King Tubby

TrackAlbum / Single
Dub From The RootsDub From The Roots
Khasha MackaUpsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle
Blood Of AfricaKing Tubby Meets The Upsetter
At The Grass Roots Of Dub
Satta DubKing Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown
Natty DubShalom Dub
Everyone's DubbingSledgehammer Dub
In The Streets Of Jamaica
Parrot JungleSufferers Heights SUFF 006 B-side
Big Youth Fights Against CapitalistMicron Music B-side (1975)
Up Town SpecialDangerous Dub
King Tubby's Badness DubKing Tubby's Meets Scientist
In A World Of Dub

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King Tubby photo

Contributor: Ian du Feu

‘If you hold a seashell to your ear and listen you can hear the sound of the sea, rolling back and forth, captured deep in the shell.’ Analyse the seashell too much, and find out what you are really hearing, and the magic disappears. This laboured analogy is how I feel about a lot of music; analyse it too much and the magic disappears. Pre-digital age there was often a famine of information about many artists; each new morsel could sustain you for weeks. These days I have become over-faced with the quantity of detail about everything.

So let’s have a look at King Tubby; one of the revered pioneers of Dub. There are no books or documentaries about him, his wikipedia entry is copied from blog to website and back again. A few radio obituary shows exist, and he has left one of the most confusing back catalogues of recordings ever. In short, he has a magical legacy.

Born Osbourne Ruddock, on 28th January 1941, King Tubby lived mainly in Kingston, Jamaica. In the late 1950s he worked as a radio repairman. His skills soon led to him establishing a hi-fi repair, hi-fi and amplifier building workshop. His quality of work was in demand and he built the first ‘Home Town Hi-Fi’ sound system at this time. His experimentation with echo, reverb, fading and dropping the vocal from recordings was popular and critical in forming the dub versions. The versions were initially used as B-sides to singles and allowed different vocals to be put over the music either on record or at concerts.

Tubbys hometown hifi

Tubby’s equipment was constructed by himself, combining various devices and a mixing desk to give a unique sound. He understood music and the technology. His mixes are stark and minimal with a lo-fi feel. The atmosphere is smoky but always rhythmic. The dub is often reliant on
a heavy deep bass or chugging rhythm, massively separated by a trebly high-hat cymbal allowing a great deal of space for the tune; fading, echoing and reverbing inbetween the top and bottom channels.

The tracks I have picked for the playlist come from great singles, compilations and albums; excellent songs played by talented musicians and then given the Tubby mix. Popular music often overlooks the work of the producer in translating the artist’s musical ideas. This is also the case for the mixer.

In Dub From The Roots, Tubby emphasises the importance of the mix by isolating parts of the music and then twisting these into new sounds with delay, fade and reverb.

14 Dub Blackboard Jungle by the Upsetters came to Tubby as a finished album; the tracks played by a selection of fine musicians and the production was completed by Lee Perry, all that was required was a final mix. Initially, only 300 copies were pressed, reissues have changed the track order, the mixes and song titles but the magic is still there.

Something of cash-in on the new popularity of dub, King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub is an LP with side 1 a collection of Tubby mixes contrasting side 2, a collection of Lee Perry works. The album shows the difference of the men’s styles, with both starting to employ signature techniques. Tubby’s work on this album reminds me of being in a factory where the steady beat of machinery is the backing sound to distant snatches of music.

Such was King Tubby’s popularity that whole albums were given to him to mix. The finished work would have his name attached to the album as a quality standard.

King Tubby photo 2

The most famous example of an album mixed by Tubby is probably with Augustus Pablo, King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown. The whole album is stunning. A hypnotic beat underpins each track; then vocals, drums, cymbals and Pablo’s melodica are faded in and out of the dubs. The overall feel is dreamy.

The title track of the album is a version of Jacob Miller and Augustus Pablo’s Baby I Love You So which shows how far the dubs were moving from their source.

Shalom Dub by King Tubby & The Aggrovators left me a little non-plussed initially. It seemed light and had real vocals. A week later I wondered what tune I had been humming relentlessly, and realised it was Natty Dread. And that is this album’s charm; it is light, almost lacking bass, and very catchy.

Sledgehammer Dub In The Streets Of Jamaica is a collection of Tubby mix versions from Niney the Observer produced singles. Originally pressed in a tiny quantity in the late 1970s the CD of this album was released in 2002. It’s the sounds of a warm walk along a seafront, waves breaking nearby accompanying the sound of the city.

Parrot Jungle (Alternative Version) is the B-side of a 1979 single from Rod Taylor . The A-side, Behold Him, an ode to Jah, has Rod singing over Mikey Dread’s African Anthem. The B-side has Tubby stripping much of the vocal and trumpets away, bringing the bass forward and sprinkling a little magic over the funky bass riff.

Big Youth Fights Against Capitalist is another interesting hybrid of tracks and ideas. The song is the B-side of Yabby Youth by Yabby Youth. The music on both tracks is the riddim from Yabby Youth’s Beware Jah Is Watching You, a scratchy reggae guitar beat which King Tubby has reduced to a minimal whisper. The riddim is also used by Prince Far I in Ejarsa Gora, as though the music has become associated with protest songs.

King Tubby Meets Roots Radics is another good pairing. The Roots Radics were a sought after studio and live band in the early 1980s, who worked with Prince Far I, Eek-a-Mouse, Gregory Isaacs and many other reggae artists. The Dangerous Dub album ticks along like clockwork, you can almost wind it up, and watch it spiral off into the distance. The Roots Radics’ next album was a pairing with Scientist, which leads me nicely to my final choice

King Tubby’s Meets Scientist In A World Of Dub was an album released after Tubby’s death. The record alternates one track by Scientist and one track by Tubby. Scientist had hung around Tubby’s workshop as a youngster in the 1970s and had worked with Tubby, eventually setting off independently in the early 1980s. This album is a tribute to the master with his first pupil. The dubs were recorded in the 70s and released as a compilation of work in 1996. The album also shows one of the difficulties with the Tubby back catalogue, no one is entirely certain who the mixer was at Tubby’s on some tracks.

King Tubby was shot dead outside his home, late on the night of 6th February 1989. The motivation seems to have been little more than petty thieving.

King Tubby discography and compilations

King Tubby biography (iTunes)

This is Ian’s second post for Toppermost, his first was on Fats Waller. Ian spends time listening to music and can be found @IanFurgie.

TopperPost #424

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