Augustus Pablo - El Rockers
555 Crown Street
1 Ruthland Close
Say So (Version)
|One of the single most
influential and important figures in musical history the work of
Augustus Pablo defined an era and evolved a style whose reverberations
would sound far outside of the confines of reggae music. It has always
been difficult to explain the appeal of Pablo's music in words and just
how much it meant to an entire generation of music lovers. The
embodiment of spirituality it was underpinned at all times by deep, dark
rhythms and its intangibility was both unprecedented and unparalleled in
popular music. his use of the melodica (which had previously been seen
as a 'child's' instrument and used primarily for teaching children
before they graduated to the 'real' thing) made little 'musical' sense -
in terms that had been understood before anyway. His good friend, King
Tubby. a musical genius without any training as a musician realised that
the instrument was at its most haunting when played in minor keys and it
was at his prompting that Pablo's 'Far East' signature sound was born.
"Tubby's a my brother! him buy xylophone for me... him did show me certain things and him come like the man who pass the music... just stay inna them type a key there!"
Their work together possesses an otherworldly quality that is eerie and haunting, not in an obvious horror film soundtrack way, but almost transcendental and always coupled with a weight that, at times, borders on the awe-inspiring. What is excluded begins to assume the same importance as what has been included as the spaces between the music took on a resonance and depth of silence that was continually counterpointed by the rock solid drum and bass core.
Pablo's story is probably too well known to repeat in its entirety here. Born Horace Swaby in Kingston, Jamaica in 1953 he died tragically in Kingston in 1999 of Myasthenia Gravis (a nerve disorder). He did not actually come from a musical background although there was a piano in his comfortable, middle class home. his father was an accountant and one of his clients was Miss Sonia Pottinger of Gay Feet/High Note fame. Pablo remembers being given a dub plate of Ken Boothe's 'Lady With The Starlight' as a youth; "I had it in my house a year before it came out!" Young Horace would practise on the piano and he also built his own guitar with fishing line for strings. "I just loved the sound of music, all kind of music. Just music was inside me from early days".
He entered the music business through Hermin Chin-Loy who gave him his name. Their story and work together is detailed on the essential 'The Red Sea' compilation which contains the blueprint for the 'Far East' sound - 'East Of The River Nile'. He then moved on to work with his old school friend from Kingston College, Clive Chin at Randy's where their groundbreaking 'This Is Augustus Pablo' album was recorded. In 1972 he began to produce records for himself on his Hot Stuff and Rockers labels: "It's pre sound system me deal with. Me and my brother Garth started up the sound but Garth gwaan come, gwaan come so me operate it more time. Jah Bull a the deejay for the set. Through we named it Rockers we didn't play any more soul music".
His first self-produced release was on the Dynamics Sound's subsidiary label Panther. It was a version of the 'Norwegian Wood' melody that was already a reggae standard under the name of 'Darker Shade Of Black' which Pablo entitled 'Kid Ralph'. "I just lock off playing for other people. Comes a time when you draw in 'pon producers. Anything they can do we can do better! Most of the producers well... it's really musicians who make the music. They build up a different vibe. Me name musician and them only name producer! So me just start producing meself. The first records nah sell much. We'd only press 100/100, 200/200 or 300/300 at a time".
It's some of those records that are collected together here and in particularly the rhythms and tunes that were used to make up the epochal 'King Tubby's Meets Rockers Uptown'. Originally released on Brad Osbourne's New York based Clocktower label in 1977 it hasn't been out of print since and is an awesome collection of versions of records that had helped to make the Rockers sound: "First LP me put out. Me want Tubby's to mix a dub LP in stereo but I see dub different from how everybody else see it. Me nuh invent dub! (Thaw was) a whole class of us together drawing out the rhythm and just echo it. So them call it dub... but some people give different meanings for dub. Me is a man who try to do something new. Me nuh follow nothing!" In many ways Pablo refuted and refused to take credit that rightly belonged to him: "People call it successful. I just doing the works, you know".
He was a deeply religious man and much of his work cites Haile Selassie as co-producer but it is undoubtedly Pablo's deep knowledge of music and his understanding of Jamaican musical history in particular that form the solid foundation to his work. His first self-production for the Rockers label was a cut to 'Swing Easy' a theme originally from 'Fiddler On The Roof' that Studio One's Soul Vendors had adapted and adopted as their very own. He was to return again and again to Brentford Road rhythms, not out or any lack of inspiration, but as part of an entire vision of reworking and adding to these tunes. Pablo had even recorded at Studio One but: "Coxsone never really put them out. Three organ instrumentals... one was 'Moving Away'. Me have an idea 'pon it and just play it... and two original rhythms. Sylvan Morris and Larry Marshall supervised the sessions. This was just before Herman (Chin-Loy). 'Real Rock', 'Swing Easy' me did love them tune! It's music me a talking. Me listen to anything named 'instrumental'. The Skatalites with Jackie Mittoo... them me really love!"
The style came steeped in history as the endless possibilities inherent in reworking these musical templates became more and more apparent as the decade progressed. Now seen as established 'classics' in many ways it was actually the do-overs that elevated them to this exalted status and the work that Pablo started in 1972/73 was later carried to its inevitable conclusion by Channel One and Joe Gibbs - it really was 'Rockers time now!' Even Bob Marley referred to this phenomenon: "...so we return to the rockers..." as he introduced 'Kinky Reggae' live at the Lyceum, London in 1975 although the track was omitted from the 'Live' album.
It can be said that great art is often the result of accidents that are probably more incidental than accidental. Not to imply that Pablo's approach was at all haphazard but he did work in a very 'loose' way to build up the whole. When you're out there on a limb then the next branch might seem like a logical step at the height you have reached but it doesn't necessarily look like that to an observer whose feet are firmly planted on the ground. Yet Pablo was quite vehement in his criticism of those who later tried to find meaning where none had existed: "It's the way you a go look 'pon it now! You see it like a pattern and a time. You can't look 'pon it so."
It might be regarded as presumptuous to attempt to version over 'King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown' and some of the ground has already been covered on Jacob Miller's 'Who Say Jah No Dread' where the original vocal tracks have been matched with the dub sides to the seven inch releases. Consequently the versions to 'Stop Them Jah'/'Who Say Jah No Dread' and 'Each One Dub'/Each One Teach One' are not included here as this set is specifically designed to show still further facets of an already sparkling jewel. It's not even a matter of attempting to be completist either (although the temptation was always there) and there are cuts to 'Cassava Piece' and 'Satta', for instance, that are not included here. Apart from the aforementioned Jacob Miller tracks every track on the original Jamaican release of 'King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown' is presented as a full instrumental or a further Tubbys dub cut and it would be nice to think that Pablo would have appreciated it. He was never personally satisfied with just one take and many of the tracks that were subsequently re-released on compilation albums are almost inevitably different to the seven inch releases.
The set opens with 'Black Gunn' and 'Brown Jim' a double A-sided single from 1974 that featured xylophone and melodica cuts to Jacob Miller's 'Keep On Knocking'. Pablo lifted the titles from a then current 'blaxploitation' film starring Jim Brown, naturally enough.
'New Style' is a xylophone cut to Bongo Pat's 'Young Generation'. This is the original B-side version from 1974 and is a completely different take to the one found on the 'Original Rockers' album.
Pablo's habit of naming tunes after streets and areas in Kingston reached a high point on the 1974 release of '555 Crown Street'/'1 Ruthland Close'. An ethereal melodica piece to the rhythm Jacob Miller used for 'False Rasta' is backed by a chilling Tubbys dub - different again to '555 Dub Street' on 'King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown'.
'Tribalist' is lifted straight from the version side to the 1973 USA only Jam Rock release of Dillinger's 'Braces A Boy' attack. This full melodica cut does not appear anywhere else to the best of our knowledge.
Next comes the tune released on Pablo International that finally established Pablo's name on the international stage when Jacob Miller sung 'Baby I Love You So' over the 'Cassava Piece' rhythm and Tubbys deconstructed it as 'King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown'. The version here comes direct from the 1973 Hot Stuff release and it's radically different to the cut that appears on 'Original Rockers'. It was later versioned over by Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson as 'Chapter Three' - the title track of 'African Dub Chapter Three' with Sly Dunbar putting in some serious overtime work on the drum kit.
Another release from 1973 follows, 'El Rockers'/'Rockers Rock', Pablo's take on Studio One's evergreen 'Real Rock' where he chose to retain the melody but alter the rhythm of the original. Listen closely and it doesn't appear to be a Tubbys mix here! Confusingly enough a deejay cut from Jah Iny backed by a bizarre echoed tape rewind cut that also incorporated the 'Hot Milk' melody on clavinet appeared at the time with exactly the same credits.
'Say So' was one of the hardest to find Rockers records until repressed as part of Pablo's reissue programme in the nineties and, like Mr Dodd at Studio One, there is always a selection of classic Rockers singles to be found at the Rockers International shop. here we have the original version side from the 1973 single - the reissue utilised the take from the 'King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown' album. What a pity Pablo never released an instrumental cut to this most stubborn of rhythms.
Two pieces to 'Swing Easy' follow: first the debut Rockers release - a melodica cut from 1972 followed by the 1973 clavinet cut which was released on both Rockers and Lion labels.
Next another Studio One rhythm - Pablo's melodica and dub cuts to 'Frozen Soul' from 1972 which he later used for Leroy Sibbles to sing over his 'Love Won't Come Easy' opus - a Heptones classic from the sixties.
Like so many other reggae artists Pablo found inspiration in the Abyssinians' immortal 'Satta Amassa Gana' and here for your listening pleasure we have two totally different melodica variations on its hymn-like beauty. 'Silent Satta' was mixed by Lee Perry at the Black Ark while 'Pablo Satta' reinforces the heavenly qualities of the original.
You will, no doubt, be aware that Pablo died last year at a tragically early age but while his health had visibly deteriorated over the last decade his music continued throughout to be an almost evangelical confession of faith. His music, of course, lives on as does his Rockers International Record Shop on Orange Street - itself surely a conscious decision to place himself and his work firmly in the context and historical perspective of Jamaican musical history - which still supplies the Rockers to the public. Here he is as a young man at the start of his musical journey and at the height of his creative powers. Don't look on this as gilding the lily (that's a pointless exercise) just see it as adding some more lilies to the vase in memory of Augustus Pablo.
Harry Hawke. March 2000
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