Over the past decade, Pressure Sounds Records and Jamaican producer Bunny “Striker” Lee have collaborated on a series of critically acclaimed reissues and compilations that highlight Mr. Lee’s contribution to Jamaican music from 60’s rocksteady (The Uniques – Absolutely Rocksteady) to 70s reggae, roots (Bunny Lee & Friend’s Next Cut) and dubwise styles (Conflict Dub). On October 6th this fruitful partnership continues with “Rub A Dub Revolution: Early Dancehall Productions From Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee” their first foray into Mr. Lee’s transformative rub a dub work from the late 70s to mid-eighties.
In the late 1970s, Kingston was in the midst of a transformation. The ghetto population, brutalized, cowering behind locked gates during the internecine warfare of the decade, had had enough. Gunshots, street battles, homemade bombs be damned, the population was sick of the politics, sick of the violence and ready to move on. Slowly, but surely, the dancehalls, all but shuttered during the 1970s were returning to life. In those open lawns and sweaty clubs where draws of weed were sold by the handful, a cold Heineken battled the heat and the girls were ready to rock their hips in a rub a dub style the quasi-mystical, mathematically complex sound of roots and dub ceded to more earth-bound concerns. A host of new singers and DJs flocked to the sound systems with lyrics and style that spoke to the dancehall itself. This new breed of “rub a dub soldier” eschewed the international market, and spoke to Jamaicans in their own language, about their own concerns from sex to humor to the day-to-day problems of suffering in the ghetto. A new sound was needed and the spare, uncompromising music of the Roots Radics, bolstered equally by the mixing prowess of Scientist and the financial shenanigans of Henry “Junjo” Lawes, came to the rescue. With a tuff as nails drum and bass soundtrack, the Roots Radics, almost overnight, became the number one band for Jamaican recordings.
Bunny “Striker” Lee was always attuned to even the slightest change in the musical landscape of Kingston. He quickly picked up on this shift in taste and knew he had to compete or be left behind. By 1980, Striker had gathered a stable of young artists around his core veterans like Cornell Campbell and Johnny Clarke to build riddims and tunes to speak to this new “dancehall” vibe. With a deep knowledge of classic songwriting, an ability to effectively communicate with musicians and an infusion of new talent, Striker Lee’s new direction quickly hit gold. “Rub a Dub Revolution” mines this often overlooked period with tracks of rarities like the Paragons obscure “Place Called Zion”, classic tunes such as Don Carlos’ iconic “Pass Me The Lazer Beam” and extended 12” mixes featuring DJ verses by Papa Tullo, Purpleman, Simple Simon and others that showcase the excitement, experimentation and raw energy of this transformative period of Jamaican music. Rub a Dub Revolution will be released in a gorgeously designed 2 Lp vinyl set and a double CD with 3 bonus tracks. Both formats will include extensive track notes by Diggory Kenrick and an extensive interview with Bunny Lee.
released September 19, 2019
Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee: “Dancehall music was there from the beginning, you know. The Skatalites played dancehall. But from the 1980s is really what man call dancehall now. Them was different times with a new kind of feeling.”
‘Rub A Dub Revolution’ focuses on this era of the early 1980s, when the emerging dancehall sound superseded the roots music of the 70s. Heavier, leaner, and altogether tougher, this was music made with little thought for an international audience. Confident and uncompromising, it was best experienced with a headful of weed in a Kingston dance. The Roots Radics band pioneered a sparse, metronomic beat, and popular two-chord rhythms were recycled for a new generation of singers and deejays. Bunny Lee was living in Greenwich Farm but had his creative base in Waterhouse, and was well placed to pluck new talent from the streets of the ghetto.
“I never have to look for the youth singers, them would always come and find me. I used to pick them up and drive them all about to the clubs and everywhere. I always carry a big gang of man around with me, and you have to treat everybody the same. But you have to have the professionals around, like Delroy (Wilson) or Jackie (Edwards), to help with the songs and tell a man if him off key.”
With Bunny Lee as our guide to its lively cast of characters, this compilation contains exactly that rich blend of youth and experience. It features expanded versions of ‘Bandulo’ and ‘Lazer Beam’, probably Bunny’s two greatest tunes from the era, together with deep cuts and rarities that showcase a real breadth of talent. Additionally, Bunny’s vaults have yielded a slew of unreleased songs that easily hold their own with the better known sides from the time.
‘Bandulo’, the earliest cut here, originated one afternoon in Spring 1980 when Bunny led a stripped down version of The Aggrovators into the studio.
“Me make that rhythm at Harry J’s studio. Santa on drums, Fully Fullwood on bass, Chinna on guitar, and I think Keith Sterling on piano. I ask them to play something like ‘Shine Eye Gal’, cos that rhythm was a new thing at the time.”
Black Uhuru’s hit ‘Shine Eye Gal’ was a powerful two chord rhythm that featured Rolling Stone Keith Richards on guitar. The four Aggrovators created their own stripped down take on the idea, a relentless, hypnotic groove augmented by whooshes from an electronic syndrum that Santa triggered as he played. It was made for the sound system. As per his usual practice, Bunny then took the tape back to his musical headquarters at King Tubby’s Studio, where he worked up the cautionary lyrics of ‘Bandulo’ with singer Cornell Campbell.
“A bandulo is a man who love badness, like a man who never into nothing straight, like a bandit. It partly based on the song ‘hang down your head Tom Dooley, poor boy you’re bound to die’ (made popular in the 1950s by The Kingston Trio). Then there was some words me get from my mother about the story of the crow and the parrot. One day the crow go call down the parrot and said ‘come let’s raid Farmer Brown’. Well the farmer come out with him gun and shoot and the parrot get shot. The crow get away and gone leave him. Well before him dead the parrot say ‘boy, don’t follow bad company’, heh heh!”
The song was mixed by Scientist, who contributed a brutal dub version complete with a mesmerising bass breakdown in the middle. Spliced onto the vocal cut for its US release, the dub is heard on this compilation in its full extended mix, 30 seconds longer than on the UK release. The song was not an immediate hit, but gained a life on the sound systems, and another cut on the rhythm soon appeared called ‘Hard Times’ by deejay Ranking Dread.
“Them did thief a cut and put it out, but is my tune. You even hear Ranking Dread say at the beginning ‘a Bunny Lee that’. But Ranking Dread was like that: any riddim come out him just go a studio and take it.”
Ranking Dread was actually responding to Bunny’s voice on tape introducing the dub with “come in Scientist, boom Pat Kelly you’re a boy, back out of this!” Singer and engineer Pat Kelly had already incurred Bunny’s wrath by giving Yabby You some cuts of Bunny’s rhythms. Now he collaborated with Ken ‘Fatman’ Gordon on a third cut to the ‘Bandulo’ rhythm, ‘Nice Time (Late Night Blues)’ by Don Carlos.
“Pat Kelly and Fatman did take away the tune then. Fatman and Pat Kelly came to the studio when I wasn’t there. I would have given Fatman a cut if him ask me because me and him move good over the years. I don’t think ‘Nice Time’ ever come out in Jamaica but it hit big inna England.”
Pat Kelly mixed the pulsating dub to ‘Nice Time’, on top of which Fatman then voiced deejays Roy Ranking and Raymond Naphthali back in London. The enduring popularity of all these sides led Bunny to revisit the rhythm again two years later, with new cuts by Neville Brown, Purpleman and John Wayne.
“Neville Brown, that guy could sing. Through him name Brown him kinda had a thing like Dennis Brown. Him was a very nice guy that used to check me in the studio but then him start go with some bad man. Him used to hang out at Tubby’s and them guys Negus Roots from Waterhouse start record him, and him get big headed. And through him hang with them me just drop him. Purpleman was a humble man, an albino, who come with him purple sweat suit, but then him start with the gunman thing so me just back off. And John Wayne was brother to another wicked deejay, Penny Irie – same mother but different father. Shorty The President bring John Wayne to me, but I did know his father – his father was a bad man named Tuco Keith. John Wayne was a nice guy, but after me let him go him start pick up like him father and get into badness.”
These later cuts and their dubs were all mixed by engineer Winston ‘Professor’ Brown, an underrated figure who had replaced Scientist at King Tubby’s Studio.
“Professor was a good friend of mine, he was amazing, man! Listen how him add him own style over ‘Bandulo’. Him have some great ideas and some sound effects that come like him trademark. Him used to wind transformers and really study the thing, him was a brilliant youth. But because you have a Mad Professor in London me put out an album named ‘The Crazy Mad Professor’, ca he named Professor first but Mad Professor claimed he register the name, so is a big argument. Most of them thing there Professor mix them. Me and Professor there every day at Tubby’s.”
Bunny and Professor’s greatest collaboration resulted in the hit tune ‘Lazer Beam’ by Don Carlos, included here in its rare extended version, misnamed ‘Pass Me The Razor Blade’ on release, with a deejay piece from Papa Tullo.
“Don Carlos deh about long time you know, and me record him from inna the 60s when him was a postman dem times, but I’m not sure if it ever released. ‘Lazer Beam’ was a big tune. I make the rhythm for Ronnie Davis to sing ‘It’s Raining’, an old tune by The Three Tops, and we record it at Harry J’s. Then later Professor did actually write that tune ‘Lazer Beam’ to it, him write the words and everything and had the idea for the sound effects. That is Professor using Tubby’s scope, the same scope Tubby used on the ‘Dub From The Roots’ album (on the track ‘Invasion’), like a test scope. Well because the four tracks full on the tape, Professor had to play the scope live as him mix, so you never could get that same sound twice.”
On the same ‘Weatherman Skank’ rhythm as ‘Lazer Beam’ comes album opener ‘Know Yourself Mankind’ by The Paragons, taken from a rare white label album on the Black Joy label.
“‘Know Yourself Mankind’ is a bad song, I don’t know why it never really released. I did an album called ‘Paragons Now’ with Tyrone Evans and Howard Barrett, and some of them did have John Holt. But Tyrone a bad singer, and him have the Paragons sound and could do all the harmonies himself. Like with ‘Man Next Door’, everybody believes is John Holt but is Tyrone sing that, just his voice is similar.”
Two other tracks on this compilation come from another rare white label album on Black Joy, Papa Tullo’s ‘Crown King’. Papa Tullo, spelt Tollo on most Bunny Lee releases, was part of the new wave of deejays, along with Yellowman and Toyan, who swept away all in their path in the early 80s.
“Tullo used to deejay on Jammy’s sound. A nice guy, I have a lot of tune with him, and then him change him name to Tullo T. But Papa Tullo did come with a new style same time as Yellowman. Well Big Youth and all them did scorn Yellowman and pick on him in the studio. But when Yellowman and Tullo dem did come out of the box now, Big Youth and everybody dead, them kill everything!”
Other deejays here include the great Errol Scorcher and Simple Simon.
“Well every deejay have him story. Errol Scorcher live next to Barry Brown and him drive a Bedford truck and do removals – a bad deejay. Him come from the same place in the country as my mother, so it come like him and me are some kind of cousin. Simple Simon was a deejay did sound like Eek A Mouse and in fact Eek A Mouse did go and look for him, so Simon take fright. That’s how we link up – Simon come and find me because him know when him find me him safe. ‘Revolution Fighters’ is same rhythm as ‘Bad Boy’ – every man want to go on that. ‘George William Gordon’ is on the ‘Solomon’ rhythm – him one of Jamaica’s national heroes. It great, I don’t know how it stay unreleased til now.”
Alongside established stars of Bunny’s stable, like Cornell Campbell and Johnny Clarke, we also have some truly obscure and barely recorded singers.
“Trevor Castell is Lacksley Castell’s brother. We used to call him Stellar. Him never record too much and after Lacksley die him move to Miami, where to this day him still a good friend to my son Dave. Devon Edwards a nice guy but I don’t see him now. We used to call him Max Million, so that why it say Maximillian on the tape box. ‘Lay Down Flat’ is a nice tune. Professor mix it – you hear them gunshots there? Professor did have him own thing like a talk box with sound effects. Devon Edwards used to live beside the studio, but one time him took up herb smoking and it come like him did get mad, so I don’t see him since then.”
To give a flavour of the styles that followed, we finish with one cut from the digital era of dancehall by Frankie Jones, who recorded for Bunny in the 70’s as a singer, before adopting the stylings of Nitty Gritty and King Kong in the mid 80s.
“Ah, ‘Gun Fever’ a heavy tune, on the Joe Frazier rhythm. That is probably Benbow on the electric drums and Chris Meredith on bass. I think it was recorded at Channel One by Donovan (Phillips) who was Jo Jo Hookim’s nephew – we did some good work together. Frankie Jones dead now, but him could imitate any man or any style. Him also a good writer – it actually him write ‘Ballistic Affair’ for Leroy Smart.”
It’s amazing that tunes of the calibre of ‘George William Gordon’ and ‘Exterminator’ have remained in the vaults until now. This compilation, showcasing the popular and the obscure, the experienced and the youthful, captures the energy of the early dancehall years, and stands as a testament to the musicians and singers who detonated this musical time bomb, a ‘Rub A Dub Revolution’.
Drums: Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis, Lowell ‘Sly’ Dunbar, Anthony ‘Benbow’ Creary
Bass: Robbie Shakespeare, George ‘Fully’ Fulwood, Chris Meredith
Guitar: Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, Tony Chin, Willie Lindo
Keyboards: Winston Wright, Keith Sterling, Robbie Lyn, Errol ‘Tarzan’ Nelson, Tony Asher
Percussion: Noel ‘Scully’ Simms, Uziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson
Horns: Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis, Dean Fraser
Studios: Channel One, Dynamic Sounds, Harry J’s, King Tubby’s
Engineers: Anthony ‘Crucial Bunny’ Graham, Stanley ‘Barnabas’ Bryan, Donovan Phillips, Jerome Francis, Sylvan Morris, Lloyd ‘Prince Jammy’ James, Hopeton ‘Scientist’ Brown, Winston ‘Professor’ Brown
Photography: Beth Lesser
Mastering: Dave Blackman at Hiltongrove
Sound Restoration: Andy Le Vien
Artwork Restoration: Teflon aka John Sims
Sleeve Notes: Diggory Kenrick
Sources: Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee interviewed by Diggory Kenrick July 2019
Album Co-ordination: Pete Holdsworth
Special thanks to Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, ‘Little Striker’ Lee, Ossie ‘Black Solidarity’ Thomas, ‘Sledge’ from Sledgehammer Sound System, Joakim Kalcidis, Chris Mashdown45, Jeremy ‘Deadly Dragon Sound’ Freeman
Produced by and under license from Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee