Vivian "Yabby You" Jackson has passed away.
Vivian Jackson better known as Yabby You (or sometimes Yabby U), certainly one of the most fascinating reggae vocalists and producers of the roots reggae period, died on Tuesday 12th January 2010 at 11pm after suffering an aneurysm.
THE ORIGINAL JESUS DREAD.
At the beginning of the roots music era in the 1970s, Vivian Jackson aka Yabby You was making his first tentative moves towards a musical career. One of seven children, Yabby had been born in Kingston in 1946. At the age of twelve Yabby left home and found work making Dutch pots in a furnace located near the gully bank in the ghetto district of Waterhouse. When he was seventeen he was taken seriously ill, suffering from the effects of malnutrition. When he came out of hospital he also had arthritis, and was thus physically unable to do the kind of work he had done before. He hustled a kind of living on the street, through his skill at picking racehorse winners.
Although a Rastafarian, Jackson did not believe in the divinity of Emperor Haile Selassie and his Christian beliefs were at odds with other Rastas he knew. He was given the nickname "Jesus Dread" as a result of his argumentative nature. Because his Christian beliefs were markedly different from that of his Rastafarian comtemporaries, it often prompted debate on religio-philosophical matters, and it was after one of these discussions that Jackson first headed towards a recording studio. To get the money to hire the studio, he returned to his previous work at the furnace, in spite of warnings from the doctors at the hospital. However he was taken sick again and had to go back to hospital where they operated his stomach. He had earned just enough money to buy a 2-inch tape and hire Dynamic studio for half an hour. Luckily musicians such as Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, Earl "Chinna" Smith and "Familyman" Barrett were willing to play free.
During the early seventies, Yabby You spent a lot of time at the Ethiopian World Federation church run by Brother Joe on Balmagie Avenue, Waterhouse. Listening to the singing coming through the windows of the building one day, Yabby joined in. Brother Joe heard his voice and indicated that he should come in. Inside, Yabby sung his song 'Carnal Mind', a version of an old hymn. It was well-received, so much so that Brother Joe decided to record it. When the time came to record, the group, which then included Albert Griffiths of the Gladiators and Roydel Johnson (co-founder of The Congos) left him behind and the record was released in early 1972 as 'Go To Zion' by Brother Joe and the Rightful Brothers. Stung by this experience, Yabby You resolved to voice the riddim he had laid the year before with Chinna, Family Man and Horsemouth. During six months of work during 1971 he had saved enough - around fifty Jamaican dollars - to voice the tune around the end of that year. Yabby You's song 'Conquering Lion' was released as by Vivian Jackson and the Ralph Brothers - Alric Forbes and Bobby Powell (aka Bobby Melody) - appearing on two different labels, Now and Prophet, in the autumn of 1972.
Over the next eighteen months Yabby released other tunes - 'Love Thy Neighbour', 'Love Of Jah', 'Warn The Nation' - usually under the name Vivian Jackson (and the Prophets). By this time Dada Smith had begun singing in the group, contributing lead vocal to 'Warn The Nation' ( also released under the title 'Jah Love'). The group recorded at Lee Perry's Black Ark studio in 1974, cutting the ominously moody masterpiece 'Jah Vengeance' and 'Run Come Rally' there. Early in 1975, Yabby released the 'Conquering Lion' set, a true cornerstone of Jamaican roots music. The album gained a release in variant form under the title 'Ram-A-Dam' on Dennis Harris' DIP label in the UK in early 1976. His dub classic 'King Tubby's Prophesy Of Dub' was also released then in a limited edition of 500 copies. These releases - in which Yabby shares with the listener his vision of Creation and his way of life within it - fully established him as a roots artist of the first order. He began to expand his activities, producing the young singer Wayne Wade on titles like 'Man Of The Living' and the recut of 'Conquering Lion' called 'Lord Of Lords'.
The strength of Yabby You's riddims also drew the attention of deejays. Big Youth had already scored with a version of the 'Conquering Lion' riddim and Yabby You began recording less-celebrated mikemen like Prince Pampadoo, Jah Pops, Jah Stone, King Miguel and Ranking Magnum, as well as some of the hottest deejays of the time including Dillinger, U-Brown, Jah Stitch, Ranking Trevor, Tappa Zukie and the excellent Trinity. Although they all had singles released on the Prophets imprint, Trinity was the only one who had an album issued, 'Shanty Town Determination', with the young deejay riding a selection of Yabby You's best riddims of the period.
The instrumentals Yabby You made at this time with Tommy McCook show both in top form. The legendary Skatalites co-founder is featured on the 'Blazing Horns' set with trumpeter Bobby Ellis. Included on this compilation are instrumentals like 'Death Trap' and 'Revenge', both recorded at Black Ark, along with previously-unreleased and storming sax cuts of 'King Pharaoh's Plague' and 'Chant Down Babylon Kingdom'.
As with Wayne Wade, Yabby You began giving songs to other aspiring vocalists. In this way he started the solo careers of Michael Prophet, Tony Tuff, Patrick Andy and Junior Brown, and issued albums by Michael Prophet, Wayne Wade and Patrick Andy from 1977 on. He also continued his fruitful association with dubmaster King Tubby, releasing sets like 'Beware Dub' and 'Yabby You & Michael Prophet Meet Scientist at Dub Station'. Yabby You's own album 'Deliver Me From My Enemies' was issued in the UK by Grove Music. Always conscious of the work that he was engaged in, he concentrated on celebrating the message manifested on his earlier releases, up to the defining roots statement of the 'Conquering Lion' album.
In the 1980s he retreated from the music business as his health deteriorated, though he made something of a comeback in the 1990s with some new productions and the reappearance of many of his classic singles and albums, repressed from the original stampers to cater for the large European collectors market.
Yet still there are a few of Yabby's anecdotes that need to be preserved for the historical record. It was around 1977 and Bob Marley's mortal career was busting out internationally. Bob was on stadium tours round the world and he would come home to Jamaica with the stature of a rock star. At times hundreds of idrens (spiritual brethrens) would be in Bob's yard at 56 Hope Rd. as well as nuff band-wagon-jumpers who managed to talk their way past the gate-man. Dreads reasoning, kicking ball, cooking food, passing chali, promoting schemes etc. At times Bob had the gate-man handing out $100 (Ja.) bills, and larger, to a long line of sufferers out on the street.
For almost 500 years, from the days of slavery, any dreadlocks caught in public would be shot on sight by the police. Till this era dreadlocks knew if you wanted to stay alive you best keep invisible up in the hills - but now the Jamaican ruling elite had seen the money this reggae music was pouring into the island tourist industry so they allowed the dread to live and reggae to be played on the radio for the first time. Rasta consciousness was peaking and Bob Marley's yard was the epicenter of the commercialized music portion of it.
And no one better disrespect that! - because nuff in the 56 Hope Rd. crowd were hard core ghettologists and rudies (nascent gangsters). Bob had even glorified the rudies in song and anyone daring to come into that Ras presence with a contrary opinion, interpreted as disrespecting His Imperial Majesty, would most certainly get a box in the mouth – at the very least. This was no polite debate society. This was hard-ball ghetto reality.
Yabby and Bob knew each other well for they had come up together as ghetto children on the street and Yabby had no difficulty coming thru the gate at 56 Hope Rd. for a one-time-only visit. Bob was holding court and Yabby came in speaking with a spiritual authority that silences even the haters: "No I... is not a good ting for man and man to bow down to another man – dat an evil ting." Bob had to nod his head in agreement and say "Yah right Yabby." The crowd was silenced and Yabby walked out unscathed.
A next time Yabby was cornered on a dark ghetto road by robbers intent on theft and murder. One Yabby eulogist recently reported that Yabby came home with rock-stone marks on his shirt but no bruise or damage to his structure. The way Yabby and his wife told the story is he came home with multiple knife cuts in his shirt and his roll of $ still in his pocket.
One more anecdote. Yabby's family land is in Vere, Clarendon and Vere is known as the center of Jamaican Obiah (Voodoo). Jamaicans, being the superstitious people that they are, still to this day come in a steady stream from all around the island into Vere for paid consultation with the Obiah workers. Yabby was a Jesus dread and most definitely not an Obiah worker but one time a woman, who somehow knew of Yabby, came into the yard and started crying: "Suh! Suh! mi beg ya – help mi - mi a strugglin woman wit 8 pickney fi feed and nah help at all. Mi a just got $500 (Ja. about $9 US) fi mi name an mi nah know wha fi do. Tell mi someting – I beg ya - help mi Yabby." Yabby said: "Sister go home and come forward tomorrow and tell I wha ya ah dream tonight." Next morning she returns and tells Yabby her dream. Yabby says to a youth in the yard: "Go uppa road an get di racing form." (horse racing is a national passion in Jamaica). The youth returns with the race form and gives it to Yabby who studies it for a moment. Yabby points to a certain horse on the race form and says to the woman: "Ya see sister. Is simple! Ya dream a tell ya put ya money on this horse in the third race tomorrow." The horse won and paid the woman something like 40 to 1.
For nearly forty years, Yabby You has shared his vision of the Everlasting Gospel with us, simultaneously crafting some of the most dynamic yet intensely spiritual music of our time.
Sources: "Wikipedia", "Sleevenotes from the Blood & Fire release "Jesus Dread 1972-1977" by Steve Barrow" and anecdotes from Alex Peacemaker.