Keith Hudson - Brand

Image Dub
National Anthem Dub 2
Felt The Strain Dub
Darkness Dub
Highter Hights Dub 2
Leggo Dub
Musicology Dub
My Eyes Are Red Dub
Barrabas Dub
Rub Dub
Words Dub
Bad Things Dub
My Eyes Are Red
Felt The Strain

As we near the end of the century the word 'genius' is constantly overused it its application to musicians. The epithet is properly bestowed in hindsight, but usually provokes meaningless debate. Keith Hudson, Man from Shooters Hill, the Dub Dentist, the Dark Prince of Reggae may or may not have been a musical genius, but what is beyond question is that his contribution to Reggae was unique.

Keith Hudson was born in Kingston Jamaica in 1945, into a family with a proud musical tradition. As a young man he first ventured into the studio as the carrier of the sacred trombone of legendary Skatalite, Don Drummond. After leaving school he trained in dentistry (for full proof of his skills ask Big Youth to smile!) and was able to fund his early musical work from this source.

In 1967 he launched his own Inbidimts label with a Jamaican number 1 record, Ken Boothe's 'Old Fashioned Way'. The next few years brought fresh labels Rebind and Mafia and a whole series of now classic tunes with singers such as John Holt, delroy Wilson and Alton Ellis. Great DJ sides were cut on the most popular rhythms, notably from Spanishtown's Dennis Alcapone, whose first time in the studio ('Shades Of Hudson') came courtesy of the young producer. And also U-Roy shortly after the toaster's work with King Tubbys and Lee Perry.

Hudson was the first producer to use Dennis Alcapone resulting in some of the DJ's best ever sides. His work with U-Roy came before the DJ's massive Duke Reid Rock Steady hits (for an excellent overview of this period see the Trojan CD Keith Hudson and Friends 'Studio Kinda Cloudy' CDTRL 258).

The early activity would have been sufficient to mark out an esteemed position in Reggae history for the young Hudson, but more was to come. In 1972 not only did he take Big Youth into the studio, but also a full throttle motorbike to introduce 'Ace 90 Skank', one of Jah Youth's best ever sides and a landmark of Jamaican music (the track is easiest and best found on the excellent Trojan compilation 'Rebel Music CDTRD 403, along with 'Melody Maker', a Hudson instrumental, and his production of the totally weird 'Satan Ride' by Horace Andy and Earl Flute). The dub version of 'Ace 90 Skank' is the title track of the classic drum and bass set recently reissued by Blood And Fire ('Pick A Dub' BAFCD 003) one of the first true dub albums. An Augustus Pablo melodica version cut on the same rhythm is one of the artist's rare and best sides 'Fat Baby'.

Keith Hudson's popularity continued with the licensing of tunes (both solo efforts and productions on other artists) to Trojan, Magnet and Atra in the UK. Amongst those releases was Hudson's first solo album 'Entering The Dragon' and the remarkable 'Flesh Of My Skin' for Brent Clarke's Tottenham based Atra imprint. This 1974 set was the first real solo flowering of Hudson as 'The Dark Prince Of Reggae', the overriding atmosphere of the music was sombre and brooding, but also righteous and proud. Although based on the history of oppression the lyrical content was metaphysical, sometimes to the point of abstraction. This may be the reason why the album was never released in Jamaica, along with the fact that its sound was unique and no one else could replicate it. It was around this period that the artist began to shift his home base between London and New York. The album was re-released in 1988 on the Atra label, re-mixed by the original engineer, Sid Bucknor, after the original mix-down master tapes had been lost sometime in the intervening period.

In the streets of London in the mid-'70s the sound of Reggae was pervasive and it was only a matter of time until the larger record companies began to trawl for commercial fish to fry. Keith Hudson signed up a four year deal with Virgin with the first album release as 'Too Expensive', an uneven set by his previous standards which can now be understood more kindly as a device to buy him some time. This time he used to good effect, writing and bringing to fruition the collection of songs which was to constitute his greatest album 'Rasta Communication'. The Virgin affair was to be short lived as Hudson was not prepared for the 'next Marley' plot being scripted for him. He had a respect for Bob Marley which prevented him from being wound up in the hype machine to the inevitable detriment of both artists. 'Rasta Communication' was released on Hudson's Joint label in New York, and later on Greensleeves in the UK.

Usually prefacing the 'Rasta Communication' vocal set was the companion dub album known as 'Brand' (sometimes called 'The Joint'), also released on Joint and only available on import in the UK. It was more developed but stylistically similar in its approach than the earlier 'Pick A Dub', in that drum and bass held absolute dominion, with the occasional overlay of menacing vocal lines, interweaving percussion and sprinkles of keyboard. Unlike some of the cavernous dubs of Tubby and his studio progeny or the effects-laden style of later years, these tracks are lean and close to the rhythm. Long unavailable, except for outrageous asking prices in the tight collectors market, it is this album which is now retrieved by Pressure Sounds via the good offices of Sky High in Jamaica.

Amongst the bonus tracks on the CD release are unreleased versions of two vocals from 'Rasta Communication'. 'My Eyes Are Red', a take which lays further foundation to the claim that Jamaicans were the true creators of the dance remix with the introduction of a lazy Latin shuffle under the vocal. Whereas, 'Felt We The Strain' is not so much an historical recognition of the origin of the 'outsider' Rasta tribe, but more a positive affirmation of black consciousness and redemption. Both are remarkable vocals from Keith Hudson and should rightfully assume their place as classics, not just within the genre of Reggae, but within the whole spread of black music.

Keith Hudson died on 14th November 1984 in New York as a result of lung cancer. The fact that he was both producer and artist was by no means unusual in Jamaica, but for his passion, vision and vocal delivery, his studio invention and particularly the quality and range of the body of work he created, he must certainly take his place in amongst legendary greats of Reggae Music.

Steve Barker
'On The Wire'

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