Back in 2006 wordsmith extraordinaire @Tomlinator wrote this excellent A-Z of Dub for us; informative & entertaining, 10 years later, does it stand the test of time? Check it out:
Dub. The precursor to all dance music. Without its existence, there would be no remix. Samples would be just liquid in jars. And bass on such a serious scale would be considered hostile. From King Tubby to Massive Attack, via Lee Perry and his Black Ark studio, this A-Z documents the history, majesty and lunacy of the mighty dub version.
One of the pioneers of the dub sound, a sound engineer who would take the original backing tracks from a single (see Version) and add studio effects, samples and additional tracks to create a whole new aspect to the reggae sound, such as Pop-A-Top (Andy Capp, 1968) arguably the first ever dub track.
Black Ark Studio
The story goes, that in a ganja-enduced snooze in his Kingston garden, Lee Perry’s dreams were invaded by strange sounds and music. Perry was convinced that this was a sign from Almighty Jah, and hence built a studio from the ground up. The ubiquitous King Tubby was around to use his electrical skills to help wire it, and, one year later, the completed studio was christened the Black Ark.
The equipment was simple and never upgraded: a four track TEAC reel-to-reel, 16 track Soundcraft board, Mutron phaser, Grantham spring reverb and a Roland Space Echo. But is what he did with all this kit that made his sound- smashing glasses, shooting guns and blowing ganja smoke into the running tape- which created his unique and unmatched production.
“It was only four tracks on the machine”, Perry once said: “But I was picking up twenty from the extra-terrestrial squad.”
Some of the tracks laid down here include Police and Thieves, Soulfire, I Chase the Devil, Super Ape, Kung Fu Meets the Dragon and Congoman.
It was not only a recording studio, but a hang-out for musicians, dealers and rude-boys. In the late Seventies, both man and studio suffered. As Perry began losing his grip on reality (see Lee Perry), he began vandalising the Black Ark, and allowing it and its equipment to get ruined though neglect until finally in 1979, Perry burned it down, later saying, “The Black Ark was too black and too dread. Even though I am black, I have to burn it down to save my brain. It was too black. It want to eat me up.”
Channel One Studio
The Channel One studio was located in the heart of the Kingston ghetto and after being installed with the best recording equipment available it quickly became one of the most popular studios in Jamaica.
The studio was owned and set up by the Hookim brothers and the Channel One house band known as ‘The Revolutionaries’ became one of the hottest ever to record in Jamaica.
Dodd, Clement (aka Coxone Dodd)
According to legend, Coxone Dodd released an instrumental with the horn track missing, cut by King Tubby. Due to time constraints, this was the version sound system (basically huge portable P.A.s) audiences heard, and enjoyed. (See Rudolph Redwood) This created the market for “riddim solo” B-sides. Coxone Dodd would ultimately record local artists for exclusive remix and play on his own Sound System.
Edward Beckford (aka U-Roy)
Original toaster or deejay at Sound System dances, U-Roy would add impromptu rhymes and verses over the reggae / dub tracked being played. Widely accepted as the precursor to rapping, these lyrical additions would come to be standard dub styling to King Tubby tracks in particular.
King Tubby, looking for a way to find an advantage over rival dub producer Errol Thompson, created his own faders to use with his new four-track mixing board. Thompson had to make do with abruptly adding tracks with the punch of a button, whereas Tubby could now add tracks smoothly, fading them in and out.
The producer at the Kingston Randy’s Studio 17, Joe Gibbs owned the Amalgamated record label. Seeing the potential of the dub sound, he encouraged sound engineer Errol Thompson to start mixing “versions”or B-sides of his own singles. Some say he was responsible for the term “dub” being applied to this type of music.
Veteran dub singer, more recently known for modern dub classics such as Massive Attack”s Blue Lines (1991, Wild Bunch), Protection (1994 Wild Bunch) and Mezzanine (1998, Wild Bunch).
The name of the record label Prince Jammy set up in 1978 after his apprenticeship with King Tubby and Bunny Lee. From here Jammy would go on to be Jamaica’s dominant dub, reggae and dancehall producer.
Jammy, Prince (aka Lloyd James)
Born in Montego Bay in 1947, Prince Jammy originally introduced King Tubby to Bunny Lee running his own sound system. One of King Tubby’s trainees, Prince (later King) Jammy became his leading dub engineer until leaving Hometown Hi-Fi in 1978 to start the Imprint label, going on to be the Jamaica’s most prolific producer by 1985.
Jammy has been credited with the introduction of digital, computerized dub.
King Tubby (aka Osbourne Ruddock)
The all-time King of Dub, born in Kingston in 1941. As the owner of the Hometown HiFi sound system, Tubby (again, according to legend) was preparing for a dance that night, when he turned up the bass, and dropped the vocals. Clearly astounded with the sound, he kept this mix, and that night dropped it on the unsuspecting revellers and together with iconic toaster U-Roy, Tubby unleashed dub to the world. Added to this was Tubby’s unique style of adding echo and reverb effects, and a literal revolution in contemporary music was established.
King Tubby started in the tiny Waterhouse studios, where he engineered tracks for and with the likes of Lee Perry and Bunny Lee while mentoring Scientist and Prince Jammy. King Tubby produced versions of existing tracks for, among others, Horace Andy and Burning Spear, but rarely, if ever, wrote brand new music.
Here was a man who understood every dynamic of the dub sound, even building his own equipment: King Tubby was the Dub Master, the Dub Organizer, the Dub Teacher, and the King. Tubby allowed for the instruments to be controlled via the mixing board by an engineer–who could imply the melody by turning the knob, make an instrument echo unexpectedly, or make the whole group sound like they were playing in a concert hall underwater with primitive reverb equipment. Tubby always mixed live- improvising so that each mix was different from the last.
During the early eighties, King Tubby devoted himself to building his new studio. Completed in 1985, it soon produced its first hit, Anthony Red Rose’s ‘Temper.’ Tubby looked set to become a leading producer in Jamaican music, building tough rhythms with the excellent Firehouse Crew.
But tragedy struck on the early morning of 6th February 1989. After leaving the studio in Waterhouse, King Tubby was murdered by a lone gunman outside his home, and Jamaican music lost one of its most influential talents. The gunman has never been identified, let alone brought to justice.
Lee, Bunny (aka Striker)
A close collaborator with King Tubby, Bunny Lee was another producer without whom dub would never have been the same. Member of the band The Aggrovators, he would lay down track after track with Tubby mixing them in his ad-hoc dub style.
Bunny Lee produced almost every deejay for the Studio 1 and Treasure Isle set ups. During this period, the classic Dub From The Roots and The Roots of Dub (1974 / 1975 re-released on Moll-Selekta, 2003) were released, and remain undisputedly essential.
Mad Professor (aka Neil Fraser)
The Mad Professor has been producing and recording dub music since 1980, taking influences from the early dub years with trademark bleeps, clangs and electronic sonics, he has released well over 100 records, been sought out by Depeche Mode, Rancid and Perry Farrell, as well as performing remixes for Massive Attack, Pato Banton and Sade.
A native of Guyana, Mad Professor earned his professional name for his childhood fascination for electronics. At the age of nine or ten, he built a radio from scratch. Moving to London, at the age of thirteen, Mad Professor continued to experiment with electronics. Although he bought a semi-professional reel to reel tape recorder in 1975, he was unable to record in sync.
This prompted him to purchase more and more equipment. By the following year, he had begun experimenting with dubbing. Over the years, Mad Professor’s studio, which he named “Ariwa”, after the Nigerian word for sound, has continued to evolve.
Niney the Observer
Born Winston Holness in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1951, in the darkest of humour, he acquired the “Niney” moniker when he lost a thumb in a workshop mishap. Niney entered the music industry during the late 1960s as a protege of producer Bunny Lee, later working with Lee “Scratch” Perry. After setting up the Observer label, Niney went on to enjoy producing hits for Dennis Brown, Dennis Alcapone, Horace Andy and Delroy Wilson. Niney left the music business during the late 1970s, finally resurfacing in Paris around 1982; by the middle of the decade, he had returned to Kingston to briefly work at Channel One studios.
Overton Brown (aka Scientist)
Scientist’s entry in to the world of dub came about due to his job as a repairman in King Tubby’s electrical shop. Tubby showed Scientist the ropes, and he soon became a worthy protege. Tubby, however, would listen to Brown’s enthusiastic tracks, but consistently tell him they were weak, and that they needed more work (he later admitted that Scientist’s dub had been excellent, and he had just been pushing him).
During the 1980’s, Scientist became a full-time producer, notably for Channel One where his creativity was flourishing with dub versions of their tracks. Scientist’s own series are highly recommended listening: Heavyweight Dub Champion, Scientist wins the World Cup, Scientist meets the Space Invaders, Scientist Rids the World of Evil Vampire and Scientist Encounters Pacman (Greensleeves) and come in awesome comic book style packaging.
Perry, Lee (aka Lee, Little, King, Scratch, The Upsetter, Piprock Jackson, Pipecock Jaxxton Super Ape, Ringo, Emmanuel, The Rockstone, Small Axe, The Defender)
Lee Perry (born Rainford Hugh Perry), although massively skilled behind the engineer’s desk, was unlike King Tubby in that he was also a singer, a songwriter, a toaster, and basically whatever else he wanted to be. Perry left for Kingston as a teenager in the 1950’s and found himself working in Coxone Dodd’s studio (as “gofer, bouncer, spy, talent scout, un-credited song writer and eventually performer”), with legendary performers such as The Maytals, The Wailers, Prince Buster and Delroy Wilson. He was a deejay at Dodd’s dances, keeping his eye out and attacking any of rival sound system owner Duke Reid’s hired thugs.
By the end of the Sixties, he had realised his abilities on the other side of the mic and angrily left Dodd’s employ to work for Joe Gibbs and King Tubby at the Amalgamated label. By 1968, he had had enough of not getting the credit he thought he deserved from either Dodd or Gibbs, and went solo- firstly make The Upsetters (formerly The Hippy Boys), his band, but also create Upsetter records.
With the former, hits such as The Upsetter (1968, Topic- a message to Coxone Dodd about what Perry was about to do to his applecart; Kimble (1968, Copyright Control- a fresh dub sound with the first use of samples); and People Funny Boy (1968, New Town Sound- an attack on former employer Joe Gibbs) Perry was an instant success. Upsetter records had already got a roster of artist to make all other labels know he meant business: notably some band called Bob Marley and The Wailers.
With hits in the UK such as Return of Django (1969 top 5), Perry becomes more confident, and begins to work with King Tubby, releasing classic tracks with themes ranging from people stealing his cows (Cow Thief Skank, 1973, CC), to correct cleansing routines (Bathroom Skank, 1973, IQ music), to Kentucky Fried Chicken (Kentucky Skank 1973, CC). A rivalry with Bob Marley ensues: a song called White Belly Rat (1976, CC) vents about Marley taking Perry’s Barrett rhythm section for his Wailers (Perry actually threatened to kill Bob), and the frustration of never getting any of the tracks they worked on together released.
Then came the breakdown. Perry’s wife left with his children, and visitors began to find him worshipping bananas, eating money, vandalising his house and studio After the destruction of the Black Ark, Perry became a wanderer and a loner, eventually turning up (somewhat surprisingly) in Amsterdam, with the pseudonym Pipecock Jaxxton, and working again all over the world with the likes of old boss Coxone Dodd, Mad Professor and Adrian Sherwood, keeping it real as the digital revolution got into full swing.
Now, married to his Swiss manager, he lives in Zurich, still touring the world and making records. Lee Perry has put a curse on the BBC, which shall only be broken when they play his records around the clock.
As remixed by Massive Attack, Nurrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Mustt Mustt (Real World 1990) is an archetypal example of the pioneering Bristol dub sound (along with Tricky and Portishead) with a landmark convergence with Sufi Qawwali.
Redwood, Rudolph (aka Ruddy)
Owner of one of the biggest and best sound systems from Spanish Town, Ruddy named his set Ruddy’s Supreme Ruler of Sound. He would go to Coxone Dodd’s Coxone studio each week to ensure he had bought up everything that had been recorded there. Ruddy would then cut this music on acetate discs which could be played only on his sound system. This meant that he could discover which sound the audiences were feeling the most, as well as making sure the punters were treated to brand new cuts weekly. It was at these dances where the dub sound was first heard and loved.
Along with the Mad Professor, Adrian Sherwood is reknowned as one of the UK’s leading dub producer. Producing the British On-U record label, Sherwood has a wildly experimental approach to his dub, sometimes running whole tracks in reverse.
Such is his proficiency, however that many artists outside of the dub scene approach him to produce their work: Nine Inch Nails, Garbage and The Cure to name but a few. Sherwood was introduced to drummer Style Scott by dub poet Prince Far-I in the 1970’s, and with bassist Flabba Holt, formed the Dub Syndicate.
Thompson, Errol (aka E.T.)
Born December 29, 1948, in Kingston, Jamaica, Thompson was developing his own style of “version” sides at Randy’s studio on North Parade at about the same time King Tubby did his groundbreaking experiments.
While Tubby was managing to refine the sound using faders, delay echo and a phase shifter to bend to bend the music still further, Thompson was reliant on having to push buttons, rather than sliding tracks smoothly in and out of the mix (as Tubby was able to do to such great effect). All in all it would be unfair to credit Tubby with the invention of recorded dub, as Errol Thompson was at the same time pioneering bass and drum at Randy’s Studio 17 with a great deal of success. Thompson had worked briefly at Studio One in 1969 under Sylvain Morris, voicing Max Romeo’s enormous international hit “Wet Dream” for Bunny Lee there. Unable to get on with Morris, he moved on to Randy’s where he became chief engineer and completely rebuilt the studio. Later in life he moved away from the music business and owned a supermarket in North Parade, downtown Kingston, Jamaica. Errol Thompson died from a stroke on November 14, 2004.
Lee Perry’s first band. As engineer and vocalist, credited as producing some of the first dub tracks: Clint Eastwood and Takio. Hits also include The Untouchables, Tighten Up, and the UK top 5 hit Return of Django. (All available on Trojan’s 2004 release I am the Upsetter).
The reverse side of a standard 7″ reggae single, originally from the late sixties. This was an instrumental version of the single: cheap for the studio, but more importantly, great for the sound system owners. They had their own DJ / Toaster who would provide their own vocals.
Williams, Seymour (aka Stereo)
Along with Ruddy Redwood, Stereo was one of the original sound system owners which influenced King Tubby to create the Studio 1 sound system.
A common description of the dub process and sound: stripping the music back to the bare bones for maximum effect.
The first version album: twelve versions of just one original rhythm, My Conversation by Rupie Edwards in 1974. Heralded as Jamaica’s first concept album, this was also titled as Rupie Edwards and Friends Let There Be Version.
Mystical Zion, referencing either Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem or the land of Ethiopia, revered in many religions has found a name in many dub tracks: Zion Version, The Upsetters; Zion Dub, Horace Andy, for example.