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Roots reggae vocalist Barry Brown had a very distinctive singing style. His most obvious role model was the fragile tenor of Horace Andy, but Brown gave his delivery further distinctiveness with a range of wordless slurs, some of which were doubtless inspired by the creatures of the animal kingdom. As with his friend and fellow west Kingston resident, Johnny Clarke, Brown got his start in the many talent shows that were regularly held in the downtown Kingston area, and also got early experience on west Kingston sound systems such as Tape Tone, which gave rise to Barrington Levy, Trinstan Palmer, Sammy Dread, and Rod Taylor among others; Taylor and Brown even had a short-lived duo called The Aliens for a time. Such was his widespread popularity that several different producers all claimed to have been the first to capture his voice on tape, but it is undeniable that Bunny Lee was the first to bring Brown to prominence through the outstanding 1978 hit, "Step It Up Youthman", an optimistic meditation on the merits of self-determination, which led to this popular debut album of the same name; as with Johnny Clarke’s "Enter Into His Gates With Praise", the "Step It Up Youthman" LP mixed hard-hitting songs of Rastafari devotion with well-executed cover tunes.

Along with his rival, Cornell Campbell, Johnny Clarke was one of the most esteemed singers of the roots reggae era. Having grown up next door to a popular sound system on Waltham Park Road in western Kingston, Clarke’s early fascination with music led him to hang out at Studio One with Jacob Miller while still at school. He then made the rounds of talent shows with Barry Brown, Sugar Minott and the Diamonds, which led to a debut recording in 1973, for the pianist Glen Stair, which remains unreleased. An early effort for Clancy Eccles, ‘God Made The Sea And Sun,’ was not promoted properly, though ‘Everyday Wondering,’ for Rupie Edwards, impacted in Britain; ‘Golden Snake’ for Stamma Houghton and a cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ for Glen Brown were also false starts. The breakthrough finally came in 1975 when Clarke linked with Bunny Lee, who had him voice the Rastafari landmark ‘None Shall Escape The Judgement’ (written by Earl Zero, who failed to muster a credible take), which kick-started the ‘Flying Cymbal’ craze. Clarke’s resultant debut album, Enter Into His Gates With Praise, mixed hard-hitting Rastafari devotional material with sympathetic cover versions of classics by the likes of the Paragons, Slim Smith and Delroy Wilson, along with a few reggae renditions of some vintage American R&B.

As noted on another release (see Ropin), Cornell Campbell has enjoyed one of the longest-running careers of any Jamaican singer, and he is blessed with a readily identifiable style too. He began his career for Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd in 1956, when rhythm and blues held sway in Jamaica, and later cut some ska songs for King Edwards. He then passed through the Sensations in the rock steady phase and worked as a solo singer at Treasure Isle, before returning to Studio One with the Eternals, scoring huge hits such as ‘Stars’ and ‘Queen Of The Minstrel’ as the 60s gave way to the 70s. His greatest phase of popularity was them brokered by hit-making producer Bunny Lee, who kept him on top right through the 1970s and into the 80s. The 1975 album Dance In A Greenwich Farm was first issued on the Grounation label in the UK. Along with a re-working of ‘Stars’ re-titled ‘The Sun,’ a re-working of ‘Queen Of The Minstrel’ as ‘Girl Of My Dreams’ and the sound system opus that is the title track, the album has the boastful ‘Conquering Gorgon’ and a number of keenly-observed cover tunes, including a cut of the Gaylads’ ‘No Good Girl,’ a version of the Heptones’ ‘Why Did You Leave Me’ and a killer cut of the Uniques’ ‘Watch This Sound’ (based on ‘For What It’s Worth’ by Buffalo Springfield).

One of the most important harmony groups in the entirety of Jamaican music, the Paragons have a long and complicated history. First formed in the ska years by Bob Andy and Tyrone Evans as the duo of Andy and Ronnie, the group soon expanded to a quartet through the addition of Howard Barrett and John Holt, the latter naturally assuming lead duties; following the subsequent departure of Andy, Holt, Evans and Barrett made the Paragons the quintessential rock steady trio. They had an incredible run of hits for Duke Reid and Coxsone during the mid-to-late ‘60s, and also issued some self-produced work, before Holt’s solo career skyrocketed, leaving the group on the back-burner. Then, in the mid-1970s, the Paragons reformed, cutting material for New York-based labels such as Clocktower and Clintones, which led to this intriguing album, which saw material recorded in Jamaica at Harry J for Bunny Lee mixed with work cut at Bullwackie’s studio in the Bronx; along with re-workings of classics such as ‘Left With A Broken Heart’ and ‘Memories By The Score’ is a whole range of new material, dealing with contemporary themes.

Cornell Campbell


    One of the sweetest and most idiosyncratic voices in reggae, tenor singer Cornell Campbell also has one of the longest-running careers of any Jamaican recording artist. Taken under Studio One founder Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd’s wing at a very young age, Cornell cut his first recordings in 1956, long before ska was even established. He remained based at Studio One for many years (working as a label printer as well as a recording artist), and also voiced sides for King Edwards in the ska years. He then briefly joined the Sensations in rock steady and recorded at Treasure Isle, before moving back to Studio One as leader of the Eternals when reggae arrived, cutting huge hits there such as ‘Stars’ and ‘Queen Of The Mistrel,’ and giving early coaching to Slim Smith, Jacob Miller and bassist Robbie Shakespeare. Joining forces with ace producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee in the mid-1970s brought a dramatic new surge in popularity that greatly boosted his profile overseas. The Ropin’ LP was issued on Third World’s Justice subsidiary in 1980—a sub label set up to handle Striker’s product in the UK (though hits like ‘Mash You Down’ and the title track had been handled in Jamaica by Joe Gibbs). One of the album’s outstanding moments is ‘Bandulu,’ an anti-rude boy epic voiced on the ‘Late Night Blues’ rhythm, while opening cover, ‘Just My Imagination,’ has an uncredited toasting portion from Errol Scorcher.

    During the mid-1970s, the Aggrovators could do no wrong. This ace team of session musicians originally forged as an off-shoot of the Soul Syndicate were responsible for some of the biggest hits of the decade, recorded with Bunny Lee’s rising stars, such as Johnnie Clarke and his rival, Cornell Campbell. Following on from the great "Shalom Dub" set of 1975, "Rasta Dub ’76" is another truly magnificent dub LP culled from Aggrovators hits; this time, the entire album was given a scintillating mix-down at King Tubby’s studio by the great Prince Jammy, and the sonic excellence has stood the test of time. Another must-have for all connoisseurs of dub.


    Matt says: Step 1 – Get Jamaica’s greatest backing group into the studio to record their finest riddims.
    Step 2 – Get Prince Jammy to dub the ever-loving shit out of it.
    Step 3 - Profit

    Dennis Alcapone

    Guns Don't Argue

      Cementing his reputation as the star toaster with the small but popular El Paso sound system, based in the Waltham Park area, Dennis Alcapone was one of the first deejays to rise to prominence following U Roy’s breakthrough in the late 1960s. Born Dennis Smith in the rural district of Culloden, he became immersed in sound system culture after settling in western Kingston. Once El Paso became big on the sound system circuit, dental technician-turned-producer Keith Hudson brought him into the studio for his debut recordings, which led to a debut album for Studio One and hit material for Duke Reid, some cut in concert with his deejay sparring partner, Lizzy. Alcapone’s longstanding links with Bunny Lee yielded the excellent "Guns Don’t Argue" album, first issued in 1972, on which the toaster raps with style over some of Lee’s all-time greatest rhythms, including Delroy Wilson’s "Better Must Come", John Holt’s "Left With A Broken Heart" and Slim Smith’s rendition of the Temptations’ soul classic "Ain’t Too Proud To Beg."

      Jackie Mittoo’s contribution to reggae music is immeasurable. Of mixed Indian and African-Jamaican heritage, the man born Donat Roy Mittoo was a gifted musician that played piano in the Skatalites at the age of 16. He was a very important part of reggae’s evolution, having been a crucial member of the Studio One house band from its very foundation. Working as the main keyboardist and musical arranger for an extended period, Mittoo worked closely with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and countless other important figures, even relegating Leroy Sibbles to the bass! Although Mittoo migrated to Canada in the late 1960s, he frequently returned to Jamaica to record, maintaining his Studio One connection, and also issuing a sublime series of albums for Bunny Lee in the mid-1970s. "The Keyboard King" was first issued on Third World in 1976, and features Mr. Mittoo’s delightful organ workouts, completely reconfiguring hits by John Holt, Johnny Clarke, Cornell Campbell, and Bunny & Skully, among others.


      Matt says: dub-KEYS! Like Pablo and his trusted melodica, Mittoo became famous for flirting with the ivories. Or more accurately, the organ. Laying down this mystic and headturning dub classic in 1976.

      Tommy Mccook & The Aggrovators

      King Tubby Meets The Aggrovators At Dub Station

      Tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook is rightly considered a giant of Jamaican music. Chosen by Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd to be leader of the Skatalites in the early 1960s, he went on to become the chief exponent of rock steady as leader of the Supersonics house band at Treasure Isle. McCook remained a key session player throughout the reggae era, and during the roots reggae heyday of the mid-1970s, his expressive melodies found particularly strong outlet, especially on the music he created for grassroots producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee as a member of the Aggrovators, the studio outfit Lee hand-picked from the cream of Jamaica’s musical crop. When enhanced by the adventurous mixing experiments of King Tubby, the engineer that turned dub into an art form, instrumental Aggrovators music became positively ethereal, yielding an exceptional listening experience. On "King Tubby Meets The Aggrovators At Dub Station", Tommy McCook blows mean sax and flute over dubs of outstanding tracks by Johnny Clarke, Cornell Campbell, Linval Thompson, Delroy Wilson, and others greats. First issued on Third World in 1976, this vinyl reissue comes complete with four thematic bonus tracks, and the whole disc makes for essential listening.


      Matt says: A dub staple. The blueprint. You've probably worn out a copy or two of this already. Do yourself a favour and grab this nice, clean, bomber-free-sleeve version now!

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