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Andrea Seddon

"Dub mean raw riddim. Dub jus’ mean raw music, nuttin water-down. Version is like your creativeness off the riddim, without voice."-Prince Jammy

Osbourne Ruddock, known professionally and affectionately as ‘King Tubby’, the ‘Dub Master’ of all dub masters, is truly the Daddy of Dub, in every sense of the word. Not only was he one of the most innovative musical engineers of his time, but an artist, a pioneer, and a teacher to the procession of dub masters that would follow in his shadow. The list is endless of those he influenced first-handedly, including such noble names as Hopeton ‘Scientist’ Brown, Philip Smart, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Prince Jammy, and Yabby You, to name a few. His reign as the ‘Dub Master’ lasted for nearly a decade, but his innovative techniques, spaced out rhythms, and overall inventiveness have left a lasting imprint on the dub scene. King Tubby is dub, and he will never be forgotten.

January 28, 1941 marks the day this emperor, Osbourne Ruddock, was born into the world. He was raised on High Holborn Street in Central Kingston, remaining there until 1955 when he moved to the Waterhouse district. (1) His career took off very slowly, as it did not have a title, never mind an available position, at that time. He began working as a radio technician, or repairman, and by the late 1950’s, had already started experimenting with sound system amplifiers, manipulating the available sounds to ones that sounded native of outer space.

By 1964, he had his own Tubby’s ‘Home Town Hi-Fi’ system, to which he would eventually incorporate a custom reverb and an echo facilitator. During this time, he had taken up a job, working for Duke Reid as a disc-cutter. One day when Tubs was mixing up a version for Reid, he accidentally left out pieces of the vocal track from the recording. After replaying the mix, he found himself pleased with the sound he had inadvertently created.

Tubby began to take the latest Rocksteady hits and create new versions of them by "dropping the vocal track, boosting parts of the instrumental track, and add(ing) subtles effects like echo or delay to the instruments he had isolated", writes John Dougan.(2) Without knowing it, Tubs had stumbled upon a whole new era for Reggae: he had invented DUB.

In order to get his new sounds heard and recognized by the public, Tubby ambushed the radio waves in the early 1970’s by hijacking one of the two lines available in Kingston. Steve Barrow writes of the public’s reaction:

"…the crowd did a quick double take and then went wild, pushing down the fence until it was flattened, and then rushed in, knocking speaker boxes flying."

It was clear that Tubby had encountered a style of music that the people related to, something that had the potential of revolutionizing the Reggae music scene.

At first, these ‘versions’ were only used for dub plates, acetates made solely for sound system deejays. By 1971, however, top producers, such as Joe Gibbs, were placing these rhythmic versions on the B-sides of their records. (3) They provided a perfect lay out for deejays to "toast over", in mechanical and economical aspects. Mechanically, dub acts to clear away space in a musical composition, providing an ideal tableau for artists to rap over. Economically speaking, dub not only condones, but promotes the recycling of already popular rhythms.

The contributions of Tubby’s invention to Jamaican society were not confined in the music world. Producers were banking on these fresh re-mixes of already popular hits, and upcoming deejay artists were provided with an affordable means of mixing. Instead of having to buy unaffordable mixing tables, they could now simply toast over theses already mixed up versions. The spread of Dub’s popularity also worked as a catalyst for the popularity of Dub engineers and producers. It wasn’t too long before consumers were buying records based on the engineer or producer who mixed them. Dub fans actually became more interested in whether or not a record had been given the "Tubby Treatment" than in the artist him/herself.

In light of this natural compatibility between dub music and deejay artists, it is not surprising to see Tubby and Edwart ‘U Roy’ Beckford, a famous Reggae ‘chanter’, team up together. Tubby’s spacey sounds were a perfect background for U Roy’s "outrageous jive"(Hist of Dub), synergistically producing some of the most innovative music that Jamaica has ever seen. Tubs became the first engineer to record the vocals of U Roy over an already popular rhythm, taking a giant leap for both the dub and deejay worlds. It is from this particular partnership that the quote "it takes two to dub it" originated, establishing ‘the norm’ for dub versions. (4)

In 1972, Ruddock moved locations to a quaint studio at 18 Bromilly Ave in Waterhouse, a district of Kingston. His new place allowed Tubby to only further his exploration into the depths of the sound universe. Tubs bought himself an old four-track mixing console from Dynamics Studios , and was now building his own music equipment to experiment with. Some of the devices include faders, reverbs, delay echoes, and equalizers. (sonicnet) Due to his background as a sound technician and engineer, Tubby was able to specially customize faders, allowing for smooth transitions both into and out of a mix. King Jammy recalls of his late predecessor (5):

"When I was at King Tubby’s studio mixin’ dubs, a lotta those equipments, King Tubby build those ‘imself, yunno what I mean? If ‘im don’t build most of them, ‘im jus’ improvise on them an’ mek them different from the original, so we had something different. The reverb unit that we used to use there it was a Fisher reverb, an’ we change it up to become a King Tubby and Fisher!(laughs) The slides that we use’ to use, we change them from original slides, because the mixin’ console was so old you couldn’t get replacement parts for it. We use other models to incorporate in that console."

With his new gear, Tubby was able to out compete his only standing

rival at the time, another leading engineer, Errol Thompson. Thompson still had to punch buttons to introduce and fade tracks, both limiting the engineer’s "hands on" experience in the mix, and creating a somewhat choppy sound. With his specially designed fader, Tubby was able to gently execute transitions, leaving the listener with a smoother, more ear-pleasing piece, giving him the edge in the dub world. On his contribution to reggae riddims, Tubby recalls:

"We introduce a different thing to the sound system world. This amplifier here have chrome front and reverb. That’s the first time a reverb was introduced in Jamaica is when my sound come out. And it get de people so excited that everywhere we go we have a following."

Tubby not only invented a new style, he had marked the turning point for the ‘version’. He accomplished this by dubbing out the band track immediately following the introduction of the melody, leaving the singers to sing the first set of bars without accompaniment. Tubs would then turn off the vocals, sometimes mid-sentence, and drop the band back in to play alone for a while. King Tubby speaks of his discovery:

"I had a little dub machine and I used to borrow tapes from producers and mix them down in a different fashion. You see I used to work on the cutter for Duke Reid and once a tape was running on the machine and I just drop off the voice y’ know, and it was a test cut…it sounds so exciting the was the records start with the voice, the voice drop out and the rhythm still going"

The experience that Tubs describes here works in the opposite direction as well. Instead of dropping out the vocals, he drops out the rhythm, allowing it to "cool" for a while, only to bring back the vocals. By treating rhythm and vocals as two separate entities, rather than a blend of sounds, Tubs is instilling suspense in the listener’s mind, leaving him eagerly anticipating the return of the dropped out rhythm or vocals. Personally, the return of the rhythm has always been a greater thrill than the return of the singers, due to the magnitude with which the bass is typically reintroduced. Davis and Peter illustrate this bodily experience rather eloquently:

"During the acappella vocals the abdomen is not being resonated by the bass, and the head is occupied by the singing. When the band track drops back in, the awareness of the listener is quickly diverted down towards the abdomen for a moment and the cerebral stimulus of the singing ceases."(Whew!)

Even though King Tubby was and is not considered an instrumentalist, his experimentation with his "little dub machine" was more than just the work of an engineer. He would employ his mixing desk and limited homemade equipment as instruments, hitting the reverb device to assimilate thunderclaps or gunshots, as he did on so many mixes. (6) Such unprecedented styles and provocative ideas led Tubby to his other title, ‘Scientist’, as he was continuously experimenting in his studio, or ‘laboratory’ with any mixes that he was able to concoct.

Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock, the engineer, the instrumentalist, the electrician, the teacher, the Master, the ‘Scientist’ is considered to be the last "confirmed ruler of the sound world". He not only gave way to a dynasty of dub masters, he established dub as a genre in the music world. Shortly after completing the studio that was to give way to his successful career as a producer, Tubby was tragically shot and killed outside his home in Duhaney Park, Kingston, on February 6, 1989. The motive was said to be robbery, but the outcome was a complete devastation for his Jamaican family, friends, cohorts, and music fans. His reign was short-lived, but his legacy continues to play out today.

Evolution of King Tubby’s Creation: The World of Dub-

"Over the years, people have often said that they have had direct encounters with something deep in themselves through reggae music in general, and through dub especially"- Davis & Peter

A two-track recorder, with vocals on one channel and the band on the other, was initially employed to record dub tracks. Producers saw versions as the most economical approach to recording new material, contesting that it was a cheap method of getting the most "mileage out of each tune". The idea behind dub is recycling. The number of times one can remix a dub is infinite, allowing for a world of possibilities. In the words of Luke Ehrlich, "It takes two to dub it".

Perhaps the most poetic description of what dub music truly is has been written by Davis/Peters: "Dub is really a display of musical shadow-boxing by the recording engineer which allows us to hear isolated passages of parts that normally interlock with others." By letting each piece stand alone, we are able to fully experience each part for what it is worth. The effect it leaves behind sounds similar to a riveting rhythm-section jam, displacing the vocals as the focal point of a piece with a delicious texture of drum- and-bass.

Dub creates a tripped-out-space-age version for popular rock steady rhythms, manipulating sound beyond its previously presumed limits. The spaced-out drum and bass rhythms that it gave birth to assimilate the experience of floating in a vaccuum-like darkness, "with sounds suspended like glowing planets or with fragments of instruments careening by, leaving trails like comets and meteors". The conglomeration of these elements allows for a mind-expanding experience, without the use of hallucinogens.

By dismantling a piece of music into various layers and pieces, the engineer or artist is allowing for the reshuffling of these parts, in turn, creating a "kaleidoscopic musical montage". Through this reshuffling, results a composition of odd juxtapositions and extraterrestrial sounds, the main focus persisting on the rhythm and bass. Jamaicans have always felt that the infrastructure of a musical piece is (should be) based on the drum and bass beats, an idea that stems from their African roots. Therefore, it is no surprise that Dub music would eventually unfold as a type of Reggae music. Authors Stephen Davis and Simon Peter go as far as contending that dub is a "natural result of a Jamaican cultural tendency", maintaining that it is an inherent piece of the Jamaican livelihood.

One of the main ingredients of dub music is the use of the echo to for intros and ‘outros’ to mixes. King Tubby contributed to the echo by slowing up the formerly employed tape echo of the 1950s. In doing so, Tubs was only further acting to clear space for more interesting sounds or silences created by the instruments. This slower-paced echo was implemented as a means of "making the more trebly textures climax and wash over into the dub texture."

As proven true with the majority of his techniques, Tubby’s echo became the most popular, having a rate of almost 168 echoes per minute. This spacey, computer-generated echo mimics one that might occur in the natural world, producing the same effect of a sound bouncing between two mountainsides, standing two hundred feet apart. Mixed in with the right amount of echo intensity, this effect leaves behind a trail of sound to fade in and out of a piece "like a blinding rush of blood to the head".

Another contribution of significance that Tubby gave rise to is a technique known as reverb. There is not a piece of dub music that lacks the crucial element of extra reverb, usually added to the snare and bass drum downbeats. In more innovative dubs, reverb is applied to the hi-hat, the afterbeat, and the vocals of a mix, truly ‘Tubbifying’ every aspect of the piece. This particular invention has added largely to the deep, abysmal atmosphere that dub effects create, assimilating the far-off sounds of cannons or guns being shot off in the distance.

Many are turned off by the mechanical rhythms and mysterious sound waves that dub effects ignite. Dub didn’t sit well with me until I took the time to really listen to it and absorb what it had to offer musically. In doing so, I discovered that not only were the beats fresh, but they provided a spiritual outlet. I realized that there was a method to this ‘madness’ of echoes and reverbs, a reason for all the space that these mixes leave behind. Space is just as crucial in a composition as sound is, making the removal of the rhythm equally as significant as the introduction of one.

Allowing the echo of a rhythm to mellow for a while gives the listener a chance to fully absorb every aspect of the vocals and instrumentals that are blaring in their ear. By distorting sound, the engineer is distorting time, along with all the other lines and boundaries drawn up in society. It is in the midst of these distortions and spaces that people find their connection to dub music, freeing their minds for spiritual exploration.

By removing sounds, or effects, that usually convolute the various pieces of a mix, the dub artist is leaving each part to stand on its own, to be examined and appreciated by the listener. In an interview with Hopeton ‘Scientist’ Brown, Stephen Davis asks him to explain why dub has been described as a "musical X-ray", to which he replies (7):

"…it come in like you just examining that particular body of music…the thing is not to take it out: it’s why you take it out, how you take it out…to create a certain feel. That is the thing you have to study."

This particular trait of dub music is what makes it such a valuable learning tool for reggae artists, specifically drummers and bassists, as well as deejay artists. They are able to clearly pinpoint exactly what their particular instruments are adding ( or taking away from) a piece of music.

In contrast to its dissipation of the interconnected pieces of a work, dub has inadvertently brought unity among the Jamaican people. By repeatedly recycling particular bass rhythms, the artists are giving them recognition. Through this recognition, listeners are not only establishing a dub language for themselves, but a cultural identity. Identifying the rhythm of a dub has become as common in the Jamaican culture as identifying a psalm in the New Testament. Both are a means of creating ties between a people and their culture. Davis and Peter convict that "Without dub music…reggae music might have stayed confined to a select group of studio musicians in Kingston, perhaps for ever." A difficult idea to tackle, but a good one to think about.

That is not to say that the legacy Tubby has left behind with his creation of Dub is confined to Reggae music. The repercussions of this creation have diffused to and made way for various genres of music, including ‘Trip hop’, ‘Drum and Bass’, and ‘Jungle’. The impact of Dub music on Western society alone can be found just behind the doors of any dance club. Here, you will find music that amplifies the drum and bass as the focal point for the listener, as well as the application of several ‘dub devices’. Barrow contests of Tubby’s invention:

"Tubby was, by any standards, a genius…he invented Dub-which, as we know, is the pulse that beats through much of today’s dance music from trip-hop to techno. If Lee Perry was the first surrealist of dub, Tubby was definitely the first modernist."

There is little to no argument that Tubby was truly a King, whose reign far outstretches anything that he could have conceived possible.

Tubby: A Master in the Words of his Pupils

King Tubby was not like a normal king that generally uses his power to monopolize those who present a threat to his reign. From the beginning, Tubby was interested in the success and accomplishments of his creation, rather than that of himself and his career. He was constantly taking new young hopefuls under his wing to teach them his tricks and guide them on their way through the dub world. From his studio were born the leading producers and engineers of Jamaica, such as Bunny Lee, Philip Smart, and most significantly, Hopeton ‘Scientist’ Brown, and Lloyd ‘Prince Jammy’ James. By the time he died in 1989, Tubby had given rise to a dynasty of Dub Masters to live out the legacy that he left behind.

The closest that any other dub artist has come in comparison with Tubby’s deity is one of the King’s past apprentices, Hopeton ‘Scientist’ Brown. The two were introduced by a friend of Brown’s who got him a job working at Tubby’s studio in 1978 as a radio repairman. (8) Brown relates that he had been building his own audio amplifiers, but when he tried to mix reggae beats, the amplifier would over heat, so he would use King Tubby’s mixing board. He contests that Tubby’s were the only ones to comply with his mixes, becoming "fascinated by his (King Tubby’s) exclusive style of mixing and unique sound effects."

During Brown’s employment at the studio, he would often assure Tubby of his mixing abilities, given the opportunity. As typical of Tubby’s ‘teaching techniques’, he would simply reply that Brown was too young (15 -16 yrs. Old) to know his abilities, and that there were plenty of older men who try to mix for years and never get it. Eventually, when Prince Jammy was out of town one day, Brown’s opportunity came when Tubby offered to let him mix in the studio, to which Scientist quickly took him up on.

From that point on, Brown, who took on the name ‘Scientist’, left his work in the repair shop, to mix in the studio. During this time, Scientist further pushed the limits of dub music, taking Tubby’s equipment to never-before-seen levels, surpassing the lengths that his predecessor had reached. By the time he was sixteen, Tubby introduced Brown to his first producer, Don Mais, with whom he would create his first hit, a mix of Barrington Levy’s "Collie Weed".

Brown recalls that of his experience working with Tubby, the most valuable part was the criticism that he received. Scientist contests that he would whittle away at a mix for hours on end, only to have Tubby react with anything but disapproval of his creation. Tubby would persistently assure Scientist that he was young and had much to learn yet, only driving Brown to improve his styles. It wasn’t until years later that Tubby admitted he had merely been pushing Scientist to test his limits, encouraging him to continue experimenting, and that these early versions had really been excellent. Grant Smithies writes: "…of all Tubby’s many challengers, Scientist was the real heir apparent to the crown."

A few of the Scientist’s trademark techniques include controlled distortion, choppy guitar, flying hi-hats and enveloping horns that reach previously unattainable heights, commanding that the highest respect be given to his works. In speaking of his career as the most prestigious dub technician that Jamaica has seen since King Tubby himself, Scientist writes:

"…when I would mix a record, I would tek it to ‘im and say ‘Tubby’s how’s that sound? He used to say it don’t really sound too good, but his reason for doin’ that is to let you always keep tryin’ harder. Years after he confesses; he said, ‘A lot of that stuff you were doin’, it was good but I was scared at the time that if I let you know how good you doin’, you probably would have gotten swell headed an’ stop tryin’. He was truly a genius."

Another apprentice of Tubby’s to hit the Dub scene with magnanimous intensity is dub engineer, Prince Jammy. Jammy was an old friend and fellow sound system operator of Tubby’s that began much like Scientist did, first working in the studio, and later producing albums of his own. Alongside, Brown, Jammy became a leading dub engineer in 1979-1981, the two regularly appearing on albums together, competing in showdowns for the title of "Heavyweight Dub Champion". Prince Jammy’s characteristic sound is described by author, Stephen Davis, as "a bit busier, less hollow and fatter-sounding than Tubby’s."

Jammy found himself working with producer, Bunny Lee who, by 1977, was encouraging him to start producing his own records. Upon discovering Reggae musicians, Black Uhuru, Jammy’s career as a producer was in full swing. He quickly established himself as the leading Jamaican producer of the eighties, as well as the owner of the Kingston’s freshest studio, ‘King Jammy’s Super Power’. Today, he continues to work as a top producer in Jamaica, but in the midst of his success, will never forget his late friend and teacher, King Tubby. In an interview with Steve Barrow in May of 1996, Prince Jammy writes lovingly of his cohort:

" Well, that’s like a never endin’ friendship. It’s like family, yunno- I grew up with King Tubby’s- I used to live on Dromilly Avenue. The great King Tubby’s- yunno, they don’t call people ‘great’ or ‘King’ for no reason- the reason why they call ‘im great King Tubby’s, (was) he was such a nice person. If ‘im ever get vex with you for five minutes, the nex’minute, he is o.k. A lotta good him do for the community. His loss was one of the greatest loss to me- I don’t know about the music fraternity, but to me, personally, because he was my teacher, yunno. It was so unfortunate that he had to go that way- that was terrible."

Here, we are able to get a glimpse into the gentleness of this music giant, as told through none other than one of Tubby’s closest and most re-known students, Prince Jammy. Through this account, Jammy demonstrates the sense of admiration and adoration that Tubby’s friends, colleagues and family held for him, not only out of respect for his work, but out of love for the man behind the music.

Together, these two accounts of King Tubby, as perceived by his two most successful students, Scientist and Prince Jammy, encompass more significance than any other account. Both men worked long hours along side this master, both learning from and sharing their own inventions with Tubby. These men experienced first hand the workings of a genius, and continue to carry out the legacy their predecessor has left for them.

Living Proof of a Legend:

To complete the story of Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock, King of Dub, there is one more place that needs to be explored: The Music. The tracks are the only living proof that we have of this late genius and his creation. Only through the music itself can we fully experience and understand the aspects of Dub that made it such a success. In order to save space and redundancy, I have chosen only one of Tubby’s countless albums to explore: "Dub Gone 2 Crazy", a magnificent compilation of mixes performed by King Tubby and Prince Jammy, produced by none other than Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee.

"Dub Gone 2 Crazy" is an album that speaks loudly of what Dub music has to offer. In every nook and cranny of the record, the Tubby techniques that I have been discussing can be seen in action. There is little room for mediocrity on an album mixed by two of the three most famous Dub technicians in Kingston at King Tubby’s studio, nonetheless. From start until finish, the tracks are captivating and loaded with intensity. Each is fully equipped with Tubby’s usual armor of echoes, reverb, drum snares, gunshots, and thunderclaps, incorporated with the Aggrovators’ tight rhythms and beautiful melodies. Tubby and his protégé, Prince Jammy, mix these tracks with authority and the right amount of discretion, maintaining the integrity of the original rhythms at hand.

Although the entire compilation of "Dub Gone 2 Crazy" is well worth listening to, there are a few tracks that stood out among the rest, based on my own personal preferences. Perhaps my true favorite, at least for the past few weeks, has been the track, "A Living Version", a remix of the Aggrovators’ tune "Live Up Jah Man", sung by Cornell Campell. The track is set off by a cacaphony of gun shots and explosions, a well-known trademark of the ‘Tubman’, followed by the introduction of Campell’s penetrating voice, over which the bass and drums kick in. This dub is packed full of Tubby’s styles, including the use of the reverb, echo, fader, delay, along with the effective alteration of vocals and instrumentals. If you’re into rootsie Reggae beats, then this piece will most likely appeal to your senses.

Another rootsie remix that stood out is called the "Skalawatt Version". This track has a very mellow, playful melody which differentiates it from the rest of the album’s tendency toward a more profound context, laying the dub on thick. The remix of the Aggrovators’ "African People", a track named "African Sounds" is a perfect example of this profundity. The rhythms that are born out of this version embed themselves deeper in the spiritual realm than the musical. While the lyrics are few, their physical and metaphorical voice is extremely powerful. By delaying and echoing the lyrics, the engineer is, in effect, conveying a sense of the struggles and hardships faced by the African people, exemplifying the effectiveness of clearing away space to attain clarity.

Last, but not least, stands the superb remix of one of my all-time favorites Marley songs, "Time Will Tell", a track named "Drums of Africa". The title of the track provides an accurate portrayal of what this piece is all about: Drums. By taking away the vocal accompaniments for extended intervals at a time, the engineer is giving the listener a chance to really absorb the African Drums beats that too easily fall into background. The song, "Time Will Tell", is ideal for dubbing and dismantling because it is a perfect mix of beautiful lyrics and powerfully resonant drumbeats that work almost as well as individual pieces as they do together. (9)

Aside from the provocative tracks it contains, "Dub 2 Gone Crazy" can be considered great on so many levels. For one, the album has been compiled in a non-discrete manner by Steve Barrow. There are no citations of the engineer that mixed each track, letting the album stand as a group effort, giving credit equally to Jammy, Tubby, and Bunny Lee. Grant Smithies writes in his review of the album, "Why have dubs this earth-shattering, brainbox-abttling and soundbwoy-battling lain in the vaults for so long?" describing the tracks as "the kind of transmissions you’d expect to hear from an African settlement on Mars." We are lucky to have the opportunity to experience an album of such "undiluted musical pleasure without measure."


  2. ibid., pg.2

    ibid., pg.3

  4. ibid., pg.2

  5. Barrow, Steve & Dalton, Peter. Reggae: The Rough Guide. 1997. London:Rough Guides. pp.197-228.
  6. ibid., pg.3

    ibid., pg.5

    ibid., pg.11

    ibid., pg.12

  7. Davis, Stephen & Peter, Simon. Reggae International. New York:R&B. 1982.
  8. ibid., pg.4

    ibid., pg.5

    ibid., pg.6

    ibid., pg.7

    ibid., pg.9

    ibid., pg 12

  9. King Tubby & Prince Jammy. "Dub Gone 2 Crazy".1996. Blood & Fire.
  10. ibid., pg.12

    ibid., pg.13

    ibid., pg.14

    ibid., pg.15

  12. ibid., pg.9

  15. ibid., pg. 11