KING TUBBY & THE AGROVATORS - DUBBING IN THE BACK YARD Vinyl LP
“In May 1982, a British film crew pulled up outside King Tubby’s studio in Kingston. They were greeted by resident engineer Prince Jammy and producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, who had brought along some of their top artists to perform for the cameras. The crew were halfway through a busy two weeks shooting the documentary series ‘Deep Roots Music’ for Channel 4 television. Director Howard Johnson: “King Tubby’s was different from the other Jamaican studios because it was just like a hole in the wall kind of thing, with one microphone. I didn’t know Bunny Lee when he first came to see me at my hotel, but he had a kind of energy to him that I liked, so I said OK, let’s film.
So Bunny arranged for us to shoot round at Tubby’s, with Prince Jammy as the engineer there. You had to have a great engineer to make the shooting run quickly and smoothly.” The cameraman was Roger Deakins, who has since found fame in Hollywood as the director of photography for directors like the Coen brothers and Martin Scorsese. Howard Johnson: “Roger Deakins worked out that if we had a moving camera we could capture what was going on. There were a lot of people in the studio dancing, and Bunny’s kid and a couple of women. Having an audience always helps everyone perform. So Bunny was a kind of circus master – he’s dancing away and being jolly, but that’s his thing. He was always getting the atmosphere and the ambience to make it look terrific, and that’s what he’s good at… that’s why he’s a producer. The lighting was very minimal, the singers lined up and we said let’s roll.”
The singers included Johnny Clarke, Jackie Edwards, and Prince Jammy’s new protégé Wayne Smith, still three years away from his breakthrough hit ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’. Also in attendance was Delroy Wilson, who at the age of 34 embodied many of the contradictions of the Jamaican music scene: a huge star since the age of 13, who had never received proper financial rewards or recognition.
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.
Musicians include: 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, Noel ‘Scully’ Simms, and Uziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson. Recorded at Channel One Studio Recording Engineer: Anthony ‘Crucial Bunny’ Graham Mixed at: King Tubby’s Studio Mixing Engineer: Prince Jammy.