Discover more from The Musicians Series by Adam Villacin
A King, A Razor, and Horsemouth
nah bodda chuck pon me
Welcome back to the second week of The Musicians Series. We’re going to kick things off with a Wailing Wailer.
Peter Tosh was abandoned by his parents. He learned how to play guitar by spending a whole day watching a guy play a song. In 1962, he formed The Wailers, along with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. He taught Bob how to play guitar. They all became Rastafarians in the late 60s.
Tosh was the inspiration for the 2Tone logo Walt Jabsco. There were some UK bootlegs that were released under the name Peter Touch. In 1973, he was in a car crash that fractured his skull and killed his girlfriend.
Tosh was an advocate of marijuana legalization- his debut album was called Legalize It. He funded the recording with money made from smuggling. He signed with Rolling Stones records. His signature song, Stepping Razor, was a cover, and the lyric about disregarding his size was ironic—the original writer Joe Higgs was 5’7, and Tosh was 6’4. There was a Marvel Comics character called Steppin’ Razor- he was a Jamaican vampire drug lord that fought Blade. After Tosh left the Wailers, he became proficient in riding unicycles.
Peter Tosh was murdered in a home invasion in 1987. Three gunmen in search of money tortured him before they killed him and two of his friends, and wounded his common law wife and several others in the house.
Here’s Tosh and Mick Jagger singing Walk & Don’t Look Back.
Roy Ellis, aka Mr. Symarip, moved from Jamaica to the UK to play ska music in the 1960s. He took trombone lessons from Rico Rodriguez. Ellis joined The Bees, backing acts like Laurel Aitken and Eddy Grant before changing their name to The Pyramids. By 1969, they had a unique sound that was a blend of ska, reggae, and rocksteady, which they called skinhead reggae. They were opening for The Who, Pink Floyd, and Emerson Lake & Palmer.
Due to contract issues, they flipped their name around to Simaryp, then Symarip. They had major appeal to the British working class skinhead youth, which they embraced with songs like Skinhead Jamboree and Skinhead Girl.
In 1971, they moved to Germany, started playing Afro-rock, and changed the name of the band to Zubaba. When 2 Tone hit the UK, they re-released Skinhead Moonstomp, which charted. Ellis lived in Switzerland with his wife for decades before he was re-discovered in the early 2000s. He moved back to England, where he continues to perform as Mr. Symarip.
Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace
Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace is a drummer who played in many bands, including Soul Vendors, Sound Dimension, and the Soul Brothers. He studied at Alpha Boys School as a child. He back Lee Perry and Jackie Mittoo. He toasted as Mad Roy. He played with Inner Circle, and wrote This World for them. He recorded Herb Vendor under the name Horsemouth for Ethnic Fight in 1975.
Wallace starred in Theodoros Bafaloukas’ 1978 film Rockers as himself. Rockers started off as a documentary, but during filming became a loose remake of The Bicycle Thief. It has an incredible soundtrack, and tons of fantastic cameos. He set up his own label, moved to the UK in the eighties, and had some dancehall hits.
King Tubby was a sound engineer who is credited with inventing the concept of a remix, and was hugely influential in the creation of dub. He began his career in music through a backdoor—he owned and operated a television and radio repair shop in Jamaica in the fifties. He ran a pirate radio station, and built amps for the local soundsystems before building his own- Tubby’s Hometown Hi-Fi. He also launched the career of U-Roy by featuring him as the toaster.
King Tubby worked for Duke Reid, isolating tracks for instrumental versions. It was here where he began playing around with tracks and adding effects. He bought a four track from Byron Lee and opened his own studio, becoming one of the biggest names in Jamaica in the seventies. He worked with Augustus Pablo many times, but most notably on the seminal dub track King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. Tubby mentor King Jammy and Scientist. He produced Anthony Red Rose in the eighties.
King Tubby was murdered in front of his home in 1989. There is very little information about his death, and everyone believes it was a robber, except for Lee Scratch Perry, who has hinted that it was Bunny Striker Lee.
Lee Scratch Perry
Lee “Scratch” Perry, aka The Upsetter, aka Jah Lion, aka Pipecock Jakxon, aka Super Ape, aka the Upsetter, was a pioneer of dub and an innovator of remix techniques. He and Prince Buster sold records for Coxsone Dodd. He was called “Little” Perry because he is 4’11”. He worked for Joe Gibbs for awhile before starting his own studio, Black Ark. He recorded some Wailers songs and sold them to Trojan, pocketing the cash. When Chris Blackwell signed them to Island, it pissed Perry off. From then on he referred to Blackwell as a vampire and a cultural imperialist, and Bob Marley as an accomplice.
Perry recorded some songs for The Clash. He claims to only use ganja, but there are lots of stories of his frequent use of acid and coke. He blamed faulty wiring for Black Ark burning down, but some say it was the byproduct of a heavy acid trip.
He is the voice of the reggae deejay in Grand Theft Auto V. Perry has shown his visual art at Dem Passwords. Benicio Del Toro narrated a documentary about him in 2011. Andrew WK produced a record for him, featuring guest spots from Moby, Ari Up, Lightning Bolt’s Brain Chippendale, and Sasha Grey.
Augustus Pablo, born Horace Swaby, was crucial to the development of dub, and he popularized the use of the melodica, a children’s toy, in Jamaican music. His career started with help from his classmate Clive Chin, whose family ran the premier record shop in Kingston. Herman Chin Loy, also a cousin of Leslie Kong, gave him an audition. He worked with many members of the Chin family throughout his career.
Pablo's 1976 release with frequent collaborator King Tubby, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, is a dub classic. Pablo was a dedicated Rastafarian. He played on Primal Scream's 1997 single, Star. He suffered from the nerve disorder myasthenia gravis, and in 1999, he died due to a collapsed lung. He was forty years old.
Sly & Robbie
Sly and Robbie, perhaps the most important rhythm section / production team of all time, first collaborated in the mid seventies, after establishing themselves individually as studio players.
They were the core of the Compass Point Studios band out of Nassau (along with Wally Badarou.) The Compass Point All Stars backed releases from Grace Jones, Robert Palmer, Tom Tom Club, and Mick Jagger. Sly and Robbie collaborated Peter Tosh, Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Serge Gainsbourg, Herbie Hancock, Yoko Ono, Sinead O’Connor, and Jackson Browne. Brian Eno once said, “…when you buy a reggae record, there's a 90 percent chance the drummer is Sly Dunbar.”
Sly and Robbie remixed Britney Spears, worked with Paris Hilton, and produced the iconic reggae song Ras Trent for Andy Samberg.
This week’s playlist runs long because there are some very heavy hitters. I definitely recommend falling deep into whatever rabbit holes you may find, especially the Compass Point stuff. I mean, look at this.
Okay, one more Compass Point thing-
Alright, thank you for reading. Please forward newsletter this to your one cousin that you smoke weed with at Thanksgiving. Peace!