The early seventies found Horace Swaby attending Kingston College (KC) with friends such as Clive Chin and Tyrone Downie. He and Tyrone's interest in music had already lead them into a local church where they practised their keyboard skills on the organ. Sometime in 1971, Horace apparently on a record buying trip (on behalf of his brother's ›Rockers‹ sound system) to Herman Chin Loy's Aquarius Record Shop at Half Way Tree. Was given or lent a Melodica by a young girl.
Horace began to play the instrument in the shop. Impressed Herman Chin Loy took Horace into the studio the next day. It was said that, it was on this first session, that Herman gave Horace Swave the name of Augustus Pablo.
These first sessions produced titles like ›Iggy Iggy‹, ›Invasion‹ and ›East Of The River Nile‹. Early UK releases included ›The Mood‹, ›Duck It Up‹ and ›Reggae In The Field/Aquarius 2‹ But it wasn't until 1972, when he teamed up with his old school friend Clive Chin, that he made a breakthrough. It came with the great ›Java‹. On the sleevenotes to ›This Is Augustus Pablo‹ (Rebel Rock Reggae) released on Heartbeat Records in the US. Chris Rockers tells us how ›Java‹ was recorded. »Clive had brought Dennis Wright [another KC friend] into the studio to record a song that they were working on. The basic tracks was done, but after many attempts the vocalizing didn't materialize. They called it a day. and as they were leaving Pablo came up to Clive and asked to overdub on the rhythm track. While listening in the hallway he had come up with a melody line that he intended to play on the melodica. Clive agreed and they rolled the tape.«
The tune was an immediate success. And was voted top
instrumental of that year in Jamaica. That same year 1972, saw Pablo begin to
produce himself, for his ›Rockers‹ and ›Hot Stuff‹ labels. His earliest works
were ›Rockers Dub‹ and ›Cassave Piece‹ which showed that ›Java‹ was no fluke.
Pablo with his multi-talented keyboard skills was an innovator. Whether it was
the melodica, the organ, piano or clavinet and later the string synth. He
brought something new to reggae music, a classical feel, and of course the Far
East sound. And although he didn't invent that sound, that honour must go to the
late Don Drummond. He did popularise it with records like ›Java‹ and ›East of
The River Nile‹ .
The Far East Sound in now the sound of Pablo.
Records, like the two mentioned have made it so. Yet the Far East Sound represents only a part of the sound of Augustus Pablo. Like all the other great producers, Pablo as pushed on. Gone forward. That's how, he and Clive Chin created The Rebel Rock sound. That sound that was introduced on the album ›This Is Augustus Pablo‹ One of the greatest reggae album ever made.
It featured some of reggae music's most talented muscians. Man like, Lloyd ›Ting Leg Adams‹ (creator of the drum on metal sound). Carlton Barrett (Wailers) Carlton ›Santa Davis (innovator of the ›Flying Cymbal Sound‹) all on drum. Bassman like Aston ›Familyman‹ Barrett (Wailers_ George ›Fully‹ Fullwood (Soul Syndicate) and Lloyd Parks (Skin Flesh and Bones). On guitar were Earl ›Chinna‹ Smith. The lead and rhythm guitarman who as contributed so much to Pablo's music over the years. And yet still as not seen fit to give reggae music the guitar album that the man easily as the talent to do do. Then there's Reggie Lewis (Inner Circle). Ranchie McLean (Revolutionaries). On Keyboards were Pablo of course - and Ansell Collins, Glen Adams (Upsetters) and Keith Sterling (Studio One). Percussion came from Clive Chin and the then Randy's engineer Errol Thompson. One man alone played melodica - Augustus Pablo. With productions credits to Clive and Pat Chin.
Other memorable music from this time includes ›Tales Of Pablo‹. A magnificent version of Bob Andy's ›Feeling Soul‹ featuring unusual percussion effects. A Douglas Booth production. As well as that great album from Leonard Chin (Santic) who was the next producer to employ Pablo.
Using essentially the same musicians found ›This Is‹, Santic gives us more of the ›Rebel Rock Sound‹ for the various artist album called ›Harder Shade Of Black‹. Which includes great works from Gregory Isaacs, Roman Stewart and Horace Andy. Pablo's four tracks are outstanding as well. Particulary the clavinet led title track ›Harder Shade Of Black‹ a version of ›Norwegian Wood‹.
His next major work was to to be for Tommy Cowan and Warrick Lyn. Who produced the album ›Ital Dub‹, that Trojan issued in the UK. This album was another move forward for Pablo. For it brought together for the first time on album, Pablo's keyboard skills with the exciting mixing skills of King Tubby. The meeting of these highly talented innovators even effected Trojan. Who at the time really only got excited about albums like the ›Volts Of Holt‹ LPs from John Holt. Still they got it right with ›Ital Dub‹.
Its plain green cover featuring giant photos of marijuana plants, with mixed by King Tubby - (Dub Master) on the front cover, went down very well with the youth. It didn't quite match the sleeve of ›This Is Augustus Pablo‹ though. The sleeve design on that album remains one of the best album covers ever seen in the music. The striking black and white photograph of Pablo, with his striped shirt half hanging over standing behind an overhanging microphone is a perfect expression of that era of the music.
Yes Pablo's music was for the youth. But his sound and image also placed him outside of the sytem. The system that kept him out of the media and music papers like the NME for 15 years. And kept him and his brethren and sistren off the airwaves and out of the national charts.
It would have been good to see ›This Is‹ or ›Ital Dub‹ in the album charts. It would have been even better to hear him on the radio, but it wasn't to be. Today over 30 years after the release of ›Ital Dub‹ a track like the ›The Big Rip Off‹ would be just too much. Tubby's mixing on the tune is still revolutionary. Cymbals and drums are turned inside out, speeded up and slowed down, mixed together then dematerialised. All the while Pablo guides and directs the rhythm. Sometimes with his melodic, sometimes with the clavinet. Listen out for the piano, that's the classical style.
Its truly a shame that the musicians are not credited on ›Ital Dub‹ For there is some excellent rhythm guitar to be found on the album, and good drum work. The set doesn't reach the heights of ›This Is‹ but its good enough.
One album Pablo is not to happy is ›Thriller‹. It came out in England in 1975 on the Nationwide label. But unlike ›The Harder Shade Of Black‹ album which is clearly a various album, ›Thriller‹ as always come across as a Pablo, when it isn't. Its states that on the front cover -›Thriller‹ - Featuring Augustus Pablo.
But with the excitement that Pablo's name generated, somehow the ›Featuring‹ got lost. In time though, the message would have got through, but other forces were at work. By 1979 the album was given another title. ›Pablo Nuh Jester‹, after the first track on the album. Then a year or so after that it was changed again to ›Dubbing In Africa‹.
Still, ›Thriller‹ is a good album. One Enos McLeod can be proud of as a producer. Although whether he actually produced it, is unclear at the moment. He certainly didn't produce ›Last Of The Jestering‹ that credit goes to Santic - Leonard Chin. The same goes for ›Pablo Nuh Jester‹ which is another cut of the same rhythm. Of the remaining 8 tracks, you can check ›Fat Girl Jean‹ as the work of Pablo. The deep classical piano tells me that. Only Pablo seems to make a piano create that sound. The melodica work certainly puts it beyond doubt.
The two versions of Burning Spear's ›Foggy Road‹ - ›Rocky Road‹ and ›Skibo Road‹ could also be credited to Pablo. This time on the basis of the very distinctive clavinet keyboard work found on ›Skibo Road‹. ›Rocky Road‹ features only melodica and could be doubted. ›Pablo In Red‹ displays enough of what could be called Pablodica characteristics for it also to be given to the man. Something in the timing and space of the notes.
And there can be no doubt that ›Pablo Style‹ a version of ›Everything I Own‹ is Pablo's. But the question of whether Joe White or Glen Brown plays on the album still exists. Enos McLeod you are wanted for questioning!
The mid seventies saw Pablo's reputation as a producer grow. But not many people were prepared for the single ›King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown‹ Which Island Records apparently released without Pablo's permission. And irony, when you consider that one on the reason's Island occasionally puts forward for their on and off approach to the music, is the lack of control in the reggae business. How can they spend vast sums of money on an artist who has music with numerous other producers -labels.
A good point, but a strange one to make, for a company who's wholesale approach to the music virtually creates such problems. What is the point of signing 10 artists then only promoting one? One reason could be to make sure other companies interested in the music - don't get a chance - a good chance to enter it, and be successful. Why did ›King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown‹ appear on Island? Could it be that the excitement Pablo was generating was tremendous in the UK during the mid seventies, that Island released the tune. Hoping it would put off the likes of EMI, or any other of the major labels. For if they had picked up on Pablo then, reggae music's history would almost certainly have looked a lot different.
›King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown‹ was a sound revolution. A real shock to the senses. Even the highly advanced computerised mixing of today's sound don't match the work of Pablo and Tubby on that tune. Tubby's contol over sound is renowed, but the mix on ›King Tubby‹ pushed sound to the very limits. Compare the restrained vocal cut ›Baby I Love You So‹ by Jacob Miller on the b-side. Its truly a revelation.
By 1977, the album of the same name was ready for release. Pablo's first self produced album. And once again its release came about without his permission. This time Clocktower Records in the States caused the problem. But there was no problem with the music. Like the title track, it moved Pablo forward. All of the tracks are drawn from Augustus Pablo's group of labels - Yard Music - International - Rockers and Hot Stuff. (The Message label was to come later).
No one style of production is used on the album. With Pablo involvement in the album concentrated more into the production side of it. Although of course he does play on it. The instrumentation listed is, organ, piano and clavinet, and so is the instrument he made famous, the melodica. Though he uses it very sparsely over the eleven tracks. But when he does he does, it is done with spectacular effect.
›Skanking Dub‹ is perfect. Piano and Melodica, held down by bass and drum. And dubbed to bring out the cymbals. ›Corner Crew Dub‹ features a similar pattern incorparating what is an hailstone effect effect.
With ›Each One Dub‹ from ›Each One Teach One‹ by Jacob Miller is the equal to the title track for invention and power.
After the album ›King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown‹ the thought of Pablo working for anyone else, didn't make any sense. Pablo now had a sound and a strong identity in the Rockers label. But he also knew the business well enough by then, to know that there is always something to be learned. Once great place of musical education in Jamaica, was of course the Black Ark Studio. The Studio owned and run by that genius of reggae music, Lee Perry/Scratch/The Upsetter, whatever you want to call him.
Scratch and Pablo got together around 77/78 to begin work on an album recorded entirely at the Black Art studio, produced by Perry. The album was recorded and mixed, but sadly never saw release. Only one track ›Vibrate On‹ was ever issued. And can be found on Island's ›Scratch On The Wire‹ set. A Perry produced various artists album. The Pablo album, produced by Perry is certainly one of reggae musics lost treasures. The will hopefully one day will be found and released. Along with at least six other albums Perry produced with other artists.
1978, saw Pablo push on with his second self produced album ›East Of The River Nile‹ which introduced his new label ›Message‹. It also showed Pablo working extensiiley for the first time with the string synth keyboard. Nearly every track on the album features the instrument. Pablo seemed to love the sound of it. Unlike the melodica or clavinet that he mostly used as a lead instrument. The string synth can be heard as a lead and harmony type instrument.
›Addis-A-Baba‹ is where Pablo innovates on the album and with instrument. The tune sound out of tune, out of phase and off key, but in fact its yet another example of the man's talent. The outstanding tracks on the album though come with the title track, that is a slight remix of the tune Hawkeye issued in the UK in 1977. ›East Of The River Nile‹ is magnificent. The urgency and power of Chinna guitar work is outstanding. Taking in the rhythm guitar styles of picking and running, with the soulful melodica playing of Augustus Pablo, creating a strong feeling of struggle. Of wanting peace, but finding that its impossible to escape reality.
often continued in Pablo's music and ›Memories Of The Ghetto‹ continues with the
feelings found on ›East‹. The tune is a very sad lament. And catches the feeling
the mood of the ghetto. The feeling of apathy, anxiety and despair. Memories
that seem to haunt Pablo. And would explain to some extent his preference for
the peace and quiet of the country. A very disturbing record, but one that
should be listened too never the less.
Pablo is on record in Reggae Quarterly 5 as saying that Tetrack were the first artist/s who he produced. Yet as its already been mentioned Jacob Miller was an artist Pablo worked with early on. Others included The Heptones, Lacksley Castell, Ricky Grant, Delroy Williams, Paul Whiteman, Barrington Spence, Norris Reid, Junior Reid, Earl Sixteen and DJ's Jah Bull and Dillinger.
But his greatest success as a producer must be with the late great Hugh Mundell. That young clear voice was ready made for Pablo's production style. It was in 1978 that Pablo released Mundell's first album ›Africa Must Be Free By 1983‹. An album that was hailed straight away as a classic. Featured on the album is music like the inspirational ›Lets All Unite‹ a hit for Hugh and Pablo in the UK, when it came out on Greensleeves in 1978. ›Why Do Black Man Fuss And Fight‹ is another great message. Then's there's ›Run Revolution A Come‹ and ›Day Of Judgement‹. The whole album is full of good songs and rhythms. So much so that a little later Pablo issued a dub to the album. A popular practice around the late seventies. In 1979 interest in Pablo was at its peak. His ›East Of The River Nile‹ set and Hugh Mundell's ›Africa Must Be Free‹ album in the previous year caused an interest in everything Pablo. Especially his early productions.
Greensleeves - who had already released Hugh
Mundell's ›Lets All Unite‹ on single. Met that demand with the album ›Original
Rockers‹. Which brought together the essential Pablo material from 1972-75/
Included on the album, is the original cut to ›King Tubby Meets The Rockers
Uptown‹ titled ›Cassava Piece‹. The magnificent ›Up Warrika Hill‹, ›Thunder
Clap‹ and a hard version of ›Ain't No Sunshine‹. ›A.P. Special‹ is a vibes
version of ›Brace A Boy‹ from Dillinger, that is also on the album. In fact
there's another cut of the rhythm on the ›King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown‹
album called ›Braces Tower Dub‹. Along with alternative mixes or versions of a
few other titles found on ›Original Rockers‹ album.
Strangely, a year later 1980, with the release of his ›Rockers Meet King Tubby In A Firehouse‹ and the excellent set from Tetrack ›Lets Get Started‹ - the former on the Yard label, the latter on Message. Pablo found himself out of favour. Two things probably caused this. Pablo had been a top reggae artist/producer for over 6 years, and was now being taken for granted. No matter how good his music was. The second cause was the dance hall revolution led by Henry ›Junjo‹ Lawes in the autumn of 1979. You couldn't compare the heavy dense rhythms of the Roots Radics with the Rebel Rock sound of Pablo.
Pablo like Perry before him, was now out of step with the music. Which seemed surprising to some. But that is the nature of reggae music. It can change overnight with the release of one record. And that sudden change can he heard on ›Rockers Meets King Tubby In A Firehouse‹. For the first time Pablo seemed uninspired, and lacking direction. The album is not a bad set, but it lacks the vitality that is present on all his previous albums.
Pablo took a break from the music then, and spent it seems a lot of time up in the mountains and in the country. He returned to the music in 1982 with ›Earth Rightful Ruler‹ released on Message. And it could be called an album of reconciliation. An acceptance that the dance hall style ruled. He was still willing to go forward, singing for the first time on the title track. And with ›City Of David‹ the string synth work is very creative. But overall ›Earth Rightful Ruler‹ can only be seen as a continuation of his work, not an advancement of it.
›King David's Melody‹ came out in 1983 on the Alligator label in the States. This album is the follow up album to the Greensleeves set. A collection of singles from 1975 -1982 that appeared on the Rockers and Message labels. At the time it was just what Pablo needed. An album that kept his name in the market - while removing any great expections of fresh sounds or innovations. People more or less knew what to expect from album of that era. There was no way of disappointing them. Its also provided many with the chance to catch up with hard to find singles. But the most pleasurable aspect of the album was that it proved once again how talented Augustus Pablo is/was.
Somehow the last two albums - although not bad, and that is an important point, had caused many to re-evaluate Pablo, and his music, from time. For Pablo like most popular roots reggae artists had his critics. The NME's former editor Neil Spencer, probably being the most noted. At one time dismissing the man's work as being based on an instrement which is little more than a piece of paper and a comb.
›King David's Melody‹ put those last two albums into perspective. In many respects, it made sense of them. It showed that the sound for those two albums was long time coming. And suggested that Pablo's intention around the late seventies early eighties could be seen as consolidating what he done over they years. In much the same way as Burning Spear as done since the release of ›Hail Him‹. Creating a form of roots reggae that is outside of the mainstream, but which closely follows it. If Pablo made a mistake, it was in the timing of such a move.
His next move was to do nothing. The only releases of any interest on Pablo's group of labels during 1983. 84, and 85 were rereleases. Hugh Mundell, one of his greatest discoveries was shot dead in 1983. A tragic loss that must have effected Pablo deeply. Tetrack on of the great vocal groups of the last 10 years went off to work with Augustus Clarke's Music Works label. While Delroy Williams turned to self production.
Occasionally news would come through that Pablo was working with someone, but nothing appeared. It was unthinkable that Pablo had left the business. The only reason put forward that made any sense, was that Pablo was waiting for a change in the music. That change came in 1985 with the use of the Keyboard bass and drum. It was a change that upset a lot of people. Change usually does in reggae music. If its not music, it’s the lyrics. Its like certain people cannot accept that reggae music as it is. They either like it as it was 5, 10, 15 years ago. Or would like it to be something else. Jamaican Rock/Funk/Pop.
Yet reggae music today, like the music of 5, 10, or 15 years ago contains many varieties. Literally something for everyone. But it just so happens that the most popular form of reggae today is still the dance hall style. And the explanation for that is simple it provides an artist the greatest freedom. Enabling an artist to give the people songs about love, life and living. What the change provided Pablo with was a chance to show what the he still had lot more to offer. All he needed was little encouragement. Pablo is not a dance hall artist. He is a creative studio musician. Having said that in 1985, Pablo did blow his melodica at a dance in Jamaica. And the reason for this could be a youth called Prince Psalms.
Psalms, blew his melodica over the heaviest
Roots Radics rhythms on Volcano, and the crowd went wild. If Pablo heard these
tunes, and he must have done. Perhaps he learned something. Whatever the reason
for the break, in early 1986 Greensleeves released was to me is one Augustus
Pablo's greatest albums ›Rising Sun‹. It’s a not a sound revolution like ›This
Is‹ And as far as I know it uses neither keyboard bass or drum. What it is, is
Pablo at his best. Once again he's searching for new sounds and the melodies
hidden within those sounds. The rhythm base is The Rebel Rock sound. That Jammy
picked up on again with the High Times Band. And what it does is to return
Augustus Pablo to the the centre of the music. Ready and waiting to take reggae
music forward again. To give to the world, the joy of the rebel rock sound.
By Ray Hurford
© & (P) Muzik Tree 1986
© & (P) Small Axe 2006