This is not the place to read a history of King Tubby's, dubplates and versions, however - although they do play an integral part in our story, so it's essential to provide that bit of background at this point. Our tale concerns the man who was King Tubby's Hi Fi's DJ at this time - a man who had been with Tubbs for nearly two years, having worked previously with sound systems such as Dickie's Dynamic and Sir George The Atomic. A man who was born Ewart Beckford in Kingston in 1942, but who, within only a few months of this 'accidental' occurrence, would come to be known by the reggae music world as, simply, U Roy.
Long before Big Youth felt confident enough about his star status to claim, in an album title, that he had become a 'Reggae Phenomenon', U Roy really was one. Never before him, nor for a long time after him, had any artist been able to simultaneously hold the top three positions on the Jamaican charts with three consecutive singles. Even the later international fame of Bob Marley never afforded that particular 'late great' a comparable level of chart action. And when U Roy came with his first album, the deluxe edition of which you've hopefully bought if you're now reading these notes, it was an event for reggae fans that would have been comparable in rock circles to the release of something like a 'Pet Sounds' or 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. Up to the release of 'Version Galore', there really wasn't much of an album market for Jamaican artists. 'Version Galore' changed that situation overnight by selling in the kind of quantities that the three chart-topping 45s that preceded it had done. If the success of 'Wake The Town', 'This Station Rule The Nation' and 'Wear You To The Ball' hadn't already made U Roy the number one artist in Jamaica, this album would (and did!) confirm his star status absolutely.
When it reviewed 'Version Galore' as a new release back in 1971, the UK's 'New Musical Express' praised both the album and its maker, whom they described as a 'Jamaican Jimmy Saville' - to give some perspective for our American readers, this would be akin to describing 'Hugh Roy' (as he was then more often billed) as a 'Caribbean Murray The K'. This, of course is not entirely accurate - you wouldn't really expect geriatric do-gooder Jimmy to start shouting 'Now Then, Now Then' or 'Owzabouttthat, Guys 'n' Gals' over some old Elvis or Cliff records, only to have unprecedented local chart success as a result. But this, in a nutshell, is what U Roy did in Jamaica, and it's what made him arguably the country's biggest local star until the internationally engineered advent of Robert Nesta Marley, Neville Livingston and Winston McIntosh put reggae on the map globally.
Contrary to what has occasionally been implied in the past - right from the time of the original album sleeve note, which inferred that 'All of a sudden Jamaica awoke and U Roy was everywhere' - the primary subject of this 2CD set was not the overnight success you might have believed him to be, had you been resident in Jamaica in 1970 and 1971. Several record producers had already committed studio time to our man - and to several other DJs - before he found his natural recording home at Treasure Isle. Neither Lee Perry nor Bunnie Lee (on 'Earth's Rightful Ruler' and 'King Of The Road' respectively) had really gotten to grips with the evolving U Roy style, and although Keith Hudson had the will, he couldn't quite find the way on 'Dynamic Fashion Way' where U Roy's smooth, jazz-influenced jive talk waged war with a totally incongruous bassline that seemed to belong to a record playing three rooms away. It wasn't until Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley voiced our hero on the gorgeous 'Secretly' rhythm, and released it in 1970 as 'Scandal', that listeners got a true glimpse of where U Roy was coming from, and where he would soon be going to.
During 1969 and early 1970 Tubbs continued to strip Treasure Isle rhythms of their vocals for sound system play and U Roy continued to hone his craft in the dance, chatting and scatting over the vintage Duke Reid grooves in a manner that would have people flocking from all over Kingston to follow King Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi. It wasn't too long before people started to require a vinyl preservation of these exciting sounds, Duke Reid perhaps foremostly among them as the owner of the rhythms. When the time came for U Roy to make records featuring the spiels he had been perfecting in a live environment, there was really only one place he was going to go, and one man he was going to go to.
To coincide with the arrival of 1970, Duke Reid released three U Roy singles in fairly quick succession. 'Wake The Town' featured a four-year-old backing track and a cheesy organ overdub by the young 'Wire' Lindo (later to find further fame as a member of the expanded touring Wailers). And the record originally sung over that backing track, Alton Ellis and the Flames' original 'Girl I've Got A Date', was still enough of a crowd-pleaser in its own right to ensure that success was guaranteed for its re-creator. Next up, The Duke and engineer Byron Smith - who would effectively produce as well as engineer all of U Roy's Treasure Isle masters, having already acted in the same capacity on the original versions and instrumental 'next cuts' that fill the second CD of this 'deluxe edition' - dusted down and added a percussion overdub to the rhythm of the Techniques 1967 classic 'Love Is A Gamble' (which is how it was billed on the original Jamaican 45) to create a bed for U Roy to tell the world that 'This Station - Rules The Nation. With Version!' - which, by now, was beginning to be the truth. Both these records topped the charts in Jamdown, the latter taking over the top slot from the former.
By the time all parties were ready to come with 'Wear You To The Ball' - a stupendously exciting creation that was among the first (if not the first) to blend DJ exclamations (including U Roy's vocal trademark 'Chick-A-Bow') and retain some of the vocals from the original record, in this case a Paragons 45 from 1967 - there really was no turning back. Radio, which had tried to ignore the first two singles even though they topped the pops, had to capitulate to 'Ball's' phenomenal appeal. Once they got behind it, the record streaked past 'Town' and 'Nation' to take pole position for weeks, while its predecessors stayed right behind it to lockdown the top three in a manner that had hardly been seen anywhere in the world since the Beatles occupied the entire US Top 5 at the onset of American Beatlemania. U Roy had arrived. And then some…
As a reward for this unprecedented success, U Roy presented his devoted public with the debut album that forms the core of this release. Although, in time-honoured, typically Jamaican fashion the artist was confusingly miscredited as 'I-Roy' (see the booklet front!) there was no confusion over who was actually featured on the record. Reid shrewdly made sure that only one of the three preceding singles was included, in order to ensure that 'Town' and 'Nation' both continued to sell through. So other than 'Wear You To The Ball', 'Version Galore' contained all-new tracks to delight U Roy's ever-growing worldwide fan club. (On a personal note, I remember my own high excitement at getting a copy of the UK release, and like many reggae collectors who go back to that era I could still to this day sing and/or chat you almost every single word of the album if pressed to do so…). These ranged from the out-and-out ska of the Silvertones' take on Brook Benton's 'My True Confession' to what was then a relatively new Treasure Isle rhythm, the Tennors 1970 festival entry 'Hopeful Village' (retitled as 'Hot Pop'). And just about every track was and remains a true genre classic, from 'Rock Away' (based on the Melodians' 'You Don't Need Me' and also released later as a single) to the sublime makeover of Phyllis Dillon's gorgeous 'Don't Stay Away'. Listening to it from beginning to end is still the only way to hear it properly - As a younger reggae fan with only a few albums in my collection I've been down that road literally hundreds of times, and still prefer to hear it like that if I've got half-an-hour to spare. Here's your chance, folks - my advice to you is grab it with both hands…
For the next year or so, and particularly in the wake of the Ja. release of this landmark album, everything U Roy touched turned to solid musical gold. When released as a single, 'Version Galore' really caught the mood of the times. 'Version Galore, You Can Hear Them By The Score' was his take on the then-current situation. And he was right. Once the U Roy phenomenon shook the Jamaican music industry to its core, everyone wanted a piece of the man's action and thus every other producer on the island went off in search of his own U Roy clone. Coxsone Dodd resurrected his sound system selector King Sporty, who'd already appeared on some ska-era recordings, and also cut early sides by Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace and Dennis Alcapone. Joe Gibbs cut both Charlie Ace and Johnny Lover - both of whom came closer than most in actually sounding like U Roy.
Meanwhile out in Montego Bay, producer Harry Mudie dusted off his old Studio One-recorded, early reggae classics by the Ebony Sisters and Dennis Walks and brought in the young Roy Reid to chat over them, releasing the end product under the name of I. Roy. A little later on, courtesy of producers such as Rupie Edwards and the ever-opportunistic Bunnie Lee, we eventually got to meet a U Roy Junior, a pretty good banton who actually sounded nothing like his 'Senior' equivalent. And all the while, out of sight of the artists and producers who had created them, various UK labels were releasing tracks that had previously appeared as JA-pressed blanks with a credit going to U Roy - even if the DJ involved couldn't have sounded less like the man if he'd had a sex change prior to the session! Thus the aforementioned King Sporty appeared on the Palmer brothers' Punch label as 'Hugh Roy', while Coxsone's then-UK representative Junior Lincoln unrepentantly issued both Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace and early Dennis Alcapone sides as 'Mad Roy', regardless of the fact that neither DJ sounded even remotely like Mr. Beckford. (The original owners of Trojan were themselves not above a bit of this duplicitousness. When U Roy made his first triumphant visit to the UK in 1972, sharing a bill with Max Romeo and Roy Shirley, the company didn't have any new U Roy titles on schedule, so they simply retitled Dennis Alcapone's current Ja. Duke Reid release 'No. One Station' as 'Rock To The Beat' and credited it to the man-of-the moment. You might think this odd, especially as by that time Dennis was firmly established in the upper echelon of Jamaican DJ music and his voice was recognisable enough to be 'Insured For One Million Dollars', as a contemporaneous Duke Reid release aptly put it. But such was the public clamour for any new U Roy records at the height of U Roy mania that punters didn't care if they were getting Dennis Alcapone or Dennis The Menace as long as it had his name on the label.
While this was going on, the real Ewart Beckford was still making his own great records for Duke Reid, on what seems to have been something of an exclusive basis - at least, up until mid 1971. In a musical climate where there is still more regard for toilet paper than there is for a recording contract, U Roy seems to have had some sort of yearlong agreement with Reid that he would cut for no one other than the ex-sound system man. He seems also to have remained 'true true' to his word for that period by cutting more than 25 sides in total. And, pray tell, why would he have wanted to go anywhere else at this time? Outside of Coxson Dodd (over whose sound he briefly chatted in the late 1960s, on a brief sojourn from Tubbs' Hometown Hi Fi, but for whom he's never recorded - or, if he has, he's never had anything commercially released on a Coxson label) no other producer had a constant supply the kind of classic Rocksteady rhythms that he could find in the Treasure Isle tape vault. And he was ready, willing and able to make a fresh classic out of almost every one that he was given to chat over. DJ records simply don't get better than the ones that Beckford and Treasure Isle studio engineer Byron 'Smitty' Smith were making upstairs while Reid was all the while flogging crates of Red Stripe and Guinness downstairs, to punters who would undoubtedly have been dancing their nights away to those self-same records within a few weeks of the recording session. Reid - who would seldom venture into his studio other than to praise or pan whatever was going on - kept an ever-alert ear to what was being put down on tape via a huge speaker that fed the sessions through to the liquor store. If something pleased him especially, he would think nothing of letting off a few rounds of gunfire into the ceiling of his store, from two huge pistols he had retained from his days in the Jamaican police force. That ceiling (and even the floor above it) must have resembled a choice bit of Jarlsberg or Emmental during the U Roy era.
Easy to organise, cheap to run, with the majority of musicians and vocalists already on tape for some years, the only real participants in a U Roy session would generally be engineer Smith and U Roy himself. The speed of the sessions that produced U Roy's catalogue of Treasure Isle classics must have delighted the financially-cautious Duke Reid, as there was usually no dealing with ill-prepared vocalists or off-key musicians for the engineer to worry about! They were not always as spontaneous as you might think from listening to U Roy's seemingly off-the-cuff interjections, however. The inferior outtakes from session reels that came to light in the early 1990s show that he would come to sessions with a prepared lyrical concept that he would hone across no more than a handful of takes - usually, this writer would guess, until the Duke shot the ceiling a few times to indicate that Beckford and Smith had got something he could shift downstairs in quantity. But even so, the combination of a tried-and-trusted, classic Rocksteady rhythm and the excited (and exciting!) DJ banter was enough to put anyone who wanted to be in the dance right there in the middle of the floor, and at the height of an evening's excitement, even if they lived miles away from any kind of social activity.
The Duke Reid and Treasure Isle singles that came in the wake of the 'Version Galore' album proved, if anything, to be even better than those taken from or preceding it. Two sides cut with Hopeton Lewis ('Tom Drunk' - essentially a revival of the Shields' 1957 doo-wop classic 'You Cheated' - and 'Drive Her Home', which was an actual revival of an early 60s Clovers tune 'Drive It Home') sounded more like duets than anything else, as did the pairing (separated by nearly 4 years!) of U Roy and Alton Ellis on 'Ain't That Loving You', arguably our man's last true Treasure Isle classic. And even though it's not a favourite of most fans, this writer's always held a high regard for 1972's 'Peace And Love' for both its sock-over-the-speaker sound quality and, especially, the almost rabid vocal delivery of our man at the mic.
For all these and other delights awaiting you here, there's none that quite matches the splendour of 'I'm Flashing My Whip', which, in less than three minutes, manages to encapsulate everything that's great about the finest DJ recordings of reggae's golden era. The gorgeous surge of the Paragons 'Only A Smile' is, like 'Wear You To The Ball', tailor made to elicit the best exhortations that U Roy has to offer and he pulls out every trick in his jive talking book to honour the rolling slow ska-style rhythm. A massive sound system record - England's Lloydie Coxsone, for one, was still playing it regularly a year after it had dropped off the Ja. charts - it's so full of delights from beginning to end that it's pointless detailing each and every one of them here when you could be left to savour their pleasures for yourselves. Surely, though, the crowning moment in this and all DJ records comes during the midway instrumental break when our man scats 'Chick A Bow' style as an extra accompaniment to the mighty Tommy McCook-led horn section. Truly, it does not get better than this. Your writer could listen to it every day for the rest of his life and still find new things to enjoy in every play…
U Roy may not have invented Jamaican DJ music, but he certainly invented the direction it would forever take from the moment he stood before the mic in the Treasure Isle Recording Studio and Liquor Store in the heart of the teeming Kingston ghetto, to 'Wake The Town And Tell The People - 'Bout This Musical Di-isc Coming Your Way (ay-ay-ay-ay…)'. When he struck out on his own in late 1971, Reid and Smith immediately poached Dennis Alcapone from Coxsone and went on to create another series of Treasure Isle DJ classics between 1971 and 1974 - primarily on rocksteady rhythms that had not already been voiced by U Roy- which made Alcapone almost as big a name as the man who he'd replaced down on Bond Street.
U Roy himself shortly began to hone his delivery to one more suited to the choppier reggae rhythms of the day, reaching a second creative apex on self-produced classics like 'Nannyscank' (in partnership with Dynamic Sounds studio engineer Karl Pitterson), 'Love I Bring' (on a rub of Bunnie Lee's Uniques-sung 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' rhythm) and 'The Other Half' (coming off Dennis Brown's 'What About The Half' for Phil Pratt), the latter two for his own labels, Mego-Ann and Del-Ma, respectively. As the 70s wore on, and the new style of DJing personified by Big Youth became the order of the day, U Roy recorded less frequently than in his heyday. The results were still greeted with great acclaim by his fans - particularly a short series of singles for Bunnie Lee that rode the great 'flying cymbal' rhythms of the mid 70s, and that were mixed for maximum effect by U Roy's old sound system mentor King Tubby's. He also made a 'slight return' to Bond Street, where Byron Smith's successor Carlton Hamil voiced him on some more recent T.I. rhythms, including Errol Dunkley's 'Where Must I Go' and a version of 'Honey Come Back' (neither of which are included here as they don't really belong stylistically with our other tracks). And when reggae started to go overground around 1976-77, the man's Prince Tony-produced 'Dread In A Babylon' album was pounced on enthusiastically by the same rock press that, predictably, had all but ignored his seminal sequence of Treasure Isle recordings in their rush to heap praise on the latest Hawkwind or Groundhogs album.
Having split his time between Jamaica and England, on and off, from 1972 to 1975, Daddy U Roy returned home in the latter half of the 70s to run his own successful sound system, Stur-Gav Hi Fi and to introduce the world to a fine new crop of DJ's who came up in his wake. (These included the likes of Ranking Joe, Brigadier Jerry and Josey Wales). Eventually the man relocated to the U.S.A sometime around the middle of the 1980s, and nowadays calls Los Angeles his hometown. Since then he's recorded with increasingly less regularity as the years have gone by - although his occasional 1990s albums, cut for and with England's Mad Professor, show that he's still as hot as he's ever been, as do his occasional appearances at numerous Reggae Revival shows around the globe. Although his recordings have never overplayed the Rasta card, he's still a devout exponent of the doctrines of H.I.M Haile Selassie ('a subject that he don't joke about', according to the unusually informative sleevenote on the back of the original vinyl release of the VG album), and over the years his greying beard and locks have become as striking a feature of his on-stage persona as the multi-coloured bowler hats and jackets he sports on stage to great visual effect.
Never even remotely considered a novelty act, U Roy nowadays commands a rightful respect as one of reggae's elder statesmen and a true genre innovator. Not only would Jamaican DJ music be considerably less significant without his contributions, neither would American rap, as many who operate in that field are quick to acknowledge.