King Tubby's big knob

Discussion in 'music, bands, clubs & festies' started by ringo, Jan 29, 2009.

  1. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    I won't paste the whole thing here, but below is a link to an article on the origins of dub. It was written by well respected reggae producer and writer Chris Lane in the 70's after visiting Lee Perry and King Tubby in their studios and was posted on another forum some time ago.

    A Musical Revolution
    hipipol and ska invita like this.
  2. ska invita

    ska invita back on the other side

    Noticed last night that Al Breadwinner has got a Big Knob! Sounding great too.

    step filter there in the foreground

    Curious if its something he bought or made? Its defied replication for years

    Have to say I think the Bakery Studio has done an amazing job of getting that Perry and now Tubby 70s sound locked.
    ringo likes this.
  3. hipipol

    hipipol Peckham Wry

    Link fucked for me but had read loads and obv have heavy appreciation for whoever built his sweepy filters and wasn't it Bunny Lee who fronted the money to buy the desk and all the effect boxes?
  4. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    No idea but sounds plausible.

    Might be in that article, have't read it for years. It's huge but I'll paste in parts below.
  5. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    A Musical Revolution - Chris Lane On Dub

    To fully appreciate the growth and development of the dub phenomenon, it may be helpful to know a little of the history and some of the techniques involved in recording popular music.

    Ever since Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, and the sound of music could be stored, copied and made commercially available, the processes involved had remained generally the same. Cylinders, then gramophone records, had been made by recording the artists and musicians directly on to wax or acetate discs, which were then sent for processing (and manufacture) with little or no further ado - whichever performance or ‘take’ had been chosen as the master was what the public heard when it was released. When American and British engineers worked on captured German Magnetophon recorders after the Second World War the modern tape recorder was developed, and during the fifties it became more and more commonplace for commercial music to be recorded onto magnetic tape rather than directly to disc.

    With the resulting improvement in dynamic range and frequency response it became more practical to ‘over-dub’ extra instrumental or vocal parts by transferring the original performance from one tape machine to another while blending in the overdubbed part, which would have been played or sung ‘live’ at the same time.

    Even though the use of tape unlocked the imaginations of the more pioneering pop and rock & roll producers (tape could be edited, speeded up or slowed down, played backwards, used for echo effects, etc), the overdubbing process would only allow for a few layers of sound to be added before the quality became diminished to a very noticable degree, and in any case all of these recordings ended up in mono because the tape heads contained just one ‘track’. However, guitar genius Les Paul, who had already pioneered the art of overdubbing while still using acetate discs and was now using tape machines for advanced concepts such as phasing, echo and so on, had built the world’s first eight-track tape recorder and was using it to record a stunning series of hit records. It wasn’t long before the record industry recognised the importance of the new technology and by the early fifties Ampex were supplying the leading American studios with two-track (stereo) machines.

    The new two-track recorders unlocked many doors for the new breed of music makers, and the next decade would bring even more advances in sound engineering as machines with three, four and then eight tracks were commercially developed. Producers and engineers found new ways to record music, forever trying to create a sound that was cleaner, bigger, brighter and punchier than their competitors’, and in doing so made their contributions to the records just as important (in some cases more so!) than that of the artists themselves. Many producers, engineers and studios developed their own individual signature sounds, and by the end of the sixties most pop fans could recognise the work of the more outstanding producers and labels just by the sound that came out of their transistor radios, irrespective of who was singing.

    Visionary producers and engineers such as Phil Spector, Shadow Morton, Tom Dowd at Atlantic, and the in-house teams at independent label-owned studios such as Chess, Stax, and of course Motown led American pop, r&b and soul music through the sixties, while in Britain George Martin and the Beatles, and of course the legendary Joe Meek pushed the boundaries of British pop.

    In late fifties Jamaica, the island’s fledgling music industry concentrated on recording local music forms (mento, calypso and folk) and licensing radio-friendly pop (and some Jazz, Latin and R&B) from America. The first man to build his own rudimentary recording studio was Stanley Motta, whose main lines of business were photography, hiring out Public Address systems, and selling records and electrical goods from his shops in Half Way Tree and downtown Kingston’s Harbour Street.

    Described as “a room with one mike and a piano”, Motta’s studio was situated on Hanover Street, and in 1951, with an eye to the tourist trade as well as the local market, he began to produce a series of calypso and mento tunes which he would sent to the UK for manufacturing prior to being shipped back for sale in Jamaica on his own MRS (Motta’s Recording Studio) label. These early productions were recorded direct to a 78rpm disc cutter, and the studio played its part in the creation of Jamaican R&B when Derrick Harriott’s original ‘dub plate’ of ‘Lollipop Girl’ was made here in 1959, as well as some of Laurel Aitken’s first tunes.
  6. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    By 1960 or thereabouts Motta had given up the record business, apparently to concentrate on his other business (and political) interests.

    Another pioneer was Ken Khouri, who had acquired a 78rpm disc cutting lathe in 1949 and had spent a number of years recording people at garden parties, fairs and at home. After a few unsuccessful attempts at licensing some calypso tracks to American companies, he too used a UK manufacturer to press his recording of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ (by Hubert Porter). Although it’s generally acknowledged that relatively few households in Jamaica possessed a record player at that time, it’s claimed that he quickly sold out of his initial order of 5000 copies.

    Khouri realised the potential of the record business, and set up his own Federal studio and pressing plant in King St. where he would record and press locally-made tunes (on the Kalypso label) as well as licensed-in US records (Khouri had the Mercury franchise, for instance). He was rapidly followed by other manufacturers such as the Tewari Brothers’ Caribbean Recording Co. on Orange St. (whose labels included Caribou and DownBeat) and Tropical.

    Other pioneering local producers included Chin’s, who released 78’s from their Radio Store in Church St. and Alec Dury of The Times Store of King St. who issued an album of locally-recorded calypsos to sell in the furniture store’s record department.

    The late forties had also seen the birth of that uniquely Jamaican phenomenon - the sound system, and its growth during the fifties became integrally linked with the record business

    The story of the sound system pioneers is reasonably well documented elsewhere, although no-one seems to be able to agree on whether Goodies, or Count Nick The Champ, or Tom The Great Sebastian were actually the first. What is clear is that as well as providing an economical, and more up-to-date, alternative to live musicians, the ‘sounds’ soon generated a whole scene which was to subvert the island’s musical and financial hierarchy. By being closer, if not actually always from, the street, the sound men embodied the loose mix of music-lover/ hustler/ entrepreneur which would be the model for the Jamaican music business for years to come.

    By starting from scratch, they had no pre-conceptions or rules, and in the fiercely competitive atmosphere of the early dancehall days actually managed to devise their own. Suffice to say that not only did these men (and others like them) invent the concept of the 'mobile disco', but as the search for 'new' tunes progressed they also pre-dated the UK's ‘northern soul', 'rare groove' and 'deep funk' movements by decades.

    Count Matchuki, the pioneering spinner from Tom The Great Sebastian’s sound, claimed to have started it all one night by taking the unusual step of playing the B-sides of Tom’s record collection. Apparently the crowd, hearing these songs for the first time, responded enthusiastically, believing that their favourite sound had unearthed a treasure trove of previously unknown tunes.

    It has to be said, at this late stage, that the story of Matchuki’s almost accidental innovation may well be apocryphal, but what is true is that the Jamaican sound men did establish the now common practices of hiding label details, re-titling tunes to confuse the competition, and travelling thousands of miles (and/ or paying huge amounts of money) to obtain records that for one reason or another may have been little more than 'local' hits (if not complete flops) in their American home towns several years earlier.

    Then, as now, if the record had the right beat, it was played, and even today there are dozens of 'blues' tunes from the early sound system days that are revered as classics in Jamaican circles, while remaining completely unknown to all but the most ardent R&B collectors.
  7. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    Having initiated, and then encouraged, a cult following of knowledgeable, demanding and ferociously loyal supporters, the sound men hit a snag - to put it simply, by the late fifties the Americans had more or less stopped making ‘traditional’ R&B, and were concentrating on a newer, faster, more commercial (and dare we say whiter) variant. The emerging 'rock &roll' beat was not entirely to Jamaica's taste - the tempos were too frantic and the feel not ‘cool’ enough for Kingston's hipsters, and many of these records were being rejected in favour of the older style R&B - an interesting reversal of the UK's latter-day white orientated black music revival scenes, where the favoured records are almost invariably up-tempo!

    Although it was possible to obtain a reasonable selection of R&B, or jazz, or pop records in Jamaica, this was not enough to satisfy the island’s hardcore ‘blues’ fans. The sound men, already used to jealously guarding their key tunes by re-naming records and scratching out the labels (a practice that lasted for decades) were now having to pay even higher prices for the top tunes - specialists like Jack Taylor (who ran a store on Orange Street), ‘Savoy’ Riley (whose premises were in Water Lane), and the seafaring ‘Admiral Cosmic’ were asking - and getting – ever more ludicrous prices for rare 78s, while other sound men (like the up & coming Duke Reid or the young Sir Coxsone) were finding fewer and fewer worthwhile tunes on their trips to the States. There was also a small but significant number of pirated records in circulation – white label 78s that had been copied from the original rare US copies and locally pressed.

    The story of how Duke Reid obtained his own copy of Willis Jackson’s ‘Later For Gator’ - Coxsone’s long-time ‘signature tune’ – and then played it to him (or rather at him) after teasing him for days is the stuff of legend, and as the record hounds studied the American catalogues and deletion lists, so more and more of the old ‘exclusives’ were exposed and their power diminished. No sound man could hope to maintain his position playing tunes that anyone else could play, so it wasn’t long before the more enterprising sound system operators realised that they would have to make their own Rhythm & Blues, right there in Jamaica.

    Many of the aspiring young singers who were trying to make a name for themselves at the amateur talent shows were also sound system fans and couldn’t wait to hear their own voices blasting out of their favourite sound’s speakers, along with Wynonie Harris, Smiley Lewis and their other musical heroes. There were also a great many big bands, jazz combos and hotel groups with musicians who were just as keen to display their skills. From the sound man’s point of view, the best thing about it was the fact that this new move guaranteed the exclusivity of a tune - after all if you’ve made it, no-one else can possibly play it unless you give them a copy on acetate (or they steal one!).

    In 1959, when Jamaican producers first began to record the local talent, shops such as Stanley Motta’s, Chin’s Radio, and the smaller concerns such as Hi-Q, Savoy, Downbeat, Edward’s, Clock Tower and the Caribbean Distributing Company were all advertising the ‘Big Tunes’, the ‘Latest Blues’ on both 78’s and the new 45’s, including such popular classics as Bobby Day’s ‘Over & Over’, Frankie Ford’s ‘Sea Cruise’ and Wilbert Harrison’s ‘Kansas City’. Apart from a few calypso records by Count Owen, Lord Tanamo, various steel bands and ‘One Night In Mexico’ by Laurel Aitken & His Afro-Cuban Band, locally recorded tunes are not mentioned in these ads, with the notable exception of Aitken’s early Jamaican Blues ‘Boogie Rock’, released by Caribbean Records.

    Although Stanley Motta may have recorded a few R&B tunes in his studio, by 1960 he had given up, in contrast to Ken Khouri, who had by now sold his old disc-cutter and had bought a professional one-track tape machine. Many of Jamaica’s early R&B (and ska) classics were made at Federal - his only studio competition was the radio station (RJR), where you could hire a room and record to one-track tape, with Graham Goodall and a young Andy Capp at the controls.

    As the sixties progressed the number of Jamaican studios grew - Federal and RJR were followed by JBC (the other radio station), Studio 1, West Indies Recording (later Dynamics), Treasure Isle, and then Joe Gibbs and Randy’s, all competing with each other for record sales (with their own productions) and (to a lesser extent) bookings for independent producers who didn’t have their own facilities. Most of the earlier set-ups had progressed from one-track (mono) recorders to two-track by the mid-sixties, and then on to the four track by the turn of the decade. Of course, these recorders had already been superceded in the States by eight-track machines, reinforcing the pattern of Jamaica’s studio technology lagging behind America’s by at least five, if not ten years.

    From its inception, the whole Jamaican recording ethos had been built on a combination of economy and best use of available time and talent - in other words, the band played, the singers sang, and the engineer recorded the best balance he could get in the shortest time possible. The complex techniques being employed in English and American studios did not seem to be thought relevant to the raw, R&B and jazz-influenced sound of ska, and what you bought on a record really was what had been played in the studio, mistakes and all. Even basic tape editing techniques (such as splicing the first part of one ’take’ to the second part of another to achieve a more ‘perfect’ final product) were virtually unknown in Jamaica - although Sid Bucknor claims that he edited out a mistake in the middle of The Wailers’ ‘Rude Boy’ and kept it from being a forgotten B-side - but even he admits this was almost a ‘one-off’).

    Similarly, pop gimmicks like phasing and flanging were never experimented with (although there are some who claim that the off-azymuth phasing sound on some ska instrumentals is deliberate), and with a few rare exceptions, reverb and tape delay were only used sparingly (usually on vocals or horns). Tunes like the Ethiopians’ ‘Headache’, which employs ground-breaking repeat echo on the drums in the instrumental break (this was probably added ‘live’ during the recording), ‘Cool Night’ by the Jamaicans and ‘Right On Time’ by the Sensations (where the rhythm tracks are treated with delay echo) and Prince Buster’s ‘Rock & Shake’, where the whole rhythm section is echoed along with the spoken vocals (and whistling) were oddities, and can hardly be said to have started a trend.
  8. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    While legendary pop producers employed racks of equally legendary vintage valve effects and processing units to help them in their quest for the ultimate soundscape, Jamaican engineers were still riding the vocal faders manually in the absence of compressors, and generally getting on with the job, although not surprisingly many of the studios had at least invested in a Pultec equaliser to beef up the bass and drum section. For the next two decades, (if not longer!), ska, rock-steady and reggae remained, more ‘real’, more ‘live’ than any other contemporary popular music form being recorded.

    Without the technology, there would be no ‘dub’, and the roots of ‘dub’ really lie in the introduction of the two-track tape recorder - up to then, studio engineers had recorded the singers ‘live’ together with the band on to the tape, and the final ‘take’ (ie the performance with the best feel, and possibly the least mistakes!) was what ended up on the record. The modern machines allowed for music to be recorded and presented in a more ‘natural’ way, with the instruments spread in front of the listener between his two new ‘stereophonic’ speakers. The idea was that you would hear classical music as you would in the concert hall, (with the strings on your left and the woodwinds on your right), and of course this innovation was reflected in jazz and popular music as well. The novelty value of hearing different instruments and voices coming at you from various directions often competed with the purists’ approach, and there are many examples of records that seem to have been made with just this factor as the selling point, as the musical content is negligible.

    By the mid-sixties even ‘pop’ music was being mixed in stereo, although, especially when listening now, very often the spread of the sound seems to weaken the impact of the music – which is part of the reason why these records were originally released as monophonic singles (for club and radio play), and the stereo mixes saved for albums.

    Many of the earliest ‘stereo’ pop recordings are not really ‘stereo’ at all, but have merely separated the backing track and the vocals, with a view to leaving the final balance till the track is mastered as a mono single. For a record label primarily interested in producing mono singles, this approach is a very simple and sensible one, and was picked up on by Jamaican engineers early on. It has another advantage in that, having recorded the backing music on to one track (with the musicians playing to an un-miced ‘guide’ vocal), the proper vocals – or lead instruments - can be cleanly recorded on to the remaining track without any ‘spill’ from the backing group, and also wiped and re-recorded until a satisfactory performance is achieved.

    Many ska classics were recorded in this way (check the ‘versions’ of ‘Cry To Me’ – Wailers, ‘Something Special’ – Roland Alphonso, etc.) and by the time rock-steady had taken off, most engineers had found that they could achieve even better separation between instruments and more control over the sound by splitting the session band between the two tracks of the tape. Most of the instruments had separate microphones allocated to them, and it became more or less standard practice to record the drums and bass on one track, while the rest of the rhythm section (keyboards, guitars, horns, and perhaps oddly, percussion) is recorded on to the other track. There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule, but in general that’s how it went.

    After the backing music had been recorded, it could be balanced and mixed down on to one track (on another two-track machine) and then ‘voiced’ (or overdubbed with a lead instrument in the case of an instrumental) often at a different session at a later date, as before. The vocalists or musicians could still re-record until an acceptable performance was achieved - but it did have to be a continuous ‘take’ as there was no ‘dropping-in’ facility on these machines as yet.

    Listening to dub versions of tunes that have been recorded in this manner (for instance, the Studio 1 rock-steady and reggae classics re-mixed on early and mid-seventies albums such as Ital Dub, Mellow Dub, Hi Fashion Dub, etc.) makes it easier a lot easier to grasp the concept. The instruments appear (and disappear) in their respective groups, according to the way in which they have been recorded, and it’s quite often possible to hear the ‘spill’ from instruments that have been cut out (ie horns, guitars and piano will often be picked up on the drum mics, and sometimes you will faintly hear the singer’s guide vocal or even a musician signalling – by shouting! - the arrival of a ‘bridge’ or ‘middle eight’ section).

    In the few cases of ‘dub’ tracks with vocals that appear on these albums, you will notice that they do not break down into ‘drum & bass’ because they are being mixed from the rhythm /vocal two-track rather than the original d&b / keys,guitars,horns tape (which would not have the vocal recorded on it).

    These mixes are not really very far removed from the ‘versions’ (as opposed to ‘dubs’) which were introduced as B-sides in 1970 and became increasingly more common as the versions provided space for sound system deejays to chat, and the producers saw a convenient way of avoiding the expense and trouble of recording new songs for use as B-sides. They were usually either just the plain backing track with a few selected vocal lines, or just the backing track on its own (a practice possibly borrowed from 60’s Soul tunes like Cliff Nobles’ ‘The Horse’, which became a hit in America on the strength of the B-side ‘instrumental’ backing track rather than the vocal A-side).
  9. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    The 1970 vintage ‘versions’ were mostly ‘mixed’ live while the lathe was cutting the lacquer for the master (the ‘mould’ from which finished records are made) – so there are no added effects, and any timing errors (slight or otherwise) are overlooked in the name of speed and economy. Mastering ‘lacquers’ (usually a better quality acetate ‘dub plate’ disc) are expensive, and there’s no point in wasting money to replace one that’s been spoilt by a mistake no-one will ever notice!

    Although the ‘versions’ were eventually superseded by the early dub B-sides that appeared in 1972, mention must be made here of the earliest dub releases, which seem to have been made as experiments in 1970 by various producers – once again, while the sonic boundaries were being pushed back, it has to be said that little notice was taken, and as is usual it’s far from clear as to who was the instigator.

    The most promising suspect is Lee Perry, cementing his reputation as reggae’s most avant-garde if not downright eccentric producer, who released a few early dub tracks including ‘Tackro’ (a bass & drum version to ‘Yakety Yak’/ ‘Clint Eastwood’, with added talking), and the atmospheric ‘Kill Them All’ (which also pre-dated the ‘medley’ craze by a couple of years). ‘OK Corral’, an early U Roy outing, it’s flip-side ‘Sit Back’ with Cool Sticky, and ‘Bush Tea’ a rare Lee Perry talkover, all utilise stripped-down rhythm tracks, and to great effect. The Upsetter was in good company around this time – Duke Reid already had the rhythm mixed for ‘Lock Jaw’, Dave Barker’s Treasure Isle chart-topper, and also released a similarly dubbed-up slice of JA funk titled ‘Ska-Voovi’ with vocals by one Dorothy Reid.

    He was also joined by Clancy Eccles with ‘Phantom’, an excellent early dub mix of ‘Herb Man’ from the four-track master tape possibly engineered by Andy Capp (although he has no recollection of it at all!) Joe Gibbs entered the fray with his own cut’n’paste medley ‘News Flash’ and ‘Navado Joe’ (dub workouts with added organ and vocals, actually under the supervision of a young Niney), and Lloyd Daley gave us the classy ‘Voo Doo’, the B-side of Little Roy’s ‘Hard Fighter’.

    Even Alvin ‘GG’ Ranglin got in on the act with ‘Jumping Dick’, a dub cut to the Maytones’ ‘Serious Love’, Prince Buster released a drum & bass cut to ‘Young, Gifted & Black’, while an enterprising engineer at Dynamics Studio – take your pick from Andy Capp, Carlton Lee or Sid Bucknor - gave the treatment to the Bleechers’ ‘Ease Up’ with ‘Short Wave’, uniquely pre-dating Tubby’s use of the board’s high-pass filter.

    It has to be said that few of these tunes made much of an impact on the public, and even future engineer/ producer King Jammy, who was operating his sound at that time, has absolutely no recollection of these tunes. Unsurprisingly, the idea of releasing records like this was allowed to die out, at least for a couple of years.

    As an interesting aside, there are (inevitably!) American precedents, although it’s clear that these sides also made little impression on anyone. As mentioned before, there are quite a few examples of soul records with ‘instrumental’ B-sides – usually just the backing track (as in Archie Bell’s ‘Tighten Up’ and Bill Moss’s classic ‘Sock It To ‘Em, Soul Brother’), and occasionally there are over-dubbed solo instrumentals, such as the flip to the Fantastic’s Fours ‘I Love You Madly’. There are also backing tracks as separate releases (The Capitols ‘Cool Jerk’, Jackie Lee’s ‘Temptation Walk’, etc.), and separately issued instrumental work-outs on original backing tracks (‘The Double-O Soul of Sonny Stitt’ for instance).

    Perhaps the most surprising example is to be found on the B-side ‘Part 2’ of Rex Garvin’s ‘Sock It To ‘Em JB’ – the 1966 club soul classic’s flipside consists of three minutes of madness (with plenty of repeat echo!) mixed from the eight-track master tape. Although this James Bond-related soul anthem was probably big enough to have been released in Jamaica (legitimately or otherwise), it’s unlikely that the flipside’s proto-dub workout was any sort of an influence on Jamaican engineers or producers, especially as - perhaps surprisingly - there seems to be no trace of a local cover version.

    Still less noticed were the flip-sides of the more obscure (and even earlier) ‘Walkin’ By’ (The Boss Four on Rim ) and ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ (The Contendors on Edge) which although not in any way as sophisticated as the above are still worthy of mention. Even the titles (‘Space Walk’ and ‘Moon Jerk’) have a Jamaican flavour - producer Bob McGhee and engineer Bob Gallo deserve a name-check at least for being half a decade ahead of their time!

    The advent of four-track recording at the end of the 60’s gave engineers and producers even more scope for clarity and choice in recording combinations. Although the habit of recording the backing track and then mixing that on to a separate two-track tape was hard to break (probably because records had to be mastered from a two-track), eventually the vocals usually ended up on one of the four tracks.

    Two of the most popular combinations were:

    a) Drums,bass,rhythm, horns (or organ) on separate tracks to be mixed down on to one track of a two-track machine to be voiced (as before), or

    b) Drums and bass on one track, rhythm,horns and vocals on the others - the final balance (to a two-track tape but usually a mono mix) is then taken straight from the four-track tape.
  10. ringo

    ringo Macaroni cheese controller

    As usual this concept is made a lot clearer by actually listening to the records - nearly all of the well-known Tubby’s and Channel 1 dub mixes from the mid-seventies are good examples, and although the addition of an extra two tracks may not seem like a huge advantage the benefits are enormous. As well as having the ability to re-mix the music track underneath the main vocal, the vocal and horn phrases can also be highlighted or cut in and out of the mix, adding to the atmosphere and the musical content of the track. (Conversely, it is a widely held opinion that many of the dub tracks mixed from later eight, sixteen or twenty-four track tapes seem to be lacking a certain vitality, as if having all of the instruments separated (ie. not being grouped together) has weakened the sound, and perhaps given the mixing engineer too much to think about and too many tracks too play with!)

    Although the 1972 vintage dubs were very basic, it wasn’t long before engineers like Tubby’s, Errol Thompson, Coxsone Dodd, Sid Bucknor and Sylvan Morris found ways of improving them, adapting their engineering skills to a new discipline as their timing and taste became as important as that of any of the musicians who had actually played on the original session. All music is about tension and release, and dub mixing is a way of manipulating an existing musical arrangement to enhance, or even completely change the emphasis of the highs and lows of the piece.

    For instance, in reggae, where a tune is underpinned by a characteristically hypnotic, ostinato bass line, that tune is recognisable and familiar as soon as the drum roll has led us into the intro. In a dub mix of the same tune, the bass may be deliberately kept out for the length of the intro (or even longer - an old sound system trick), so that when it does enter it positively thunders in, the effect of which is heightened not only by the suspense and expectation built up during it’s absence, but also by simultaneously cutting (or echoing) out the rhythm section (by which I mean the guitars and keyboards).

    There are other ‘tricks’ which engineers use to emphasise the difference between the original mix and the dub mix - many dub tracks start off with an audible ‘count’ - probably from the drummer or session leader – which sets the tempo for the tunes and shows the rest of the band when to come in – on the next ‘one’. It’s usually spliced off the front of the tape which is why you won’t hear it on the start of the original single A-side, so for the listener it’s almost as though you’re there in the studio at the session, especially when you hear the musicians talking to (or cursing!) each other in the case of a bodged intro or ‘false start’!

    Using the mixing desk’s ‘equalisation’ facilities (ie tone controls) can also maximise the potential of a mix by altering the sound of the instruments during the mix or virtually cutting the bass from a track where it is recorded along with drums or piano – in the case of King Tubby’s famous studio this technique was used to great effect by treating the rhythm track (or indeed individual instruments) with his unique ‘big knob’.

    This device is perhaps the classic sound of seventies dub, and still stands the test of time as Tubby’s exclusive ‘secret weapon’. The effect has variously been described as a ‘phase shifter’ and an ‘equaliser’ but it is in fact a sophisticated ‘high-pass filter’, a type of tone control designed to remove whole portions of unwanted bass frequencies from material sent through it. The control has several notches, so that you can hear the separate frequencies disappearing when the knob is being twisted, and a very steep filter slope, which induces the phasing effect on the remaining material. Although the sound can be imitated to an certain extent with graphic and parametric equalisers, the results are never as satisfying, and it amazes me that even to this day no-one has replicated an effect that literally breathed life into many dead rhythms! Even more amazing is that no-one (apart from the brains behind the aforementioned ‘Short Wave’) at Dynamic used this scintillating effect while it was there, although Sid Bucknor did say that he had used it on percussion mics to remove extraneous low frequency rumble – which is after all what it was supposed to be used for. The ‘big knob’ not only revitalised dozens of othewise dull two-track dubs, but was also used to even wilder effect on many four-track ‘dubs’ until its demise in the mid-eighties, when it could be heard to be very noisy and presumably beyond repair on some of the contemporary dub output from Tubby’s studio.

    As dub grew in popularity during ’72 and ’73, the engineers found new ways to express themselves, pushing back the boundaries of acceptablity as the commercial value of the new sound was realised. Reverb, an effect originally used to create a sense of ‘space’ or distance around voices or instruments, and which had appeared rather tentatively at first, now ‘splashed’ on guitars, pianos rimshots, adding a new dimension to the music. Singers and horn players were often made to sound as though they were performing in deep caves, and in studios such as Tubby’s where the cheaper ‘spring reverb’ devices were used it wasn’t uncommon for the engineers to strike the reverb unit itself, causing thunderous explosions to emerge from the speaker boxes. Tape delay, hitherto known mostly as a vocal effect (we all know the ‘rock’n’roll’ vocal echo sound) was slowed down and used on anything that moved, with devastating results. Voices (and horns, guitars,organs, etc.) drifted eerily in and out of mixes, creating new even more tension as the recurring notes clashed with subsequent chord changes and the cross-rhythms caused by the repeated echo jarred against the existing beat of the drum and bass.

    Of course, the new style had its detractors, and not without some grounds - many older singers, (who had already suffered at the hands of the deejays at the beginning of the decade), musicians and commentators saw it as a debasement of a music form they had established through years of struggle, and of course all the usual old vs. young, Rasta vs. Baldhead, uptown vs. downtown arguments were brought into the equation as well. The early dub mixes really were an acquired taste for many reggae fans, while for others it went against all their musical conditioning. In the same way that the 1940’s jazz establishment refused to take Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and the rest of the Minton’s be-bop crew seriously, so many looked upon dub as a gimmick that would hopefully fade out soon.

    Naturally, most of Jamaica’s record producers were quick to see another way to sell records, and soon boarded the dub bandwagon whether their hearts were really in it or not - those of us who bought records at that time must still possess tunes that we bought strictly for the dub on the B-side, while perhaps absolutely hating the A-side vocal! Unlike some of the other reggae fads which had come and gone very quickly in the early seventies (medleys, bongo versions, trombone instrumentals, etc.) the dub craze gathered momentum as producers released whole albums of dub tracks to be purchased (at two or three or four times the normal album price!!!) by sound systems and hardcore dub fans.

    It has to be said that, in common with much of reggae’s best efforts, dub came about as a mixture of serendipity and happenstance. In the same way that no-one in Jamaica ever entered a studio with the idea of making classic record that would be highly sought after and regarded as a masterpiece twenty years afterwards (they were too busy trying to make records that would sell now), no engineer ever sat down and consciously planned the progress of dub – at least not in the early stages.

    People outside the reggae business still tend to think that the music was manufactured in the same way that pop music was, and is. The idea of a reggae producer almost completely leaving the arrangement and sound of a record completely to the artists, musicians and engineer when it is recorded at the studio is alien to them, and the fact that some top reggae producers were not even present when some of their best-selling records were made is laughable!

    To further compound this situation by taking the master tape to another, cheaper studio (and bear in mind that Tubby’s was really only an over-dubbing, mixing and dub-cutting studio – not a place where rhythms were built) and then to have it mixed by another engineer who may, or may not give it something ‘special’ (usually by taking the track to pieces on the B-side!) with probably even less input form the producer is almost criminally negligent.

    Yet this is how dub came about – the most important musical development of the late twentieth-century was created by a handful of people who didn’t know, or care what they were doing as long it was cheap, and they liked it, and it filled up the flip-side of a 7” 45!
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