King Tubby

views updated

King Tubby

Producer, reggae musician

King Tubby was born Osbourne Ruddock in 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica. He started his work in electronics as a repairman, but by the time of his death in 1989 he had become a musical legend. Ruddock was best known as a pioneer of dub music, a strain of reggae that relied heavily on studio manipulation for its reverberated, echo-driven sound.

In the 1950s Jamaica's popular reggae and rocksteady scenes were beginning to move out of dancehalls and into street parties. Mobile sound systems—usually large stacks of amps and speakers packed into converted delivery trucks or Jeeps—provided the amplification that was known to shake Jamaican neighborhoods to their foundations. Each selector—or DJ, they are known outside of reggae—had his own personally crafted system, and rivalry between the selectors was fierce. Generally speaking, the louder the system, the more respected the selector.

Ruddock first began tinkering with sound devices and radios as a teenager. As more and more speakers and sound systems strained under the wrath of their relentless controllers, radio repair became a burgeoning cottage industry in Kingston. Ruddock found plenty of work fixing just about every selector's system on a regular basis. He also devised numerous ways of improving the systems, though he was sure he would never put himself out of business.

In 1968 Ruddock built his own sound system, Tubby's Home Town Hi Fi, and many of Kingston's most sought-after selectors and MCs—known as DJs in dancehall lingo—performed using his creation. Because he had a good ear for perfect sound, Ruddock was eventually offered a job at producer Duke Reid's record cutting plant, Treasure Isle. There he had access to numerous musicians' studio tapes, and could remix the records any way he wanted. Ruddock and studio engineer Ruddy Redwood became two of the world's first remix artists, stripping out vocals, restructuring instruments, dropping in new effects and applying phases and shifts on B-side "versions" of the discs.

King Tubby's remixes had a sound like no other. "Unlike today's club remixers, who slice and dice vocals and instrumental hooks to provide signposts for the original verse and chorus, Tubby's minimalist productions provide few aural landmarks," explained Bob Tarte of the Miami New Times. These mixes became the focal point of the new street parties, and U-Roy, I-Roy, and Big Youth became celebrities with the help of King Tubby's new production style. Everyone in Jamaica went wild for the new emerging style. Calling Tubby's style "post-modern," Tarte commented that "Ruddock was a revolutionary artist whose audience wasn't elitist in the least. Anyone who lived in Jamaica in the Seventies and could afford to buy a record could purchase a piece of Tubby's art."

In the early 1970s Tubby opened his first studio, becoming engineer, mixer, and remixer all at once. Soon-to-be legends like Augustus Pablo, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Bunny Lee, and Glen Brown were just some of the regulars at Tubby's place. Brown, in fact, was the first to credit King Tubby on a record with his hit "Tubby's at the Control." Others like Prince Tony Robinson picked up on the trend with "Tubby's in Full Swing."

Throughout the 1970s Tubby was Jamaica's most in-demand remixer, with a steady stream of production work coming his way from all of reggae's hit stars. The singles and remixed B-sides flowed out of his Kingston studio and across the world. When enough singles were accrued, the studio compiled the tracks on collections like Bunny Lee's Dub From the Roots and King Tubby Meets the Aggrovators at Dub Station. In the late 1970s British labels like Klik and Attack began reissuing Tubby's hits as new compilations with added bonus tracks. Tubby formed close relationships with producers likes Bunny Lee and Vivian Jackson, who sent a number of their reggae tracks his way for the royal dub treatment. "Go to Zion," a hit for Jackson, Roydel Johnson and Albert Griffiths under the name Brother Joe & the Rightful Brothers, was one of their first collaborative successes. Their next, with Jackson performing as Yabba You, was Conquering Lion, remixed entirely by Tubby under the title King Tubby's Prophecy of Dub.

At around this time Tubby added another four-track recorder to the studio, and was able to record vocals for the first time. Roy Shirley, the first vocalist with whom Tubby recorded, released "Stepping Razor" in 1973. Tubby took another full-on album commission that year when he remixed Larry Marshall's entire recording of I Admire You. The year 1973 also saw the monumental pairing of Tubby with Lee "Scratch" Perry for Perry's record Blackboard Jungle Dub. Tubby also helped Perry set up his famous Black Ark Studio in Kingston. He followed up with a 1975 collaboration with Niney "the Observer" Holness on his Dubbing with the Observer.

That year Tubby tightened his bond with well-known producer Augustus Pablo. Ital Dub, released on Pablo's Rockers label in 1975, was a seminal record for mid-1970s dub. Two years later it was topped by the highly regarded follow up, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. The legendary duo completed their trilogy with Rockers Meet King Tubby in a Firehouse.

Near the end of the 1970s, Tubby kept up a relatively productive remix schedule. He also brought on a number of youngsters to assist him in the studio and learn the tricks of dub's master professor. Scientist, Prince Philip Smart, and King Jammy—then known as Prince Jammy, only to accept the crown when his mentor died—all served as Tubby's apprentices at one time or another. With Jah Screw and Ranking Joe, Tubby remixed Roots Radics' Dangerous Dub, one of the last remix projects that Tubby would see through from start to finish. His final remixes saw him creating First, Second, and Third Generations of Dub with his young protégés. He cut two more records with Scientist, King Tubby Meets Scientist in a World of Dub and King Tubby Meets Scientist at Dub Station, later released in 1996 on Burning Sounds.

By the 1980s Tubby's remix schedule wasn't quite as hectic as in the past decade. Still, he maintained the studio, keeping up with technological advancements, and started a number of labels including Firehouse, Waterhouse, and Taurus. He moved toward producing other artists and released a stream of singles for the likes of Sugar Minott and Anthony Red Rose. In 1983 he got back together with Bunny Lee for The Dubmaster with the Waterhouse Posse. Two years later he released Sly and Robbie with King Tubby, featuring two of Jamaica's biggest DJs, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. Besides producing Kingston's elder statesmen, Tubby was also spending a lot of time producing young up-and-comers. Ninjaman, Gregory Isaacs, and Chaka Demus' Pliers all received the touch of Tubby's skillful production hand.

Tragically, while still a major player on the dancehall and dub scene in the late 1980s, Tubby's career was cut short when, on February 6, 1989, he was shot and killed outside his Kingston home. His death remains a mystery, and although it was been suspected that the shooting was the result of a botched robbery, Tubby's killer was never apprehended.

For the Record …

Born Osbourne Ruddock in 1941 in Kingston, Jamaica; shot and killed on February 6, 1989, outside his home in Kingston.

Began tinkering with radios as a teenager in Jamaica; found work repairing selectors' sound systems; built his own sound system, King Tubby's Home Town Hi Fi, 1968; worked at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle record cutting plant; experimented with mixing techniques and creating dub music; teamed with Bunny Lee and remixed Dub From the Roots, 1974, King Tubby Meets the Aggrovators at Dub Station, 1975, and The Dubmaster with the Waterhouse Posse, 1983; with Yabba You, produced Conquering Lion, 1972, and King Tubby's Prophecy of Dub, 1976; with Larry Marshall, remixed I Admire You, 1973; with Lee Perry, produced Blackboard Jungle Dub, 1973; with Niney "the Observer" Holness, produced Dubbing with the Observer, 1975; with Augustus Pablo, made Ital Dub, 1975, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, 1977, and Rockers Meet King Tubby in a Firehouse, 1980; with Jah Screw and Ranking Joe, remixed Roots Radics' Dangerous Dub, 1981; with Sly & Robbie, made Sly & Robbie with King Tubby, 1985; after his death in 1989 several posthumous albums were released.

Addresses: Record company—Moll Selekta, Mittelweg 114 B, 20149 Hamburg, Germany, phone: +149 (40) 451 944, fax: +149 (40) 458 654, website:

Since his death at the age of 48, many of Tubby's records have been reissued and new cuts have surfaced. In a tribute to Tubby in Remix, Bill Murphy noted that "nearly 15 years after Tubby's death ... his music and production aesthetic still hold sway over a broad swath of musical styles. Techno, drum 'n' bass, and even hip-hop owe a debt to his revolutionary experiments, and producers such as Tricky, Madlib, Carl Craig, Bill Laswell and many more cite him as inspiration." Indeed, the wealth and breadth of King Tubby's recorded output is one of Jamaica's greatest legacies left to recorded music, and one that grows with each passing year.

Selected discography

As producer/remixer

Conquering Lion in Dub, Prophet, 1972.

Blackboard Jungle Dub, Coxson's Music, 1973.

Dub from the Roots, Jet Set, 1974.

The Roots of Dub, Justice, 1975.

I Admire You in Dub, Motion, 1975.

King Tubby Meets the Aggrovators at Dub Station, Live and Love, 1975.

Dubbing with the Observer, Attack, 1975.

Ital Dub, Trojan, 1975.

King Tubby's Prophecy of Dub, Blood and Fire, 1976.

Herb Dub-Collie Dub, Jigsaw, 1976.

King Tubby's Lost Treasures, Jamaican Recordings, 1976.

Harry Mudie Meets King Tubby In Dub Conference, Vol. 1, Moodisc, 1976.

King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Trojan, 1977.

Rockers Meet King Tubby in a Firehouse, Yard, 1980.

Dangerous Dub, Copasetic, 1981.

Upset the Upsetter, Live and Love, 1981.

King at the Control, Copasetic, 1981.

Dubbing in the Backyard, Black Music, 1982.

First Prophet of Dub, Tamoki Wambesi, 1983.

The Dubmaster with the Waterhouse Posse, Vista, 1983.

Sly & Robbie Meet King Tubby, Blood and Fire, 1985.

King Tubby Meets Scientist in a World of Dub, Burning Sounds, 1996.

King Tubby Meets Scientist at Dub Station, Burning Sounds, 1996.



Miami New Times, December 18, 2003.

Remix, February 1, 2004.

Times (London, England), July 10, 2004.


"King Tubby," All Music Guide, (August 30, 2004).

"King Tubby," Roots Archives, (August 30, 2004).

—Ken Taylor