-track tapes were transferred and digitally mixed down in as neutral a way as possible, simply by balancing the levels of the tracks to match existing masters, and by applying EQ to restore frequencies lost from the magnetic tape. No reverb or delay was added. Where echo can be heard, this has been printed to gape during the original recording, usually on the vocal track. The intention is to present the recordings as closely as possible to what the musicians would have heard when the tracks were first recorded.
1. Down In A Babylon aka Live Up Jah Man - Johnny Clarke (unreleased alternative cut)
A fascinating snapshot of the recording process, this unreleased cut has a different drum pattern and lyrics to the later released tune. At King Tubby's studio, vocals were usually recorded 'wet', with tape echo applied as they were recorded, and we can hear different levels of echo being tried on Johnny Clarke's vice whilst he sings. The voice calling out 'next cut' over the talkback is King Tubby's, recorded to the same vocal track and triggering the same open echo effect.
2. Blood Of Babylon - Barrington Spence (unreleased dubplate mix)
3. Blood Of Babylon Dub - The Aggrovators (unreleased dubplate mix)
Bunny says he developed the style of dropping out instruments under vocalists as a way of distracting from the singer wandering off key. But at a time when the released mixes of vocal tracks were fairly restrained, a wilder style would often be used to mix the dubplate specials. Here Barrington Spence's militant vocal is mixed at King Tubby's using the full range of effects. Much deeper than the mix that appears on the album 'Tears On My Pillow'.
4. Enforcement - Vin Gordon & The Aggrovators
Also known as Don Drummond Jr, Vin Gordon's trombone had powered a huge number of tunes for Studio One, Lee Perry and Bunny Lee. 'enforcement' was originally released on the 'New Sensation' LP and a 12" single on Third World Records. Noticeably more stereo than the usual Jamaican mixes of the time, this militant instrumental was possibly recorded at Harry J's, but more likely in London, where Vin was then resident as part of Aswad's horn section.
5. Death Trap (Steppers cut) - Tommy McCook
"Tommy McCook could play anything - alto and tenor sax or flute. We call that sound Far East, cos it a foreign sound, an Arabian sound." The haunting 'Death Trap' had originally been released by Yabby You. to update for a later audience, Carlton 'Santa' Davis overdubbed a 'steppers' drum pattern onto the original backing track, and the result was given a murderous mix by Prince Jammy.
6. Big Big Girl 0 Linval Thompson (previously unreleased mix)
7. Ethiopian Girl - Linval Thompson (previously unreleased mix)
These two cuts running into each other, along with all the studio chatter and false starts, give a vivid sense of life in the studio. first is the original recording over which Death Trap was created, released as 'Big Big Girl' aka 'Natty Dread Girl', with a 'flying cymbal' drum pattern. The second cut of the tune, 'Ethiopian Girl', was never released at the time, and features the same bass and guitar lines, but a different drum pattern and lyrics. It is Bunny's distinctive voice telling Linval 'it sound alright' at the end of the first cut. The engineer who Linval tells 'you talk too much' is probably Philip Smart.
8. Blood Dunza - Johnny Clarke and DJ (unreleased dubplate mix)
A killer Tubby's mix of this popular 'steppers' tune. This is a UK dubplate with a further layer of performance added on, as test tone and deejay interjections, possibly by U Brown, are dubbed over the Jamaican mix, probably at John Hassell's cutting room in Barnes.
9. Tapetone Special - Barry Biggs & Tommy McCook (unreleased dubplate)
Another way of making a dubplate more exclusive was to name-check the sound it was recorded for. This special was recorded for the Tapetown sound system, which was built and later run by Prince Jammy. When the vocal drops out, Tommy McCook takes over on flute, whilst his saxophone also leads the previously recorded horn section.
10. A Friend Indeed Dub - The Aggrovators
This matching version is a heavily filtered dub emphasizing the hi-hats, and was probably mixed by Professor, Scientist's successor at King Tubby's. Bunny re-used this rhythm several times, notably for Horace Andy's impassioned 'The Children', and gave a cut to Augustus Pablo, who played piano on the session. (You can hear Bunny talking to Pablo at the start of 'Tapetown Special'.)
11. Crucial Dub - Prince Jammy
Having produced their first recording session together, by the late 70s Bunny was increasingly using Sly & Robbie as his bass and drum section. Here Sly's heavy drumming dominates a thunderous Jammy's mix, originally released on the 'King Tubby Upset The Upsetters' LP.
12. Split Second - Vin Gordon And The Aggrovators
A second lost gem from 'New Sensation', issued on Count Shelley's Third World records, 'Split Second' is another carefully arranged horns instrumental that sounds stylistically close to Vin's playing on Aswad's 'Warrior Charge'.
13. Satta Dread - Wayne Jarrett (unreleased alternate cut)
This is the first take of this mi minimalist classic, with backing from just three musicians: Santa Davis on drums, Robbie Shakespeare on bass and Earl 'Wire' Lindo on piano. Bunny's direct influence as a producer is obvious as the track ends, when you can just hear him instructing the pianist to simplify his part to the 'straight ska' chords used on the released cut.
14. Satta Dread Dub - Scientist
Bunny encouraged the teenage scientist into mixing by giving him a set of his earlier recordings to mix. One of them was 'Satta Dread', and it was probably by accident rather than design that Scientist dubbed up the first unreleased cut, rather than the second take of the tune, as previously mixed by King Tubby.
15. The Gorgon (Steppers Cut) - Cornell Campbell (unreleased mix)
As on Death Trap, Bunny would often update an earlier hit to the popular style of the day. The original was a huge hit that popularised one of Bunny's nicknames, 'The Gorgon', and featured Carlton Bennett on drums. This more militant version features 'steppers' drumming overdubbed at King Tubby's onto the original backing track by Carlton 'Santa' Davis.
16. Supernatural Love - Linval Thompson (previously unreleased)
We can hear a bit of the off-key singing mentioned before on this unreleased next vocal to Linval Thompson's 'Sukumaka', but we should make allowances for the speed at which these songs were recorded. To earn their place in Bunny's family of artists, a singer would have to be able to improvise a song on the spot to any given rhythm. Vocals would usually be recorded as one continuous take, and if a singer messed up they would have to sing the whole song over, but this pressure and spontaneity are an essential part of the vibe captured on tape.
17. It's A Disgrace - Johnny Clarke (unreleased dubplate mix)
18. It's A Disgrace Dub - The Aggrovators (unreleased dubplate mix)
Earl 'Chinna' Smith's fuzztone guitar opens another heavy 'steppers' tune popular in the dancehalls. Once again this exclusive dubplate, mixed at King Tubby's is heavier, sparser and more effects-laden than the released mix, and the result is typical of the militant style of Bunny's late 70s productions - which so dominated the sound systems of the day.
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