Saturday, 18 July 2009

You can buy this album here:

Taken from the album. Please turn up the bass when listening.
This dub music after all:


- David Katz

Augustus Clarke is one of a handful of committed individuals who have largely determined the state of Jamaica’s contemporary music industry. Very much a behind-the-scenes figure, Gussie’s input has been crucial, not only in shaping the way the music has sounded since the early 1970s, but also in facilitating the ease with which Jamaica’s fiery creations can be accessed by the world at large. He has enjoyed several successful phases as a leading producer of quality material, building a catalogue that’s relatively small, but marked by high standards. And he has also been involved in the distribution, importation and exportation of musical discs. He was among the first to offer CD manufacturing in Jamaica and presently presides over the largest recording complex on the island.

Gussie Clarke grew up in the heart of downtown Kingston, where the harshness of urban life was eased by the majestic and earth-shattering reality of the sound systems. Unsurprisingly, Gussie says that, like many of his peers, he got into record production initially through a direct involvement with these sounds. ‘I grew up downtown, Beeston Street and Church Street, with an adoptive mother. She usually work with the government - just an ordinary poor lady, nothing unique about her except her heart. Music was one of those things that was within you, and I just love music.

‘In those days an amplifier was made by buying parts, and guys like Tubbys and all those people usually make amplifiers. So I usually buy parts for the amplifiers; save it from lunch money. I was kind of a born entrepreneur: I used to have a bicycle and sell rides to the school gates to get parts. And I usually ask for import foreign records from the States and sell them. So I knew everybody: Gemini and Sanitone, all the sound systems. It was basically R&B and ballads: that was the days of the Chi-Lites and Stylistics. I had people ship them down and I sell them when I was in Kingston College. I graduated in ’71, so I was actually involved in having the sound system, King Gussie’s Hi Fi, prior to ’71: that would be about ’68-’69. It was a little thing, and I kind of moved on quickly.

‘After that, I had this dub-cutting machine - I think we bought it from Treasure Isle. I get it working downtown at a home studio in a wooden building upstairs at 79 Church Street. That’s where we started the first productions and cutting dubs for all these sound systems. Every sound you can think of in Jamaica: Tippertone, Gemini, you name it. I swapped an old amplifier to Errol Dunkley for the use of a rhythm, and we used the rhythm to voice U Roy. The Higher the Mountain, that was the first thing. Exchanging the amplifier for rhythm was just kind of stepping up the ladder.’

The close links he formed supplying exclusives to sound-system operators and cutting dub-plates for upcoming producers were useful to Gussie. It enabled him to hand-pick the choice rhythms used for the ground-breaking debut LPs by I Roy and Big Youth, both issued on freshly created rhythms in 1973. ‘It was kind of one-one now and again, until it becomes two-two, three-three,’ says Gussie of his first set of recordings. ‘We then did Screaming Target with Big Youth, and we did the I Roy album Presenting I Roy. I guess I had some instincts: I don’t look in front of me, I look ahead. I look down the road, where things might go, how to position myself when it happens.’

In these early days, when Gussie was so young that he named one of his labels Puppy in reference to his age, his close association with artists and promoters downtown drew exciting results. There were collaborations with luminaries such as Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown and, perhaps most notably, with Augustus Pablo. On several I Roy records from this period, including Buck and the Preacher and Black Man Time, the voice of Gussie himself can be heard. Tantalisingly, Gussie speaks of similar unreleased tunes cut with Pablo: ‘There were some stuff I did with Augustus Pablo, things we messed around with, that my voice is on. I don’t know if I released some of them.’

His early instrumental sides credit the Simplicity People, but Gussie insists the name did not apply to any particular set of musicians. ‘It was just a good name: very simple, easy-going. It was my musicians I was working with then, but it was not necessarily a specific group. It was who you had relationship with, who you work well with - you keep away from problem people. So we usually work with Family Man, Carly on drums, we had the guitarist Ranchie, and a whole heap of different people.’

In the mid to late 1970s, Gussie entered another phase. The more commercial of his productions were shifting significant quantities abroad and, by 1977, he was firmly involved in the distribution and exportation of material by a number of other producers. ‘The whole thing again was looking down the road,’ he emphasises. ‘I usually export records big time to Hawkeye in the UK and Randy’s in New York, so I had that additional network. Initially I was just exporting mine, but I started doing others. You recognise that a lot of people have ideas and just couldn’t get them out; they didn’t have the money to do it. So, I would say, “I’ll finance the completion and printing; sell me the first 1500 (or whatever the numbers were), then you can sell whatever you want after.” It gave me an edge on other distributors: I can give you a record that is not even released; get premium price for it. It was sort of bankrolling some of their projects, but we’d manufacture it, design the jackets and labels and physically press.

‘I was the kind of guy that had a good relationship with everybody: I had a lot of things before they were coming out. People would give them to me because of my network. It create a greater buzz and they would sell a lot more records - same thing as when we were cutting dubs downtown. Channel One, Sly and Robbie, everybody would give us their tapes, because all sound systems were coming to us for dubs. And the same guys were coming to buy foreign records were buying dubs and exclusives, so they would give them to me before they were released to promote the record.’

As reggae entered the digital era in the mid 1980s, Gussie Clarke’s productions reached new heights of popularity through his tiny Music Works studio. ‘I constructed Music Works originally at 56 Slipe Road. The whole concept was that we had ideas that we felt we were deprived [of] going into other studios,’ says Gussie of his motivation. ‘We felt that we needed more time to develop these ideas on our own. And I always try to be different, look for what is unique. I think going against the grain gives one an edge to be different - positively different. In those days, everybody had an MCI board; we were saying that better things is out there. So we went to England and we shopped around, and we realised that Amek have good consoles. And we bought other things to be different: everybody had a Sony or an MCI tape machine, so we bought Atari.

‘In Slipe Road we had nothing more than a one-room office that we distributed from, and a toilet. So we converted that toilet into a vocal booth, and we converted this room into a control room; out on the step, you transact your business. Our technology was different in sound entirely from what was happening. That hi -hat sound were fine-tuned, so when it break through, it was just so fresh and unique. To duplicate in any way that would look comparative would be difficult.’

It was this ear for detail that kept Music Works at the top of the pack in the late 1980s. But, from the early 1990s, Gussie shifted his attention elsewhere. He created very little music, despite building the gargantuan Anchor - a superbly equipped recording facility. ‘We started construction in ’92-’93; probably finish ’96. We are not doing work right now, because it’s still part of our time out. We have a game plan to time back in next year. Music has its cycles: today is Big Youth, that was U Roy, then Dennis Brown… we had our day and we looked at what other talents we had to develop.

‘We are the largest music publisher in this country - you name them, we publish them. We’re involved in creating a national copyright society, JCAP, that came into being about a year ago. But I’d been working behind the scenes with PRS for about two years prior to that. We also have a brand new alliance with School of Music, CPTC, which is the national audio-video training centre. They want to incorporate our facility in their training programme…

‘Music was going through changes and I need to recognise that it’s a new day, new people, different things. How can you capitalise on the position as is and not lose your trademark? There is artists and producers out there who have the talent and the skill, but don’t have the experience or the wherewithal. So the next stage that I plan to go into next year is to bring them in and non-exclusively sign them, and carry the music to a different level. Let me be guidance for those that have the skills and don’t know that right direction to put it. Let me cross the t’s and dot the i’s for them and let it be right. That’s where we’re going next.’

From his somewhat hidden vantage point, Gussie Clarke is thus still orchestrating further shifts of style in Jamaica’s popular music. His relentless drive and ambition will surely reap further musical fruit.

The tracks that make up Black Foundation Dub date from the mid 1970s, as Gussie reached somewhat more solid footing. Several tracks hearken back to his earliest days as a young producer, fresh from the sound-system circuit. Gussie says the album concept was largely driven by popular demand and notes that the disc was the product of various engineers, mostly executed at King Tubby’s studio. ‘The rhythms were there and people wanted versions of them, so it was like, OK, why not? Let’s do it. Many different people mixed: a lot of them was King Tubby and some was Philip Smart, because he did a lot of work at Tubby’s. I was even involved with the engineering in those days at Tubby’s, too; but I was learning, kind of a self-taught engineer. I did all the stuff when I was up in the original dub studio at Church Street and up in the studio at Slipe Road.’

The album blasts off with the title track, a bass-heavy dub of Delroy Wilson’s moving take on the soul classic Is It Because I’m Black?, with an emphasis here on bright horn blasts, rippling organ riffs and snatches of eerie synth noise. Gussie’s version of Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me [also based on an American hit], which he called No No No was voiced in 1973 by KC White. This dub has been mixed with contemporary embellishments that highlight its solid drum-pattern. The wonderful Free Zone, a bass-heavy number punctuated by a subtle triangle, was issued as an instrumental called Schenectady’s Shack; South London sound-system king Lloyd Coxsone also popularised further dub cuts.

Big or Small is a swinging horn mix of Delroy Wilson’s take on the rousing soul number All in This Thing Together, here presented to also emphasise the floor toms, electric piano, wooden fish and other melodic elements, plus a brilliant saxophone break. Creation Dub is a stripped-down mix of KC White’s take on the Temptations’ Born to Love You, here led by a tinkling xylophone.

Missing from the original pressing, but now fully restored by Gussie, is Rockers’ Time, a chugging, synth-led rockers’ cut of Gregory Isaacs’ take on Bob Andy’s oft-versioned Studio One classic My Time. The Dennis Brown number Funning Feeling is then dubbed to expose the rockers’ beat at its core.

Dipping back a few years earlier, Murderer is a minimal cut of Skylarking, one of the rhythms on Big Youth’s Screaming Target LP, mixed here to place emphasis on a deep bass, electric piano, with rim-shot beats given plenty of EQ and a ghostly triangle or bell ringing throughout. Late Arrival is a synth cut of Bob Andy’s I’m Going Home, punctuated by a wood block and choral voices; while Rocking Vibration is an exquisite drum-and-bass workout with some extra-fine wah-wah guitar.

Absent from the original issue, but once again restored by Gussie, is a dub of Gregory Isaacs’ take on Dobby Dobson’s Loving Pauper, here presented as a slow drum, bass and organ skank, with snatches of a choral vocal in the mix. One Way is a xylophone cut of Augustus Pablo’s majestic No Entry, the same rhythm that was used for Delroy Williams’ stunning Think Twice - the dub here makes good use of Niyabinghi-styled conga beats and a percussive wooden grater. The CD bonus track is the original extended mix of No Entry, led by the master’s haunting melodica line; bubbling keyboards and a ghostly xylophone provide a strong melodic contrast.

It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since Black Foundation Dub was first released, in limited quantities, on Gussie’s Roots Sounds label. Some of the rhythms featured here were initiated nearly three decades ago, yet the music sounds as fresh, innovative and invigorating as ever. It’s a living testimony to the power of dub as created by King Tubby and his team, and also to Gussie Clarke’s attentive skill as a producer and arranger. This is the sound of Black Foundation Dub - the evolving sound of downtown Kingston delving into deeper roots.

David Katz is author of People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee Scratch Perry, published by Canongate/Grove Atlantic (