Bunny Lee & Friends - Tape Rolling

Slim Smith – The Time Has Come
I Roy & Augustus Pablo – Devil's Brother In Law
Ernest Wilson – Sentimental Man
Big Joe And King Tubby – Rasta Train
Cornell Campbell – I Wonder Why
U Roy Junior – Two Ton Gulletto
John Holt – Stick By Me
King Tubby – A Wonderful Version
Cornell Campbell – Give Me Love
King Tubby – Straight To The Copycat Head
Busty Brown And The Clowns – Soon I'm Gonna Make It
Horace Andy – Man Next Door
I Roy – Noisy Place
Leroy Samuels – Trying To Wreak My Life
Delroy Wilson – Any Heart Can Be Broken
Eric Donaldson – Cherry Oh Baby
I Roy – Festival Mash Up
Vin Gordon – Riding For A Fall
Cornell Campbell – My Confession
Slim Smith – Turning Point

One balmy summer night in June 1972, a large American car pulled up outside a small one storey house in the Waterhouse ghetto of Kingston. At the wheel was Bunny 'Striker' Lee, and the car was overflowing with singers and musicians.

Bunny Lee: "I had a big Buick from in the early days, I buy it from Dynamic Studios. And you could fit a lot of people in there. One night we had about 20-odd people in that car, and some man lay down pon the bonnet, and some man lay in the trunk. We always driving around at night, and we used to know most of the policeman so we didn't have no problem, cos we were music people not lawbreakers."

The house they entered belonged to sound system owner King Tubby, and housed a little makeshift studio in a spare bedroom. At this stage it had only been used for cutting dubplates and mixing down the occasional master, including 'Just A Dream' by Slim Smith.

"Mek I tell you how the studio start. Tubbs start with a little board at first, a homemade mixer, that he built himself. And a 2-track tape machine where if you want change the speed you have to put on an adapter that Tubbs build himself. So in those early days I used to voice at the other studios and mix it down to 2 track and carry that to Tubby's to mix."

On this particular night, Tubby was preparing for an important dance when his sound system would be without its regular deejay U-Roy.

"Tubbs was gwan play a big contest against a popular sound named Tippertone. U-Roy was in England on a tour with Roy Shirley and Max Romeo. But before we leave, we decide to voice some tune. So Tubby's is the cutting room, and Tubbs only have some thick curtain and we draw it, and we voice the special like 'Joe Razor' with Roy Shirley. Then there was a next deejay named I-Roy who used to imitate U-Roy, and Tubbs decide he can fill in. So on the night of the contest with Tippertone, King Tubby's have I-Roy as deejay and some specials that we had voiced, and the sound just mash up the place!"

In the 1970s, every stage of making a record would involve a professional studio costing a small fortune. What Bunny Lee and King Tubby pioneered in that little bedroom in Waterhouse was a direct precursor to today's digital landscape, where almost every musician and producer has their own cheap 'project' studio for overdubbing and mixing. Bunny was quick to apply their dubplate experiment to commercial releases.

"Working with that little 2-track setup, we do the rest of Slim Smith's 'Just A Dream' album, we mix it there and some of the tracks were voiced there. We fix up a lickle bathroom as a voicing room. And anywhere I go there's always a crowd go too, so Tubby's place get more and more popular."

Upcoming producers like Lee Perry and Glen Brown were soon flocking to Tubby's home studio, and when the studio was upgraded with 4-track tape machines and a high quality MCI mixing desk, it developed a sound that could compete with the bigger studio operations uptown.

The singers and deejays filling Bunny's Buick on those trips around Kingston's studios included some truly interesting and talented characters, none more so than Slim Smith, who opens and closes this compilation with unreleased cuts of two of his last hits.

"Slim Smith was a brilliant singer, but Slim did start smoke lots of weed and that mash him up, and now him getting involved with rasta and say he want him next album come out as 'Slim Smith Dread'. 'Time Has Come' was the last tune released while Slim still alive. I think it was Stranger Cole and Brent Dowe singing harmony, and Vin Gordon follow them up on trombone. 'Turning Point' is a brilliant tune, a guy named Jimmy Holiday did do it. Probably Slim heard it in England, and he came up with the arrangement and Chinna play a nice lead guitar pon it."

I-Roy's unreleased cut of the Paragons 'Left With A Broken Heart', titled 'Devil's Brother In Law', features some tentative melodica from Augustus Pablo, whilst 'Noisy Place' is really a technical run through with the deejay calling King tubby by his nickname - "Doctor Satan you're dangerous" - as Tubby sets levels on the board.

"I-Roy was a very boasty and well-dressed guy. Me used to call him the most educated deejay. We called him 'Nits' cos he carry himself dashing and full of style."

Big Joe's 'Rasta Train' is an exuberant toast over Count Prince Miller's 'Mule Train', with Tubby's mixing in full effect.

"I don't know what became of Big Joe. Him did have some accident where he did lick a man with a cricket bat and the man die. And I think him did go to court and get away, and him come back and start act crazy, but I don't see him again. But he was a magnificent deejay, one of the best."

Cornell Campbell features on three unreleased cuts that show off his unique vocals and sophisticated songwriting.

"Cornell is a brilliant writer. 'Wonder Why' is a complicated song beca Cornell is a real musician - him work out the chords and him teach the musicians, and him used to play bass on some of my sessions too."

U-Roy Junior's 'Two Ton Gulletto' is a tribute to the American heavyweight boxer Tony Galento, whose publicity stunts included fighting a bear and a kangaroo, and wrestling with an octopus. He would have loved Jamaica.

"U-Roy Junior was really called Froggy. A great deejay too, but him take up badness. Him used to be around U-Roy at the time, but him fire him gun off at Tubby's dance and him come like him going to shoot U-Roy. And when me talk to him and say he must behave, him come like he would shoot me too, so me never bother with him after that. The gun thing get to his head, and I think the police then cut him down."

John Holt's huge hit 'Stick By Me' is here accompanied by acoustic guitar, probably played by Earl 'Chinna' Smith, in another previously unreleased version.

"'Stick By Me' is a Shep and the Limelites tune. We record the riddim at Dynamic Sound. One day me drive John Holt round to Harry J Studio before it had opened officially, and Harry J said 'boy Bunny, I want you to open the studio for me, test it out' so John Holt voice 'Stick By Me' as the first tune ever recorded at Harry J."

King Tubby's ability to completely transform a tune is evident on several cuts here, with 'A Wonderful Version' reshaping Slim Smith's 'Burning Fire' and 'Straight To Copycat Head' breathing new life into the huge hit 'Bangarang' from four years earlier. Ernest Wilson's 'Sentimental Man' was originally recorded in 1969, but is also presented here transformed by a later remix.

"Tubby's MCI mixing board was magic, you know. It have that high-pass filter - I used to call it 'the Squawky'. You hear like a knife cutting through the high hat - tsssst tsssst - and you get some amazing sounds. Me and Tubbs also experiment pon some older 2-track riddim. 'Bangarang' was a 2-track and we try it and pass it through the Squawky and get some amazing sounds. Pure madness a gwan, and when it come out you can't believe it' We remix 'Sentimental Man' as a discomix to bring it up to date, maybe it was Prince Phillip Smart or Prince Jammy mix that. We have the original 4-track tape so we can cut the instruments in and out, and put on Tubby's test tone and all echo and reverb."

Horace Andy's 'Man Next Door' appears here as an alternative vocal take, without the backing vocals of the released cut.

"Horace Andy was another artist come over to me from Coxsone, but it was not stealing, it's just the business, you know. Him come and find me and then he was just ne of the boys and we just drive about and find parties and them things. We was on equal terms, none of this 'boss' business, like me up there and you down there."

'Trying To Wreck My life' is one of Leroy Smart's first recordings, issued under the name of Samuels.

"Leroy Smart grow up with me on Spanish Town Road and West Avenue. Leroy Smart and Tappa Zukie them used to walk. You'd call him a street youth, him streetwise, he grow up without mother and father, in a children's home. I think Smart is him real name, but him do a lot of things that is not smart!"

Delroy Wilson was the best. The best way fi record Delroy was to run the tune and tell him you just balancing the mic, so just to practice his phrasing. But really you record it first take. Listen to how him phrase on that, hit him the note from the bottom right up to the top."

Eric Donaldson's classic tune Festival Song winner 'Cherry Oh Baby' is heard here from an earlier unreleased session, followed by a rare I-Roy cut on the released rhythm.

"I record that song about six or twelve times. Dynamic did have a new studio that they make for Mick Jagger, and I used that one first so that have a different sound. The last one I carry my drummer Lloyd Adams, 'Tinlegs' we used to call him, and play the monster one, but the Inner Circle band did play the first one. We used to go to the theatre for the Festival Song competition. And one year I had a big commotion cos they have some bogus vote, and Tommy Cowan and them tamper with the ballot box. Well sometimes you have to be a critic, so I-Roy make comment on it. And we used 'Cherry Oh Baby' riddim to make a point."

In 1971, despite his run of hits, Bunny Lee was still having to support himself with freelance producing at Dynamic Sounds, but by 1974 he was fully independent and poised to dominate Jamaican music in the mid 70s. The tracks on this compilation capture that moment of transition, when the smaller ghetto producers were taking over from the older musical establishment.

Listening to Bunny's unreleased master tapes, what bursts out of the speakers is the energy and excitement of the whole production process, from the studio chatter of the musicians to the sonic experiments at the mixing desk. These pioneering steps in deejaying and dub were the launch pad for remix culture and the core production techniques of today, a creative explosion that altered the shape of our popular culture. In the words of I-Roy, 'Striker Lee, him have the key'.

Diggory Kenrick

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