Producer Harry Mudie can be counted as one of the most original of reggae auteurs. He not only featured the bottom-heavy sound reggae was famous for, but he expanded on the soul sweetness of many rocksteady sides with strings and touches of Philly soul ambience, as well. His prime work from the '70s is some of the most sophisticated and lush to emerge amidst reggae's seemingly endless run of dancehall-ready sides.
Harry Mudie was born in Jamaica's original capital, Spanish Town, in 1940. He first came to prominence producing drummer Count Ossie. Ossie was one of the earliest island musicians to espouse Rastafarian beliefs, and he helped form an Afro-centric percussion style called nyahbingi drumming in the camp he set up with other Rastas during the mid-'50s. Mudie caught some of Ossie's earliest work on tape in the early '60s, at a time when the percussionist regularly performed at the producer's Spanish Town Scaramouche Gardens Club.
In the mid-'60s, Mudie put his burgeoning career on hold to travel and study abroad for five years. Upon his return to the studio in the early '70s, Mudie cut a deal with the U.K. labels Trojan and R&B to distribute his productions on exclusive imprints. On the creative end, Mudie marked this time by experimenting with strings on some of his sessions, a first for any reggae producer. And while his soulful, groove-heavy rhythms were often laid down at Studio One's "open" Sunday sessions, the strings were recorded in London. His roster during the first half of the decade included such singers and groups as John Holt, Dennis Walks, the Ebony Sisters, the Heptones, Lloyd Jones, the Eternals (featuring Cornell Campbell), and Winston Shand -- he also cut a few sides with Gregory Isaacs and Peter Tosh. Mudie's most popular sides come from this period and include Holt's cover of Ivory Joe Hunter's "It May Sound Silly," which is featured on the singer's smash album Time Is the Master, and Dennis Walks' much-versioned "Drifter." Other successes included the Ebony Sisters' "Let Me Tell You Boy," Slim Smith's "Give Me Some More Loving," the Heptones' "Love Without Feeling," and cornet player Jo Jo Bennett's "Leaving Rome."
Bennett was also an integral part of the producer's studio band, Mudie's All-Stars, which variously included vibist Lennie Hibbert, pianist Gladstone Anderson, tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, trumpeter Bobby Ellis, guitarist Mikey Chung, and percussionist Bongo Herman.
Like the majority of reggae producers active in the '70s, Mudie augmented his vocal sides with a healthy share of DJ cuts by such young mic stars as I-Roy, Big Joe, and Count Sticky. Mudie fashioned I-Roy's name after that of first DJ star, U-Roy, and oversaw the young toasters first sides around 1970. Although the two men would have a falling out over business matters in 1971, their collaboration produced such memorable hits as "Musical Choice" and versions of "Drifting" and "Let Me Tell You Boy."
Also in line with the day's trends, Mudie worked with King Tubby to produce some of the strongest dub albums of the mid-'70s. Featuring a large dose of Mudie's strongest rhythms, the three Dub Conference albums offer a perfect blend of the producer's tasteful grooves (strings, too) and Tubby's equally astute panoply of echo and reverb-riddled mixing board effects.
After much success throughout the '70s, Mudie traveled extensively and eventually settled in Florida. He's lived in the Sunshine State for close to 20 years and makes Miami the base for his Moodisc label, which he runs with his son. The label has reissued a wealth of Mudie's material, including some of Count Ossie's earliest tracks, John Holt's Time Is the Master, several Dennis Walks releases, the Dub Conference titles, and various compilations of his vocal, DJ, and instrumental tracks. And while Mudie doesn't keep up the same pace of his '70s heyday, he still stays active re-cutting many of his hits in the current dancehall-ragga style and cutting the occasional single for Horace Andy and Tinga Stewart.