The Dreads / King Tubby

If Deejay Was Your Trade: The Dreads at King Tubby's 1974-1977

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Although Bunny Lee first entered the music industry back in 1962, he didn't move into production until 1967. Even as he oversaw a string of hits in the rocksteady age, notably with the Uniques and Roy Shirley, it was the roots age on which Lee really stamped his imprimatur. Carlton "Santa" Davis, drummer with Lee's studio band, the Aggrovators, created the band's distinctive "flying cymbals" sound, and with it the producer's 45s stormed the dancehalls. However, without his own studio, Lee had to be particularly innovative to turn a profit, and the producer's two-pronged solution would change the course of Jamaican music. To save money, Lee utilized the same backing track for a variety of different releases, popularizing "versions," a trend that continues today and has yet to peak. Second, rather than having his band waste time learning new songs, Lee set the Aggrovators loose on Studio One and Treasure Isle classics, reinventing these golden oldies in steppers and rockers style. Recycling, too, remains integral to the modern dancehall. Lee's vocalists happily composed new lyrics for these newly resurrected riddims, but in the end, these innovations favored the DJs, and by the '80s, the toasters had virtually displaced vocalists in the dancehalls. If Deejay Was Your Trade showcases some of Lee's best chatterers, all voiced and mixed down at King Tubby's studio. As listeners have come to expect from Blood & Fire, an excellent booklet is included, providing pocket bios of the DJs as well as any other salient information, and identifying each of the riddims. Prince Jazzbo aims insults straight at I-Roy's head; their popular "feud" delighted dancehall fans, but the master doesn't respond to the upstart pupil here. Instead, fans are treated to one of his strongest cultural numbers, "War and Friction." Other potent cultural cuts include Dr. Alimantado's "Chant to Jah," Big Joe's "In the Ghetto," and Jah Stitch's "Set Up Yourself Dreadlocks." The latter DJ's "Black Harmony Killer" rightly brought Stitch to the U.K.'s attention -- and while Tapper Zukie had already made his mark there, his track with Lee still reinforced his reputation. The mighty Prince Far I was on the verge of breaking out abroad, but "Shuffle and Deal" apparently precedes that, and predates "Deck of Cards" as well. Both boast the same toast, "Cards" featuring a very different backing overseen by Joe Gibbs. Tony "Prince" Robinson would elevate Little Joe to Ranking Joe, but before that, he cut the exhilarating "Tradition Skank" for Lee, his sole recording for the producer. Dillinger was already a star, and his two delightful toasts here give ample reason why. Lee unleashed a flood of DJ cuts during the mid-'70s, but these are some of the best.

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