The Crowning Of Prince Jammy
Black Uhuru - King Selassie I
Wayne Smith - Time Is A Moment In Space
Prince Jammy - Life Is A Moment In Space
Johnny Osbourne - Jahovia / Version
Half Pint - Puchie Lou
Mighty Rudo - Waterhouse
Earl Zero - Please Officer
Augustus Pablo - Pablo In Moonlight City
Half Pint - Mr. Landlord
Prince Jammy - The Crowning Of Prince Jammy
Black Crucial - Mr. Vincent
Johnny Osbourne - Mr. Marshall
Prince Jammy - Return Of Jammy's Hi-Fi
Sugar Minott - Give The People What They Want
Hugh Mundell - Jah Fire Will Be Burning
|Even by reggae's often
phenomenal standards, there are few who can claim a career as long and
influential as that of Lloyd 'King Jammy' James. Initially he found fame
in the late '70s as the resident engineer at King Tubby's Studio, where
he mixed some of the heaviest dub music of the day. He soon moved into
record production, enjoying considerable success in the dancehall era of
the early '80s.
Above all, Jammy is best known as the producer whose pioneering use of digital rhythms in 1985 revitalised Jamaica's music scene overnight with a mainline injection of raw energy and fresh ideas. In the years that followed, Jammy's little studio on St Lucia Road dominated computerised reggae, creating a musical college reminiscent of the '60s heyday at Studio one and Treasure Isle. The hits have kept coming throughout the '90s, with important artists such as Bounty Killer and Morgan heritage gaining distinction on the celebrated blue and white Jammy$ label. Appropriately, at the time of writing the King is enjoying something of a renaissance and has a best-selling album with Bushman's 'Total Commitment', a record that draws much of its inspiration from the music found on this collection of Jammy's pre-digital roots recordings.
I came to know Jammy in April 1977 when I travelled to Jamaica on what was my first trip abroad. In every way, it was the journey of a lifetime - among the many highlights were a guided tour of Studio One from Coxsone Dodd, checking out Scratch at the Black Ark, interviewing Earl Zero in Greenwich Farm, and looking through more old records than you could shake a stick at. For a reggae fan from North London, it really doesn't get much better.
My fondest memories, though, are of the many visits I made to Waterhouse, where Tubby's studio was located in what was reputed to be one of the most dangerous area of West Kingston. This neighbourhood was so hot that the locals had renamed it Firehouse. The studio was usually busy and the back yard was often full of singers, deejays and producers sitting around on Tubby's old speaker boxes, patiently awaiting their sessions. Jammy worked long hours at the board in those days but nevertheless always made me welcome.
Jammy and Tubby shared the same virtue of modesty, and despite their achievements didn't possess an ounce of ego between them. There was something very reassuring about their reserved manner and the very matter-of-fact attitude they had towards their work. Kingston can be a disorientating place at the best of times, and I can remember feeling very homesick during that trip - yet for some inexplicable reason, whenever I was round Tubby's, home never seemed so far away.
Lloyd James was born on the 26th October 1947 in Montego Bay on Jamaica's north coast. He came to live in Waterhouse in 1956 when his parents moved to Kingston and set up home at 92 Dromilly Avenue - just a short distance along the road from number 18, the bungalow where a shy, industrious 16-year-old electronics genius named Osbourne 'Tubby' Ruddock lived with his mother, brothers and sisters. Jammy's nickname had originally belonged to his older brother. In Jamaica, kids grow up on their local corner, and little Lloyd inherited the title when his brother came of age and moved on.
It was on Dromilly Avenue and in the surrounding Waterhouse neighbourhood that Jammy discovered all the great passions of his life: music, sound systems, electronics and, of course, his girlfriend and lifelong partner, Iris.
Aside from playing football for the local boys' team (he was quite a hard kicking striker and much valued as a player), Jammy spent most of his spare time hanging out at the Ruddock's yard, where Tubby was already laying the foundations of his ghetto electronics empire. These were the days when Tubby used to ride into central Kingston on an old fashioned delivery bike and pick up electrical scraps from the downtown radio shops. Once back at his Waterhouse HQ, he would recycle the junked parts to build radios and amplifiers.
By 1957 Tubby had the prototype version of his sound system, Home Town Hi-Fi, up and running, playing an eclectic mix of American R&B and jazz. Jammy fondly remembers those days: "I used to go with Tubby's sound, lifting the boxes and helping them string it al up... Even before Tubbs, I used to go check Duke Reid and Coxsone down by Forresters' Hall, and Sinclair The Giant just over the way at Tower hill..., but from I was just a little youth I couldn't go into the dances 'cos I had to be back in by 10 O'clock, so I just ride my bike on the street, listen to the sound, watch the time and come back home".
Jammy attended primary schools in Mo Bay and Kingston but never had the opportunity of a secondary education. On leaving school, his mother found him a job downtown at Chin's Radio Service on Church Street, where he worked as an apprentice alongside another young electronics enthusiast, Pat Kelly. Despite the job at Chin's, Jammy considers he learnt most of his technical skills from his friend Tubby: "The first amplifier I ever built was while I was still working at Chin's Radio service, but I really didn't get the experience from Chin's. I got that from being around Tubby's; it was just that I had better facilities to build it at Chin's".
It was in 1962, the year of Jamaican independence, that Jammy first built a sound system of his own. The original Jammy's Hi-Fi was a modest set with just two speaker boxes, and was really suitable only for playing small functions like parties and weddings. Initially Jammy operated the sound on his own, aided by one helper - a friend called Franklyn, who looked after the task of stringing up.
Jamaica now had its own indigenous recording industry, and the island was gripped by ska fever. Jammy and Franklyn were soon joined by a tiny 11-year-old boy named Toops. Toops was fanatical about music and sound systems, and would come by Jammy's yard every day after school. (Jammy by this time had his own small workshop at home).
Eventually, little Toops' persistent enthusiasm paid off and Jammy taught him to select. He was so small, however, that he had to be put on beer boxes in order to reach the turntable! Years later, in the 1980s, when King Jammy's Super Power ruled supreme in Kingston's dancehalls, it was with Toops at the controls as the set's premier selector..
On leaving Chin's in the early '60s, Jammy worked on a more permanent basis at 18 Dromilly Avenue alongside Tubby and his other technician, Barry. It was not until the last years of the decade that Tubby installed a dub cutter and rudimentary two-track recording equipment, so the work in those days consisted mainly of domestic repairs, winding transformers and the building of amplifiers for other Kingston sound systems such as El Toro, Lord Kelly, Emperor Faith and Arrows.
It was in the early '60s at a dance held by Jack Lloyd at Reedie's Lawn, 32 Antigua Road, Waterhouse, (literally around the corner from Jammy's current studio in St Lucia road) that Tubby was first crowned King of the dancehall. The popularity of the sound continued to grow over the following years, and Tubby used his electronic skills to regularly upgrade his equipment with technical innovations like reverb and delay echo built into the amplifiers.
The addition, in 1968, of ground-breaking deejay U-Roy to King Tubby's Hi-Fi created an electrifying combination that ensured the sound's domination of the dancehalls until the middle of the next decade. (Tubby's Hi-Fi was destroyed in 1975 by malevolent police action at Gold Coast Lawn, St Thomas).
Jammy recalls the role he played in the recruitment of Tubby's new deejay: "Tubby had a lot of people before U-Roy, like Skeewee and Scotty... But y'know what really happen is that U-Roy used to deejay for a sound called Dickie's Dynamic in Jones Town, and I happened to know a lot of people in Jones Town. So Tubby was hearing about U-Roy this and U-Roy that, and he send me to check U-Roy and say that he could come and talk to Tubby's about deejaying the sound. From then, him and U-Roy link up".
Jammy's Hi-Fi had also grown from its humble beginnings and, with Toops still as selector, employed the deejay services of Carly, a U-Roy soundalike, and, later Lizzy. By the end of the '60s, the sound was playing established venues such as Chocomo Lawn on Wellington Street and sometimes even clashed with the reigning Waterhouse heavyweight champion, Tubby's, at Reedie's Lawn.
In 1970 Jammy's girlfriend Iris moved to Toronto to live with her mother. Jammy followed her to Canada, intending to stay only for a couple of weeks - but didn't return to Jamaica for five years. "I went up, but it wasn't really my bag. Still, I thought, let's give this thing a try, y'know, to try something different. That try went on for five years... I used to do technician work, servicing TVs, but things were kind of slow, so I went to work in a factory, where they built swimming pool equipment".
In Jammy's absence, things had gone bad with the sound in Jamaica, so he told his brother to sell off the equipment and send one of the amps up to Canada. Despite the setbacks, Jammy's time in Toronto was not to be wasted. he used the remaining amplifier to build himself another little sound system, and, more importantly furthered his knowledge of electronics by taking a course at the city's George Brown Technical College.
A friend, Jerry Brown, asked him to help build his own studio. Working with Jerry gave Jammy his first real experience of recording, and inspired him to set up his own little basement studio in Lakeshore Boulevard, where he produced his side, 'Single Girl' by Nana McLean. Here he also cut demos with visiting Jamaican stars Dennis Brown, Errol Dunkley, Delroy Wilson and Scotty, using rhythms taken from the version sides of records.
When Jammy left for Canada he told Tubbs to expect him back after two weeks, and since then the two had corresponded regularly. Tubby's letters kept him up to date with events back in Waterhouse and always asked when he was going to come back to work.
Since its opening in 1972, Tubby's four-track mixing studio at 18 Dromilly Avenue had revolutionised the Jamaican music scene, and his extraordinary engineering skills had developed dub music into a major musical force. The studio's affordable facilities were also encouraging a new and talented breed of independent roots producers like Augustus Pablo and Vivian Jackson.
Early in 1975 Phillip Smart, Tubby's assistant engineer, decided to emigrate to New York and Jammy was the obvious choice as his successor. As a temporary measure, singer Pat Kelly (a first class recording engineer in his own right) filled in until Jammy returned to Jamaica at the end of the year. Once again, his intention was to visit only for a few weeks. "When I came home, I saw my mother and my brothers and I saw the studio Tubby had built, and realised all this was everything I ever wanted".
Jammy took over the engineer's chair in January 1976 and immediately felt at home. "Where Tubby's and me is concerned is like some natural things... All I did was just look at Tubbs and he just leave me and say, "You think you capable after this?" My first sessions were for Bunny Lee... Striker! I think it was with Cornell Campbell, a very good artist in his time. Bunny Lee used to have some wicked rhythms, flying cymbals, some one-drop and horns - I used to love horns and harmonies. He was a great vibes man, always boosting you up... He would make anyone work wonders. It was Striker who first give me the name Prince Jammy".
Jammy was quick to stamp his own identity on the Tubby's board, with an assertive style of engineering that was ideally suited to the hard roots rhythms of the latter half of the '70s. Tubby, now concentrating on the lucrative electronics side of the business, was happy to let Jammy get on with running the studio.
For the best part of four years, Jammy worked long hours at the board, usually well into the early hours of the morning. "I used to work nonstop. I was so interested to learn that I would be there early in the morning, long before Tubby's arrive, practising... I never got tired because I loved the work". Not even the worst politically engineered tribal warfare of West Kingston could keep Jammy out of the studio: "During the '80 election it was the hottest ever that I experienced, and I still used to go to King Tubby's same way - can't stop music!"
Prince Jammy's ambitions in the business expanded far beyond just engineering. his first Jamaican production, 'Born Free' by Michael Rose, was recorded in early 1976, within weeks of his return to Tubby's, using Vivian Jackson's storming 'A Prayer To Jah' flyers rhythm. 'Born Free' was released in the UK that summer by North London sound system operator Ken 'Fatman' Gordon and is still revered as one of the very best roots records from that period.
Further encouragement from Fatman, Vivian Jackson and the ubiquitous Bunny Lee prompted Jammy to begin building rhythms of his own. The first of these was a reworking of the evergreen Baba Brooks golden oldie 'Shank I Shek'. Recorded at Joe Gibb's, it featured what would become more or less the nucleus of his pre-digital studio band: Earl 'Chinna' Smith on guitar, Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Carlton 'Santa' Davis on drums, Keith Sterling on piano and Zoot 'Scully' Simms on percussion. It was around this time that Jammy began to make occasional trips to London, in the company of Bunny Lee, to gain first-hand knowledge of how the reggae business operated in the lucrative foreign market.
Jammy's production style grew more confident with each new set of rhythms je laid. He recorded deejays Jah Stitch, U Black and Tappa Zukie, and vocal music by Cornell Campbell, The Fantells and The Travellers. Of far greater significance, though, was his work with a new Waterhouse trio, Black Uhuru.
The group (featuring, once again, Michael Rose's distinctive lead vocals) cut their debut LP, 'Love Crisis', for Jammy in 1977. Originally released in the UK to limited success on Count Shelley's Third World label, the set is, in retrospect, a landmark recording. It remains one of the darkest and most uncompromising roots albums ever made, and created the blueprint for what would later become known as the 'Waterhouse Sound'.
From this point in the late '70s until the dawn of the digital age in the mid-'80s, Prince Jammy would produce many of the heaviest sounds of the roots and dancehall eras. This compilation gathers together some of Jammy's strongest work during this period to reveal his extraordinary talents as a producer, arranger and engineer.
The version of Black Uhuru's 'King Selassie' that opens this collection is the more forceful, non-overdubbed, original '70s mix from 'Love Crisis'. It also appeared on a 45 in Jamaica as one of the initial releases on Jammy's own label.
1979 proved to be an important year for Jammy. He revived Jammy's Hi-Fi (initially borrowing the equipment from a small sound system called Tapetone) and started to gain serious recognition in the UK, where he enjoyed strong-selling 45s with songs from Lacksley Castell, Junior Delgado and Sugar Minott.
By now, I also found myself deeply involved in the reggae business and started my own roots label Sufferer's Heights. While I was in Jamaica that July, Jammy custom-produced a reworking of Earl Zero's 1975 flying cymbals masterpiece 'Please Officer' for a Sufferer's Heights 12" single. Jammy's version totally re-invents the song with a dynamic new rhythm and a typically relentless bass line.
Augustus Pablo, who by this time rarely recorded for other producers, gives one of his best melodica performances of the late '70s on the second piece of the rhythm, 'Pablo In Moonlight City'. As usual, these final mixes were done one evening at Tubby's in the customary single take.
'The Return Of Jammy's Hi Fi (Round 1)' is another cut from the summer of '79 - a thunderous Jammy's mix of Horace Andy's 'Pure Ranking' rhythm recorded as a bonus track for the Sufferer's Heights release of the song. Although 'Pure Ranking' was technically a King Tubby production, the rhythm had actually been built by Jammy at Harry J's Studio. Jammy took over the controls immediately after Tubby had finished his mix of the vocal and dub, so there's a bit of competition between master and pupil going on. Resorting to every trick on the board, Jammy wins the math on points.
The early '80s saw Jammy begin to move slowly away from the engineering chair at Tubby's. There was a gifted new apprentice at Dromilly Avenue called Overton Brown. Though only 16 years old, his wild mixing style had earned him the name Scientist. The arrival of Scientist gave Jammy greater opportunity to concentrate on his own production work, and enabled him to travel more often to the UK and the US.
In 1980 Jammy had his biggest seller to date with Johnny Osbourne's 'Fally Ranking'. There followed an outstanding album of the same name, released in the UK (via Fatman) on Jammy's own imprint. Taken from this set are two militant Waterhouse steppers, 'Mr Marshall' and the rousing 'Jahovia'. This song was intended as the follow-up to 'Fally Ranking' but somehow, never made it onto 45. Driven by a pounding bass line, it remains one of Jammy's most intense productions and is presented here for the first alongside its totally awesome dub - listen out for the popping signal tones, one of Jammy's engineering trademarks. These tracks, recorded during a Jamaican election year of unprecedented violence, seems to echo much of the urgent tension of the time.
The early '80s belonged to the slower, spartan dancehall rhythms of ghetto producer Henry 'Junjo' Lawes and Channel 1. Jammy very much the King in waiting, also slowed down the tempo to make some of the deepest roots records of his career. 'The Crowning Of Prince Jammy' is a dub workout of Junior Reid's 'Jailhouse', one of Jammy's most weighty productions. Mixed in the dancehall style, it is a showcase for Jammy's precise timing and his total command of the Tubby's board.
These engineering skills are also evident on youth singer, Wayne Smith's wonderfully melancholy 'Life Is A Moment In Space' and it's accompanying version. This half-forgotten classic, freely adapted from, of all things, a Barbra Streisand song, unveils the more mellow side of Jammy's production style with its haunting keyboard counter-melody and chilled-out dub.
Roots music doesn't come much deeper than Hugh Mundell's apocalyptic 'Jah Fire Will Be Burning'. This stands alongside Junjo's production of The Wailing Souls' 'Kingdom Rise Kingdom Fall' as one of, if not THE heaviest tunes of the early '80s. This record defines the 'Waterhouse Sound' as Pablo protégé Mundell wails a warning of the impending Last Judgement with lyrical imagery of smoking furnaces, burning fire and running blood. The song is complemented by an equally ominous, nyahbingi-influenced, rhythm that combines the dual Jammy's hallmarks of a creeping horns riff and solid bass line with rasta drumming and wah-wah guitar.
It was in 1983 that Jammy started to hit the big time with huge-selling 45s from a new Waterhouse artist known as Half Pint. The singer had learnt his trade by performing live on sound systems such as Black Scorpio, and his subsequent recordings with Jammy captured perfectly the vibrant excitement of Kingston's dancehalls with crisp, well-crafted rhythms supplied courtesy of Chinna's High Times Band. Two prime examples of Half Pint's work with Jammy are 'Puchie Lou' and 'Mr Landlord'. Updating respectively the 'Joe Frazier' and 'Hypocrites' rhythms, these tracks show why the singer's sprightly style retained its influence into the early days of computerised reggae. Sugar Minott's conscious 'Give The People' and Black Crucial's superb sufferer's anthem 'Mr Vincent' provide more evidence of Jammy's excellent work with the High times Band on the brink of the digital era.
The real breakthrough came at the end of 1985 with the release of Wayne Smith's 'Under Me Sleng Teng'. This revolutionary record used a slowed-down, pre-set rock and roll rhythm from a Casio music box, and was recorded in Jammy's tiny back bedroom studio at Iris's on St Lucia Road. Jammy went from a Prince to a King and ruled the Jamaican music scene for the rest of the decade - but that, of course, is another story.
The opening lines of Mighty Rudo's great Waterhouse theme song 'Ain't No House' begin: "Special dedication to all the people whi live ina house... ain't no house like Waterhouse... ain't no house like Firehouse". Following in the tradition of Big Youth's 'Riverton City' and The Royal Rasses' 'Kingston 11', Rudo's song is a celebration of day-to-day runnings in the ghetto and reflects the neighbourhood's strong sense of identity. A live-instrument recording released post 'Sleng Teng', late in 1985, 'Ain't No House' reaffirms Jammy's own loyalty to the community that has inspired so much of his work.
Although, tragically, Tubby was shot dead in 1989, his legacy survives in Waterhouse, and you can feel his presence today on Dromilly Avenue, where his apprentice operates an electrical repair service from premises directly opposite number 18. More than anywhere else, though, it is inside King Jammy's Studio at 38 St Lucia Road that his spirit lives on.
Dave Hendley May 1999
Dedicated to Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock.
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