Various - Once Upon a Time at King Tubby's
TitleOnce Upon a Time at King Tubby's
Release dateMarch 2009
Pressure Sounds take a break from traditional album and singles collection reissues with a less tested format: the feud compilation. Once Upon A Time At King Tubby’s charts the entertaining 1974/5 spat between eminent deejays I Roy and Prince Jazzbo across a series of 45s. As the title suggests most were mixed at Tubby’s Dromilly Avenue studio, under the crafty eye of producer Bunny Striker Lee.
In his book Solid Foundation, David Katz indicates that the singles were issued in a different order to the way they are presented here. He plays down any real animosity between the two talkers, suggesting it was a money making exercise; much like two boxers building the gate for a fight before revealing they are firm friends at the final bell. Whatever the truth of the matter, this is a useful assembly of a formative slice of reggae history - contrasting the jovial, rhotacistic I Roy’s mischievous and droll broadsides with the gruff Jazzbo’s more conventional but dread serious sounding replies.
It all starts innocuously enough with Do You Love Me, a vocal A side by Bunny’s singer of choice Johnny Clarke. Considering the verbal handbagging that would follow, it’s a surprisingly easygoing piece, bearing Lee and the Aggrovators’ hallmark mid 70s “flying cymbals” sound. Prince Jazzbo had fluffed a track before the session and the loquacious I Roy takes aim on the flip Straight To Jazzbo’s Head with the killer line “If you were a jukebox I wouldn’t put a dime in to your slot”. Jazzbo then fires back with the version to Clarke’s A Love I Can Feel, named Straight To I Roy’s Head, questioning his opponent’s originality (“I Roy you a bwoy, imitate the great U Roy”).
From here the banter descends into the inevitable undermining of each other’s manhood. I Roy voices an A side, Padlock where, after a surreal intro, Prince Jazzbo becomes “Princess” and his “teeth are full of cheese”. Jazzbo rides the famous Stars rhythm for Gal-Boy I Roy where I Roy is accused of being desperate for publicity and putting “powder” on his face.
Prince Far I hops aboard to aid I Roy on Jazzbo Have Fe Run for Pete Weston’s Micron Music. There’s a rather cruel reference to an alleged incident where (in another deejay feud!) Jazzbo was chased by a friend of Big Youth’s and had to hide behind a bus. Game set and match to I Roy, one would think. But Roy’s disloyalty to Striker in recording Padlock at Channel One studios had not gone unnoticed. From the sidelines comes Derrick Morgan (who himself had been embroiled in a heated rivalry with Prince Buster a decade before) with an Attack issued attack called I Roy The Chinee Commer Round; hi-lighting the toaster’s preference for the Chinese Jamaican Hoo Kim brothers over Bunny. I Roy then sets the matter to rest by cutting a final disc for Lee, Straight To Derrick Morgan’s Head (AKA Hard Man Fi Dead) calling the famously short sighted Morgan a “blind batty”. Touché.
Back-to-back deejay cuts can be a little wearing so the inclusion of the dub versions breaks up the action nicely. The cheerful major key rhythms used give the record a summery feel, which belies the spiteful lyrical content within.
Due to its version-album-come-history-lesson set-up, Once Upon A Time At King Tubbys will have greater resonance if you’ve a keen interest in reggae’s past. In a way the episode marks an interesting stage in the germination of dancehall, where such inventive wordsmithery over solid simple backings (and increasingly belligerent vendettas) would become the norm. It also contains some telling truths about the reggae business at the time. For much like a fiercely contested grudge match between two Don King fighters, there’s only one true winner: the producer who counts the money behind the scenes.
Reviewed by Angus Taylor