Bunny Lee: “If they make a film about Jamaican music and me and Delroy not in it then it no good. We the backbone of Jamaican music. Remember is we take down Coxsone. Delroy Wilson was Jamaica’s first child star. He was the man, the real big singer. They used to call him the dean of reggae music, and Dennis Brown called him teacher, ca’ him taught Dennis how to phrase. He was Alton Ellis’s favourite, Jackie Edwards’ favourite, Slim Smith’s favourite. But him never get him personal dues.”
Delroy had just finished the ‘Go Away Dream’ album for Bunny a few weeks before, voiced and mixed by Jammy at King Tubby’s in exactly the way that was now being filmed.
Bunny Lee: “Me tell Delroy to recut some of his hits from Studio One. But we change them up to bring them up to date. So you have ‘Spit In The Sky’ where the original sing about ‘the Duke and the Sir and the King.’ Well that was about Duke Reid, Sir Coxsone and King Edwards the Giant. And we change it so it go ‘the King and the Prince and the Gorgon’. Well that was King Tubbys, Prince Jammys and the Gorgon is me.”
For the British film crew, Delroy performed ‘Dancing Mood’, another Bunny Lee update of one of his big early hits.
Howard Johnson: “When you get great artists in front of the camera, you are always going to get something worth using. In Jamaica, like Big Youth said, everybody wants to be a star. From when I was a kid in Jamaica, everyone was fascinated with movies, and because they’ve seen it on film they all want to be like that themselves. Jamaica and America are the two places where people will always perform – you can just shoot on any street corner and as long as you have a good crew, you will always come away with a film. In England it’s different – everyone is just cool and screwface.”
The film crew and artists then retired to Greenwich Farm, to the house of Bunny’s parents, where Delroy described his career and the recent changes in the music.
Delroy Wilson: “I started in 1963 in the Christmas time. Going to school, the school folks hear me sing and everybody crowd around and say I have a beautiful voice, and I must go and do some recording. And from there I started with Mr Coxsone – Downbeat. I used to listen like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls. You know by listening them I try put everything together for my own style of singing.”
Bunny then described how the music of the early 1980s harked back to the older rocksteady style with which Delroy had been so successful.
Delroy Wilson: “It’s really true, you know. They are making the beats a little more slow, more spicy – you know you can rock to it more. I still attend some of the dances around the place, and watch some of the younger folks – how they’re moving to the music. You can’t lose the roots at all.”
The music Bunny was now recording had certainly changed from the ‘steppas’ style which had ruled the dancehalls at the end of the ‘70s. The Roots Radics band now dominated the recording scene of the early 1980s, with a stripped down and minimal sound that emphasized the one beat on the kick drum. Bunny, however, refused to use the Radics, having run bass player Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt out of their only session together because “the man couldn’t stay in tune”. Bunny still worked with Sly and Robbie on occasion, but the backing tracks on both ‘Go Away Dream’ and ‘Dubbing In The Backyard’ were mostly laid by members of the High Times Band, not credited on the original sleeves.
Bunny Lee: “The song ‘Go Away Dream’ was Benbow on drums, him full name Basil Creary, and Chris Meredith on bass, a lickle youth that Chinna (Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith) bring over from England. Chinna play on most of them, and on drums some was Benbow and some was Santa (Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis). The style was different, slower, with more splash in the drums. And Jammys mixed them strong. It was mostly the same musicians for ‘Dubbing In The Backyard’ and that was another Jammy’s mix. Him could just make everything sound tight and heavy. It great man!”
After the film shows each of the singers performing, it is the turn of Prince Jammy to shine. We see him mixing a brutal dub version of Bunny’s Sly and Robbie recut of ‘None Shall Escape The Judgement’ by Johnny Clarke. In the studio, Bunny leads the dancing, breaking off to perform the splits a couple of times. Then the apprentice engineer Pug lights up a chalice, and the studio is soon obscured by thick smoke. This is really the only extensive footage of King Tubby’s studio, other than a brief scene in a BBC documentary about Musical Youth, and ten seconds of silent Japanese footage of King Tubby himself standing in his workshop. In 1982, the studio was reaching the end of its golden era as the mixing house of choice for Jamaica’s heaviest music. Tubby had retired from mixing, Scientist had moved on to Channel One studios, and Jammy was on his way out as well.
Bunny Lee: “This was just before Jammys start to set up him own studio. What really happen is that Jammys was cutting dubplates in secret for sounds like Emperor Faith and Ray Symbolic without telling Tubbys. Well Tubbys finds out now and just change the locks on the studio to keep Jammys out. Then Professor come in as the main engineer, but soon the squawky (high pass filter) on the board break down, and it lose that sound.”
‘Dubbing In The Backyard’ showcases dubs to three of the tracks from ‘Go Away Dream’, along with dubs to tunes by Cornell Campbell, Jackie Edwards and Johnny Clarke. Both albums were issued in the UK through Starlight Music in Harlesden.
Bunny Lee: “For ‘Dubbing In The Backyard’, that picture is me with my briefcase, and Desmond Bryan who run Starlight, and his brother Benup. It was taken in Wembley in Desmond’s yard. And for ‘Go Away Dream’ we take a photo of Delroy outside the Starlight Records shop, and he is leaning on Desmond Bryan’s car. We spend a lot of time in England always cos that is where the business is.”
Both albums stand up very well today, with their crisp, punchy backing tracks, soulful vocals and detailed mixing. Less texturally rich than earlier, classic Aggrovators rhythms, the sound is sometimes brutally heavy and insistent, and a perfect showcase for some of Prince Jammy’s last mixes from King Tubby’s Studio. The King, the Prince and the Gorgon were a powerful combination indeed.
released April 19, 2017
Drums Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis, Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar, Anthony ‘Benbow’ Creary
Bass Robbie Shakespeare, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, Chris Meredith
Guitar Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Willie Lindo
Keyboards Jackie Mittoo, Winston Wright, Keith Sterling, Robbie Lyn, Tony Asher
Percussion Noel ‘Scully’ Simms, Uziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson
Recorded at: Channel One Studio
Recording Engineer: Anthony ‘Crucial Bunny’ Graham
Mixed at: King Tubby’s Studio
Mixing Engineer: Prince Jammy
The film referred to in the sleevenotes can be found on the DVD ‘Reggae Nashville: Deep Roots Music 2’
The relevant scenes from ‘Deep Roots Music’, along with further commentary and interviews with the protagonists, also appear in the film and DVD ‘I Am The Gorgon: Bunny Striker Lee And The Roots Of Reggae’
Photographs: Howard Johnson and courtesy of Bunny Lee
Special thanks to Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, ‘Little Striker’ Lee, Howard Johnson
Produced by and under license from Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee