|Different to all other styles of Reggae, Dub is the
language of the studio engineer and the sound-system operator. From as
early as the late-1950s, Dub plates (also known as acetates or reference
discs or soft wax) were used as a way of making a sound-systems musical
choice unique. The direct-to-disc Dub plates did not have the
manufacturing cost of a fully processed record and so were a cheap and
quick way for a producer of testing the dance crowd's response to a new
recording. A track could be recorded in the studio in the day and played
at a dance the very same evening. These discs were unique one-off
pressings and therefore an original Studio One dub plate is a serious
collector's item today.
By the late 1960s, a new definition of Dub was
emerging. A Dub plate could now also be an instrumental cut of a certain
track still made exclusively for the dancehall and used as a musical bed
for the dancehall DJs to rhyme over. Eventually these became available
to the general public as the "version" track featured on the B-side of a
45-rpm single. To this day all singles made in Jamaica have the version
of a song on the B-side.
The version started off as simply the original song or track with the
vocals removed but as time went on engineers and producers began to
experiment with dropping in and out different instruments and using echo
and reverb to make a version more interesting. All these sonic
experiments were done with a mixing desk and tape machines. One of the
reasons for this experimenting was that the soundmen who operated the
sound-systems and bought the Dubs from the producers were always looking
for ways to keep their sounds unique and would therefore ask for an
exclusive mix of a track.
It is this relationship between studio engineer. producer and
sound-system operator that is directly responsible for the phenomenon of
Sylvan Morris was the sound engineer at Studio One from the early
sixties until the start of the seventies. As well as helping develop the
classic Studio One sound in the studio, Morris was also responsible for
hundreds of versions that appeared on Studio One singles during this
time. In the 1970s Studio One released a series of twelve Dub albums,
such as Dub Store special, Zodiac sounds and African Rub A Dub, many of
which are collectors' albums today. Mixed by the Dub specialist - a/k/a
Coxsone Dodd - they contained Dubs of many classic Studio One tracks.
Originally released in startling silk-screen covers and selling at a
higher price than normal LPs, these were some of the finest Dub albums
to be released in Jamaica.
By the 1970s many budding Dancehall DJs and singers were using these
previously exclusive Studio One dub-tracks to rhyme over. This meant
that even though Coxsone Dodd had retired from running sound-systems at
the end of the 1960s, Studio One still dominated Kingston's dancehalls.
How did you start as an engineer?
I was working by a place named Comtec, a telecommunications
place. I went to a technical high school to do electronics, radio and
TV. I was quite young at the time, about 16. I was doing my
apprenticeship on taxicab radios, police radios, aircraft radios. I was
there about a year; they called me the professor. Straight from there I
came by Duke Reid and I sojourned there for a short period, about nine
months, around 1962. The Jamaican's "Ba Ba Boom time" I remember working
on. I won the Jamaican Festival. When I left Duke Reid I came straight
to Coxsone. I was here for a period of about eight years during which
time we did a lot of good stuff. Because I was sort of happy.
Do you remember the house band around 1965?
Well we used three different bands. One by the name of Sound
Dimension. Jackie Mittoo was the main arranger at that time. Leroy
Sibbles played bass, Eric Frater guitar, Phil Callender drums. We also
had Horsemouth. And Robbie Lyn. He came on roughly after Jackie Mittoo
What about when Jackie Mittoo left in 1968?
Well, Leroy Sibbles and myself were the mainstay at that time.
He used to call me His operator. when we were recording I didn't sit
down much as I was always dancing, so they used to call me the Dancing
operator. And if they didn't see me dancing they would stop playing and
say, What's wrong, Morris, and I'd say, I don't like the beats. we would
come together and try something else until they find the groove and
they'd see me dancing. And so that's how we worked for a while.
And these were two track recordings?
We would do the rhythm tracks first and after we'd do the
over-dubs, some voices. And depending on the type of tune we'd probably
do some horns. We'd actually run it from one tape to another tape, so
you'd actually have three sessions of dubbing.
How did you help create the Studio One sound?
Well there were some innovations that I did that I think helped
the situation a lot. I created a loop from the Ampex machine, which we
used for the voices. We looped back the playback head into the recording
so you had this delay. And it was a fixed delay but it sounded so right.
And so when you added the voice it sounded fantastic. Also I remember
creating a bass box. I noticed the back of the speaker had a heavier
sound than the front so I created a bass box where I put an aperture at
the back, and put a mic at the back, not the front. there was an
electronic voice mic at the time, a ribbon mic, and it was broken and I
used some silver tape from one of these tapes that we had and created
the ribbon. I think this is one of the things that made the sound the
way it was because we used a mic and pick-up and mixed them together.
How many mics were in the studio?
Well, I tell you, on occasions you only had about two mics.
Sometimes one! So it had to be strategically placed in such a way to
pick up everything.
How many people would be in the studio?
Well, you'd have bass, two guitars, a lead, a drummer,
sometimes three horns and percussion.
what's the difference between working for Coxsone and at the
start when you worked with Duke Reid?
Well, here I had a lot more control. Because most of the time
after Mr Dodd decides what tunes he wants, because he would make
auditions, then he would the total control to us, so sometimes he wasn't
even there in the studio when it was going on, but afterwards he would
listen and channel things. Because he saw me at the time as such a
genius so he said, just work with me. So he left me up to it because he
knew I had so much good in me.
Would Coxsone do dub-plates to test the sound?
Yes, well what happened we had a dub machine. This is another
thing that helped the sound a lot. The soundmen came in and you'd
suggest rhythms to them and they'd ask what's good and then they'd
promote it. Sometimes they'd actually change the name of the tune, the
reason being that if another soundman came and wanted this tune, he
wouldn't know which tune because he'd changed the name. A lot of the
time they'd try to hide the sounds.
Where did you work after Studio One?
When I left here I went by Harry J. I did a lot of work here
with Bob Marley, about three albums. At Harry J's studio, I worked with
many producers. GG Ranglin, Joe Gibbs, we did a lot of work with the
group Third World.
What do you think of the work of King Tubby?
Me and King tubby we rapped, because we were in the same
profession, we weren't rivals, we respect each other. He was an
individual like myself and we knew what we were doing so we didn't have
to interfere in the next man's area. One of the things I most admired is
the reverb, the way he used his echo. And his recordings were
technically correct in terms of sound.
which other engineers/producers do you respect?
ET (Errol Thompson), he's with Joe Gibbs. King Jammy was
another chap. Carlton Lee; he worked by dynamic for a period. Scientist,
he does his stuff. Junjo Lawes was a guy who really stood out. I think
because he was a bit innovative in the things he did.
Do you think that engineering is the same today as it was?
No, it's lacking badly. Because of advances in electronics. A
lot of this computer stuff, you find the personal sound, the live thing,
the feel from things done live, you realise that there's something
missing. And the economical situation, you find constraints - when a man
does the same rhythm he uses it many times. But in those days every tune
What can you tell us about versions?
Yes, well I would say the soundmen drove us into this area.
Because we started to do drum and bass on one track and the rhythm on
the other. So, like I say, the soundmen would come, everybody would like
to get his tune sounding different. So we had given this to one soundman
and another soundman would say, let mine sound a little different. So
this is how we came to drop in some of the thing and drop out some of
the thing, to give it that version thing.
Would Coxsone encourage that?
Well, let's face it, if your sound men take it and go off then
it's a good thing to get into, so that's how he capitalised on the
situation. At the start Coxsone wasn't too into the version on a single
because he liked to give them a full package, but then after a while it
took off so you'd have to give them another version.
Did you enjoy doing versions?
Yeah man, because it meant you had to be skilful, make a sound
different. You had to use echo, reverb, equaliser; you had to put them
on the drum, all kind of things, so we had to be innovative.
How did dub plates come about?
Dub actually started from what we called a reference disc in
the early days. now a dub is actually the musical backing from a
recorded vocal track. You'll hear the sound system men refer to Dub
Plate. This dub plate would at times be a 10" with 4 different tracks on
So this was a way of making backing tracks exclusive for the
Well, yes, this was it, because even in sound system clashes
you playing a regular 45 isn't the thing. It's more the dub plates you
can play the more you are rated and you are playing songs your opponent
And that's the same today?
Yes, the same today.
Where did the idea come from?
We first used the dub plate to toast in the dancehall in the
early days, say 1960. Just the rhythm track and Count Machukie would be
toasting. Nowadays people make specials. They take the music from a very
good record and the DJ says something special about the person who pays
him to do the special. But this is all the same dubbing process. Another
term is soft wax. In the early days we used it a lot to test a song in
the dancehall because it would be too expensive for you to go make a
master and stamper and then press two or three records just for this
purpose. So this is why in the early days you term it reference disc.
you get your song, Bob Marley track or whatever track, and put it onto
this dub plate and you play it all over.
Do they dissolve or last forever?
Well, not too much because I still hear guys boasting that they
are playing dub from my time and it's a long time since I've been making
So how many do you think you've made?
Loads man! Thousands! Thousands! Because that was the thing of
the day, that's how we usually made our money, sound system coming in
and buying dub plates. That's what happens now with 'specials'.
Who mixed the studio One dub albums?
Well most of the time it was me.
Was it good fun doing them?
Well, yes it was fun because it pays off! It has been a very
important part of the business ever since. Because it's additional
income, you understand, you have to run with the vocal then you come
back, mix and play around with the music and put it out there. that's
what the people demanded... You see, you play the original, then you
play the version on dub plate and the crowd would go wild!