Tag Archives: Music

Dread At The Controls

Michael Campbell, better known as Mikey Dread, is a Jamaican singer, producer, and broadcaster. He was born in 1954 in Port Antonio, Jamaica, West Indies.

Mikey Dread displayed a natural talent for engineering and electronics. After he finished college, Campbell started out as an engineer with the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC). Campbell wasn’t impressed that the JBC’s playlists mainly consisted of bland, foreign pop music at a time when some of the best reggae ever was being recorded throughout Jamaica. He convinced his JBC bosses to give him his own radio program called Dread At The Controls, where he played nothing but reggae.

Before long, Campbell (now using the DJ name Mikey Dread) had the most popular program on the JBC. Well-known for its fun and adventurous sonic style, Dread At The Controls became a hit all over Jamaica. Inevitably, JBC’s conservative management (the suits) and Campbell clashed, and he quit in protest.

By that time, Campbell had earned a solid reputation as a singer and producer and began recording his own material. Distinctive albums such as Dread At The Controls, Evolutionary Rockers, and World War III all became favorites amongst reggae fans. His collaboration with producers King Tubby and Carlton Patterson stand out as some of the best work each party has done. Campbell’s music attracted the attention of British punk rockers The Clash, who invited him over to England to produce some of their music.

Although initially suspicious of the strangers, Campbell soon became the best of friends with the band, producing their famous Bankrobber single and performing on several songs on their 1980 album Sandinista!. Campbell also toured with The Clash across Britain, Europe, and the US, gaining many new fans along the way.

After many years working as a producer and singer, Campbell withdrew from the business and moved to Miami where he furthered his college education with courses in electronics and business. Disgusted with several unfair contracts with record companies, Campbell shrewdly waited until all of the existing contracts expired and then regained control over his entire catalogue. Since then, he has been re-releasing much of it on his own Dread At The Controls record label until his death in 2008.

Dub Wiser & Live Longer

Dub music is a form of Jamaican music, which evolved out of Reggae in 1960’s Jamaica. The dub sound consists predominantly of instrumental re-mixes of existing recordings and is achieved by significantly manipulating and reshaping the recordings, usually by removing the vocals from an existing music piece, emphasizing the drum and bass frequencies or ‘Riddim’, adding extensive echo and reverb effects, and dubbing occasional snippets of lyrics from the original version.

Lee “Scratch” Perry

It is widely accepted that Jamaican musicians Osbourne Ruddock (more commonly known by the pseudonym King Tubby), and Lee “Scratch” Perry pioneered the style in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Ruddock and Perry each called upon the mixing desk as an instrument, with the Deejay or “Selector” playing the role of the artist or performer. This early ‘Dub’ music experimentation can be looked upon as the prelude to many dance and pop music genres.

King Tubby

Dub music is characterized as a “version” or “double” of an existing song, often instrumental, using B sides of 45 RPM records and typically emphasizing the drums and bass for a sound popular in local sound systems. The instrumental tracks are typically drenched in sound processing effects such as echo, reverberation, part vocal and extra percussion, with most of the lead instruments and vocals dropping in and out of the mix.

Another hallmark of the dub sound is the massive low-pitched bass guitar. The music sometimes features processed sound effects and other noises, such as birds singing, thunder and lightning, water flowing, and producers shouting instructions at the musicians. It can be further augmented by live DJs. The many-layered sounds with varying echoes and volumes are often said to create soundscapes, or sound sculptures, drawing attention to the shape and depth of the space between sounds as well as to the sounds themselves.

There is usually a distinctly organic characteristic of the music, even though the effects are electronically created. Often these tracks are used for “Toasters” rapping heavily-rhymed and alliterative lyrics. These are called “DJ Versions”. As opposed to Hip Hop terminology, in Reggae music the person with the microphone is called the “DJ”, elsewhere referred to as the “MC.” (Abbreviating “Master of Ceremonies,” “Microphone Commander” or “Mic Control,” this term varies regionally and demographically). Additionally in Reggae the person choosing the music and operating the turntables is the “Selector” (i.e., the DJ).

Photo Series: The Skatalites

The Skatalites are a ska band from Jamaica. They played initially between 1963 and 1965, and recorded many of their best known songs in the period, including Guns of Navarone. They also played on records by Prince Buster and backed many other Jamaican artists who recorded during that period. They reformed in 1983 and have played together ever since.

These images were captured at a Skatalites performance given on Sunday, September 29th, 2013 in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the Guthrie Green. It was a great show by a great band.

Doreen Shaffer, Vocals “The Queen of Ska”

Lester Sterling, Alto Saxophone

Kevin Batchelor, Trumpet

Andrae Murchison, Trombone

Cameron Greenlee, Keyboards

Azemobo “Zem” Audu, Tenor Saxophone

Natty Frenchy, Guitar

Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson, Drums

Val Douglas, Bass Guitar

All Images Copyright 2013 Eric Hatheway All Right Reserved


Who Wants To Be A Rude Boy?

What is a rude boy? What is a rude girl? What does ‘to be rude’ mean? Today, it simply means that you’re a dedicated member of the ska scene. If you have a good ska collection, if you dress up in a way that indicates that you like ska, if your style and taste makes it obvious to others that you’re in with the ska, you are therefore ‘rude’ by the definition of ska crowd.

Where did the term come from? I recently spoke to Tommy McCook, the founder, leader and tenor saxophonist of the original ska band, the Skatalites. When I asked him about rude boys coming to Skatalites in the early Sixties, McCook said: “Actually in our tenure as the Skatalites, in the time of the ska music, we did not have any violence. We didn’t have any rude boys, so to speak. The violence came around 1966. I remember when rock steady just came in, in late ’65. Then in ’66 violence broke out wickedly across the island, so much so that we had to have a curfew in Western and Eastern Kingston. So, that’s when the rude boy thing came out.”

The truth is that ‘rudeness’ and the original ‘rude boys’ had absolutely nothing to do with ska. The rude boy came AFTER ska music, during the time of rock steady! Rude boys were the name given to a subculture of young street corner hoodlums, gangsters and other unemployables. In emigrating to England, the rude boys helped spread Jamaican music to the working-class skinheads, another youth subculture. When the 2Tone sound of ska (the second wave of ska in the late Seventies) made it into the popular media, youth subculture changed with it. Today , a new American subculture revolves around the images of the ‘rude boy’ and ‘skinhead.’

The rude boy was not the first subculture of Jamaica, but it was the first youth subculture. After independence in the early Sixties (which gave birth to the nationalist ‘ska’ music), over-population was putting extreme demands on the basics of life—housing, work and food. The response to these conditions was the start of a creation of a new subculture, unofficially called scufflers. Scuffling was just scrounging to get by, by any means necessary. This often meant involvement in the underground economy. Pimping and prostitution, begging and stealing became the unofficial economic activities in the shanty towns of West Kingston.

The squatter camps of Trenchtown and Back O’Wall existed on the fringe of the city since the Thirties, but population pressures enlarged them and a hurricane in 1951 allowed the squatters to capture nearby government land that was cleared for re-housing. People lived in packing crates, fish barrels, cardboard boxes and polystyrene packing pieces. Fire hydrants and open-air pit latrines supplied basic amenities. Living in these parts was a social stigma that guaranteed unemployment. Diseases of overcrowding—tuberculosis and typhoid—remained in the camps even though public health improvement in the 1930s put these in check elsewhere on the island.

By the Sixties, the economic boom of the 1950s was receding, the Trenchtown poor were no better off than before. Independence may have given a sense of optimism to the population. But a lack of any major change lead to riots and protest movements by the end of the decade. Within this decade, the sub-culture of the scuffling rude boy emerged. These rude boys defined their own personal style. These youths, boys from fourteen to twenty-five years, carried German ratchet knives and handguns. They came from all over West Kingston. With deteriorating living conditions, these rude boys were, above all, angry.

They wore sharp 3-button tonic suits and “stingy brim,” or pork-pie hats, in imitation of the upper-classes. The gangster image and sunglasses at all hours gave them a facade of ‘cool,’ a new and distinctly modern value. If you lived in Trenchtown and scuffled for a living, dressing in this manner would certainly bring attention from neighbors, and suspicion from the upper classes.

According to the Jamaican census of 1960, over one-third of the entire population were unemployed and looking for their first job, about 10,000 people. On the other hand, 70% were under the age of 21, from where the rude boys came. First at the blues dances of the Fifties and later at the outdoor sound systems of the Sixties, it was the rude boys who would draw the knives and guns first, smash bottles for no particular reason, and cause fear when the pressure would heat up at the events. They would inspire a whole sub-genre within ska music—rude boy songs—which would either condone or condemn them.

One ska artist, Prince Buster, celebrated the rude boy for their “rough n’ toughness.” In the lyric to the early-Sixties ska song, Too Hot, he sings:

“Rude boys never give up their guns,  
No one can tell them what to do.  
Pound for pound they say they’re ruder than you.  
Get out insurance and make up your will  
If you want to fight them.”

Not all artists universally endorsed the sub-culture, as in the Ruler’s 1966 song, Don’t Be A Rudeboy:

“I don’t want to be no rude boy,
I just want to be a good boy.
Why don’t you change your way rude boy,
Try to be a good boy.
Because if you don’t change your way,
You’re going to be killed by mistake someday.
And when you grow to be a man,
You don’t spend your days in the camps,
And when you walk down the street,
People will respect the man they meet.”

Either way, the rude boys were a strong presence on the scene in Jamaica, and a popular image that followed the music. You can translate music, style and attitude from country to country, you can even translate class-standing nationally, but for the very specific economic, political and social forces that made the rude boys truly rude, these things can not be copied.

The 2Tone (ska revival) movement in the Seventies saw kids both black and white dressing sharp and calling themselves rude boys, as one way to identify with the true Jamaican roots of bands like the Specials, the Selecter and Madness. Today, kids are dressing ‘rude’ not to give props to the Jamaican roots, but to ‘2Tone’ each other.

By: Noah Wildman, publisher of The People’s Ska Annual, examines the history of Jamaican music, and the rude boy culture of yesterday and today.

Fish Heads Flashback

Back in the 1980s, in the early days of MTV and the music video, there was an obscure one-hit wonder that was actually a novelty song from the comedy rock team of Barnes and Barnes. The song/video is called Fish Heads and it is all about what fish can do and what fish cannot do.

The video was directed by Bill Paxton in 1980 and it first aired on NBC’s Saturday Night Live in December 1980. This is undoubtedly the strangest music video to ever appear on MTV – when they played real music. Remember that if you can. Anyway, enjoy and admire the wackiness! Give it a second, it starts out slow.

Reggaeton: The New Beat On The Street

There has been a new beat lurking around the music scene for about 10 years in North America. The new beat, or sound, is called reggaeton (pronounced reggae-tone) and it is urban music that became popular with the youths of Latin America. Reggaeton, since becoming popular in Latin America, has since spread to Europe and Asian listeners as well as North America. The music itself originated in Panama and it blends Latin American music (bomba, salsa, merengue and Latin Pop) with Jamaican influences such as reggae and dancehall music.

Reggaeton also combines these sounds with R&B, electronic music and hip-hop music. Much of the reggaeton music being produced today utilizes singing and rapping in Spanish. Reggaeton should be distinguished from Latino hip-hop which is merely hip-hop performed by musicians of Latino origins nor should reggaeton be classified as Spanish reggae.

Reggaeton possesses its own specific rhythm called Dem Bow (as referenced in a 1991 Shabba Ranks song of the same name). You most often will hear a driving and pulsing track from a drum machine which, as a sound, has its roots in Jamaican dancehall music. The beat mixes the rhythms of a kick drum and a syncopated snare drum that produces the distinctive boom-chh-boom-chick sound that identifies reggaeton and its quick 95 beats per minute meter. The beat was originally produced by Bobby “Digital” Dixon in Jamaica for Steely & Clevie. Popular reggaeton artists to look for are Chicho Man, Renato, Black Apache, DJ Playero and Daddy Yankee.

The Most Beautiful Guitar In The World

“The most beautiful guitar in the world.” That is what the sales literature from Gretsch called their Model 6136 White Falcon. Angelic in form and celestial in sound, the White Falcon is one of the most highly treasured and most expensive guitars ever made. Appearing at the same time as huge fins on automobiles, the White Falcon embodies everything that is the 1950s. Strangely enough, the White Falcon was never intended as a production model for Gretsch – it was more of a concept guitar. But, after its first trade show appearance in 1954, the White Falcon was instantly in demand and orders for White Falcon began to pour into the Gretsch factory.

The story of the White Falcon begins with a Gretsch salesman who played an all white Harmony guitar during World War II. Pictures of Jimmy Webster playing his Harmony appeared in an Armed Forces newsletter called “The White Falcon.” After the war, Mr. Webster began to cobble together what would become the Model 6136 White Falcon. He took his inspiration from anything and everything at the Gretsch factory. What happened was the “most beautiful guitar in the world.” Adorned with gleaming white paint, 24-karat gold plated parts, gold sparkled trim, ebony, and authentic mother-of-pearl the White Falcon made its debut in 1954 to the delight of players everywhere.

Everything on the White Falcon was first-rate and it is a big guitar. The White Falcon measures 17 inches wide and it is 3 inches deep. It has a three-layer white, gold and black binding with bird-themed engravings on the neck markers. It also had a special winged headstock and a “Cadillac G” tailpiece which derived its name from a resemblance to the Cadillac logo. The White Falcon embodied the excess of 1950s and its designers kept that aesthetic well into the 1960s. The White Falcon became the recipient of lots of switches and knobs which made it look complicated and removed from its intended pure design.

During the 1970s the White Falcon trimmed down a bit and returned to its uncluttered angelic look. In 1974, a single cut-away version of the White Falcon was produced which in effect ended the classic 6136 as we know it. But, just as rock ‘n’ roll will never die, the Gretsch 6136 White Falcon continues its storied history as “the most beautiful guitar in the world.” Rock on!