Trojan
 

Very few Jamaican producers have influenced the sound of Reggae to a greater degree than the man whose output provides the focus of this collection. Joe Gibbs. After embarking on his career in the music business in 1966, Gibbs went on to produce a catalogue of recordings second to none in terms of both quality and commercial appeal. From Rocksteady to Dancehall, he remained at the forefront of the Jamaican music scene for almost thirty years and had it not been for a costly legal battle that led to the closure of his business in the eighties, Mr. Gibbs would most certainly still be at the cutting edge of the industry. This collection brings together some of his finest productions from his heyday and in doing so illustrates just why he remained such a powerful figure for so long.

Born in Montego Bay in 1945, Gibbs (real name Joel A. Gibson) spent his early adult life working on the American naval base in Guantanamo Bay before returning to Jamaica in the mid-sixties. Soon after, he opened a TV repair shop at 32 Beeston Street in Kingston where the sale of locally produced 45s became a lucrative sideline. Prompted by this development and the encouragement of his friend Edward 'Bunny' Lee, Gibbs decided to try his hand as an independent producer and after hearing a number of self-penned songs by local singer Roy Shirley, Gibbs financed a session at WIRL Studios around the start of 1967. Backed by leading session group, Lyn Taitt & The Jets and supervised by the in-house producer, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the local singer/songwriter subsequently recorded a couple of self-penned songs, including a recording frequently hailed as the first true Rocksteady release 'Hold Them' (aka 'Feel good'). Released on Gibbs' newly launched Amalgamated label, the single promptly became a best-seller - helped in no small measure by Bunny Lee's astute promotion of the disc - providing a firm footing on which the novice producer could build. Gibbs purchased a two-track tape machine and set up a small recording studio in the rear of his shop, taking the opportunity to secure the services of Perry, who had recently parted company with WIRL. Over the next few months, Gibbs issued a series of hits by an array of local performers, with Errol Dunkley, Stranger & Gladdy and his multi-talented sound engineer among those to ensure Amalgamated's continued growth. Soon after this initial cluster of local hits, Gibbs signed the Pioneers, a vocal group featuring Sidney 'Luddy' Crooks, Jackie Robinson and later, George Agard, who over the next year or so scored with a succession of hugely popular singles, in particular 'Long shot' and 'Jackpot'.

By the beginning of 1968, Gibbs dramatic ascendancy to the upper echelons of the Jamaican music industry was recognised by the British-based Island/Trojan organisation, who launched a UK version of the Amalgamated label. But just as this opportunity arose to compete with his rivals on the international stage, Gibbs' operations were dealt a major setback. A disagreement over money led to Perry walking out on his employer, leaving the producer in desperate need for an immediate replacement. Fortunately for Gibbs, a suitable successor to Perry was found in Winston 'Niney' Holness (aka Niney), who over the next couple of years provided the creative energy essential to Amalgamated's success.

Throughout the Rocksteady era, Lyn Taitt & The Jets had provided instrumentation on the majority of the label's output., but following their break up around the close of 1968, Gibbs began employing a young, dynamic group called the Hippy Boys. Built around the talents of guitarist Alva 'Reggie' Lewis, keyboard player, Glen Adams and brothers Carlton and Aston 'Family Man' Barrett on drums and bass respectively, this quartet also performed on the majority of releases produced by Bunny Lee and Lee Perry up until the eventual break up of the group in 1971. In the late sixties, aside from their input as instrumentalists, Adams and Lewis also contributed vocally on a number of major sellers for Gibbs, most notably 'Mama Look Deh' and 'Them A laugh and Ki Ki', which were issued as the Reggay Boys and the Soulmates respectively, although in fact both groups comprised of the two singers accompanied by various members of the Pioneers.

Others to achieve sizeable hits for Gibbs during 1969 were the Soul Sisters, who were in all probability the Ebony Sisters, an all female vocal trio who hailed from the producer's hometown of Montego Bay and who most likely preferred anonymity as a result of the risqué nature of their hit 'Wreck A Buddy'. That year the supremely gifted Ken Parker also found success with Gibbs, his hit 'Only Yesterday' also providing the rhythm for 'Danger Zone' by leading session guitarist Lloyd 'Gits' Willis, who performed with the Hippy boys on the majority Amalgamated releases during this period. Veteran sound system deejays, Count Matchuki and Sir Lord Comic also made forays into Gibbs' studio around this time, each recording a handful of fine sides well before toasting became common place on disc.

By the close of the sixties, Gibbs was firmly established as one of Jamaica's leading independent producers and while UK sales had in no small way helped finance his operations, the income from abroad had until now provided merely the icing on the cake. But with the dawning of a new decade, this was set to change.. Around the latter part of 1969, the producer's roster was bolstered by the signing of Cecil 'Nicky' thomas, with the young singer cutting a Reggae rendering of the Winstons' American Pop hit, 'Love Of The Common People' soon after. The track was later submitted to Trojan, who deemed it suitable for orchestral embellishment, employing arranger Tony King to transform the recording into a sophisticated piece of Pop-Reggae. The resulting effect proved immensely appealing to most European listeners and in June 1970, the single broke into the British Pop listings, where it finally peaked at number nine.

Around this time, Gibbs decided to phase out the Amalgamated imprint in favour of newer labels, most notably Shock, Jogib and Pressure Beat, with Trojan following suit, inaugurating a British version of the latter in 1970. The producer also used much of the funds raised by the Nicky Thomas hit to finance the opening of the New York Record Mart at 11 South Parade, Kingston and the creation of a two-track studio at 17 Burns Avenue in the Duhaney Park region of town.

Over the next couple of years, Gibbs remained a major player on the Reggae scene, producing popular singles by a variety of artists, including further hits by Nicky thomas and a selection of sides by leadung vocal trio, the Heptones that later appeared on two long playing 'Heptones And Friends' collections, imaginatively entitled 'Volume One' and 'Volume Two', respectively. Peter Tosh of the Wailers was another to record for gibbs in the early seventies, proving his worth as a solo artist with his first two major hits away from the group; a remake of the Ska hit 'Maga Dog' and 'Them A Fe Get A Beaten'.

1972 proved a particularly significant year for Gibbs, with the producer moving his base of operations to 20 North Parade, with Errol 'ET' Thompson recruited as resident sound engineer. Thompson had already gained a reputation as one of the most creative forces on the Kingston music scene during his days at Randy's Studio and as the decade unfolded, his importance to Gibbs' operations became increasingly apparent. The year also witnessed the introduction of the Joe Gibbs Record Globe imprint, with one of the earliest releases on the new label being Dennis Brown's popular 'Money In My Pocket', a recording that soon after provided the rhythm for Big youth's equally successful 'A So We Stay'. Among the other notable performers attracted to record for Gibbs around this time were leading deejay U-Roy (real name Ewart Beckford) and the late Delroy Wilson, both of whom have work featured on this anthology.

By the mid-seventies, Gibbs had accumulated enough capital from record sales to relocate his business once more, opening up a sixteen-track studio and pressing plant at 24 Retirement Crescent, Kingston 5. to cater for his expanding roster of artists, he also launched a number of new subsidiary labels, including Crazy Joe, Reflections, Belmont and Town & Country. Among those to frequent the Joe Gibbs Studio at this time were former Bleechers' front man, Leo Graham - whose 'A Win Them' was a major hit for the singer in 1975 - and I-Roy who versioned the song for 'News Carrier'. Other major sellers for Gibbs during this period were Sylford Walker's roots anthem 'Burn Babylon' and Shorty's humorous account of college life for a natty, which featured the deejay toasting over the rhythm of the classic Rocksteady instrumental, 'Real Rock', performed by the Professionals.

The Professionals were indeed a key ingredient to Gibbs and Thompson gaining the reputation as Jamaica's leading production team, with those in the pool of players to regularly record under the name for the Mighty Two reading like a who's who of Jamaican music. Among the bass players were Lloyd Parks, George 'Fully' Fullwood and Robert Shakespeare; drummers included Charles 'Sly' Dunbar, Carlton 'Santa' Davis and Leroy 'horsemouth' Wallace, while the list of most frequently used guitarists were Tony Chin, Willie Lindo, Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Eric 'Bingy Bunny' Lamont. in addition, Gladstone Anderson, Winston Wright, Franklyn 'Bubbler' Waul, or Ossie Hibbert were among those called in to play keyboards, while Issiah 'Sticky' Thompson or Ruddy Thomas frequently provided percussion. finally, the brass section usually consisted of such celebrated hornsmen as Tommy McCook on tenor sax, Bobby Ellis on trumpet, Herman Marquis on alto sax and Vincent 'Don Drummond Junior' Gordon on trombone.

The Gibbs-Thompson partnership continued to bear fruit throughout the latter half of the seventies, with Prince Far I (Michael Williams) among those to benefit from their apparent Midas touch. Far I's semi-dub offering 'Heavy Manners' became one of the biggest Jamaican hits of the year and marked the first in what proved to be a series of popular releases by the veteran deejay. Another skilled toaster to make his major breakthrough as a recording artist at this time was Trinity (Wade Brammer), whose hugely popular 'Three Piece Suit', utilised the rhythm of Marcia Aitken's updated version of Alton ellis' Rocksteady hit, 'I Am Still In Love'. Further mileage from the rhythm was gleaned by teenage schoolgirl duo, Althia Forest and Donna Reid, whose whimsical 'Uptown top Ranking' became the surprise UK hit of the year. Although the duo's use of Jamaican patois resulted in the lyrics sounding nonsensical to most European ears, the song breached the British pop charts towards the end of 1977, hitting the number one spot early the following year. proving that a good rhythm never passes its sell-by date, it was again utilised on the instrumental 'Calico Suit' that originally featured flip side of the Althia & Donna single.

After waiting seven years to witness his second major European hit, Gibbs did not have to wait long for his third. In 1978, leading Reggae singer Dennis Brown decided to renew acquaintances with Gibbs and commenced recording a number of songs that were subsequently gathered on the 'Words Of Wisdom' album. Among these was a remake of his 1972 hit, 'Money In My Pocket', which upon issue in the UK began picking up airplay on mainstream radio stations. In March 1979, the recording entered the Pop listings, where it eventually climbed to number fourteen that spring. Brown remained Gibbs' leading hit-maker over the next few years, both at home and abroad, with a series of best-selling singles and albums that ensured his standing as the 'Crown Prince of Reggae'.

Gibbs and Thompson maintained their run of success well into the eighties, adapting with ease to the new dancehall style with popular releases by Ranking Joe, Prince Jazzbo, Lui Lepke, Dillinger, Kojak & Liza, Barrington Levy, Clint Eastwood, Eek-A-Mouse, Beresford Hammond, Chalice, Barry Brown, Cornell Campbell and Dillinger. But just as a bright and prosperous future for the pair looked assured, their music making days were brought to an abrupt end. A lengthy legal dispute over the use of copyright for their production of JC Lodge's version of the Charlie Pride country hit, 'Somebody Loves You Honey' eventually resulted in Gibbs financially broken and forced to cease operations.

For the next few years, Gibbs' sole connection with the music business was through his son Carl, who since the eighties had operated the Miami-based Rocky One label. but thankfully, by 1993, Gibbs had raised enough funds to rebuild his studio at 24 Retirement Crescent and upon completion of the task, recalled Errol Thompson, along with former Pioneers singer, Sidney 'Luddy' Crooks to oversee the production for the rejuvenated set-up. there followed a slew of excellent recordings by such celebrated singers as Gregory Isaacs, Alton Ellis, Eric Donaldson, Lloyd Parks and Tanya Stephens, resulting in Gibbs being able to open offices in Miami and Brazil in 1998. And while he may still be some way off recapturing the glories of the past, all the signs indicate the Joe Gibbs hit making machine is well on the way to a full recovery. For the sake of Reggae, let us hope so.

LAURENCE CANE-HONEYSETT

Roy Shirley - Hold Them
Errol Dunkley - You're Gonna Need Me
Lee Perry - (I Am) The Upsetter
Stranger Cole & Gladdy - Seeing Is Knowing
Caly Gibbs - Seeing Is Believing
The Pioneers - Longshot
The Pioneers - Jackpot
The Reggae Boys - Mamma Look Deh
The Soul Mates - Dem A Laugh A Kiki
The Soul Sisters - Wreck A Buddy
Count Machuki - Movements (The Joe Gibbs Way)
Ken Parker - Only Yesterday
Lloyd Willis & The Destroyers - Danger Zone
Nicky Thomas - Love Of The Common People
Sir Lord Comic - Jack Of My Trade
Lloyd Willis & The Destroyers - Reggae Fever
Nicky Thomas - Don't Touch Me
Sir Lord Comic - Doctor Feelgood
Winston Wright & The Destroyers - O Lord
Lizzy & Cornell Campbell - (Sounds Called) Aquarius
The Heptones - Hypocrite
Peter Tosh - Maga Dog
The Heptones - Be The One
Joe Gibbs & The Professionals - Road Is Rough
U-Roy & The Heptones - Freedom Train
Nicky Thomas - Have A Little Faith
Prince Williams - Channel Seven
Peter Tosh - Them A Fe Get A Beaten
Delroy Wilson - Pretty Girl
Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket
Big Youth & Dennis Brown - A So We Stay
Leo Graham - A Win Them
I-Roy & Leo Graham - News Carrier
Sylford Walker - Burn Babylon
Joe Gibbs & The Professionals - State Of Emergency
Shorty The President - Natty Pass Him GCE
Glen Washington - Rockers (No Crackers)
Dhaima - Inna Jah Children
Prince Far I - Heavy Manners
Marcia Aitken - I'm Still In Love (With You)
Trinity - Three Piece Suit And Thing
Althea & Donna - Up Town Top Ranking
The Mighty Two - Calico Suit
Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket
Ruddy Thomas - I Can't Stop Now

Trojan
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