This might just be the most significant 2 minutes 27 seconds of music that has been posted on ABON so far. Because…
Back in the late ’60′s Jamaican DJ’s fronting the enormous, and enormously loud, Sound Systems that toured the island started ‘toasting’. Which involved ad-libbing over the rhythm and in between the singing on the 7″ hit singles they were playing. U-Roy was one of these DJs.
At some point around 1968 he met the then unknown King Tubby who was a disc cutter and engineer at Duke Reid’s studio. Duke Reid ran the Treasure Isle label which was producing many of the hit singles U-Roy would have been playing at Sound System parties. King Tubby of course had access to the rhythm tracks that sat behind the vocals on these singles. And he started experimenting with these tracks – producing what would turn out to be the forerunners of Dub. He also started to give these tracks to DJs like U-Roy to toast over live.
In 1969 John Holt, then one of the very successful singers who featured on many of the Treasure Isle singles, heard U-Roy toasting over one of his own singles - ‘Wear You To The Ball’ - live at a Sound System party. He was so impressed that he introduced U-Roy to Duke Reid. Who then took U-Roy into the studio to record him toasting over the original rhythm track minus the original verse but with John Holt’s original chorus retained. The result was a massive hit in Jamaica and a stream of singles with U-Roy toasting over rhythm tracks already made famous from Treasure Isle hits followed. Over 20 in 1970 alone.
‘Tom Drunk’ was one of those 1970 singles but was produced in a slightly different way to ‘Wear You To The Ball’. It’s based on the rhythm track to Stranger Cole’s ‘These Eyes (AKA Crying Every Night)’ but unlike in ‘Wear You To The Ball’, in U-Roy’s ‘Tom Drunk’ all of the original vocals were removed including the chorus. Instead (I think) U-Roy got in-house backing singer Hopeton Lewis to record completely new lyrics to accompany his toasting over the original instrumental-only rhythm track.
In 1970 while singles like ‘Tom Drunk’ were big hits in Jamaica, it wasn’t immediately apparent that toasting would go on to completely revolutionise music. In fact it took another 10 years or so before the sparks produced in Jamaica at the end of the ’60′s caught fire in the Rap and Hip Hop music of the USA. But in hindsight the whole post modern world of music that we now take for granted wasn’t created by musical scientists like Brian Eno or Arthur Baker in sophisticated studios in London or New York, it can all be traced back to the early experiments of DJs like U-Roy and engineers like King Tubby in ramshackle recording studios in Jamaica in the late ’60′s and early ’70′s.
To demonstrate how the process worked I’ll also post the original single that ‘Tom Drunk’ was derived from later today. Theoretically the two singles should sound similar - and in some ways they do. But that doesn’t tell half the story.
The reason toasting was such a phenomenal success in Jamaica – and then went on to change the World – was that the technique didn’t just produce alternative versions. In the hands of people like U-Roy and his team it was capable of creating completely new works of art that clearly shared some of the same DNA but which contained infinitely more life, energy, verve and, often, creativity than the originals.
Available on many U-Roy compilations. The most comprehensive readily available U-Roy DJ collection is ’30 Massive Shots From Treasure Isle’: Amazon