Stevie T.’s Brief History of Reggae
Greetings one and all to the sounds of reggae muzik!
When explaining my musical taste to the world around me, people say: “Reggae? Oh, you
mean Bob Marley!” Although the honorable Robert Nesta Marley O.M. is the epiphany of
reggae, and his musical legacy lives on strong, even until today and undoubtedly into the
future, there is more, much more to reggae than catches the eye….
You can‟t blame people for identifying reggae with Marley. As the only artist form Jamaica to
have been marketed as a pop star, his songs appeared in almost every national chart and
many a household listened to the uplifting sounds of struggle and hardship from a complex
island far, far away. The marketing machine would not have worked that well if the product
was bad. Reggae was one of the most influential musical styles in the eighties, pulsing as
diverse styles as Punk, New Wave and even Rap.
With a production of around 700 records a month it seems like everyone is a star in Jamaica.
“Those menacing little devils with snake nests for hair” was a very white statement, but
somehow, it does right to the completely different way of approaching music by the rastaman
of Jamaica (JA). The official language of Jamaica is Patois, a tropical rendition of English. In
order to pick up some patois, listen keenly to the songs on this CD or practice here:
This CD, with 22 songs (chunes) should give you an insight into the phenomenon of reggae.
We start in the late fifties and blow our way forward to the present, picking up (almost) all the
musical styles and variations in between. What to in- and exclude, intentionally omitting artists
who deserve better, it was not easy. But hey: cut the chatter and spin the platter!
It‟s hard to say what the first recording was on Jamaica. Too bad that Lomax only got there in
the sixties: http://www.alan-lomax.com/about_fieldtrips.html#c19! We start of your CD with
two mento recordings from the early sixties. Mento, being the folk music of Jamaica, it is
linked to Trinidadian Calypso and sometimes referred to Calypso from Jamaica. Apart from
guitar and banjo as main instruments, the bass comes from a wicked instrument, often home
made, called the Rhumba Box. A large hollow box made of wood, with broad straps of iron,
arranged like the chords of a keyboard, producing a very low sound, the bass. Linstead
Market is a classic, much recorded song, while Don’t Fence Her In already has that hit
potential we will see more of, when Mento becomes Reggae.
For more on mento, check out: www.mentomusic.com
Folk music wasn‟t really hip, so music enthusiasts looked around for something more modern
and found the American market. Open air discotheques, or dancehalls, featured American
made Rhythm and Blues records, brought home by commuting workers. As the Dancehalls
became more popular, a demand rose for the latest records. Record trips to the States were
undertaken and a true rivalry started. The hottest dancehalls and sound systems had the
latest US hits and gained the attendance of large crowds - and their dollars. Early dancehall
owners used to scratch out the artist and title (sometimes even the whole label) to stop spies
from rivalry sounds to pick up on the hottest discs run by the competition. Jamaica already
showed its violent face in this time of history as competing sounds could be found hiring a
gang of rude boys to destroy the others mans sound.
Bringing in records from abroad was expensive and the demand for new music brought along
a run on studio‟s and musicians. Both of which were not abundant. But the island soon caught
up and home made music quickly appeared. What else to produce than Jamaica‟s own
Rhythm & Blues? With Georgie & His Old Shoe Theophilius Beckford already gives an insight
in things to come: heavy bass, shuffle arrangements and a horn section that plays solos.
Clancy Eccles, who later became a well known producer, is featured with a song that marks
the change to a whole new and more native style, the ska.
Take a little Mento, R&B, Jazz and Calypso, combine it with an unquenchable musical thirst
and a people‟s drive for independence from mother England and the musical result is.. Ska!
The Jamaican music scene was dominated by a handful of producers: Coxsone Dodd from
the Studio One label, Duke Reid of Treasure Isle and (later) Prince Buster of Voice of the
People. Having the ability to record, the equipment and the musicians, the island was ruled by
these pioneers. The producers were sometimes more famous than the actual artists they
worked with. Phoenix City was a major hit for one of the most amazing and legendary bands
to come out of Jamaica: the Skatalites. They made solo records, were Coxsone (and other
producers) studio musicians and even ended up at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Top sax
player Rolando Alphonso gives his best on this chune. Jamaica gained its place on the
musical map! The R&B songs changed into ska around 1962. For more on the Skats:
Only shortlived, ska was replaced by rocksteady in around 1968. The reason for this is open
to speculation, some say the changing political scene created a demand for a different rhythm
and matching songs, others say that dancing to the ska was too intense: the up-tempo beat
turned a night out dancing into top sport. When you hear Bonanza Ska by Carlos Malcolm
you could also state that if they‟re making a ska version of TV trailers, the ska rhythm was
The pace slowed down and rocksteady was born. Already we can recognize the foundations
of reggae: emphasis on the after beat and a dominant pace for the bass line, which the guitar
followed, more or less. The slowing of the pace gave the songwriters more room for the lyrics
and musical experiments. Little Things by Elmsley Morris is a fine example of this. Jamaicans
passed on the developments in the States, where R&B turned into Rock „n‟ Roll. The
emergence of Soul in US was another thing. Brothers and sisters making heart moving songs,
while not forgetting the sheer swing of it all, and even earning a very decent living, now that
was something the Jamaicans could relate to. There‟s a new hit out there? Great, let‟s make
an island version! Midnight Hour by the Silvertones is an example of this well used Jamaican
technique. The Silvertones hit the button and Wilson Pickett would have been proud… Even
Rainy Night In Georgia worked. And believe it or not, Sandy Shaws Puppet On A String
actually sounds better than the original: Ken Boothe‟s rendition he cut for Coxsone was a big
Then the rhythm took another notch down and the new sound was reggae. The definition of
soul by a Stax man „Gridsy, gutsy and raw‟ works here too. The exact date on which reggae
originated leaves room for discussion, let‟s say it is 1970. Being a four quarter beat, the
emphasis is on the third count, resulting in the „one drop rhythm‟ of reggae. To avoid horrible
emptiness the guitarist will fill in the beat by playing accents on the second and fourth count.
Resulting in  empty -  - tsjeck  kick/clap -  tsjeck. For more details and variations,
check out: www.fenderplayersclub.com/pdfs/lessons/reggae_beats.pdf
It is impossible to pick two songs which are the heart of reggae. There is simply too much to
choose from. Both Heart and Soul by Don Carlos and Rock and Come On by Leroy Sibbles,
were picked because they catch that laid back, groovy feel of reggae music. Irie as
Jamaicans will put it. It also introduces the format of the Disco 45: a 12” single were the vocal
is followed by either an instrumental version or a DJ version on the same rhythm. Heart and
Soul is followed by Stamma Ranks‟ Music Reggae Music.
Our transparent timeline becomes dodgy now. In hindsight we can break reggae down to
variations like Lovers, Roots, DJ‟s and Dub. Although these styles were around for a while,
they became more apparent as a separate style in this era, with some artists specializing in
one of the styles. Lovers speaks for itself. Sweet chunes dealing with matters of the heart.
Included are Tune In by Gregory Isaacs, also known as the Cool Ruler. Otis Gayles rendition
of the Spinners classic I’ll Be Around he cut for Coxsone and, taking it to an even sweeter
level, Guilty by Ken Parker.
Roots is the more dominant style of reggae with vocals focusing on religious themes,
hardship in the ghetto and other protests. Horace Andy teams up with legendary producer
Bullwackies to teach that Money is the root of all evil: Money Money. More recently Horace
Andy is featured on the musical works of Masive Attack, who incorporated many of Andy‟s
hits into their powerfull mix of styles.
Producer Lee Perry deserves a CD of his own. His musical career covers decades and
Scratch was responsible for a lot of groundbreaking productions and innovations. Being one
of the first to use samples (a crying baby in People Funny Boy way back when in 1968) he
recorded the wailers and has gained cult status. From Creation by Clive Hunt was recently
reissued by Trojan. The recording was made in 1978 and was issued as a dubplate. A
dubplate is record which is cut on request resulting in a one off exclusive record. The quality
of sound systems in the dancehall is judged on the amount and exclusiveness of their
dubplates. If you‟ve got the cash, you simply send instructions (like name of your sound and
choice of rhythm) to a facilitating middle man and a few weeks later you‟re in musical heaven!
Most dubplates come and go, but From Creation was so legendary and in demand it now has
it‟s very welcome official relase.
DJ‟s were at the foundation of the development of Hip Hop. Long before the first Rap song
was recorded in the States (was it Grandmaster Flash?), Jamaicans were chatting in the
Dance over the instrumental B-sides of the latest hit. Included is the DJ pioneer Hugh Roy,
chatting over Slim Smith‟s vocal: Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, which of course was a remake of
the Temptations song they cut for Motown in 1966. An example of DJ chune not related to a
vocal is Step mother by Lui Lepki. It was produced by the late great Henry „Junjo‟ Lawes, who
ruled the Jamaican music scene from the late seventies to the early eighties.
Dub is the style of reggae in which the producer goes absolutely bezerk: ripping apart a
rhythm, rearranging it, adding echo, using snippets of vocals and other sound effects and
putting it altogether again. Scratch gets another shot with the dub of War In A Babylon by Max
Romeo, called Revelation Dub. Another musical dub genius is King Tubby‟s who can rework
a rhythm wit mathematical precision. My Guiding Dub is a fine example of his abilities as a
dub master, reworking Horace Andy‟s, whom we‟ve met before, My Guiding Star.
In 1985 the revolutional Under Me Sleng Teng by Wayne Smith was issued. Being one of the
first fully computerized rhythms to occur, producer King Jammy‟s introduced things to come.
The new computer style music slowly pushed away the more traditional sounds. After many,
many chunes and albums, which dominated the charts, the older styles adapted to the new
way of making music. Lovers, DJ‟s, Roots and Dub all became more or less digital.
Included is Agony by Pinchers, powerfull digital tune produced by the self crowned King
Jammy‟s from 1987. Bam Bam by Pliers, was produced in 1999 by the Rhythm Twins: Sly
Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare for their own Taxi label. Sly and Robbie have been around for
decades and produced many a classic tune throughout our musical journey. Being recognized
as top musicians and producers they also recorded with the likes of Grace Jones, Bob Dylan
and Doug E. Fresh.
Bam Bam itself being a remake of a classic, first recorded by Toots and the Maytals in late
sixties. It‟s on the popular Murder She Wrote riddim, with which Chacka Demus and Pliers
had a big hit, even in several national charts. Inventing a rhythm track and then releasing
other vocal chunes on the same musical backbone has been around a long time, but was
popularized during the digital age, with complete albums emerging on one riddim.
The latest development was the emergence of Ragga, short for ragamuffin. It is the extreme
form of digital reggae. Included is The Real Man by Merciless. Produced by H. Hart in 2000 it
was part of the „Saddam‟ riddim. If you don‟t care much for the minimalistic style of ragga,
don‟t fret, not all is lost. Besides these hypermodern aggressive chunes, more mellow and
rootsy chunes are still issued in abundance, completing a diverse musical spectrum.
One love and enjoy!
1. Linstead Market - Lord Messam (UK Downbeat, 2003 reissue of 60‟s JA recording)
2. Don‟t Fence Her In - Ticklers (UK MRS, Mottas Recording Studio, 60‟s JA recording)
Shuffle / R&B
3. Georgie & The Old Shoe - Theophilius Beckford (JA Coxsone, Coxsone Dodd, 1961)
4. I Live and I Love - Clancy Eckles (All Stars, Coxsone Dodd, 1961)
5. Phoenix City - Roland Alphonso a/t Soul Brothers (UK Doctor Bird, Coxsone Dodd, 1965)
6. Ambition of Men - Reuben Anderson (UK Top Deck, Reissue of 1965 JA recording)
7. Midnight Hour - Silvertones (JA Soul Shot, Duke Reid, 1968)
8. Little Things - Emsley Morris (JA Sun Shot, Phill Pratt, 1969)
9. Heart and Soul - Don Carlos / Music Reggae Music - Stamma Ranks
(CAN, Disco 45, Micron, 80‟s)
10. Rock and Come On - Leroy Sibbles
(CAN, Disco 45, Micron, 1983, produced by Leroy Sibbles)
11. Money Money - Horace Andy (US, Wackie‟s, produced by legendary Lloyd „Bullwackie‟
Barnes, an update from the cut produced by Bunny Lee in 1978)
12. From Creation - Clive Hunt (UK Trojan 2003, produced by Lee „Scratch‟ Perry, the
Upsetter in 1978)
13. Tune In - Gregory Isaacs (JA, African Museum, Gregory produced this one, around 1978)
14. I‟ll Be Around - Otis Gayle (JA, Studio One, Coxsone Dodd, 1971)
15. Guilty - Ken Parker (US Wimpex release of Bunny Lee production, 1978)
16. Revelation Dub - Lee „Scratch‟ Perry (JA, Upsetter, Dub to War In A Babylon - Max
17. My Guiding Dub - King Tubby‟s (JA, Stars, Dub to My Guiding Star - Horace Andy)
18. Love I Bring - U Roy, over Slim Smith‟s Ain‟t Too Proud To Beg. (JA, Mego-Ann,
produced by Hugh Roy, date unknown)
19. Step mother - Lui Lepki (JA, Volcano, Henry „Junjo‟ Lawes, 1979)
20. Agony - Pinchers (JA, Jammy‟s, produced by the self crowned King Jammy‟s in 1987)
21. Bam Bam - Pliers (JA, Taxi, produced by Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare, 1999)
22. The Real Man - Merciless (JA, Annex, produced by H. Hart in 2000, „Saddam‟ riddim)