Original Channel One Rocker (Ossie Hibbert)

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.

 

 

Dillinger & I Roy

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.

I Am The Son Of The Lightning, You Cannot Move I At All. (Peter Tosh)

At around 9 p.m. on December 3rd 1978 an already groovy day was about to get go-go . A lazy Sunday afternoon with good food, good friends & similar dope (lots of Lebanese hash around in 78/79, they had a war to finance) had been a more than pleasant overture to the evening’s main event. I was dancing in the stalls of the Manchester Apollo, with my best gal by my side, grinning like a shot fox (ee-yew !). Peter Tosh, the star of the night’s show, had opened his set with the double whammy of  “400 Years” & “Stepping Razor”. A thought occurred that if the day was to end right here, right now then it had been a fine time. 30 minutes later Tosh graced us with a run of “African”, “Burial” & “Equal Rights”. The night had gone into orbit…sent to outer space to find another race. “Them want I, them want I, Com’a them funeral”…Oh yeah !


Peter Tosh, the tall one in the Wailers was also the natural musician of the trio. He taught & inspired the others to play, The man who tutored Bob Marley in the guitar. The young band of brothers’ progress from wailin’ rude boys to Rasta natural mystics was not always easy. Bob left for the USA, Bunny did a stretch at the Richmond Farm Prison but these guys were on a mission from Jah, driven to improve & succeed, the sum of their three characters being greater than the parts. Their ambition for recognition outside of Jamaica meant that deals had to be made with Babylon, the music was changed by commercial pressure not artistic progress. Bunny was the first to go, reluctant to leave Jamaica &, like Peter, who did not hang around much longer, confused just how his group had become Bob’s backing band. Man, I am lucky to have seen that “Catch A Fire” tour. That is a lot of talent on one stage.

In 1976 we were blessed with “Blackheart Man” by Bunny, Bob’s “Rastaman Vibration” & Peter’s debut LP “Legalize It”. Pick one, go on, just one. Can’t be done, no point anyway, those are 3 terrific records. Tosh’s title track is an international anthem for the international herb.While he is regarded as the most directly militant of the Trenchtown trinity this record is no polemic. Tosh often expressed his anger &  dread about colonialism & injustice but the last track he recorded with his group, “One Foundation”, is a melodic call for birds of a feather to come together. “Legalize It” collects similarly straightforward, steadfast songs. “Igziabeher” & “Ketchy Shuby” capture the sacred & profane of Jamaican life, “Brand New Second Hand” sounds like a hit record & “Why Must I Cry” is as good as this…

 

“Legalize It” is a conscious, infectious work of art, guaranteed to cheer. Next year’s “Equal Rights” is 8 tracks of serious, glorious business, guaranteed to stir. Peter saved his version of “Get Up Stand Up”, recorded by all three Wailers, for this set. When he picked which side he was on the man assertively & eloquently let you know the score. The band played 4 of these tracks that night, any 4 from 8 would have been the thing. This is “African”.

Peter had an  international reputation, ambitions for this muscular, tough music. His band, Word,Sound & Power, picked from the studios of Jamaica, were absolutely up to the job. Drummer Sly Dunbar & bassist Robbie Shakespeare had played with the Upsetters round at Lee Perry’s yard, Black Ark. They were with the Revolutionaries over at Channel One while round at Bunny Lee’s studio they were with the Aggrovaters. (I’m not sure how the Roots Radics coped without them). They were reggae legends before they toured with Tosh, ready to be heard, ready for the love they deserved. Mikey “Mao” Chung knew what a reggae rhythm guitarist did & knew how important it was to the sound…a master. Skully Simms & Sticky Thompson would have got the job because of their appreciable nicknames though they were crackerjack percussionists. I’m not the biggest fan of extended guitar solos in what is primarily a rhythmic music (I strictly Roots) but this was Reggae Rock, looking for an audience big enough to fill a stadium. Al Anderson was the lead guitarist of choice for both Peter Tosh & Bob Marley at this time.

We got to see a world class band give a world class show that night. It’s ridiculous how many accomplished musicians emerged in Jamaica at this time. Peter Tosh had 2 classic LPs, his new release, “Bush Doctor”, was on Rolling Stones Records. He strutted around the front of the stage like it was his time, like the star he was. Man, he was nobody’s sideman but we knew this anyway. I’ve been to some memorable reggae concerts which turned into outstanding parties but seeing these artists at the top of their game could not be better. We stepped out into the night & the world seemed a better place.

You saw the same people at these Manchester reggae gigs. That very young kid with the stoned, supercilious smile & the ginger dreadlocks always seemed to be a bit of a prick. I guess we owe the world an apology because he grew up to be the lead singer of Simply Red & we did nothing to stop that terrible Hucknall happening…sorry.