Get down wih the Original Rocker
AUGUSTUS PABLO: ORIGINAL ROCKER
Born in Jamaica circa 1953 in the parish of St. Andrew, to the west of the island capital of Kingston, at night, from his bed, the young Pablo (born Horace Swaby) could hear the distant thump of sound systems playing out nearby, the music calling him as a shepherd might call a lost sheep to a flock, and he would steal away when his parents were asleep to take in the musical vibes.
As a youth he regularly skipped lessons to practice (hit-making Studio One organ player and arranger) Jackie Mittoo riffs on the school organ with his friend Tyrone Downie, later to achieve fame as The Wailers’ keyboardist, and thereby eliciting frequent beatings from the Masters who, in common with many middle-class Jamaicans, considered reggae music to be in the idle employ of ungodly hands.
Though his parents naturally disapproved of such behavior, the boy was obviously smitten and talented enough for them to acquiesce and purchase a second-hand piano for him to practice on. He abandoned his studies and began to pursue his calling, running a sound system and taking the bus to downtown Kingston on regular record-buying forays.
It was on one such expedition that destiny intervened in the form of a friend’s girlfriend. She was holding a melodica, a small, rudimentary keyboard with a mouthpiece at one end through which one blew, producing a sound somewhere between a harmonica and a kazoo, usually reserved for the musical education of primary school children.
Intrigued, Pablo asked if he could try it out, whereupon the girl told him she had no use for it and he could have it. Entering the Aquarius record shop in Halfway Tree, Pablo attracted the attention of the proprietor, Herman Chin-Loy, who asked him if he could play the instrument. Pablo replied in the positive and Chin-Loy took him to Randy’s studio in North Parade to record his first sides: “Iggy Iggy” and “East Of The River Nile” (an early version of his classic). The later minor-chorded epic inaugurated the nascent “Far East” style that was to become Pablo’s trademark, pioneered by Don Drummond and Jackie Mittoo on the old Studio One tunes that Pablo loved so much, such as “Addis Adaba” and “Drum Song.” Chin-Loy had been producing instrumental records featuring the organ work of erstwhile Upsetter Glen Adams over the past year or two, releasing them under the unlikely nom de disque “Augustus Pablo.”
Randy’s was owned by the family of an old school friend of Pablo’s, Clive Chin. Chin was fascinated by the new and unusual sound presented by Pablo and swiftly organized a session for Pablo which resulted in “Java,” his first hit in 1971. The tune became a big success, spawning a rash of imitators: Glen Brown, Joe White, Bobby Kalphat, Pablove Black, etc. and establishing Pablo and Chin at the forefront of the burgeoning bass-heavy skank sound, soon to be dubbed “rockers,” that was taking over from the faster, more energetic reggae that had prevailed since 1968. During the early Seventies, Pablo pursued a career as one of Kingston’s most prominent session musicians, arranging and playing for most of the top producers of the day: Bunny Lee, Clive Chin, who released Pablo’s classic debut album This Is Augustus Pablo, Leonard Chin, Derrick Harriot, Lee Perry, Keith Hudson and Gussie Clarke.
By 1972 Pablo had saved enough money through session work to finance his own recordings and embarked on a series of unsurpassed classic releases throughout the Seventies. Records such as “Skanking Easy,” “Cassava Piece,” “Frozen Dub,” “Warrika Hill,” “555 Crown Street,” “Pablo’s Theme Song,” “Pablo Satta,” “Memories Of The Ghetto” and more...an endless list. He also became a renowned producer of other artists, especially many newartists, including dee jays Dillinger and Big Youth, singers Paul Whiteman, Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell, Junior Delgado and groups like The Heptones, The Immortals and Tetrack.
Pablo worked in close association with King Tubby’s studio during its formative years and in 1975 released the epochal King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, “rockers” being the name of Pablo’s sound system and main record label, arguably the finest dub album extant, featuring wild Tubby’s dubs to a dozen of Pablo’s finest early rhythms. Other albums followed, most notably the instrumental East Of The River Nile. Pablo had only one real hit record in Jamaica, the afore-mentioned “Java,” which was versioned many times by many artists over the years. His recordings after “Java,” particularly those he issued on his own Rockers label, were generally too esoteric and rootsy for mass popularity amongst the island’s music lovers.
In the UK it was a different story. Pablo’s exotic sound, dominated by his frequent use of melodica as lead instrument, captured the imagination of a certain section of Black youth in Britain, some born here, but others migrating from the Caribbean with their parents, eager to find a musical identity of their own. They found it in the rebel rock sounds of the contemporary reggae music emerging from Jamaica. It was amongst this young audience that Pablo’s tough, militant music began to really find favour. His early self-produced titles on the Rockers label perfectly conveyed the required dread soundtrack…Roots fans and collectors in the UK have always considered Pablo’s music, alongside the finest productions by Yabby You, Lee Perry and Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One, as the peak of the roots reggae style…As the Eighties progressed, reggae music’s focus moved away from Rastafari towards a more light-hearted, hedonistic style known as Dancehall and Pablo’s music reflected this as he maintained that all reggae music is dancehall music. He scored a hit in 1986 with Junior Delgado’s “Raggamuffin Year,” which utilized a computer-originated rhythm, though Pablo had long been experimenting with drum machines and digital keyboards to create his rhythms.
In the Nineties, Pablo’s health deteriorated rapidly. He had suffered from ill health for much of his adult life, though he performed in Japan, England and even the United States to great acclaim in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Sadly, in 1999, he passed away from a rare nerve disorder and reggae music lost one of its most revered and innovative talents.This collection offers great tracks from Pablo’s entire canon, including many rare and previously-unavailable-on-cd tracks. Taken together, they are definitive evidence that Pablo was indeed the “Original Rocker.
- "Rockers Dub"
- "Up Warrika Hill"
- "Cassava Piece"
- "Tubbys Dub Song"
- "Jah Dread"
- "Brace a Boy"
- "Thunder Clap"
- "Park Lane Special"
- "New Style"
- "AP Special" (Adapted)