In 1975 the Hoo Kim brothers upgraded their Channel One studios on Mayfield Avenue, Kingston Jamaica from a 4-track operation to a big 16 tracks. They had splashed the cash on the technology & needed the talent to make their money back. They sent for Ossie Hibbert, keyboard player with the Aggrovators, house band for producer Bunny “Striker” Lee. Channel One hit the ground running with “Right Time” by the Mighty Diamonds. Sly Dunbar, their young drummer, had notions to experiment with & enhance the prevailing “flying cymbal” sound that Carlton “Santa” Davis had pioneered with the Aggrovators. The new, propulsive “Rockers” rhythm, influenced by disco, an assertive match for the militancy of Rasta lyrics, would carry the swing in Jamaican music for some time. There was a new studio house band around. The Revolutionaries made Channel One the place to be.
Ossie Hibbert learned a lot from Lee & from King Tubby, an electrical repairman who became the sonic mastermind behind Dub versions which attracted more attention than the original tracks. Ossie, as a musician, arranger, talent scout & trainee engineer, became indispensable to the studio’s operations. His first engineering job was on an instrumental version of Roy Richards’ “Freedom Train”. While he was at the controls Robbie Shakespeare, in the process of replacing Ranchie McLean as Sly Dunbar’s bass playing rhythm partner, provided the piano part. “MPLA” by the Revolutionaries became a big tune in 1976.
Jo Jo Hoo Kim got the production credits on these records, ownership of the means of production & all that. Musicians like Hibbert, Dunbar & Bobby Ellis, arranger & leader of a mighty horn section, were, at first, happy to have the work & to be creative. Ossie did release songs on his own labels & was involved with other producers. He was prolific enough to swap a couple of LPs with The Mighty Two (Joe Gibbs & Errol Thompson) for a car he admired. In 1977 Jo Jo’s brother Phil was shot & killed, understandably distressed he withdrew from the recording desk even leaving the island for a while. Ossie, with a seemingly limitless work ethic, stepped into the vacant producer’s seat.
In that first 12 months at the new studio Jo Jo had overseen the release of the first Jamaican 12″ single. “Truly” by the Jays & Ranking Trevor is a mix of a great tune, sweet vocal harmonies, DJ lyrics & a Revolutionaries Dub version all on the same track. He also gave free range to Lester Bullock, a young DJ recording as Dillinger, to make an LP. The resulting “CB200”, smart contemporary wordplay matched to new rhythms, was the sound of the future for DJ toasters. The first wave of Roys & Youths, chatting over sound system favourites, became old school overnight. “Cocaine in my Brain” took the disco funk of “Do It Anyway You Wanna” by People’s Choice as the template for a distinctive modern sound giving the world a new way of spelling New York & Dillinger an international hit. The following year Ossie produced “Take A Dip” for the studio’s new star. It’s based on “Slave Master” by Gregory Isaacs. By the time the Revolutionaries are bubbling on their version of a version there’s a whole different thing going on & it’s a very good thing too.
Gregory Isaacs was a star in Jamaica before he came to Channel One. He recorded in all the studios with all the faces. Always his songs, often self-produced. Whether Gregory was inventing Lovers Rock or chanting down Babylon over an insistent, languid groove he did it with convincing, appealing style.”Mr Isaacs”, engineered & co-produced by Ossie, found the ideal mix of romantic & conscious lyrics. When the singer cooled it down the Revolutionaries kept it sweet. The percussive urgency of the rhythm section accented the times when things were more serious. Gregory recorded other tracks with Ossie. “Mr Know It All” became a 10 minute epic over 2 sides of a 12″ single. As much a showcase for Sly Dunbar as the singer this is state-of-the-art business, Gregory & the Revolutionaries at the top of their game. “Gregory Isaacs Meets Ronnie Davis” (1979) is a collection of tunes Ossie produced with both singers & it’s a winner. The brightness of each track is matched by rhythms that need no wheel & come again for the Dub diversion but seamlessly & logically flow into cool & deadly sonic subversion. Still one of the best Reggae LPs.
By the end of the 1970s the Revolutionaries were looking beyond the studio. Sly & Robbie toured with Peter Tosh then Black Uhuru while developing their own Taxi label & stable of artists. Gregory, always on top of new rhythms & with a growing eye on the international market, worked with the pair on the “Soon Forward” LP. For 1982’s “Night Nurse” there was a new generation of musicians & producers around. The Roots Radics, their rhythms for & from the Dancehall, provided the soundtrack for this sparse, less roots-based Reggae…another time.
Ossie produced “OK Fred”, a UK hit for Errol Dunkley. He continued his independent productions, working with too many artists to name. With the Aggrovators & the Revolutionaries his organ shuffles & stabs played a part in the development of Reggae music. His studio expertise & his damned good taste ensured that the advanced recording techniques of Channel One captured a new sound loud & clear, retaining Reggae’s energy & innovation. That makes him a bit of a legend round our way.