Like many people, I have a wide taste in music, and enjoy listening to all sorts of music. One of my favorite types of music is dub reggae. I never tire of listening to dub reggae albums, and one of my favorite albums in that genre is by King Tubby, and it is Dub From the Roots.  King Tubby released Dub From the Roots in 1974, and when you look at the album credits, what strikes you immediately is the quality of personnel who feature on that album. The Aggrovators are the backing band, Augustus Pablo plays organ and piano, Ronnie Shakespear plays bass and Bunny Lee produces the album. Added to that wide array of talent involved, one must not forget that King Tubby is the mixing engineer and is responsible for creating the dub sound.

King Tubby was born Osbourne Ruddock, in 1944, in Jamaica, and later became an electronics and sound-engineer. He is widely credited as being responsible for developing the sound of dub, and helping it to evolve in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In fact, King Tubby is perceived as elevating the status of the mixing engineer to that as someone who can have a creative impact on the sound of the music that they are responsible for mixing. This is similar to the elevation in the status of DJ’s in the past twenty-five years, from people who merely play records, to artists who are capable of changing and improving the sound of a record. Many people believe that King Tubby is the founding father of dub, as often referred to as the Godfather of Dub. Indeed, King Tubby is often credited as the person who invented the remix.

Prior to finding fame, King Tubby started out as a radio repairman in the 1950’s. He put this talent to good use repairing the numerous sound systems on the island. King Tubby also built powerful amplifiers for the various sound systems. Eventually in around 1961, he decided to build his own radio transmitter and went on to run his own pirate radio station. Later, he went on to build his own sound system Tubby’s Hometown Hi-fi. This was very popular with fans of the sound systems, because of his sound system’s superior sound quality, the exclusive records he sourced and played and the sound effects he interspersed within his show. He was one of the first people to use sound effects like echo and reverb in his shows.

King Tubby’s career took another turn in 1968. He managed to get a job with Duke Reid as a disc cutter. This allowed him the opportunity to remix tracks that Reid had produced. These tracks were instrumental tracks, with King Tubby removing the vocals from the tracks. Initially, the way that King Tubby did this, was to remove the vocal track by using the sliders on the mixing desk. This worked, and then he realized that he could add to the track by changing the way the vocal sounded, and adding sound effects like echo, phase and reverb by using different settings on the mixing desk. King Tubby’s newly created sound had the effect of making his sound system the most popular in Jamaica.

After King Tubby’s discovery, and initial work for Duke Reid, he became a not only famous in Jamaica, but worldwide. Like all new methods and innovations in music, this led to other people being influenced by his work, and other producers went on to produce similar releases. King Tubby went on to work with the great and good of reggae music. He worked with Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry and Bunny Lee amongst others, and his work is still influential within the music industry today.

In 1973, King Tubby went on to try something new and revolutionary. He built a vocal booth in his studio, and this allowed him to record a vocal track onto tracks brought to him by various producers and musicians. This became known as voicing in reggae music.

King Tubby had almost retired by the end of the 1970’s, and although he still mixed dub tracks, and was a mentor to up and coming mixers and producers, he was nowhere near as prolific as he was in his prime. Producers like Scientist and King Jammy, both of whom have produced some great albums, credit King Tubby as being responsible for helping launch, and influence their subsequent careers. 

Sadly, King Tubby died aged forty-five in tragic circumstances. In February 1989 he was shot and killed, outside his home, after coming home from a recording session. Although it is unclear why this tragic event occurred, it is thought to have been an attempted robbery that went dreadfully wrong. This was a sad loss to not only reggae music, but to music in general, as his influence is felt throughout music.

Moving on to King Tubby’s 1974 album Dub From the Roots, what you will find are fourteen great tracks. The first track Dub From the Roots, sees King Tubby take track and give it his unique treatment. When you hear the introduction, it lulls you into a false sense of security, it starts quietly and then suddenly the track explodes into a glorious dub soundscape. Throughout this track King Tubby takes Bunny Lee’s recording and inserts his own unique sound. Listen carefully, and you will hear the deepest of bass sounds, huge booming echoes, drum sounds that have had effects added and and an array of sounds that defy interpretation as to what they are. 

On Iyhata the track is not as overpowering as the opening track Dub From the Roots. Iyhata is a much more subdued affair, featuring a glorious rhythm track. The use of sound effects is much more sparing, and this actually benefits the track. There is not to much going on that your mind starts to wander. The use of echo towards the end of the track amplifies the glorious rhythm.

Mine Field is the next track and it features a lovely mixture of drum, brass and echo at the start. The track then meanders on, the use of space adding a subtlety to the track. Throughout the track the brass section and the echo interplay. This is a good track that I rate as one of the best on the album.

The next track Hijack the Barber starts with a strangulated vocal sound, and then features a mixture of instruments. What makes the track for me is the use of drums, rhythm, brass and echo. King Tubby uses the echo to mangle the sound, but no to the extent that it spoils the sound. The use of a mangled vocal interspersed throughout the track adds to the effect.

African Roots has a different sound and feel to it. The track features  mostly  the rhythm section. Echo is used to good effect on this track. However, sometimes the echo has the effect of overpowering the sound, causing the speakers to rumble gloriously. This, to me, is what I want to hear in a dub track. I want to hear huge booming echo used with the drum sound, so much so, that the speakers almost give up the ghost.

The next track Double Cross, again, starts with a brass section. Also featuring on the track are a rhythm section. Both the brass section and rhythm section’s sound is relatively untouched by King Tubby and his sound effects. He has used echo and reverb, but only sparingly. This track has a spacey, atmospheric feel to it.

East Of (Arrows Hi-Fi) is the next track on this album. It has a fuller and louder sound on it. Here King Tubby uses his effects well, and the track features effects that compliment the track’s sound. Often in dub music, you will find that the track is almost unrecognizable, and is awash with sounds that smother the sound of the original track.

Invasion has a classic reggae sound to it. The Aggrovators reserve one of their best performances for this track. The backing band that accompany them play beautifully. Robbie Shakespear’s bass provides a foundation for the track, and the drummer provide a steady backdrop to this track. King Tubby finds a happy medium here, not overusing his effects.

Dub of  A Woman starts with Augustus Pablo’s organ solo, which throughout the track compliments the rhythm section. The track has a lovely summery vibe, and King Tubby’s placing of sound effects is almost perfect. This track shines out as one of the best on the album.

On Dub On My Mind, we have a song that compliments the previous track Dub of A Woman really well. The sound also features the same organ sounds, and the same steady rhythm section. What differs here, is the use of sound effects. Here, they are much more prominent in the mix. This does not spoil the track, although it does not improve it much either.

The track Steeling begins with a light and breezy organ sound, which gives way to the rhythm section, who go on to provide the basis for a good track. The use of the organ throughout the track, has the effect of keeping the listener wondering what will happen now, and compliments the rhythm section’s playing. Steeling is a good, strong, track.

Dub Experience has a similar sound to Steeling, the previous track. What differs though, is the barely audible vocal that can be found within the track. The one thing that is a constant throughout this album is the high standard of musicianship. Here the rhythm section give another top class performance. Like most tracks on this album, this another strong track.

The penultimate track on the album is Declaration of Dub. This is an atmospheric track, because of the use of a haunting vocal and the sound effects. Throughout the track, the rhythm section provide a steady beat, and the other instruments and effects work round the rhythm section. 

A Truthful Dub is the final track on the album. It has an upbeat tempo, and within the track, King Tubby lets loose with his arsenal of sound effects, some of which are subtle, others far from subtle. This is a good track but not my favorite track, because of the overpowering nature of some sounds effects on this track.

That is the story of firstly, King Tubby, and then, his much heralded album Dub From the Roots. What this album is, is one of the finest, and most influential dub albums ever released. Within the album you, will find some wonderful music and some wonderful musicians. King Tubby has taken these tracks and remixed, or some would say, remade them. With most of the tracks he has improved on the initial tracks, something that not all latter day remixers always do. For someone who has never listened to either dub reggae, or King Tubby’s music, this is a good album to buy. Recently, Dub From the Roots has been re-issued and it can also be found on the Evolution of Dub Volume One, The Origin of the Species box set on Greensleeves Records. On this box set you will find King Tubby’s Roots of Dub album and two other classic dub albums. Should you have enjoyed this album, you will have a lot of other albums to explore in the future. One that is worth seeking out is Bunny Lee Presents the Late Great King Tubby box set, which is a four disc box set which includes ninety-three tracks. However, a word of caution is required. In my experience, the standard of remastering on some dub albums leaves a lot to be desired, and you will need to be careful when buying dub albums, as some have a poor quality of sound. You will also need to beware of some dub compilations, as they are hurriedly compiled, feature poor quality tracks, and the standard of mastering is poor. If you are careful however, you will discover not only some great music by King Tubby, but by other great dub artists and producers. Standout Tracks: Mine Field, Hijack the Barber, Double Cross and Dub of  A Woman.


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