Born Horace Swaby, not only was responsible for putting the melodica on the musical map, but he also played a key role in the musical history of Jamaica. In his role as musician and producer he has helped to shape reggae so much that his music can easily be described as ‘the sound of the Seventies’.
The legend began in 1969 when a youthful Horace Swaby was standing in Herman Chin-Loy’s ‘Aquarius’ record shop at 9 Constant Spring Road in Kingston, holding a melodica that had been lent to him by a young girl. The instrument was used in Jamaica in school music lessons but had never before been taken seriously by professional musicians. Herman Chin-Loy, who had a much-deserved reputation for experimenting with new sounds, asked the slightly-built teenager if he could play it and was so taken with the musical response that he booked recording time that same week at Randy’s Studio 17 on North Parade in the heart of downtown Kingston. With a tune entitled “Iggy Iggy” Herman Chin-Loy gave the youth his recording debut and more significantly, a new name – AUGUSTUS PABLO – which was not strictly new itself as for the past few months Aquarius record labels had sporadically appeared bearing the credit Augustus Pablo.
Herman Chin-Loy had coined the name to add a measure of mystic to the identity of keyboard players. These recordings actually feature Lloyd Charmers or the Upsetters’ organist Glen Adams. The seeds of what was to become the minor-key dominated “Far East” sound of the future Augustus Pablo/Rockers team were sown. The follow-up was another instrumental – the first cut of “East Of River Nile” – with Pablo alternating rudimentary but spooky solos on melodica and organ over a jagged riddim. At the age of eighteen Augustus Pablo had his first hit at Randy’s for Clive Chin’s ‘Impact’ imprint with “Java” and he soon established himself through his releases on his own “Hot Stuff” and legendary ‘ROCKERS’ label
(so named because the records were promoted on his brother Garth’s fledging Rockers Sound-system).
Following the release of “Skanking Easy” – an update of the Studio One Soul Vendors’ classic “Swing Easy” – Augustus Pablo was soon a leading light in the upcoming band of “rebel” artists and independent producers such as Lee “Scratch” Perry, Winston “Niney” Holness and Glen Brown who were to radically and irreversibly re-define the parameters of reggae music.
Augustus Pablo was constantly setting new standards, searching for new ideas. His productions, distinctive as they already were by his “Far Eastern” style of playing, became as individual by their arrangements as, say, Coxsone’s or Upsetter’s were by theirs. The way in which the riddims were mixed was also important to Pablo. In common with Vivian Jackson, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and several others he employed King Tubby to mix his productions. King Tubby’s studio has always made its own highly innovative mark on Pablo’s music. It actually led to the release of an album that confirmed and spread both men’s reputation : the 1976 released dub set “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown”.
Something else that Augustus Pablo had in his favour was an uncanny knack for picking on unlikely or unknown vocalists to sing or toast over his riddims, not only providing the public with good music but also the chance to hear what these people could do given the opportunity. Perhaps the most successful example of this is Jacob Miller, who under the influence of Pablo gave the reggae massive “Keep On Knocking”, Each One Teach One” and “Who Say Jah No Dread”. Dillinger is another artist whom Pablo captured at his best and Hugh Mundell and Tetrack – his most exciting discoveries to date – are now held in the highest esteem by reggae consumers. Other singers such as the Heptones, Locksley Castell, Ricky Grant, Delroy Williams and Norris Reid have also met with some fame on Pablo’s unique riddims.
The singers with whom Augustus Pablo had his most fruitful associations were Junior Delgado and Hugh Mundell. The latter was extremely young, barely in his teens, when he recorded for Pablo. His debut album “Africa Must Be Free By 1983” became a classic roots set and said much about the commitment that Pablo, as a producer, could inspire in even the most youthful of singers.
Though Augustus Pablo’s most consistent and creative period was over by the end of the 1970s, strong records have still continued to appear on “Rockers” and the newer “Message” label. The roughhouse spirit of the last two decades might not seem conducive to Pablo’s laid-back approach, but he’s issued good music by Junior Delgado, as well as Bunny Brissett, Yami Bolo, Spliffy Dan, cultural chatter Blacker T. and Johnny Osbourne. Regarding his own outings during this period, Pablo has not always been able to keep up the standard of his best work. However, just when the reggae cognoscenti were writing Pablo off, his reputation was restored with the 1990 released “Blowing In The Wind”.
Augustus Pablo will be remembered as one who made an amazing contribution to roots reggae both as a melodica/keyboards player and as a producer with an immediately recognizable style. In the hearts of his many worldwide fans he definitely will live on as “Augustus Pablo – The Original Rocker”.
Selective dicography :
“Cassava Piece” Riddim
The most familiar riddim in reggae, with a sound and vibe that defined the Rockers era, Augustus Pablo’s “Cassava Piece” is a flawless musical arrangement. Pablo’s mentor Herman Chin-Loy of Aquarius Records was the first to cut Pablo’s riddim, releasing it as“I-Man” and again as “Jah Jah Dub” on his 1973 Aquarius Dub LP. Augustus Pablo released “Cassava Piece” on the singles compilation titled Original Rockers in 1979. The tune features Pablo on keyboards, melodica, piano, organ, and clavinet, with Aston “Family Man” Barrett and Robbie Shakespeare on bass and Carlton Barrett on drums. Carlton Barrett’s drumming on “Cassava Piece” is nothing short of astonishing, and established a drum sound that encapsulates the Rockers sound and style
Pablo used the riddim to back Jacob Miller’s “Baby I Love You So” in 1975. King Tubby famously engineered the dub track for “Baby I Love You So,” which resulted in what many believe to be the greatest reggae/dub tune ever to be pressed to vinyl,“King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown.”
Pablo once again goes back to the riddim with great effect for Norris Reid’s “Black Force” in 1999. Dubstep outfit Mooncat used the riddim for “Love Rockers,” the B-side to 2009′s “War Ina Babylon.”
Augustus Pablo : This is,1974
Beautiful instrumental album featuring Pablo on piano, organ, clavinet and trusty melodica recorded and produced at Randy’s studio in 1974. Includes “Pablo In Dub”, “Lovers Mood”, “Too Late”, “Point Blank” and “Arabian Rock”. This was the album that set Augustus Pablo firmly on the musical map as a leading figure in the burgeoning rebel rock movement that immediately preceded the Rastafarian inspired roots music that dominated the rest of the decade and sealed reggae musics role as a vehicle for the dissipation of social protest and spiritual inspiration. Essential !
track listing: Dub Organizer, Please Sunrise, Point Blank, Arabian Rock, Pretty Baby, Pablo In Dub, Skateland Rock, Dread Eye, Too Late, Assignment Number 1, Jah Rock, Lover’s Mood, Java Original, Guiding Red
Augustus Pablo : Ital Dub,1975
Often overlooked, and poorly recieved by some critics at the time, “ITAL DUB” can now be regarded as a fine dub album mixed by Tubby and comprised of riddims produced by Tommy Cowan mainly for Jacob Miller & The Inner Circle with Pablo blowing his melodica over the top. Includes dub/melodica mixes to “Forward Jah Jah Children”, do-overs of Bob Marley’s “Rebel Music”, “Natty Dread” and Tosh’s “Funeral”, Junior Byles’ “Curly Locks” and “Ire Feelings” as well as tougher than tough originals like “Eli’s Move”, a version of Miller’s “The Truth Has Come Again”, “Shake Up” and “Shake Down” and “Barbwire Disaster”.
track listing : The Big Rip Off, Road Block, Curly Dub, Well Red, Gun Trade, Shake Up, Hillside Airstrip, Barbwire Disaster, Mr. Big, Eli’s move, House Raid, Shake Down, The Way It Is
Augustus Pablo : King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown,1976
“Lion !” From its dramatic opening – the intro to the dub of Jacob Miller’s “Keep On Knocking” – to its shimmering conclusion with “Satta” “KING TUBBY MEETS THE ROCKERS UPTOWN” is – alongside “Blackboard Jungle” – the best dub album ever made. The combination of Pablo’s raw drum and bass riddims – Carlton Barrett in an absolutely blinding form – the superb Bobby Ellis’ horn arrangements, Errol T’s precision engineering at Randy’s again – all treated to King Tubby’s corruscating mixing techniques, have never been surpassed. Tracks like “Each One Teach One”, “Say So” and the title track came as revelations when this album first landed in 1976. The vocals – sometimes upfront in the mix for a brief moment before hurled back into the bottomless mix in a giddying, decaying spray of echo and reverb – other times heard as if from a distance, barely discernible, compelling the listener to search out the original…”Baby !”
track listing: Keep On Dubbing, Stop Them Jah, Young Generation Dub, Each One Dub, 555 Dub Street, Braces Tower Dub, King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, Corner Crew Dub, Say So, Skanking Dub, Frozen Dub, Satta Dub.
Augustus Pablo: Man From The Hills, 1986
Included here is a great story about Augustus Pablo which was published in NME 11 October 1986.
Pablo features heavily in my 3-part written piece on Hugh Mundell, which is only days away from being published. Titled “Great Tribulation: The Life and Times of Hugh Mundell,” the story features rare interviews with Mundell from 1981, never-before released photos, audio, video, and interviews and input from many including Roger Steffens, Steve Barrow, Sir David Rodigan, documentary filmmaker Jerry Stein (Word, Sound and Power) and more. The most well-researched and definitive piece ever written about Mundell, I hope to use it as a treatment for a book about Augustus Pablo and the Rockers label.
“Day of Judgement” is a single from the Africa Must Be By 1983 LP and was written and recorded by Mundell when he was just 15 years of age.
Scans from a Japanese publication from when Pablo made a visit there.