Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Seventeen - Mr. Brown

The story of Mr. Brown is one that I've addressed a couple times in years past.  So instead of spending a lot of time rewriting I'll get to what I wrote in 2005...

"In 1969 or ’70 the Wailers who were working with Lee Perry at the time, caught wind of a strange story involving a John Crow, which is the Jamaican term for a buzzard. This "crow" was somehow given the name “Mr. Brown” and the story went that he had been observed traveling around Kingston on a coffin on its way to the cemetery. Days later the same buzzard, wearing a shirt and tie, was seen in a courtroom. The general populace was scared stiff thinking that the evil powers of obeah (or black magic) had been unleashed and had even gotten to the point that many were afraid to leave their houses at night. The story was even reported in the Jamaican newspaper the Daily Gleaner and added more fuel to the fire." 

This tale of the supernatural didn't only inspire Bob, Peter and Bunny but also Dennis Alcapone on his tune, "Duppy Serenade" attributed to the Inn Keepers (and which I featured in 2009), and as far as I can tell, it also was the catalyst behind Trevor Brown's "Mr. Brown."  The tune which first appeared on GG's 7" vinyl in 1971, was obviously recorded around the time that the Mr. Brown hype was going around in Kingston.  Whatever the connection, or potential lack thereof, I can't say for certain but I do think it works great with our mix!

Spooktacular Track Seventeen - Trevor Brown - Mr. Brown

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Sixteen - Supernatural Thing

Up next is the sixteenth track in our mix and it's called "Supernatural Thing" by Richard Ace and as you can clearly see on the cover, it's from a 1975 Clocktower Records 7 inch!  I added a little spice to this one by starting off with an intro from the Official Witch of  Los Angeles, Louise Heubner, and taken from a 1969 LP she released called Seduction Through Witchcraft.  To be honest with you, I grew so enamored with the psychedelic/trippy sounding music that accompanied Ms. Heubner's musings that I decided to take "Supernatural Thing" on a spacy ride... hope you like the end result!

Spooktacular Track Sixteen - Richard Ace - Supernatural Thing

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

RIP John Holt (1947-2014) - A Tribute

Here you will find my tribute mix to the legendary John Holt... it took me a while to compile the playlist because I kept finding more songs that I wanted to feature but hopefully this 20 song sampling of John Holt's music with serve as a fitting tribute to a man with a great voice and someone who has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment and joy.

I've got to tell you, I was happy that John Holt received enough recognition that his passing was actually mentioned in the mainstream media but, the fact that he is singularly known for being the man that wrote Blondie's "The Tide Is High" saddens me more than you can imagine.  My heart breaks every time a Jamaican music legend dies... here is someone who devoted their life to making music and making countless people happy and they pass away with little mention,concern or regard from those "outside the know" of this music.  When a true talent in Jamaican music dies, it seems like their talent has gone to waste due to the fact that they rarely receive the recognition they deserve... in my opinion, John Holt's mastery of love songs sets him on the same level, if not higher, than most of the singers that have come along in every other genre of music in the last 50 years!  But, will anyone take notice?  Will anyone outside of the "reggae family" pay him tribute?  It is an absolute travesty and whenever I get the news about another important musician or founding-father (or mother) of reggae music passing away, it just hurts me even more.  It is so sad to think of the history we are losing at such an alarming rate.

So today... if you're in an office or around a group of people, bring John Holt's passing up to a co-worker or friend... and instead of saying, "oh, he's the guy that wrote Blondie's 'The Tide is High.'  Tell them that John Holt is a reggae legend, a great singer, a talented songwriter who had been active in music for 50 years, a versatile singer that could address any topic and one of the greatest singers to every wrap his vocal chords around a sweet love song.  Or better yet, point them in this direction and tell them to give this mix a listen.  

As far as I'm concerned, John Holt's name recognition doesn't need to ride the coattails of Blondie!  Because whenever I'm somewhere and "The Tide is High" pops up on the radio or even recently in a television commercial for some product that I don't remember,  I know that the true lyrics are "I'm not the kind of MAN who gives up just like that."

RIP John Holt - you will never be forgotten!

What you're gonna hear...

1.  I've Got To Go Back Home
2.  Police In Helicopter
3.  I'm Your Man
4.  Up Park Camp
5.  There Is No Love
6.  Ali Baba
7.  Fat Girl, Sexy Girl
8.  Stick By Me
9.  A Love I Can Feel
10.  Tribal War
11.  Fat She Fat
12.  Sweetie Come Brush Me
13.  Look What You Have Done
14.  My Desire
15.  Nobody Else
16.  Sugar And Spice
17.  Don't Give Up
18.  I See Your Face
19.  Darling I Need Your Loving w/The Paragons
20.  The Tide Is High (Solo Reggae Version)


Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Fifteen - Black Bat

Up next in the mix is a great tune by Leo Graham and the Upsetters... well technically, "Black Bat" is only credited to the Upsetters but it's a pretty vocal-heavy spacey dub take of Graham's "Doctor Demon," which was released in 1974 on the Upsetter label.  I had fun playing around with this one - it was ripe for over-exaggeration of echo and reverb and the spooky sounds blend well to make this a nice listen, if I do say so myself.

Spooktacular Track Fifteen - The Upsetters - Black Bat

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Fourteen - Mark Of The Beast

Peter Tosh, was described rather succinctly by the website The Talking Drum... "A champion of human rights, throughout his life Peter fought against the vampires and the duppies and all evil spirits, the spirits which Peter himself feared more than anything. Peter Tosh was a saint. Not a saint in the conventional, religious definition, but insofar as that he was put on this earth with a purpose. He was to expose the filth and corruption and expunge the wickedness of the ghosts which haunted him his entire life. Peter was a savior, sent to liberate the people of Jamaica, both physically and mentally."

With that being said, Peter Tosh's "Mark of the Beast," which was originally released on his own Intel Diplo label in the early 1970s, is another example of the Stepping Razor combatting the evil powers that be.  This one features the Wailers and in my opinion is one of the baddest tunes Peter Tosh ever recorded!

Spooktacular Track Fourteen - Peter Tosh - Mark of the Beast

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Thirteen - Evil Doers

Michael Prophet's (born Michael George Haynes in 1957) distinctive "crying tenor" caught the ear of Yabby You who proceeded to bring him to Channel One to record his first single "Praise You Jah Jah" in 1977.  He had his first hit, a cover of the Heptones tune "Fight It To The Top" shortly after and went on to record a bunch of serious roots music for Yabby before modifying his style to appeal to the then emerging dancehall sound of the early 1980s.  Henry "Junjo" Lawes helped launch his dancehall career and his song "Gunman," which served as a commentary on Jamaica's particularly violent election season of 1980, became his biggest hit. 

We're on to the thirteenth track in the 2014 Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular and it's a good one!  Michael Prophet gives us "Evil Doers", from his 1983 album Certify on the Burning Sounds label... and with the Roots Radics providing the Dirty Harry riddim and Junjo producing, it is a badass sampling of the early 80s sound that I love.

I was prepared to write a full-on diatribe on the evil doers in our society and world, ranging from politicians to terrorists, but after I spent a good 20 minutes typing it up I realized that it was a little too far off course for Spooktacular fodder.  I decided it was probably best to keep it simple... and spooky... mwuhahahahahahaha!  See you next week... but be prepared because the Spooktacular really kicks into horrific high gear on Monday!

Spooktacular Track Thirteen - Michael Prophet - Evil Doers 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Twelve - Look Out For The Devil

Junior Dan began his career in music at the ripe old age of 15 when he picked up the bass for the Randy's Studio house-band the Generation Gap.  He went on to record with a plethora of artists including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Augustus Pablo, Pablo Moses and Horace Andy to name a few.  

According to Junior Dan, as he stated on the liner notes on the Honest Jon's Record 10" repress of the classic tune... "Look Out For The Devil was The Solid Foundation - Pablove Black, Benbow, myself, Chokie Tylor, Sowell and Scully and them guys came through too. We were always at the Black Ark, so I just got my studio time. It was aimed at the politicians and producers. The rhythm was done at Upsetters. We took the tape to Tubby's and voiced it and mixed it down there..."  Interestingly enough, the original pressing of the tune on the Hi Try label lists Richard Burger as the artist, Sydney Gussins as the producer and Junior Dan as the arranger.  But regardless of the backstory it makes for a welcome addition to the Spooktacular family!

Spooktacular Track Twelve - Junior Dan - Look Out For The Devil

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Eleven - Terror

Phillip J. Fullwood AKA Jah Marcus, is a percussionist, songwriter, composer and former collaborator with reggae legend Winston Rodney AKA Burning Spear.  Fullwood played congas on a bunch of Burning Spear's albums in the mid-1970s and even co-wrote one of Spear's biggest tunes, "Throw Down Your Arms."

Around the same time, Fullwood produced and released the album Jah Marcus - Words In Dub and we're going to hear a slice of that LP today, spookified properly by yours truly of course!  The tune is called "Terror" and it fits beautifully with our chilling compilation of creepy tunes!

Spooktacular Track Eleven - Jah Marcus - Terror

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

RIP Lincoln Valentine Scott AKA Style Scott

Saddened and shocked to hear of the atrocious murder of legendary drummer "Style Scott," one of the founding members of the Roots Radics.  Something needs to be done in Jamaica to stop this unfathomable, senseless violence and to provide the Jamaican people a sense of security that they are severely lacking... rest in peace.

Read the article here

 The Roots Radics, in my opinion, were one of the greatest conglomerations of musicians to ever play together in reggae and their reworking of Studio One classics "inna rub-a-dub style," their studio work with Junjo Lawes and the stripped-down masterful dub treatments Scientist gave their riddims, are without a doubt some of the greatest musical joys in my life.  As you all probably know, the late 70s and early 80s are my favorite era of Jamaican music and it is heartbreaking to think that the good "pure reggae" vibes the Roots Radics created are a thing of the past  - Style Scott's smooth drumming combined with Flabba Holt's bass and Bingy Bunny's guitar were simply perfect and there is never a day that goes by where I don't hear something that they had a hand in creating... RIP Style Scott.

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Ten - Skillamy

Back in 2007 I featured a tune by Derrick Morgan called "Father Killam" - it's the story of an obeah man who is called on to exorcise a duppy from a woman who had recently fallen ill and the mayhem that ensues when Killam is mocked and physically assaulted by the evil spirits... Aston & Yen's "Skillamy" is basically a calypso rehash of Father Killam's bad day.  Originally released as a 7" on the Doctor Bird label in 1967, my version comes from the Trojan Records Calypso Box Set.

Spooktacular Track Ten - Aston & Yen - Skillamy

Monday, October 13, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Nine - Addams Family Theme

We're back for another week of unadulterated terror... okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration but you can be rest-assured that my heart is in the right place.  Besides, with this creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky and all together ooky comic book cover it's obvious the terror is taking the day off.

The Addams Family, originally created by cartoonist Charles Addams, debuted as single-panel cartoons in 1938 and ran for the next 50 years, mostly in the New Yorker Magazine, until Addams' death in 1988.  During that time, the family of Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Grandmama, Wednesday, Pugsley, Cousin Itt and Thing evolved from the one dimensional page into the two dimensional ABC sitcom that everyone remembers in 1964. 

I would guess it was around the height of the TV shows popularity that the JJ All Stars under the tutelage of producer Karl "Sir JJ" Johnson produced this ska take on the "Addams Family Theme" and regardless of the exact circumstances, I'm happy that he did and I'm even more delighted to finally include it in a Spooktacular!  I've known about this song for years and after fruitless years of searching for the vinyl, or even an MP3,  I gave up hope of ever hearing this long-lost treasure.  But in stepped Gordon "Gordy" Robertson, a helluva selector with an absolutely enviable stack of vinyl and all around nice guy, based in Sheffield England.  He kindly ripped me an MP3 from his vinyl copy and lo and behold we get to enjoy a tune that I had given up hope of ever even hearing!  So, thanks Gordy!!

 Spooktacular Track Nine - JJ All Stars - Addams Family Theme

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Eight - Twilight Zone

Ever since I was a kid I've always enjoyed the Twilight Zone... there was something about these half-hour slices of the weird and supernatural that always appealed to me and I have memories of watching the repeats with fiendish delight, some episodes were more fiendish than others but nonetheless they were always enjoyable.  The Twilight Zone, the brainchild of Rod Serling, began its run on CBS in 1959 and bewildered, sometimes frightened and usually weirded-out audiences for the next six seasons.  Rod Serling's imaginative, insightful and spectacularly written "bookends" to the show were one of the things that steered me toward an interest in creative writing as a middle school kid - I thought, and still do for that matter, that he was the Man!

Oswald "Baba" Brooks has also been a guy I've admired for many years but on a separate distinctive level.  Brooks was a jazz trumpet player and session musician in Jamaican music from the 1950s and made the transition from jazz to the then-emerging ska sound in the early 1960s for producers like Duke Reid, Sonia Pottinger and Prince Buster.  Around that time he formed his own band and recorded the classic hit "Independence Ska" in 1962 when Jamaica received its independence and Brooks continued playing with his band, the Skatalites and countless other sessions in Jamaica's recording studios all the way into the 1970s.

The eighth track in the Spooktacular "Twilight Zone" does both Rod Serling and Baba Brooks proud and originally came from a 1965 7" on the Treasure Isle label.  The problem was that my vinyl copy sounded like crap so I lifted this one from a 2007 various artists LP called Original Ska Explosion Vol. 2 on the Carib Gems label.  Dig it!

Stay tuned to this channel for a Jamaican tribute to yet another spooky American television program on Monday! 

 Spooktacular Track Eight - Baba Brooks - Twilight Zone

Like years past... I always appreciate some feedback!  Six days with no comments and I start wondering if I'm just wasting my time keeping this going...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Seven - Bull Buck (And Duppy Conqueror)

Short and sweet today... Prince Buster is back again with another Spooktacular tune!  This one called "Bull Buck (And Duppy Conqueror)" is another welcome addition to the vault of creepy Jamaican tunes that crowd the crates in my bedroom closet.  But before we get to the tune it's important that I clarify what "Bull Buck" means... bull buck is a Jamaican colloquialism that means to be on top of the world and unbeatable.  To say someone is bull buck and duppy conqueror means that no one, living or dead, can topple them from their strong-willed place of preeminence and power.  

This one comes from a 1969 7" on the Fab label and was released just months before The Wailers released "Duppy Conqueror." Buster's tune has a less defiant tone than the Wailers supernatural-battling scorcher but makes for an appropriate duppy tune nonetheless!  See you tomorrow!

 Spooktacular Track Seven - Prince Buster - Bull Buck (And Duppy Conqueror)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

By Request... The 2013 Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular, Re-upped.

I have received a few requests to re-up the 2013 Spooktacular... here ya go!

1.     Prince Jammy – Slaughterhouse Five
2.     Lee & The Clarendonians – Night Owl
3.     Lloyd & Devon – Wolf Out Deh
4.     Basque Dub Foundation – Midnight Organ
5.     Inner Circle – Duppy Gunman
6.     Raheem DeVaughn – Mr. Brown
7.     The Upsetters – Creeping Version
8.     Prince Buster – Hard Man Fe Dead
9.     Prince Buster All Stars – The Haunted Room
10.   Scientist & The Roots Radics – Grave Yard Shift
11.   Kojak & Liza – Two Bad Duppy
12.   Militant Barry – Nightmares
13.    Errol Dunkley – Black Magic Spell
14.    Carl Bryan – Walking the Dead
15.   King Horror – Loch Ness Monsters (Take 2)
16.    Allan Swymmer – Hear Duppy Laugh
17.    Skin, Flesh & Bones – Dub in Blood
18.    Vivian Jackson & The Prophets – Anti-Christ
19.     Barry Brown – Dark Shadows
20.     Frankie Jones – Ghostbuster
21.     Uglyman – See Duppy Deh
22.     Little General – Zombie
23.     Horace Ferguson – Midnight Hour
24.     Clint Eastwood – Mask in the Dark

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Six - Run If You Are Afraid

Back again I see?  Well I've got another tune for you!  The sixth track in the 2014 Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular is, as the comic cover suggests, inna rocksteady style!  Wrap your ears around "Run If You Are Afraid" by Hopeton Lewis and let the goodness soak in!  

Unfortunately, Hopeton Lewis died on September 4th of this year and I wanted to pay tribute to a man credited with recording "Take It Easy," one of the rocksteady era's first hits in 1966, but I found my collection to be slightly lacking in any sizable amount of Lewis' music.  I have since remedied that injustice and what you're going to hear today is one of those pieces in my now burgeoning Hopeton Lewis collection... a "better late than never" tribute is forthcoming as well but we'll get to that after we turn the page on October. 

"Run If You Are Afraid" is a previously unreleased rocksteady "rude boy" track that Hopeton Lewis recorded during the latter-half of the 60's and finally made available in June when it was pressed on high quality 7" vinyl by Merritone/Dub Store Records in Japan.  I can't say enough about these amazing Dub Store represses and this one works well on so many levels - an unreleased track by a recently lost legend on super-clean, heavy vinyl and a theme that works well with the Spooktacular... what is there not to like?  

Spooktacular Track Six - Hopeton Lewis - Run If You Are Afraid

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Five - Bones Dub

We featured "Dub In Blood" from Skin, Flesh & Bones' Dub In Blood LP last year and I jumped right on the opportunity to feature another!  Skin, Flesh & Bones is one of those "backing bands" whose members identities remain shrouded in mystery - no one seems to mention the talent behind the semi-macabre name but Lloyd Parks, founding member of The Revolutionaries, The Professionals and his own We The People Band, confirmed in an interview by Jim Dooley that, "the members of Skin, Flesh & Bones was: myself on bass, Ansel Collins on keyboards, and another keyboard player called Tarzan, and Ranchie MacLean on guitar."  Well there you go... mystery solved!

This time we're going with "Bones Dub" and like the skeletal foot-stomper on the accompanying comic cover I hope you like it as much as he does.  This is a good ol' fashioned slice of dub, perfect for a late-night whirl in the cemetery!  See you tomorrow!

Spooktacular Track Five - Skin, Flesh & Bones - Bones Dub

Monday, October 06, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Four - Zombie Zones

Welcome back!  Barbados-born Dennis "Blackbeard" Bovell is the man... a producer, a musician, a sound engineer and a true reggae master!  He started his career playing in a couple bands before going on to play with legendary British group Matumbi, all while collaborating with such reggae legends as I Roy, Steel Pulse, Errol Dunkley and Johnny Clarke.  Good stuff!  But what has always endeared me to Dennis Bovell is the work we did and continues to do with Linton Kwesi Johnson... I was on a LKJ kick a couple weeks ago and aside from the brilliantly constructed poetry I was just diggin' on the strength and emotive power of the music itself.  

Which brings me to the fourth track in the Spooktacular... this track "Zombie Zones" comes from the 2003 Bovell retrospective CD on the Pressure Sounds label called Decibel - More Cuts And Dubs 1976-1983.  And like all of Dennis Bovell's dubs it is masterful and conveniently appropriate for our seasonal spookiness!  Of course anything zombie related got me thinking about my all-time favorite zombie film "Night of the Living Dead" and you will hear that influence clearly reflected when you give this one a listen.  Besides, with Bovell's ominous bass line coupled with the creepy melodica and the mayhem sound effects woven under the music it really give you that zombie apocalypse feel without much of my intervention.

Spooktacular Track Four - Dennis Bovell - Zombie Zones

Friday, October 03, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Three - Blood Son

So you're back for more?  Of course you are!  The late great Crown Prince of Reggae, Dennis Brown, made an appearance in 2008's Spooktacular when he covered the Fleetwood Mac song, "Black Magic Woman."  Now he's returned for another cameo and this time with something sinister and actually quite mysterious... a little tune called "Blood Son."  

Recorded in 1975, produced by Winston "Niney" Holness and originally released as a 7" on Niney's Observer label, "Blood Son" is one of those songs that I have been researching, on and off for a while now and have come up empty-handed when it comes to making sense of the cryptic lyrics... I am not sure exactly what Dennis is referencing but it sounds like you may want to take his word and keep away from the blood son!  A sample of the lyrics...

"Keep away from the blood son
Leave the blood and let it run
The heat is on now, the fire is burning
This is the time when folks shall be moaning
Never you try to find the truth my son
Take heed and you'll be strong strong strong
Keep away son"

Yes, it definitely has an apocalyptic feel, at least until you get to the fifth line... what is the truth that we must never try and find?  It sounds like some shady business going on and I demand some answers!  Sadly, I have none to provide.  Regardless, the element of mystery works with the Halloween Spooktacular and "Blood Son" will have you rockin' and wonderin' all weekend.

Oh yeah, what you're gonna hear is taken from a repressed 7" on the Wanted 45 label.  Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Spooktacular Track Three - Dennis Brown - Blood Son

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track Two - Sgt. Vampire

Welcome back!  After nine years of Halloween spookiness you'd think that my list of tunes is getting pretty thin, you'd probably be surprised if I told you that it really hasn't.  Every year I discover, research and locate at least 5-10 new additions to my Creepy Vault of Jamaican Tunes and today's track is one of them. 

Feast your ears on this 1980s "Rockers" tune by Ioby Joseph & Band... it's appropriately called "Sgt. Vampire" and it comes from a self-produced 12" single on the Barbuda label.  There is obviously an undercurrent of a political back-story behind the lyrics, which I can't quite figure out, but with some smokin' guitar, a driving beat, some sweet backing vocals and a strong delivery by Mr. Joseph himself, it makes for an enjoyable listen and a welcome new member to the Spooktacular Family!  It's a shame that Ioby Joseph & Band didn't go on to some success and future recordings but this record stands the test of time as a nice sounding slice of 1980s reggae.

Spooktacular Track Two - Ioby Joseph & Band - Sgt. Vampire

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular 2014 - Track One - None Shall Escape the House of Dub

Welcome to yet another Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular!  I've got a heap of tunes mixed with the usual spattering of spooky hijinks and a whole new crop of comic book covers, thanks to my pal Roger Wilkerson, lined up for you and I hope you'll stick around all month!  

We start off the 2014 Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular with a nice dub track by Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare called "None Shall Escape The House Of Dub" and it comes from a 2002 CD  on the Jamaican Records label entitled Sly & Robbie Meet Bunny Lee At Dub Station.  The album showcases a smooth stack of dub tracks recorded at Channel One by the one and only Riddim Twins from the mid to late 70. "None Shall Escape..." gets the ball rolling in the right direction but please pay heed to the friendly warning - this mix will thrill, shock and horrify you!  So if any of you feel you don't care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now is your chance to... well... we warned you!

Spooktacular Track One - Sly & Robbie - None Shall Escape The House Of Dub

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Coming Tomorrow!! The Gory Details...

Ah, so it's you again, dear readers!  You have undoubtedly returned to my humble spot on the web, Distinctly Spooky Jamaican Sounds, to see what spicy morsels I have prepared for this month-long celebration of all things that go bump in the night... despair not my friends, you will not be disappointed!

This is the ninth year for the Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular and I couldn't be more delighted to be teetering on the edge ready to take another plunge!  For those who are returning for yet another October, welcome back!  I'm sure you will be pleased with the end results of the new Spooktacular!  And for those of you venturing into the dank dungeon of spooky Jamaican music for the first time, I bid you a warm welcome.

I started this little foray into exploring the dark underbelly of this music which is often equated as being relaxed and mellow to prove a point years ago... the point is simple...  Jamaican music, in all its incantations (mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, dancehall, etc.) is just as multifaceted as any other genre of music and is more than capable of touching on subject matter far removed from the stereotypical themes that one usually associates with these songs and the artists that perform them.  This goal, coupled with my love of Halloween and for all things scary, created this project nine long years ago and I haven't stopped digging for spooky tunes since.  The countless hours I spend searching for obscure and dark Jamaican songs is an obsession that keeps me busy year-round and it has definitely become more than just a project it has become a true labor of love.  Plain and simple, I love Jamaican music and Halloween with every ounce of my being and I hope that my adoration and respect shows.

But enough about that, here's how this works... I post a new downloadable track each weekday during the month of October complete with a write-up and customized pre-code horror comic book cover graphics (thanks again to my buddy Roger Wilkerson)... you simply download the 23 tracks, assemble them in order on your device of choice and they will combine to create a continuous mix of eerie Jamaican tunes resplendent with creepy sound effects, b-movie radio trailers, snippets from vintage Halloween records and recordings, etc. running throughout.  It's that simple!

So starting tomorrow, at midnight no less, we begin 2014's Jamaican Halloween Spooktacular!  I hope you'll return every weekday this October and most importantly enjoy the time you spend in the moldy, festering crypt that is Distinctly Spooky Jamaican Sounds!  Let the festivities begin!  Mwuhahahahahahaha!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Reggae Hit The Town - The Early Reggae Mix

It had been a while since I had ventured back into the stacks and dug up the components to a spur-of-the-moment compilation, especially in the midst of editing the 2014 Halloween Spooktacular, but I got inspired.  I think it has a lot to do with putting together the Jackie Bernard tribute earlier this week and listening to a heap of top-flight tunes from the early reggae era that in my nine years here have seemed to slip through the cracks... or even more precisely, through my memory.  What you're going to hear is a highly listenable and danceable, if you're so inclined, mix that will work nicely in putting a smile on your face and a spring in your step this weekend!  I know some of these songs are clearly skirting the edge of rocksteady but we're tossing genre labels to the wind and just jumping in.  Here's what you're going to hear... now mind you, aside from a couple ripped directly from vinyl, I have compiled these tracks from various LPs and CD's but it was more fun listing them as they were originally pressed... and yes, I would love to have them all in their original formats but I have yet to win the lottery to finance that project. :)

1.  Lee Perry & The Upsetters - Salt & Pepper - Eastwood Rides Again LP - Trojan - 1970
2.  King Sporty - Choice of Music - Coxsone 7" - 1970
3.  The Ethiopians - Everything Crash - JJ Records 7" - 1968
4.  Karl Bryan & The Crystalites - Slippery - Crystal Records 7" - 1969
5.  Al Barry & The Cimarons - Morning Sun - Doctor Bird 7" - 1970
6.  Peter Tosh - You Can't Fool Me Again - Impact 7" - 1969
7.  Jackie Mittoo - Spring Time - Bamboo 7" - 1969
8.  The Maytals - Monkey Girl - Summit 7" - 1971
9.  Ansel Collins - Night Of Love - Beverley's 7" - 1969
10.  The Dynamites - Reggaedelic - Clandisc 7" - 1970
11.  Dennis Walks - Heart Don't Leap - Moodisc 7" - 1969
12.  Hopeton Lewis - Live It Up - Duke Reid 7" - 1969
13.  The Tennors - Cherry - Crab 7" - 1969
14.  Augustus Pablo - Snowball & Pudding - Ackee 7" - 1971
15.  Fitz Roy Sterling - That's My Life - Bullet 7" - 1970
16.  Derrick Morgan - Moon Hop - Crab 7" - 1969
17.  Harry J Allstars - Liquidator - Harry J 7" - 1969
18.  Pat Kelly - How Long Will It Take - Gas 7" - 1969
19.  Cedric Brooks & Dave Madden - Sea Breeze - Ru Soul 7" - 1971
20.  Jo Jo Bennett & The Mudies All Stars - Calling You - Groovy Joe LP - 1970


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

RIP Jackie "Kingstonian" Bernard

I heard today that Jackie Bernard, the one time leader of the Kingstonians, has died.  Bernard started the Kingstonians in the 1960s with his brother Lloyd "Footy" Bernard and  Lloyd Kerr, they came to popularity when they signed a recording deal with Derrick Harriott in the rocksteady/early reggae era. 

Jackie's story, as of late, was one that really helps restore your faith in humanity...  Jackie had been diagnosed with diabetes and was in desperate need of assistance and through the assistance of Rafael Ruiz, who established the Jackie Bernard Foundation, and with the contributions of complete strangers, he was able to get the care needed.  RIP Jackie Bernard.

I put together a mix to help celebrate the joy this man was able to spread and I hope it serves as a fitting tribute...

What you're going to hear...

1.  Mix It Up
2.  Nice Nice
3.  Winey Winey
4.  I'll Be Around
5.  Sufferer
6.  Fun Galore
7.  I Am Just A Minstrel
8.  Put Down Your Fire
9.  Crime Don't Pay
10.  Right From Wrong

Jackie "Kingstonian" Bernard Tribute Mix

By Request... The Harmonica In Jamaican Music Re-Up

This post and its accompanying mix, originally published here in May of 2007, has got to be one of the most-requested re-ups of any mix I have ever done... unfortunately, it wasn't as easy as uploading the MP3 and posting a link, all of my previous mixes, with a few exceptions, are stuck on a dead external hard drive.  So, instead of just chalking it up as one of the compilations lost to history, I recreated the mix and added 5 additional tracks!  Hope you enjoy this blast from the past!

The first harmonicas were originally manufactured and sold in Vienna Austria in the early 1820's... but going back that far and covering its history that concisely would take me about a week to even get up to speed about the topic I want to discuss here, so let's fast forward 100 years to the 1920's to make a little easier on ourselves.

The initial harmonica recordings were intended as "race records" for black audiences in the southern United States. Early records featured the harmonica either solo, paired with guitar or as a part of a jug band; who performed a combination of Appalachian, early Memphis blues (before it was officially recognized as the blues) and ragtime. But at this stage in its development the "mouth organ" was still considered to be a novelty.

Of course when the harmonica sprouted wheels and took to the road, migrating alongside the country blues from the Delta and headed to various northern cities in the U.S., it began to take on a life of its own. Musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Slim Harpo just to name a few, emerged as true giants of the "harp" and it would be impossible to argue that their contributions weren't crucial in creating the techniques and skills that produced the distinctive sounds that will forever be synonymous with the blues itself.

The harmonica remained a popular instrument in blues throughout the 40's, 50's and even into the 60's, with players like Paul Butterfield, even though the electric guitar was coming to prominence and quickly replacing the mouth harp's role in blues. Concurrently the harmonica even gained a place of prominence in the folk movement, with artists like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and cross-over blues influenced rock groups like the Rolling Stones and Canned Heat.

But here's where we go South, on the globe that is, with the little harmonica history lesson...what preceded its emigration to Jamaica is not known. Little is written about the harmonica in Jamaican music so if I get anything wrong factually, let me know... in most cases I'm just going with a couple reference sources and my ear alone.

The harmonica was used often in rural acoustic mento alongside the main components banjo, guitar, saxophone, bamboo clarinet, rumba box and percussion. Since I'm nothing more than an virtually uninformed fan of mento music I'll defer to Michael Garnice's excellent Mento Music website for his observation of harmonica's place in mento...

"It seems to be a rule that if a mento song features harmonica, it would be a fantastically upbeat recording."

It seems interesting to note that while the harmonica was being used for upbeat quick tempo songs in Jamaica, in the U.S. it had shifted from being exclusive to records intended for a small single race specific audience into a genre whose subject matter obviously required a slower, sadder, moodier style. This quick tempo trend in Jamaican music lasted well into Jamaica's independence in 1963 and merged into the new sound of ska that took the island by storm that year and for quite a few years after. The harmonica was used in early ska to power the rhythm, punctuate the uptempo riffs and to occasionally provide a jamming solo. This was the one era in Jamaican music that the mouth harp would almost sound commonplace, so it would be far too easy to pick 15 ska tunes and call it a day. Believe it or not I'm not taking the easy way out... not today at least. Read on...

As ska transformed itself into rocksteady the harp was still used sparingly but as the tempo slowed, so did the playing. When reggae emerged, the harmonica was being used to add a bluesy touch to an occasional roots era recording... not all but most; the spirited playing in Toots & The Maytals "Reggae Got Soul" would definitely shoot holes in that assumption. Oddly enough the instrument had in fact somehow connected with its blues counterpart in American music and, in my opinion, was used with fairly great success.

So in order to avoid losing anyone else who might have made it this far, I'll get to the music. When I put together this mix I dug up a bunch of songs, 15 to be exact, that featured harmonica and strung them together in the mix in no particular chronological order. You'll hear ska, some rocksteady, some Studio One and of course some roots era reggae. In the track listing I've researched, as well as I could with the lack of printed information, about who is actually playing the harmonica on the featured tracks. Unfortunately many of the players names have been lost to history or just not included on the back of album covers or inside liner notes.

After the introductory riff from Sonny Boy Williamson's "Mighty Long Time," just to set the proper mood, we kick things off inna Jamaican style with one of my all-time favorite uses of harmonica regardless of genre. The song is called "Some Like It Dread," from Big Youth's Dreadlocks Dread album on the Virgin label and it features the uncredited harp playing of someone who might be none other than Jimmy Becker - Becker performed for quite a few names in the late 70's early 80's period including Big Youth, Black Uhuru, Prince Alla, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown. No matter if it is Becker playing on this, or someone else, the harmonica adds a new dimension to the entire album that makes it one that never seems to grows old!

Next up in the mix is Keith Hudson and whether you love his singing style or hate it, we're focusing on the bluesy harmonica riff courtesy of William Brown, that runs throughout the track "Like I'm Dying." This track is taken from Hudson's 1975 album Torch Of Freedom on the Mamba label and the harp makes this sound more like blues with a bass line and not just another roots reggae song.

Taking a trip across the Atlantic to England for the next tune we've got Barbados born Dennis "Blackbeard" Bovell and a song called "Shi-cago" taken from his compilation CD called Decibel - More Cuts And Dubs (1976-1983) available on the Pressure Sounds label. Aside from working alongside reggae legend Linton Kwesi Johnson for close to 30 years he has also produced a variety of other genres of music which may explain his incorporation of varied elements in his reggae/dub work. The harmonica on this track is most likely provided by accomplished jazzman Julio Finn who also does the work on LKJ's "Street 66" which appears later in this mix. Aside from playing the harmonica, Finn has written a book about black European poetry called "Voices Of Negritude" and also one about blues music called "The Bluesman: The Musical Heritage Of Black Men And Women In America." Nonetheless this is a smooth track which reviewers have described as having a "sunny day feel" and I would agree but... my biased ears are always unintentionally looking for something a little more meaningful beneath the surface whenever the harp is involved.

Next up we've got a nice example of the use of harmonica in ska. This one is called "I Go" by Prince Buster and a Millie Small which comes from the album called Fly Flying Ska originally released on the Bluebeat label in 1964. I would say judging from Buster's history and lack of concise credits on this album it might be a safe to assume that harp is courtesy of Charles "Charly" Organaire. Organaire, who came to age in musically at the famed Alpha Boys School performed with countless ska acts such as The Skatalites, Derrick Morgan, Bobby Aitken, The Wailers, etc. and recorded for Coxsone, Beverley's and Duke Reid just to name a few.

The fifth song in the mix, featuring the confirmed harmonica of Jimmy Becker, is the track "There Is Fire" from Black Uhuru's 1980 album Sensimilla released on the Island label. Rhythm courtesy of Sly & Robbie and a nice bluesy accompaniment this makes for a good taste of Black Uhuru at its finest.

Bob Marley & The Wailers are next with the track "Talkin' Blues" from the 1974 Natty Dread album. Bluesy harmonica on this song are courtesy of American born Lee Jaffe who was a true renaissance man - a performance artist, a film maker, a photographer and a harmonica player. He met Bob Marley in New York in 1973 and for the next three years traveled and toured with the then upcoming band, photographically documenting ever move they made and eventually recording with the band. Jaffe eventually parted ways with the Wailers in 1975 due to the negative influence of the Wailers manager Don Taylor, but speaking about him could be a post all to itself so I won't go there. "Talkin' Blues" is one of my current favorite Marley tunes and it has a lot to owe to the definite blues influence not only in the title itself but in the almost melancholy tone of Jaffe's low-key style.

Next up, with a little rocksteady groove, are the Supersonics and the track "Rocking Soul" from the 1996 Heartbeat compilation CD called Run Rhythm Run: Instrumental Scorchers From Treasure Isle. Again there is no definitive credit for who performed the prevalent wailing harmonica throughout but my guess would probably be Charley Organaire since he did spend considerable time recording with Duke Reid.

The late harmonica great Roy Richards (1941-2007) follows it up with the song "Another Thing" from the Soul Jazz Studio One Funk CD. Aside from blowing a mean mouth organ, Richards was an accomplished singer and drummer and unfortunately passed away 3 days ago on May 28th! His influence and soulful playing helped create the ska sound in the early 60's and his skill is evident in this track. A great song and of course a timeless Studio One production that makes for some smooth listening! I'm saddened to hear of his passing...

Linton Kwesi Johnson alongside Dennis Bovell and Julio Finn with the classic "Street 66" taken from LKJ's 1980 album Bass Culture released on Island Records. I absolutely love this song - such a deep moody rhythm accentuated with the wail of Finn's bluesy riffs masterfully woven throughout the strong visual lyrics - fantastic reggae harmonica at its best! For example...
The room was dark
Dusk howling softly 6 o'clock
Charcoal light
The fine sight
Was moving black
The sound was music mellow steady flow
And man son mind just mystic red, green, red, green
Your scene...

It just calls for some harmonica! If you've never "Street 66" before you're in for a some amazing vibes. I get strong vibes every time I listen to this one!

Up next is an artist who went by the name of D. Tony Lee. He was in fact Donald Antonio Lee, brother of producer extraordinaire Bunny Lee and former store manager for Bunny's WIRL Studios. Tony Lee produced a couple tracks in 1968-69 and this one is called, "Regay Time" and comes from a 2001 compilation CD called Do The Reggay, The Early Reggae Singles on the Westside label. Tony provided the harmonica solos as well as the vocals for this lively tune and it provides a nice sampling of reggae in its infancy.

We've got two in a row from Studio One next and as is the case with a lot of Sir Coxsone's plethora of productions, certain performers aren't given credit on the album sleeves or in the CD liner notes. The first Studio One track by the Soul Brothers is called "Hot & Cold" from the 1994 Heartbeat release called Mojo Rock Steady. Of course no one is credited with the harmonica work. The second Studio One track is by an artist by the name of Big Willie and the song is "College Rock" taken from an album on the Studio One label called Toughest - Studio One Dub and again it provides no definitive identification of who was manning the harp. Interestingly "College Rock" was revamped in the early 90's and became a popular riddim for Donovan Germain's Penthouse label, though minus the harmonica. Best guess who played the harp? Roy Richards(?)

Up next are Keith Hudson and the Chuckles with a tune called "Melody Maker Version 2 (Harmonica & Bongo Dub)" from the 2004 Trojan various artists CD set called The Hudson Affair. "Melody Maker..." is an instrumental version of "Like I'm Dying" and again most likely features William Brown again on harmonica.

Sugar Minott is up next with another Studio One production. This one is the 12" extended mix of "Oh Mr. D.C." and features some absolutely killer harmonica work... where you ask? You've got to wait until you get into the version before you get to hear it. A classic song, a nice solo and again, no definitive information on who did the work. Best guess is again Roy Richards (?)

The final track in the mix comes to us courtesy of Toots And The Maytals. The song is of course "Reggae Got Soul" and originally appeared on the 1976 Island release of the same name. A timeless song with harmonica riffs throughout by the man Chicago Steve. I really couldn't find any additional information about Chicago Steve but I'm actually to the point now that even if I did I wouldn't want to alliterate... this post has been a bear!

Hope you enjoy the history lesson... I've tried to be as factually accurate as possible and I know we started off strong at the top of the playlist and started to falter toward the end but... as always, if you find anything wrong or if you have plugs for any of the holes I couldn't fill, let me know and I'll be happy to make corrections.

Additional tracks...
1.  Nora Dean - Harmonica Dub - Dubbing At Harry J's - 2002 Jamaican Recordings CD - harmonica player unknown.
2.  Roy Richards - Reggae Monica - Studio One Swing Easy - 1969 Coxsone LP.
3.  Bob Marley & The Wailers - Rebel Music (3 O'clock Roadblock) - Natty Dread - 1974 Island Records LP - harmonica courtesy of Lee Jaffe.
4.  Carl Malcolm - Miss Wire Waist - taken from a Various Artists compilation CD whose name has been lost in the shuffle to digitize - harmonica player unknown.
5.  Charlie Organaire - The Good You Can - Trojan Rocksteady Rarities CD set - 2004 Trojan Records.