Monday, March 21, 2011

A Tribute To Jacob Miller (1952-1980)

It was 31 years ago today this week (March 23rd) that Jacob Miller died tragically in an automobile accident and I thought now would be a good time to pay tribute to another reggae superstar who we lost much too soon.

Miller recorded his first tune "Love Is A Message" for Coxsone Dodd in 1968 at the age of 13 and a couple more as well... unfortunately the song didn't have much success so it wasn't until 1974, when Miller got into the studio with the legendary Augustus Pablo, that things began to improve. Tunes like "Who Say Jah No Dread," "False Rasta," and "Baby I Love You So" hit the market and he got some recognition. Interestingly enough, the original b-side dub version of "Baby I Love You So" was the massive "King Tubby's Meets Rockers Uptown" and Island Records failed to give Miller credit for the vocals bouncing and echoing around inside Tubby's mix and even relegated the vocal version to the b-side in subsequent pressings.

Jacob Miller hooked up with the band Inner Circle soon after; the band comprising brothers Ian and Roger Lewis and future members of the band Third World, Stephen 'Cat' Coore, Michael 'Ibo' Cooper and Ritchie Daley, and the hits began to flow. I've even heard that Jacob Miller and Inner Circle were so big in Jamaica in 1978 that Bob Marley and the Wailers received second billing at the One Love Peace Concert beneath them!

Quoting from the Guinness Who's Who of Reggae Music... "Miller's biggest hits would come as a member of Inner Circle. In 1976 they scored a couple of roots hits with "Tenement Yard" and "Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush" (both credited to Miller). These and Miller's explosive stage act made them the top act in Jamaica at the latter part of the 70s. Miller, an exuberant, amply proportioned man, possessed of a fine tenor which often employed a trademark stutter, went on to make a number of excellent records with Inner Circle..."

But Jacob Miller wasn't satisfied with just being a band's vocalist and continued his solo career as many reggae do by recording sides for producers like Joe Gibbs and Gussie Clarke. He also took up acting by making a cameo in Theodoros Bafaloukos' film Rockers. At the time of his death in 1980 Jacob Miller had been working with Chris Blackwell to arrange for a U.S. tour with Bob Marley to promote his second solo album Mixed Up Moods which had recently been completed.

What I have always liked about Jacob Miller aside from some absolutely killer music was what I've read about his personality over the years... Inner Circle's Roger Lewis said Jacob Miller was “always happy and jovial. He always made jokes. Everyone liked jokes.” He sounded like a real good guy and it's sad to think what he may have done for reggae music on an international level if he hadn't died so soon.

Here's what you're going to hear...

We're gonna start it off with "Bionic Skank" from Miller's 1978 LP on the Top Ranking label called Wanted. I've always love the introduction to this tune... Miller warming up his stuttering tenor like a car starting on a cold winter morning. It always gets a smile from me.

One of my all-time favorite Jacob Miller tunes is second and it comes from the 1979 album Mixed Up Moods... a plea for police to end their brutal treatment of Jamaican citizens called "Mr. Officer." The lines "Seam color red, seam color blue, be careful what you do, because the people, the people love you" says a lot about the turbulent times in which it was written and recorded and the quandary that people faced when needing protection from law enforcement... on one hand they are respected and revered for doing their job serving and protecting people but also feared for what they may do if their tempers get the better of them and they turn on the people they are supposed to protect.

"I've Got the Handle" is up next and aside from the rather misogynistic theme it's one helluva tune... this was originally written by Leroy Sibbles and performed by The Heptones but I think Miller does a nice cover. It too comes from the aforementioned Wanted LP.

The next tune is Jacob Miller's trademark call for marijuana legalization called "Healing of the Nation." Originally appearing on his Wanted LP - I borrowed the version we're using in this mix from the excellent Chapter A Day "Greatest Hits" double LP set released by VP Records in 1999.

"I'm A Natty" produced by the legendary Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson and taken from the 2008 VP various artists CD Scorchers From The Mighty Two. The coolest thing about this song? It has to be the bad-ass moogy intro! I wanted to do a rewind at that point in the mix but decided to keep rolling instead.

Next up is "Each One Teach One" lifted from the 1992 release by Greensleeves of material originally produced by Augustus Pablo circa 1974-75, titled Who Say Jah No Dread. A nice selection of songs originally only available as singles - it comes highly recommended!

Jacob gets all lovey-dovey for the next tune... this one is called "I'm In Love" and it comes from a 2004 Auralux various artists CD called Whip Them King Tubby. It too is a compilation of older releases not readily available in one clean package; productions by King Tubby, Bunny Lee and Linval Thompson.

With the sounds of war raging in its introduction we head back into reality... the tune is called "Ghetto On Fire" and comes from yet another various artists CD. The CD is called Life Goes In Circles (Sound From The Talent Corporation) and was released by Pressure Sounds in 2006. This is a fantastic CD and highlights the productions of Tommy Cowan and the top flight Talent Corporation, established in the mid 70's to give Jamaican artists the proper respect it was due in the local music market, and includes some of reggae's biggest names... Jacob Miller included.

Another of my favorite Jacob Miller tunes is up next! The song is called "Silver & Gold" and is also lifted off the Wanted LP. I have to admit this was the first Jacob Miller song I ever heard and Wanted was one of my first non-Marley purchases when I first started delving into Jamaican music as a 16 year old kid. "Silver & Gold" was played on a pretty heavy rotation back in those days and it still puts a smile on my face whenever I hear it!

"All Night Till Daylight" is up next in the mix! A wicked tune and probably one of his best known and originally released in 1976 on the Starapple LP Tenement Yard and produced by Inner Circle's Lewis Brothers, Ian and Roger. I have the original press but it is pretty ratty so I borrowed the tune from the Chapter A Day LP instead. Love this tune!

Another song lifted from yet another various artists compilation... this one is "Dread Ina Babylon" and it comes from the 2001 CD on the Charm label called King Tubby Meets The Reggae Masters. The minimalistic rhythm track complete with vibes makes for a bad ass tune!

Gotta go back to one of Miller's biggest hits, this is the classic "Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush" originally from Inner Circle's 1976's album Reggae Thing. Ours is borrowed from the Chapter A Day LP from VP. A true ganja anthem - if you like that sorta thing.

"Keep On Knocking" from the aforementioned CD Scorchers From The Mighty Two follows up "Tired Fe Lick Weed..." and it definitely fits the bill as a scorcher! Miller riding the Hypocrites riddim is absolutely killer!

We go next to Miller's rather autobiographical tune "Killer Miller" and it is lifted from the greatest hits compilation released by RAS Records in 1988 called Collectors Classics. Originally this was the title track to the 1977 LP released on the Top Ranking label called Jacob "Killer" Miller.

Getting back in a lover's groove with our next track... "Suzy Wong" is also from the RAS Records release Collectors Classics.

"Tenement Yard" is up next and this is the quintessential stuttering tenor Jacob Miller at his best. This was also one of Jacob Miller's biggest hits and was originally the title track from his 1976 Inner Circle collaboration of the same name. I have this tune on a multitude of compilations and I decided to use the one from the 2007 Trojan release Down In A Tenement Yard (Sufferation And Love In The Ghetto) simply because it was the one that was easiest to find.

We follow it up with another title track... this is the title track from the Mixed Up Moods LP originally released on Starapple.

The next tune is an Augustus Pablo produced 7" called "Girl Name Pat" on the Rockers International label. Ironically I'm also in love with a girl named Patti but she would kill me if I ever reduced her name to just Pat. I think a lot of the negativity toward that name has a lot to do with the androgynous character created and performed by Julia Sweeney on Saturday Night Live in the 90's but, I have gone way out in left-field with this analysis so let's get back to the music. :)

We wrap up the mix with two excellent tunes both from the Chapter A Day LP. The first was originally released in 1980 after Miller's death on an album produced by Joe Gibbs called Lives On and it's called "Shakey Girl."

The final track is "Chapter A Day," and it is an absolutely beautiful and timeless tune. It's one of those tunes that gives me chills and usually elicits a few tears from my eyes.

R.I.P. Jacob Miller - You Are Never Forgotten!


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Waskrijt said...

thanks for the mix
Jacob Miller is on of my favorite singers.
I personally would have added 'dock of the bay' to the mix, really like that one

ward in SC said...

wow. just found this place via a 3-years dead blog. After grinning like an idiot for awhile realized I needed to start getting some music. but - where to start.
Killer Miller seemed like the right place. Thank you so much!