Skankin' Pickle  

Posted by Wayne Bretski in

Welcome to the sixth installment of Pickle's Picks. Today we're operating on a Jamaican tip once again, but this time we're speeding up the tempo and turning back the clock just past reggae and stopping on ska. A progenitor of the roots reggae and rock steady scenes, ska typically has a swinging beat that features jazz instruments like the trombone and trumpet. Legend tells that summer heat-induced lethargy among the islands musicians and dancers lead to the slowing of the beat and the development of rock steady, and ska's popularity faded, especially when compared to the career paths of some of its stars, including Bob Marley and the original Wailers and Toots and the Maytals. The latter group is actually credited with the first use of the word 'reggae' in their 1968 smash "Do The Reggay".

Here's Toots and the Maytals in their heyday. Note the generally formal dress, which is typical of the early years of Jamaican pop, and is indicative of how much the performers initially were influenced by big band, swing, and jazz in general.

After the first major rush of ska in the early to mid '60s, the genre was resuscitated by an influx of interest in the late '70s by British punk rockers, notably The Clash. In the 1990s, there was an American revival of ska that featured big horns and swinging beats, but that was very slick and geared for a music market oriented towards alternative rock.

Hmm. I guess on to the music. Once again I've got the Divshare player up for streaming the individual songs, and I will post the whole thing as a zipped download for those who may want to put it on a CD or a playlist on your computer. I have done significantly less research for this project than Pickle Is The Controller, so here's my off-hand knowledge.

One of my favorite reggae albums is Culture's "Two Sevens Clash". This track is the first on that album, and such a great opener that I have highjacked it for my mix as well. This is roots reggae at its finest, but the peppy beat and quick tempo definitely have ska overtones.

The man himself: Mr. Desmond Dekker

"You old hypocrite. You old hippopotamus, you old hypocrite." It doesn't even make sense, but it's so catchy that you'll find yourself singing it at the oddest times. Desmond Dekker is an absolute master of ska music, a huge ambassador for reggae, and Jamaica in general. Here's "Hippopotamus", unfortunately this won't stream, as it's in m4a format here.

Burning Spear really should have made the Controller mix, but I'll take a late pass and post him here. Definitely more of a roots artist, this little "skank" was in tribute the sound engineer John Burns who mixed a dub version of "Garvey's Ghost" for Spear and the band. Read more about John Burns' credits here. And peep the "John Burns Skank" right 'chere.

I know very little about Tommy McCook, but the Aggrovators were a popular Jamaican backing band, specializing in dub instrumentals, very similar to King Tubby and Augustus Pablo or the Revolutionaries. "At The Dub Market" is a nice little uptempo jam not outside the vein of dub music but a bit peppier and less spacy than the Aggros typical sound.

"Time Marches On" is not only the title of this super-smash song by Derrick Morgan, but also the name of his greatest hits retrospective and probably a number of biographical pieces. This song made his career, and it's pretty easy to see why. Another superstar of ska, here with his biggest hit. Again, an m4a for download. Sorry.

Prince Buster is widely considered to be one of the most influential of the early sound system owners, both on the island and in Britain. "Respect" is a single that shows off the sound of most of his recording: rough around the edges, but lively and fun. I find it catchy.

The Skatalites are another majorly influential group of Jamaican musicians, definitely considered a top pick as far as instrumental reggae is considered. Insofar as their names contains the word 'ska', they are the first name on many people's tongues when original ska is mentioned, and their long career is testament to their versatility and marketing savvy. The two disc set "Foundation Ska" contains many of their early hits that anchored their careers, and is widely available at public and university libraries. Download Addis Ababa here.

Another rootsy theme here: "Nobody knows the Age of Creation, nobody knows," sing the Cultural Roots. Try them out here:

Not much info about Dandy Livingstone, except that he released this song in the 1970s on Trojan Records. Here's "Big City":

Bob Marley on the street

Robert Nesta Marley. There's more than enough information and misinformation to go around about the big guy in reggae circles. Here's an early one from the album 'African Herbsman' called "Duppy Conquerer":

"Tall and handy, sweet like candy. Hit me now!" Winston Williams on Trojan Records:

Tenor Saw's classic mid-'80s album 'Fever' included some dub cuts at the end on the reissue. "Rub-a-Dub Market" is a nice little uptempo dub exploration. Download here.

Virtually no information online about GG's All Stars. All Music Guide lists all of one song credited to the band. This is not it, but was tagged by this band, who AMG claims is similar to the Roots Radics, the aforementioned Aggrovators, and Lee Perry's house band The Upsetters. Listen to "The Man from Carolina".
Eek a mouse on stage.

Eek a Mouse's cover of Led Zeppelin's "D'yer Maker". This song is pronounced, in the British patois, "Jer-maker". This means "Did you sleep with her?", as in "Did you make her?" Little known fact. Listen up:

Major Irie was an obscure act working in the Bronx in the '80s. On the same label as Wayne Jarrett from the Controller series, for a man nicknamed Bullwackie. Here's "Keep On Running".

Mr. Rock Steady himself, Ken Boothe first rose to popularity as a ska duo with Stranger Cole. Found on "Foundation Ska" along with the Skatalites hits. Download "World's Fair".

Rude boys, or rudies, refers to Jamaican gangsters living in Kingston's slums. These next two songs refer explicitly to rudies, and are off the Trojan Rude Boy Box Set.

Joe White's "Rudies All Around":

The Pioneers' "Rudies Are The Greatest":
Barrett Strong (of "Money" fame) wrote this song, but never recorded it himself. The original version is by The Temptations on 'Puzzle People', it was also recorded by the Whatnauts, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and others. Derrick Harriot with "Message from a Black Man":

It's important to remember that ska means dancing.

Freddie McKay was a popular rock steady singer who worked with producers such as Coxsone Dodd and Prince Buster. Here he goes with "Love is a Treasure".

Another one that's super obscure, recorded on the Wackies label. Apparently this is the only song recorded by this band. Here's Itopia, with "Do You Really Know".

The Love Joys were a pair of cousins from Brixton, England. One of the very few all female roots reggae groups, they only released one album, called 'Lovers Rock (Reggae Style)'. This song "It Ain't Easy" is on a 12" record called 'Gimme Back', also released by the Wackies label.

Slim Smith, another Coxsone Dodd singer, sang in a beautiful falsetto until his untimely demise at 25 years old. Here he is with "Please Stay".

John Holt and the Paragons smash hit "The Tide Is High" redone by a modern quartet of white men. Here is 007's remake of "Tide":

Another of the Rude Boy box set, Henry Buckley has only two original credits to his name. Listen up to "Beware of Rude Boys":
Toots on stage

Finally, Toots and the Maytals, from their 2004 album 'True Love'. The premise of the album was that Toots' many friends in the rock, country, reggae, and R & B worlds would remake classic Maytals jams. This track features producer U-Roy and the Skatalites on horns. Download "Never Grow Old" from 'True Love'.

Bonus beats:

The Whatnauts version of "Message from a Black Man":
Producer of the Wu-Tang Clan, the RZA is well-versed in old R & B breaks. On "Can't Stop Me Now" he samples the Whatnauts version:
The Temptations original recording of Barrett Strong's "Message":
Finally, Led Zeppelin's original recording of "D'yer Maker":

Here's the tracklisting for the mix, click here for the download.

Enjoy, soul children.



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