Keith Hudson - Brand
My Eyes Are Red Dub
Felt the Strain Dub
My Eyes Are Red
Rasta Took the Blame
|As we near the end of
the century the word 'genius' is constantly overused in its application
to musicians. The epithet is properly bestowed in hindsight but usually
provokes meaningless debate. Keith Hudson, The Man From Shooters Hill,
The Black Morphologist of Reggae, 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 1946 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 as a dental technician (for full proof of his skills ask Big Youth to smile!) and he was able to fund his early musical work from this source.
In 1968 he launched his own Inbidimts record label with a Jamaican Number One 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 and 'Never Will I Hurt My Baby', Delroy Wilson with a re-cut of 'Run Run and Alton Ellis with 'Big Bad Boy'. Innovative deejay sides were cut on some of the most popular rhythms notably from King Tubby's Home Town Hi Fi's U-Roy after the toaster's work in the studio with Lee Perry on 'Earth Rightful Ruler' and 'OK Corral' but before that deejay's many massive Duke Reid Rock Steady hits.
El Paso Hi fi's Dennis Alcapone first studio recording, 'Zaga Zaga' credited simply to 'Smith', came courtesy of the young Keith Hudson and their work together resulted in some of the deejay's best ever sides. For an excellent overview of this period see the two Trojan collections credited to Keith Hudson & Friends 'Studio Kinda Cloudy' CDTRL 258 and 'The Hudson Affair' TJDDD 221.
This 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 onto the studio but also a motorbike at full throttle to introduce 'S90 Skank' aka 'Ace Ninety Skank' one of Jah youth's best ever sides and a landmark in Jamaican music. A dub cut to Augustus Pablo's 'Fat Baby', a melodica version to 'S90 Skank' and one of Pablo's rarest and best sides, is the title track to 'Pick A Dub' the classic drum and bass set. One of the first true dub albums it was one of Blood & Fire's earliest reissues (BAFCD 003).
Keith Hudson's popularity continued with the licensing of tunes, both solo outings and his productions of other artists, to Trojan, Magnet and Atra in the UK. Among those releases came 'Entering The Dragon', now reissued on Trojan (TJDCD 236), and the remarkable album known as 'Flesh Of My Skin' for Keith's own Mamba imprint. This 1974 set was the first full flowering of Hudson as 'The Dark Prince Of Reggae' and the over riding atmosphere of the music was sombre and brooding but also righteous and proud. Based on the history of oppression the lyrical content was metaphysical, sometimes to the point of abstraction, its sound was unique and no-one else could replicate it and this may be the reason why the album was never released in Jamaica. The album was re-released in 1988 on Brent Clarke's Atra label remixed by the original engineer Sid Bucknor after the original mix-down master tapes had been lost sometime in the intervening period. It is currently available on Rhythm & Sounds revival imprint Basic Replay (BRATRACD 1005).
On the streets of London in the mid-seventies the sound of Reggae was all-pervasive. It was only a matter of time until the larger record companies began to trawl for commercial fish to fry and Keith Hudson signed a four year deal with Virgin Records. During this period Keith had begun to shift his home base between London and New York and the first album on Virgin, 'Too Expensive', a soul/funk based outing was an uneven set by his previous impeccable standards. It can now be understood as a device to buy him some more time. This time he used to good effect writing and bringing to fruition the collection of songs that was to constitute the album considered to be his masterpiece 'Rasta Communication'. The Virgin affair was to be short lived as Hudson was not prepared for the 'next Bob Marley' plot being scripted for him and his respect for Bob Marley 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.
Unusually the companion dub album to 'Rasta Communication' entitled 'Brand, and sometimes called 'The Joint', was released in the UK prior to the vocal set. It was more developed but stylistically similar in its approach to the earlier 'Pick A Dub' in that the drum and bass held absolute dominion with the occasional overlay of menacing vocal lines, interweaving percussion and sprinkles of keyboards. Unlike some of the cavernous dubs of King 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 at the outrageous asking prices in the tight collectors market it is this album which was originally retrieved by Pressure Sounds in 1995 via the good offices of Sky High in Kingston, Jamaica and in 2006 by Junior Walker in London, England.
Amongst the bonus tracks on this re-release are previously unreleased versions to two vocals from 'Rasta Communication'. A take of 'My Eyes Are Red' which lays further credence to the claim that Jamaicans were the true creators of the 'dance remix' with the introduction of a lazy Latin shuffle under the vocal and 'Felt We Felt The Strain'. This 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 City as a result of lung cancer. 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 amongst the legendary greats of Reggae music.
Steve Barker - 'On The wire' July 1995
Update by Harry Hawke - December 2006
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