Remix? Rap? It all goes back to Jamaica!

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King Tubby (born Osbourne Ruddock, 1941-89) was a Jamaican audio engineer. He got his start by running a sound system that blasted out the latest rock steady hits at rough-and-tumble street dances in late 60s Kingston. 

After he took on a second job as disc cutter at Treasure Isle studio, he spent his spare time there experimenting with remixes or “dubs” (from “double”) of hit songs. He liked the new sounds that he got and decided to press them on acetate plates to play at a dance. 

When the dance crowd heard the first of Tubby’s dubs, -- bass at full throttle, the heavy reverb , vocal dropping in and out, guitar reduced to glassy shards -- they went wild. In their frenzy, they rushed towards Tubby, knocking over his stacks of speakers.

Tubby created more dubs and began supplying them to other sound systems while he set up his own mixing studio.  Soon, rock steady and reggae 45 rpm discs were coming out with a song on the A side and a Tubby dub version on the B.  

Many people bought the 45 for the Tubby side.

At the time Tubby introduced his dubs, Jamaican  deejays had long been cracking jokes and spouting party patter over records that they played at dances. Tubby’s dubs opened the door to a whole new deejay generation, dreadlocked rastas, who improvised social and spiritual commentary on Tubby’s raw, reverberating grooves.

If this sounds a lot like Rap meets the Remix, you’re right. Only it happened in Jamaica, almost 10 years before the disco dance remix, Grandmaster Flash, and the Sugar Hill Gang.

Tubby would not be a great subject for a tell-all movie along the lines of “Ray” or “Walk the Line.”  There is no real heart-wrenching drama in his story. He didn’t drink or use drugs. He wasn’t even fat. His moniker came from his mother’s maiden name.

He was a quiet, unassuming man, generous with his time and knowledge, and totally committed to his art.  He wanted only to work.  He collaborated with some of Jamaica’s greatest producers and musicians.

On February 16, 1989 he was gunned down by an unknown assailant outside his home in the Waterhouse section of Kingston. He was only 48.

King Tubby is one the great figures of world music.  Whenever we talk about the latest chill-out remix and its deft use of “dub”-type reverb, let’s remember that it all goes back to King Tubby.

Whenever we discuss the newest gangsta rapper, let’s recall that it all started with those Dreads preaching about Jah (God) or social injustice over deep Tubby rhythms back in the early 70s.

After his death, Tubby’s friends went through his studio and found stacks of jazz records in a closet. Tubby loved jazz. It is nice to think that somewhere in the afterlife, he’s hooked up with Miles Davis and they are mixing down a dub of "Bitches Brew."

Sources: Steve Barrow and Colin McCann liner notes to various King Tubby CDs and www.allmusic.com.

 

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