Sean Diamond explores an unknown corner of the music world “The Dub/Reggae tribute record” unearthing many gems along the way.
The concept of the musical ‘tribute’ act has always fascinated me. There’s something ever so fantastically strange and delightful about a devoted fan paying homage to the music he or she loves by recording or performing their own take on it, or both in some cases! There is a snobbish elitism concerning this noble medium amongst certain critics, the type of stuffy, bow-tied bores who love boring the plebs about their takes on the latest theatrical adaptations of Othello or The Four Seasons, conveniently overlooking the fact that the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are both essentially tribute acts themselves. So what happens when a bunch of like-minded souls decide to get together, record a tribute album and throw a slightly different variation into the mix, namely Dub and Reggae? Well… the Dub/Reggae tribute album! Bearing this in mind I decided to set myself a task; come up with a list of ten of the most memorable titles in this most niche of markets and make a list for Louder Than War. Someone’s got to, haven’t they? On second thoughts, maybe not. Anyway, like it or leave it, here it is. In no particular order….
1. Little Roy – Battle For Seattle
Following a Prince Fatty collaborating take on Nirvana’s ‘Sliver/Dive’ debut single, ‘Touch Not My Locks’ singer Little Roy decided to go the whole hog and record an entire ten track album of selected cuts from the tortured back catalogue of Kurt Cobain. The result, the brainchild of producers Fatty and Mutant Hi-Fi (Roy had apparently never heard Nirvana prior to these recordings) was both a critical and commercial success, reaching number one in both the Itunes and Amazon Reggae Charts and receiving a big thumbs-up from the Nirvana camp. Addressing the 3000 strong crowd at Reading and Leeds, Little Roy apparently informed the fans that “we did it so you can dance to Kurt’s songs.” Certainly heard far worse reasons for doing things in my time!
2. Easy Star All-Stars – Radiodread: Tribute To Ok Computer
New Yorkers Easy Star All-Stars followed up their best selling Floyd reggae tribute ‘Dub Side Of The Moon’ with this, 2006’s track by track re-interpretation of Radiohead’s ‘Ok Computer’. Adopting the moniker of Radiodread, the band gathered together a truly stonking cast of some of the reggae scene’s most distinguished figures (Toots & The Maytals, Horace Andy, Sugar Minott, The Meditations and Morgan Heritage are amongst the names featured) and produced a truly astonishing work of art which is every bit the sum of its original source. The highlights are breathtakingly frequent, although one of the most affecting features Mr Skylarking himself (Horace Andy) on the album’s opening track, ‘Airbag’, that he makes his own. Jonny Greenwood described the album as “truly astounding” and he’s not wrong.
3. Jah Division – Dub Will Tear Us Apart
Not an album, rather an EP from another New York based dub outfit. Jah Division released this, their one and only recording, in 2004. Featuring members of psych/prog bands Home and Oneida, ‘Dub Will Tear Us Apart’ was limited to just 600 copies (second hand copies sell for ridiculous amounts on Ebay) and was a dark, dank, bass-heavy affair, their take on ‘Heart And Soul’ being particularly claustrophobic and foreboding in its execution. The peculiar umlaut above the ‘a’ in Jah was apparently added to avoid confusion with a much loved Russian reggae band of the same name.
4. Yellow Dubmarine – Abbey Dub
A Beatles tribute band from Washington, D.C., Yellow Dubmarine released this spectacularly chilled track by track tribute to The Beatles’ semi-swansong ‘Abbey Road’ in 2011. What could have been a jaw dropping disaster is kept at bay by some teeth shatteringly accomplished musicianship; side two’s suite is taken on with all the confidence of a prophylactic salesman stepping into an E-fuelled rave VIP sex party, it’s clear that these guys really have a real stoned affinity with the music of the Fabs. This take on the darkly knockabout ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is a highlight, hearing the dispatching of the boy’s victims set to a slow Caribbean styled groove is quite a trip!
5. Dread Kennedys – In Dub We Trust
Moving into harsher territory now, ‘In Dub We Trust’ is a hard hitting Industrial/Dub tribute to the music of Jello Biafra’s seminal anarcho punk outfit Dead Kennedys. Released in 1999, and featuring takes on already fierce songs by the likes of Pigface, Bagman and 7000 Dying Rats, this album is confrontational in the extreme. Infamous Rave/Punk duo Sheep On Drugs provide one of the album’s ‘highlights’, a bruising, suffocatingly industrial romp through the anthem ‘California Uber Alles’ which quite frankly makes the original sound like Terry Wogan singing ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ with the musical backing of The Mike Flowers Pops. Which would probably make for similarly intense listening, come to think of it, just in a different kind of way. For strong stomachs and/ or cold hearts only.
6. Denver Dub Collective – Purple Dub
The cover of the album says it all. A band member recreating the iconic movie poster of ‘Purple Rain’, complete with a tagline reading “The Music of Purple Rain in Ska, Reggae & Dub”, this spectacular homage to Prince’s mega-selling 1984 album, the soundtrack to his hit film of the same name, is a real labour of love. Gorgeous takes on ‘The Beautiful Ones’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ are nicely compounded by the supremely fluid production of Judge Roughneck’s David Dinsmore and musical contributions from the creme de la creme of the Denver reggae scene. I was unable to find any actual album snippets on Youtube, so here’s a clip of the 11 piece giving it their all on a stage. You’ll be crying ‘Take Me With U’ by the end!
7. Dread Zeppelin – Un-Led-Ed
Undoubtedly the most bizarre tribute act of them all. Formed from the ashes of California group The Prime Movers, Dread Zeppelin’s manifesto involves performing the selected works of Led Zeppelin, interspersed with whatever other songs they see fit to get their mitts on, in a reggae style; with the aid of a 800 pound Elvis impersonator going by the name of Tortelvis! Legend has it the rest of the band first encountered this illustrious figure after he crashed his milk float into the back of their car. Whatever the truth, history was made. Their debut album, Un-Led-Ed was released in 1990 and co-produced by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics under the pseudonym of Rasta Li-Man. This take on ‘Immigrant Song’, lifted from the album, really needs to be seen and heard to be believed! A hilariously whacked out rock-reggae karaoke hellraiser which will either have you jumping for joy or smashing up your pc/laptop/ phone in a fit of rage and despair. Don’t say you weren’t warned! Should probably come with some kind of health warning.
8. Dub Spencer & Trance Hill – William S. Burroughs In Dub
Hot on the heels of their ‘Clashification Of Dub’ tribute album, Swiss musicians Dub Spencer & Trance Hill saw fit to unfurl this little beauty last year, a dubified tribute to Junkie Beat Prophet William S.Burroughs, a pioneering figure in the world of rock ‘n’ roll literature. This towering take on his poem ‘Dead Souls’ perfectly captures the depravity, dark humour, futurism and political edge of the man at his best whilst also projecting a strikingly visceral aural evocation of a euphoric, chemically enhanced festival high. One to be played loud, on massive speakers, in a field somewhere on a blisteringly hot summers day. Exactly how Bill would have wanted it. (Well, probably)….
9. DubXanne – The Police In Dub
So. What happens when a Hamburg based reggae group called Okada decide to record a full length tribute to the music of Sting and The Police under the (ghastly) name of DubXanne and with a few special guests thrown in for good measure? This, apparently. Released in 2008, ‘The Police In Dub’ features cameo appearances from reggae stars Big Youth (a formidable ‘So Lonely’) and Ranking Roger (providing toasting on ‘The Bed’s Too Big Without You.’) A little wearing at times (the cover of ‘Roxanne’ is downright disturbing), the album redeems itself at times, the most interesting cut being Benjamin Zephaniah’s take on ‘Spirits In The Material World’, an intriguing, cerebral reinterpretation which turns the pomposity of the original on its head, creating something fresh and individualistic. Worth a listen, if only in places.
10. Gov’t Mule – Dub Side Of The Mule
Not strictly a reggae/dub tribute album, this triple live 2015 recording of the band’s 2006 New Years concert at The Beacon Theatre in New York City nevertheless contains an hour-long ska/reggae set featuring Maytals man Toots Hibbert on the mic! Part of the Mule’s 20th Anniversary series of recordings, this fiery rendition of Mr Hibbert’s own ‘Pressure Drop’ is guaranteed to get the heart racing, the blood cells pumping and the feet tapping themselves into a bloodied, crumpled mess. Southern Rock meets Jamaican Ska, if you don’t consider that worthy of your time and attention then there really is no pleasing you. Go listen to Coldplay or Mumford and Sons instead.
Okay. There we have it. We’ve come to the end of the list! Hope you enjoyed it, if there’s any you think I’ve missed out then please drop a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! Right, I’m off to work on my forthcoming track by track reggae/ dub tribute album ‘Aquadub’ by Jahthro Tull, a reinterpretation of Tull’s ‘Aqualung’. Horace Andy’s take on ‘Cross Eyed Mary’ will take your socks off! Nah, not really. Probably best left well alone…
All words by Sean Diamond. More work by Sean Diamond can be found in his Louder Than War archive.