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RADIATION ROOTS

Dennis Alcapone was one of the first sound system deejays to rise to island-wide prominence, following the incredible success of U Roy’s fluid toasting style, which took Jamaica by storm during the late 1960s. Alcapone, who was born Dennis Smith in the country town of Culloden in Westmoreland, southwestern Jamaica, first made an impact on a sound system called El Paso, based in the rough-n-ready west Kingston district of Waltham Park.

Initial recordings for Keith Hudson were strictly underground, but an album for Studio One and popular work for Duke Reid significantly boosted his profile. Dennis Alcapone worked closely with hitmaking producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee from the early 1970s, establishing a friendship that has lasted to the present day; Investigator Rock, which dates from 1977, sees the toaster riding Striker’s rockers-styled hits, voiced by the likes of Cornell Campbell, John Holt, and Johnny Clarke.



Tommy McCook or, as it was known on its initial release in 1969, The Skatalite is a collection of some of the greatest ska tunes ever put to tape.

Recorded By Arthur "Duke" Reid at his legendary Treasure Isle Studios - named after the family run liquor store that the studio was above on Bond St. in Kingston, JA - these classic recordings feature Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, and all the original Skatalites.

Also including some classic vocal appearances from some of the biggest names in ska history: Justin Hines, Stranger Cole, and Millicent "Patsy" Todd, the album is a perfect blend of Skatalites instrumentals and vocal tracks.

Ska is the heartbeat that created the worldwide cultural phenomenon that is reggae music and at the very center of the ska universe you will find Tommy McCook and The Skatalites; dig here on some of their most historical and influential recordings, and start skanking! 


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.

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

Ropin'

    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.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    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.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      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.


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