With the release of their 1979 hit 45, Rub-a-Dub Style, deejays Smiley and Michigan announced to the world that reggae music was undergoing a major change. Dancehall- based and inspired music was moving to the forefront, leaving roots and rockers behind. A new sound was taking over Jamaica. Rub-a-Dub Style: The Roots of Modern Dancehall, Beth Lesser's latest book, covers the emergence of this "Dancehall" music in Jamaica in the 1980's. Despite the vibrant scene that was emerging in Jamaica, the 80's has remained an obscure, often neglected period in the examination of reggae's development. Yet, it was this period of creativity and growth that not only set the stage for everything that is happening in reggae music today, but played a significant role in influencing hip-hop and rap music.

In her new publication, Beth Lesser fills in the gap between the passing of Marley in 1981 and the dancehall explosion in the early 90's, leading the reader through ten years of changes that brought dancehall music from the ghetto to international recognition. This is the story of the 80's as told through the eyes of the participants - the artists, musicians, producers, distributors, sound owners, radio jocks, engineers and fans. Rub-a-Dub Style covers this innovative period in Jamaican music that saw the introduction of pre-programmed instruments, the rise of sound system 'specials', the battle of 'slackness' vs. 'culture', the emergence of female dancehall artists, the development of the sing-jay style and the domination of the market by deejays, all in the words of those who where there and who contributed to this change.

During the 1980's, Beth and her husband David Kingston published Reggae Quarterly magazine. David was also the host of the award-winning program, Reggae Showcase, on CKLN, Toronto, from 1982 to 1992. Many of the artists passing through the city appeared for both interviews and live dancehall sessions on the air. Beth Lesser has previously written three books on reggae : King Jammys, ECW Press, Toronto, Canada, 2002; Dance Hall: The Rise of Dance Hall Culture, Soul Jazz, UK, 2008; The Legend of Sugar Minott, Muzik Tree, UK, 2011. In addition, Beth's photographs continue to appear on LP and CD covers around the world, as well as in books, magazines, films.

Rub-a-dub Style is being offered as a free download as an appreciation of Jamaica - its people and its culture, for the 2012 celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. Beth Lesser's goal is to reach a wider readership and, therefore, promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the efforts that these artists and musicians put into creating such a powerful and dynamic expression of Jamaican culture.

Because there is no cost involved in obtaining the Rub-a-Dub Style, Beth Lesser hopes that those who are able will consider contributing something to the artists and organizations mentioned in the publication, to help keep them active and working, and the music flowing.

Many thanks to Beth Lesser for given us permission to publish Chapter 20 of her new book and for sending us her great photos to nice up the text.

Contact Beth Lesser : bethkingston@gmail.com and www.bethlesser.com


Alongside the broad audience and the fans from all walks of life, the dancehall had always attracted a certain population that came for the excitement and stimulation. These young men came to model and show off, to pose as the 'tuffest', to tell the world they 'ruled' and would brook no challenges. "There was too much injustice," singer Percy Williams explains. "You have boys who start to make gangs and then you have the Spanglers and all these people start to make them own gun with bicycle bar. They call it the 'Bucky'. Buck shot. It cannot hurt you at a distance. But close to you, at arms length, it could blow you away. That started in the late 60's - '67, '68."

The rude boys evolved into gangs based in small areas of the city. These men were often considered local heroes and were the envy of many a youth in the ghetto. Ranking Trevor remembers watching them filing into the sessions in Waterhouse in the 70's. "You had the Spanglers and the Skull. The Spanglers is like from Princess Street, downtown, and the Skull them is from Southside, Tel Aviv. Them and the Spanglers used to war. I remember when I was a kid, I'd watch them come a King Tubby's dressed slick. Those guy know how to dress! White shirt and black pants with a little bowtie."

The dancehall sessions attracted all kinds of youth, some well mannered, others bored, restless and ready for anything. When they all came together in a noisy, crowded space with the excitement of the dance, under the effects of liquor and ganja, the slightest provocation could spark an incident (For example, a stampede erupted at Cinema 4 during one of the huge 4 sound clashes when a rumor started that armed men were climbing over the wall).
When people got too out of control, the deejay had to cool things down. As Sonny, Arrow's owner, explains, when the dance got hot, "They would just run up and down. They would be firing shots on the air- from the excitement, not violence against each other. Or, it's a security guard firing shots." That's when the deejay had to step in. "Because he has the mic and everybody can hear him. So, he would say, 'Just cool! Just cool, man. Everything nice' and 'More music' and 'Stop your run up and down'.

Arrow's selector, Zaggaloo remembers the very first time he took in the sound. "I live in Franklyn Town and I had been hearing the name [of Arrows]. I ask my parents, cause much as I was working, in those days you have manners for your parents. That was my first trip to hear Arrows. They played at Bower Bank, in east Kingston. It was a Labor Day night. Crutches was deejaying. I remember that dance specifically because, what happened, police came into the dance. They were just patrolling, but the dance was so crowded that people get bummy and start run up and down. That was when they put on Burning Spear name 'Run Up and Down'. Crutches start to deejay and the crowd got so settled, everybody [who had run outside] came back. On the mike, he was like 'It's Ok officer, we are enjoying weself on Labor Day, and we are just playing some music'. It calmed them. He played it and they just calmed down. And the flow of the crowd- some people were moving towards the gate, and from he played it, they come right back into the dance and everything was OK. The officers never even come out [of their car]. They just look around and then drove out back. I always remember that. A lot of people don't understand that. That's why most of these artist nowadays, I don't' think they understand the magnitude of [the power] they have towards people. Just listening to lyrics, music, it makes a big difference to a lot of people."

The opposite held true as well. The deejay had the power to disrupt the dance and provoke trouble. People came to the session ready to listen. Whatever the deejay talked, the audience did. If the deejays said 'wine up on your toe', that's what they did. If the deejay said, 'cock out yu foot and make me see your Clark bootie', the well dressed would lift up a well- shod heel. If the deejay said, "Gun man move", someone would take out a gun and fire shots in the air. And that is exactly what happened in 1982 when Ringo came to Canada for a few dances with Leroy Sibbles' sound Papa Melody Hi Fi. Everyone told him, 'Don't deejay anything about guns'... Unfortunately, the M16 rhythm was popular at the time, and sure enough, as soon as Ringo started talking guns, shots rang out and a bystander was hit. The next day, the police came looking for him. For this reason, in the early 80's, most audiences were opposed to the liberal use of gun lyrics.

Inspector Willie in Jammy's Yard
(photo: Beth Lesser)
No matter how well planned, or how much security (if any) was around, something was bound to happen eventually. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day. Inspector Willie, from U Roy's Stur-Gav sound, explained that steady exposure to the threat of violence was a hazard of the job. "I remember being at one dance. About seven people died. It was an awful experience. The police said someone fired a shot at them; they was patrolling and somebody fired a shot at them. They just radio up more police and start firing shots. I get low, went into a little room. It's a good thing it was concrete. See, when I look, pure hole in the wall. And some of the equipment got shot up. But it didn't really affect us. See, it's like I get used to those things still. Not to say that when I am at a dance, I like it. But, I get used to it. Like if something should occur, I know what to do."

Sometimes, it was the police who were to blame, not the rude boys, for mashing up a dance. U Roy recalls, "They didn't love when a sound carry a certain large amount of crowd. There would be some feelings - like maybe if you're not dealing with a certain set of police, they carry feelings and mash up your dance. They just come and see a big crowd and they fire shot and people run up and down."

Stur-Gav had gained a reputation for such incidents. "You have all kinda rude boy," Selector Jah Screw recounts about his time working with the sound, "That's why Stur-Gav end up branded with the name 'Stur-Grave' - cause you would have shoot out." Stur-Gav deejay Charlie Chaplin says, "Wherever we go them always say, a pure badman and gunman. Through the area where the sound come from, whe' it represent, and the type of people who love the sound. People who were known as 'hardcore' or dangerous men follow the sound. But we a play the sound fe everybody. We cyaan tell who fe follow it. Through the police see that, they kinda target all of our dance, shoot it up and throw tear gas pon we. Nuff time them tear gas the dance, we have fe run out of it."


It wasn't all bad, however. Getting shut down was a status symbol. "The only sounds that don't get shut down is the sounds that wasn't popular," Screw contibued. "If you sound is a popular sound, or a number one sound as we put it, you will get shut down." Stur-Gav, wasn't a 'badman' sound. With veteran Daddy U Roy as the owner, it became of the 1980's most well known and most influential sounds though the introduction of deejays Josie Wales and Charlie Chaplin. But that hint of danger gave it an edge that other sounds lacked. Unlike the fun-loving and sometimes silly nights with Gemini, and the wild party that was Volcano, Stur-Gav was serious and down to earth.

Stur-Gav Hifi was all roots, but 'royal' roots, as the sound traced its lineage right back to King Tubby's where U Roy held court in the late 60's. In the 80's, Daddy Roy didn't spend much time around the Stur-Gav, although he did make an occasional, sensational, appearance on the mic. Mostly he left it to the crew to run and maintain. But his musical experience infused everything the sound did and played.

Around 1971, U Roy broke away from King Tubby and King Attorney and started his own set, King Stur-Gav [The name, which has been often written as Stereograph, really is the oddly spelled Stur-Gav. U Roy explains, "Stur-Gav is two piece of two of me sons names. It's three letters out of one and 4 letters out of the next one. It's not a counterfeit name. This is a real name. This is not no joke name. The sound register like that."]. The 'originator' found himself on his own now, backed only by all his professional experience in the dance world. "I tell meself, this is something whe' me love, this is the only thing that me know. This is the only trade that the Father give me whe' me master. So, I decide to start my own little sound. And believe you me, it was the best thing me ever do. And me no really regret nothing about sound work."

Josie, Charlie and promoter Donahue at CKLN
(photo: Beth Lesser)
For the first little while it was a one man show, with U Roy selecting, deejaying and operating. "It was a little sound at first, you know, but this little sound have the biggest crowd behind it. It just pure joy ina me heart!" At the very start, people weren't impressed. "I used to gwan make two little talk ina the nighttime until some people start talk and talk and say, 'Whe' the dread a go with the little sound there?' Them time Stur-Gav just young. Them time there me just have two little box and anytime rain fall, them two little box there just crumble."

So, U Roy bought some fresh boxes, but the crowds still weren't coming. "I hear some people say, 'A whe' the dread go with that foo foo sound? Him think the sound can reach all certain sound?' And me a stand up and listen to them man good, and me a tell myself, seh, 'Well all right, unu gwan see. Gwan make unu eat them word there!'" And he did.

For the first few years, U Roy kept the sound going all on his own, barely earning enough to survive. Then he found Little Joe, who grew up to be star deejay Ranking Joe, and the selector Jah Screw. Joe and Screw became one of the hottest combinations going. Joe was a seminal deejay who influenced a whole generation of younger men who rose to fame in the 80's. Charlie Chaplin, who came on board during this time, started out as Joe's apprentice. Not only was Joe one of the first to promote the slackness style, but his "fast talking" was heard all the way to the UK where it was morphed into an English pattern and bounced back to Jamaica in the mid eighties. Throughout the decade, Jamaican deejays could be heard echoing his 'bong didley, bong diddley'.

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