The Impact Of Dub
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
As the Jamaica Music Museum’s Sunday Grounation series closed at the Institute of Jamaica, East Street, Kingston, on Sunday afternoon, dub was on the agenda of Dr Dennis Howard and the Black as Coal band.
No singer was required (although, late in the day, two men from the audience took shots at Black Uhuru‘s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and General Penitentiary) as the latter played the rhythms to Worl’ a Reggae Music, Zion Train and Sun is Shining, among others. And Howard infused his presentation, ‘Black Ark Miracle in the Hometown Space Odyssey: The Influence of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Osbourne ‘King Tubby‘ Ruddock on Global Pop Music’, with the throb and sometimes other worldly sounds of dub as well as images of those pivotal to creating the sound.
Louis Chude-Sokei was among the scholars whose work Howard referred to during his lecture.
Long before the global influence, though, came the Jamaican origins, Howard starting by saying he was saying “my little bit on this important music”. It proved to be much more than a ‘little bit’, Howard immediately identifying the new aspect of his research. “Very little emphasis has been placed on the contribution of Jamaican music to mainstream production techniques,” he said.
So dub was arguably accidentally started when Rudolph ‘Ruddy’ Redwood got a strange pre-release disc of a Paragons song done by producer Duke Reid. The engineer accidentally left off the vocals, but when Redwood played the track it was a big hit, as the fans enjoyed singing along immensely.
This was the genesis of the ‘version’, producers putting the rhythm of a song on the B side of a record instead of having to go to the expense of doing another song, Howard illustrating his point by playing the full song and then version of Danger in Your Eyes. “Some scholars have paid scant regard to the economic dimension,” Howard said.
After establishing U-Roy’s place in the deejay art form, including playing a cut of On the Beach with the Paragons and U-Roy – an early combination done by Treasure Isle, Howard zeroed in on the first of the men central to his lecture. Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock was one of the top engineers at Treasure Isle and had started experimenting with effects such as delay and slipping vocals in and out, Danger in Your Eyes again making the presentation cut, this time King Tubby style. That was identified as the Hometown Space Odyssey.
There were other engineers in dub, among them Errol Thompson and Keith Hudson, but Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry was identified as the man who introduced a “layered sonic motif to dub”. Howard labelled that approach the “Black Ark Miracle”. In a recorded interview, Perry described how he approaches music like making a man, so the process in the studio is like “to make Melchizedek over”.
Having identified Scratch’s approach as the Perry Methodology and King Tubby as using the Ruddock Technique, Howard moved on to the global influence of dub production techniques and methodology on a wide variety of music, including disco, hip-hop, trip-hop, jungle and electronica. So, dub, Howard said, “introduced the human ear to frequencies which were hitherto latent in some cases”. And the art of remixing took off.
Dub, he argued, is the first fully original music art form from Jamaica. In addition, it is distinctive as the engineer is the star of the show and the mixing board is the instrument.
Shep Pettibone was identified as one of the North American producers who was heavily influenced, Howard attributing the disco practice of extending a song through playing the rhythm to dub influence.
Among the artistes whose work dub-production techniques worked its way into are Sister Sledge and Diana Ross, Good Times and I’m Coming Out, two of the several popular songs that showed its influence.
Howard played I’m Coming Out to illustrate, advising that close attention should be paid to the beginning of the song. “Sounds like dub to me,” he commented.
After a clip of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, Howard said “sounds like something Scratch would do”.
Illustrating the Connection
It was on Tom Tom Club‘s Genius of Love, however, that Howard was able to illustrate the connection through an interview with engineer Stephen Stanley, the point of contact between genres being the Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. As he played Genius of Love, Howard commented, “rub-a-dub”, Stanley explaining in the recorded interview how he had used dub techniques on the song.
Unlike his dub predecessors, Stanley organised the mix before the final mix, what he called “set it before you take it”, but which Howard termed ‘Preset Dub Bouncing’.
Howard spoke passionately to the lack of recognition for Jamaica’s dub originators, those who have created this “sonic tour de force”, the intention being that his research will lead to the establishment of a “technological canon”. And there was one last list of North Americans who have been influenced by dub techniques, among them Grandmaster Flash, Redman, Tupac and Busta Rhymes.
Howard was introduced by Clyde McKenzie, Sydney Bartley, bringing greetings on behalf of Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna. Herbie Miller, curator of the Jamaica Music Museum, hosted the Grounation.
© David Burnett