This feature serves to describe one mans search for the original vocal to a well known (in reggae circles) reggae track. It includes lots of great & very different versions of the same tune which I suggest you listen to as you read.

Long time ago (not in Bethlehem) when I was first stretching out into the world of dub and reggae, I purchased a very cheap King Tubby vs Augustus Pablo CD. Now, there’s dub and there’s dub. This cd was comprised of tracks mostly from Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee’s studio. He would start by ‘building’ the rhythms (riddims), then he’d have a vocalist sing over the track. This would make the ‘A’ side and (originally) he would put the instrumental on the flip side.

Sound systems would play out all the tunes & it became fashionable for DJ’s to ‘toast’ over the B-side. Usually this would be freestyle vocal improvisation, sometimes about social issues, sometimes political & sometimes about how good it would be for a member of the opposite sex to have ‘fun’ with him – ya know, the sort of stuff that has become common-place in rap.

To gain a bigger crowd over rivals, sound systems would get producers to produce one off mixes and press them on to acetate – then , if the tune was good enough, they would have the ‘boss’ tune and gain the crowd.

To make the instrumental b-sides more interesting, engineers like King Tubby, Philip Smart, Lee Perry, etc., would de-construct the track and re-build it with various effects; like echo, phasing & bringing in part of the vocal etc, but the focus was always on the drums and the bass, lots of bass!

History lesson out of the way. I set out to find the original vocal of the track, and eventually discovered the John Holt Treasure Isle 7″. This was produced by Duke Reid, and is a fantastic piece of early 70′s (1970) reggae.

Great as the tune is, it was slightly different to the dub I was listening to, and it wasn’t until the fantastic Blood and Fire re-issue label came along with superb sleeve notes by Steve Barrow that, on its first release of ‘If Deejay Was Your Trade’, I discovered why.

The Duke Reid version on Treasure Isle was cut in 1970, Bunny Lee rebuilt his version in 1975 for the singer Jackie Edwards, and it is this version that Tubby did the dub of (with Pablo, I believe).

This became a popular riddim with various Dj’s telling their tales over the top. It became a backdrop largely for Dreads to express their anger at Barbers (Baba => Barber, neat huh?) The most noticeable , in my opinion, was Dr Alimantado with the track ‘I Killed The Barber’ off the excellent ‘Best Dressed Chicken In Town’ album (really)!

I haven’t been able to find the dub I’m talking about on t’web, but if you can imagine the Dr Alimantado version without gunshots and the without the good Dr himself then that’s the dub that’s left over in the background.

It then became popular for people to use the most sound effects, especially gunshots, over the dub. In fact there is a horn version which can barely be heard under the sound of machine gun fire! Those crazy Jamaicans!

After admitting shooting the barber, he then, on a motorbike with another Dj (Jah Stitch) rode around the town chuffed with the accomplishment, smoking spliff and eyeing up the ladies. Less a ‘toast’, more of a conversation over dub, the track below was cut, ‘The Barber Feel It’, which I have on the aforementioned ‘If Deejay Was Your Trade’, and which I’ll leave you with …

UPDATE

Here’s a brand new (good for you!) version from Brighton’s own Prince Fatty, off his ‘Prince Fatty Versus The Drunken Gambler’ album available from Mr Bongo– Go buy one!

All words By Guarin Tees. More of Guarin’s Louder Than War features can be found here. This post first appeared on Guarin’s WordPress site Precinct Of Sound.

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