By Stephen A. Cooper
Honoring the 78th birthday of the late dub music pioneer Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock (1941-1989), Jamaica’s leading daily newspaper the Gleaner published an article at the end of January called, “National Honour for King Tubby?” Erroneously regurgitating inaccurate reggae lore, that it was producer Lloyd James (known as “King” or “Prince” Jammy) who was “Tubby’s right-hand man” instead of the truth, that Tubby’s “right-hand man” was legendary sound engineer Hopeton Brown (known professionally as “Scientist”) – see Scientist vs. Cooper (The Interview: Round 1) for more about that common misconception – the article quotes Jammy at length about how he received an “Order of Distinction from the [Jamaican] Government 12 years ago,” but, “when Tubbys was on top,” he never received any national recognition.
Similarly, in a December 2017 interview, I asked rocksteady icons Keith and Tex (Keith Rowe and Phillip “Tex” Dixon): “Since I think it’s fair to say that you guys are really deans of rocksteady music – true foundation artists – I was curious if you have ever received any honors, awards, or recognition at all from the Jamaican government for your tremendous musical achievements?” Quickly Keith said “No,” and Tex, ever spry despite his senior status, quipped, “So far, no. But we’re still young.”
This inexplicable and inexcusable failure to properly champion, support, and to even accurately record some of the most basic and fundamental truths about the history of music in Jamaica is a subject at the core of my multi-part, extensive phone and in-person interview of Scientist, himself an obvious and deserving – but thus far snubbed – candidate for official commendation from the Jamaican government. If you missed “Round 1,” the first installment of the interview, please track it down and read it. This is “Round 2”; it’s been modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. “Round 3,” my next reasoning session with Scientist, will be released later this year.
Q: Now [in the first part of this interview] we mentioned briefly King Tubby’s famous “Roots of Dub” album. That’s an album that there’s no question about whether Tubby mixed it – he did.
Scientist: It’s a big inspiration until today to me. Every time I hear that album it carries me right back to day one.
Q: And I love that album too, and [I understand that] that album was one of the reasons you were drawn to Tubby’s in the first place –
Q: In a 2012 interview with Boomshots, you were asked whether Tubby’s “Roots of Dub” [album], or Lee Scratch Perry’s “Blackboard Jungle Dub” was the first dub album in the world. And at the time, you said, candidly, that you weren’t sure, but that you were sure [that] Tubby’s “Roots of Dub” album was the most known. I don’t want to revisit the age-old debate about which was the first dub album – both are terrific – but [I want to ask you this question] because I interviewed legendary percussionist Larry McDonald recently[, in October,] after he and Scratch played at the Dub Club [in Los Angeles] to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the Blackboard Jungle Dub’s release. And [so] I asked Larry: How involved was King Tubby in the final product that is the Blackboard Jungle Dub? As some people have suggested – I believe David Katz[, for example,] the biographer of Lee Scratch Perry – that Scratch has downplayed Tubby’s participation in the mix of that [famous dub] album. And Larry McDonald said specifically that he didn’t know, but that Philip Smart might know, though [Philip Smart] has passed on. And then, Larry said, “You know what, Scientist might know the answer to that.” So here I am with you and it’s a great time to ask.
Scientist: Candidly, I have to say, I don’t know. If I hear it – but look at what makes sense. Why is Scratch not mixing any albums now? If I hear it, I would have to hear it to remember it, I could tell you if it has King Tubby’s signature.
Q: Well hopefully, sooner rather than later, when we meet again, I can play it for you or ask you before we meet to listen to it closely. Because there has been a lot of speculation about the Blackboard Jungle Dub and how much of a hand King Tubby had in it.
Scientist: Well I met Scratch at Tubby’s. I know his wife, Pauline.
Q: His ex-wife?
Scientist: His ex-wife, right, Pauline. Scratch was – yes, Scratch was responsible for [the rise of legends like] Junior Byles, Bob Marley and [many other performers]. As far as the Blackboard Jungle Dub, I would have to hear it.
Q: Okay, we’ll revisit this question then.
Q: Do you maintain contact still with any of the surviving members of the Roots Radics, the session band you had so many hits with? I believe Flabba Holt is playing bass, and that Dwight Pinckney is playing guitar, for Israel Vibrations these days? And I believe percussionist Christopher “Sky Juice” Blake may still be alive, too? And I guess I wanted to ask you if you thought these would be good people for me to talk to?
Scientist: Yes, I’m still in touch with Flabba. (Calling Flabba on his cell phone.) Yo, Flabba?
Flabba Holt (by phone): Hello.
Scientist: Yeah, we’re doing an interview here, and I was trying to set the record straight about what you did.
Q: Hey Mr. Holt! This is Steve Cooper. I write about reggae music for Reggae Vibes and several other publications, and someday, I [plan] to write a book about reggae music. And [so] I’m hoping you and I will get together [for an interview]. Right now I’m interviewing Scientist[, in part,] about some of the misconceptions that exist about the mixing that was done at King Tubby’s studio.
Flabba Holt: Yeah man. Scientist is the champion of dub mixers. Tubbys was a good mixer you know, but Scientist really carried dub, especially Roots Radics dub. Scientist really make the dub thing carry on officially, you know? You understand?
Q: Yeah, I do. But one last thing I want to ask before we say goodbye is, what is it like working with Scientist? How was it that you guys were able to produce such crucial music together, and to really make dub explode in ways that no one could ever imagine?
Flabba Holt: (Laughing) Yo, mi a tell you already, mi a tell you again, you know? (Laughing) You see, Scientist, he is the man. Scientist – that man create dub. I and I – Scientist make the dub thing [with the] Roots Radics. The Roots Radics riddim, that, Scientist a-build. Scientist a-make the dub thing fi really work. Because no one knows it like Scientist. You understand?
Q: Yes. Give thanks, Mr. Holt! (handing phone back to Scientist who says goodbye and hangs it up.) Now [two] people who follow me on Twitter, “Gong’s Pinnacle” (“@RasThaFarEye”) and Dominic Ali (“@domali3”), wanted me to ask you how you felt about dub music being more popular and much more heavily produced in countries other than Jamaica, where it was born. Of course, I know you’ve discussed this many times in other interviews – including recently [in the UK] with DJ 745 – but it’s such an important issue when it comes to celebrating Jamaican culture, I feel it’s worth asking if you have anything more you’d like to say on the subject?
Scientist: It’s a disgrace. Dub comes from everywhere but Jamaica where it was created. And when you look at what makes sense, I am not there anymore. Tubbys got murdered. And when you look at what makes sense, “Princess” is still there [referring derogatively to King Jammy]. So why is the Princess not making any more dub albums? Why? And here’s why: There is a formula – and don’t get me wrong, you have the musicians like Flabba Holt, they are very important. But the engineering technique – that I didn’t really show anyone else – everyone back there [in Jamaica] was trying to look over my shoulder, and trying to figure out the technique, including King Tubbys. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. After I left, the day I left [the famous] Channel One [studio in Jamaica], it closed the next week. Or the following week.
Q: You went to Tuff Gong [Studios]?
Scientist: Yeah. And then Tuff Gong became the place where everybody and their grandmother who never worked there, started to work.
Q: And in fact, Professor Veal [at Yale], who interviewed you in 2001, wrote in his book about dub music that you could see by the number of [artists] who were coming from Waterhouse and other tough areas, were suddenly, many of them, were suddenly moving over to Tuff Gong –
Q: — whereas they used to go to Channel One [to record], now they were coming to Tuff Gong.
Scientist: Yes. Why?
Q: Because you had moved there?
Scientist: That’s the only reason and what makes sense. Because here’s what happened: When I used to leave Channel One – I used to just go up there just to hang out with the Wailers, with Carly and dem, and smoke weed – and one day I was in the studio and [the late] Willie Lindo said to me, “Look here, man, I see you with that smile. You have something that you know you’re not telling anybody.” And I was there smiling. And him say, “What is it, man? Come on, tell me! Tell me what it is.” And I say, here’s what you do Willie Lindo: “Book the studio, and I will show you. And I come like this, “See this button right here, Willie Lindo?” They all been mixing Bob Marley, everybody’s song in “monitor mode.” The [mixing] console has several different modes and positions. And bingo! Then they start to get the same type of sound like we got at Channel One. And then everybody and their grandmother, Yabby You, everybody, and no disrespect to Errol Brown, but he was kinda put in an embarrassing position as chief [engineer at Tuff Gong]. As they say, sometimes the best place to hide something is right under somebody’s nose. It was right there all the while. “Click” monitor mode. Click “channel line” position. Click, click, click different positions. You want to do a dub mix? Click, click, click. Well the dub mix is something different. Because I’m an electronics engineer, I know how to manage a console.
Q: In your opinion, who are some of the labels, and sound engineers, and others who are producing the cutting edged dub tracks in the world today? [And] where are they based?
Scientist: To be honest, I’m the worst person with names, but they’re all based right now in the U.K. They’re taking it and they’re supporting it more than even Jamaica.
Q: In a Facebook post [on June 25, 2013, you wrote]: “The current state of technology in the now familiar “digital world” has made it the perfect time to create a new mixing tool specifically suited to the needs of dub and other remix genres. It’s called the ‘Dub Control Mixer.’” Further you wrote, “I’m exploring collaborations with pro-audio manufacturing companies in the design of the new dub control [mixer].” Were you ever able to produce and bring to market the “Dub Control Mixer”?
Scientist: Well here’s what: By the time you get your cell phone, it goes through so much different reviews [and upgrades] that you don’t see it. Because I build it, not good enough. I build it, not good enough. And now I am at, what do you call it, the “final stages.”
Q: So you are still building it?
Scientist: Yeah. [It’s just] the technology keeps changing.