Bunny 'Striker' Lee - Full Up

Bunny Lee Allstars - Ivan Itler The Conqueror
Dave Barker - Smooth & Sorts
Rico Rodriguez & Tommy McCook - Going West
Bunny Lee Allstars - Joe Lewis
Bunny Lee Allstars - Scarface
Delroy Wilson - Drink Wine
Joe White - Someone To Call My Own
U Roy - Wet Vision
Bunny Lee Allstars - Daydream
Rico Rodriguez - Japanese Invasion
Stranger Cole - When I Get My Freedom
Roy Richards - Death Rides A Horse
Winston Williams & Pat Kelly - Sweet Like Candy
Don Lee & Lester Stirling - Peyton Place
Bunny Lee Allstars - Full Up
Bunny Lee Allstars - Hook Up
Jimmy Wonder - Stealing In The Name Of The Lord
Delroy Wilson & Lizzie - Double Attack
The Hippy Boys - Death Rides A Horse
Bobby James & Dave Barker - You Said It
Darker Shade Of Black - War

Bunny 'Striker' Lee: 'Mrs. Pottinger used to call me "the ghost that haunts the studio". Man would say "how come you have so many baby mothers? Where you get the time?" Because I was always in the studio.'

It is July 2006 and I am working on a recording session for Bunny 'Striker' Lee for the first time. Bunny has arranged for 5 different singers to come round to my tiny bedroom studio in Dalston to voice some tunes, and as he is running late we have started without him. The first singer up is struggling to nail the tune after five or six takes, when Bunny and his entourage arrive in a flurry of laughter and multiple ringtones. Immediately the level of energy and excitement in the studio is ramped up, Bunny shouts a few words of encouragement and the singer nails his performance in the next take. From then on the session moves quickly, with Striker offering gentle guidance, the occasional suggestion for lyrics, and frequent cries of support: 'G'wan, you great!' After 3 hours all the tunes and a version are recorded and mixed, and two weeks later the songs are out in the shops on seven inch vinyl. It has been an archetypal Bunny Lee session, quick and spontaneous, getting the best out of all involved. No one leaves with money in their pockets, but some have been given rhythm tracks for their own productions, and all are walking just a bit taller than when they came in.

Rico Rodriguez: 'I remember we recorded an album in Tooting. Bunny bring in the rhythm tracks and we just record the whole LP inna three quarters of an hour.'

Rewinding to February 1968, a slim and dapper young Jamaican touched down for the first time in an icy, snowbound Britain. Bunny Lee had achieved instant success at home with his first releases the year before, but did not have the funds to compete for airtime with the established Jamaican producers. He had now come to London to do business with Chris Blackwell's Island Records, and immediately saw that the rewards from the English market would be key to his success in Jamaica. By building business relationships abroad, Bunny could gain a competitive edge over his rivals that made up for his lack of finances. And so began the intricate process of international networking that continues to this day.

Errol Dunkley: Bunny Lee come from England with that word 'reggae'. Him say the record companies in England would like the beat to be a little faster.'

Rocksteady's slower beat had never been as popular in Britain as it was in Jamaica. In 1968 the speed of the music was ramped back up towards the danceable tempo of ska, and reggae was born. To deliver the new beat, Bunny enlisted some young, untutored musicians led by the Barrett brothers.

Aston 'Family Man' Barrett: 'Bunny Lee bring me into the recording business, from rocksteady to reggae, it was all good! I build my own one-string guitar and my brother Carlie build him drums out of paint cans - that's how we practiced. And that is how dub was born, cause we practice just the two of us, just drum and bass.

Aston and Carlton Barrett joined by Glen Adams on organ and Alva Lewis on guitar, comprised the Bunny Lee All Stars, who are featured on most of the tracks on this compilation. Also known as the Hippy boys, this same group would later become Lee Perry's Upsetters, Bob Marley's Wailers, and the first incarnation of Bunny's Aggrovators. But before the music settled down into the steadier pulse of roots reggae, the group experimented with multiple different beats and styles, with the drum and bass slowly coming to the fore.

Aston 'Family Man' Barrett: 'The drum is the heartbeat of the music and the bass is the backbone. We used to say "let this one lay down like a lizard pon a limb," and when the tune sound great Bunny would say "this one gone!"

One key attribute of Bunny Lee as a producer has always been his sociability. Unlike his more established rivals in Jamaica, the young Striker never set himself apart from his artists. He spent every waking hour hanging out with musicians, fellow producers, and the record buying public in shops and clubs.

Stranger Cole: 'Bunny Lee is the only producer who associate with the artists. You could never go anywhere in Jamaica without seeing Bunny lee with quite a few artists in his car. I think the special thing Bunny Lee bring to the studio is his love and unity with the artists, cos when you are around Bunny Lee you feel good, you don't nervous or nothing because he is one of us, so he make you feel very comfortable.'

Bunny Lee: 'Me always tell my artists them have to be part of the firm. If a man no spar with me, me not gonna record them.'

A hugely important development of this era was the recording of multiple 'versions' over the same backing track. Bunny Lee pioneered the recycling of a single rhythm by overdubbing different musicians, and what started out as a practical economy soon became elevated to a new art form.

Don Lee aka D. Tony Lee: 'bunny was very smart because at times he couldn't afford to pay the musicians then, so he would ask different man to sing something new on the same rhythm. He forced Jamaica and the world to accept the version, and that's how the whole dub thing came about.'

As Bunny tailored tunes directly for the British market, he also started using studios in London to record fresh material. After trying various small facilities, like Maximum Sound and Tooting Music Centre, by 1969 he had found the sound he was looking for at Chalk Farm Studios in Camden, where Jamaican Sid Bucknor worked alongside Englishman Vic Keary, a talented engineer and technician who built his own valve equipment.

Bunny Lee: 'Vic Keary is one of the pioneers of reggae music - him was what I would call a wizard, or a grandmaster! He had a studio name Chalk Farm, and most of the early records of myself and Jackie Edwards, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson and Lee Perry we did there. Vic done a lot for us in the business, and Vic wasn't a strict man with the money. He'd stay up all hours and help us and see that the thing do right.'

Vic Keary: 'Bunny would always come in with this huge pile of tapes from Jamaica, and say he just wanted an hour in the studio. Well, after an hour, I knew what was coming - he'd want another one, so I'd say "fine, but who's paying?" So Bunny would just get on the telephone to Trojan or Creole and say "hey, I've got these great tunes that need finishing," and they'd say "sure, we'll pay," so then we'd work on til 2 in the morning.'

Keary went on to manage Tappa Zukie, and visited King Tubby's studio and the Black Ark on subsequent visits to Jamaica. He now runs Thermionic Culture, a successful business building boutique valve studio equipment.

Bunny Lee: 'Ah, the Moog guy! Vic find him for us! And he's bringing in this freaky sound! Those guys really brilliant, yunno, they dedicate a lot of time and effort. I did a tune name 'Star Trek' with him, yeah. I release it in America and call it 'Joe Louis' and it tear down the place.'

Ken Elliott: 'The main thing I remember about those days was the speed we worked at, always late at night. It was important to get along with everybody, so you had to be cool, but it was always a fun atmosphere.'

This early reggae music was a constantly changing, shape-shifting entity, and Bunny was extremely nimble at spotting new trends. 'You never knew what would hit, so you just had to keep recording and move forward.' And if you happened to release two different tunes with the same title, like 'Death Rides A Horse'? 'Well it was a very popular film at the time...'

What bursts out of these tracks is the same concentration of energy that Bunny lee still brings to his music today. There's a sense of fun and excitement running through the proto-dub rhythms of the Barrett brothers, the spooky voiced intros by Glen Adams and the James Brown-styled shouts of Dave Barker. Some of the experiments did not always endure, but the talkover record, the practice of versioning and the first steps into dub music all became established between 1968 and 1972. And these huge stylistic advances laid the foundations for the roots era to come.

Diggory Kenrick

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