Bunny “Striker” Lee / August 23rd, 1941 – October 6th, 2020

Edward O’Sullivan Lee was born on August 23rd, 1941 in Kingston`s Greenwich Farm. Raised, dirt poor, in the ghetto. Bunny to his family, and Striker to his pals. Lees` break in the music business came when his sister married Derrick Morgan, “The King Of Ska”. Morgan introduced Bunny to producers / studio owners Leslie Kong and Duke Reid. Which in turn led to Striker landing a job as a record plugger, around Kingston`s stores and radio stations, for their respective labels, Beverley`s and Treasure Isle. His relationship with Reid in particular blossomed, with the Duke giving Bunny the opportunity to produce, resulting in his own label, Lee’s. Striker found success right away with The Uniques – Lloyd Charmers, Jimmy Riley and Slim Smith – and demonstrated his “business acumen” early on by voicing a variety of singers over each of his rhythms – recycling them and wringing his limited studio time for all it was worth. In his own words creating “a world of version”. 

In `68 Striker travelled to London and struck up a licensing deal with Island Records` then fledgling Trojan off-shoot – who gave Bunny his own UK label, Jackpot. He also simultaneously signed a deal with Trojan`s biggest rival, the Palmer Brothers` Pama Records, who put his JA sides out on an imprint called Unity. It was on this trip that reggae was born. While Kingston was dancing to the slower sounds of Rocksteady, Island and Pama requested something faster for the UK audience, and upon his return Bunny duly obliged. Recruiting what would become The Wailers Band to cut the uptempo track, Bangarang. 

But the tune that turned Mr. Lee into the “hit-maker from Jamaica” was Max Romeo`s Wet Dream. The story is that none of Bunny’s usual vocalists would touch the song, for its lewd content, and the duty finally fell to label gopher Romeo, who was told “voice this or you`re fired”. The track topped the UK pop charts – despite being banned by the BBC – but Bunny and Max never saw a penny. When Striker confronted the Pama Brothers, they laughed, shrugged “so what”, and asked, “You`re just a little man. What are you going to do about it?”, and Bunny threw one of them down the stairs – still in the chair he was sitting in. Both smashes cementing Bunny’s reputation in Kingston. He said no-one ever argued with him again. 

Then in 1969 Bunny met the engineer, Osbourne “Tubby” Ruddock and the two of them plotted a course that reshaped modern music. The pair of them lighting out on a quest for musical innovations that would give their sides the edge in clashes and the dance. Tubby had been mixing and engineering for Duke Reid, but Striker convinced him to build his own studio – a place where they could experiment at low cost. Tubby quickly converted two rooms of his mother’s house at 18 Dromilly Avenue, in Waterhouse, Kingston 11 – the bathroom becoming an egg-box-lined vocal booth, while Lee helped him acquire an outdated, but custom-built, MCI 4-channel mixing desk from Byron Lee`s Dynamic Sounds. A decision Dynamic would immediately regret. 

Inspired by Rudolph “Ruddy” Redwood`s Spanish Town sound – who would wow dancers by segueing between vocal tracks and instrumental takes – it was Bunny and Tubby who, if not created*, then pushed the boundaries of and defined “dub”. They did this initially by bouncing between two 4-track mixers – creating 4 channels of delay, and working, working, working that MCI board`s unique high-pass filter – which Bunny nicknamed “Squawky”. If you wanted that sound, well then you had to go to Tubby`s. When they were at it full stretch there were all night sessions and they were mixing 200 dub-plates a week. Tubby`s Mum`s yard full of people queuing and waiting. It became a production line – whose mission was to get music into the dances as quickly as possible, cashing in on rhythms and crazes — but it was also one that was always searching for something fresh and new. Within its super tight schedule this factory-like conveyor belt nurtured countless musicians – the rotating assembly of Lee`s own band, The Aggrovators, who included Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and Chinna Smith – folks who went on to form the core of the aforementioned Wailers Band, and Lee Perry`s Upsetters – and it and also rescued rude boys – such as Tappa Zukie – from lives of crime and otherwise certain violent ends.**

One innovation that came to characterize `70s dub was “the flying cymbal”. Drummer Carlton “Santa” Davis` combination of disco and one-drop, first captured by Philip Smart for Johnny Clarke`s None Shall Escape The Judgement at Tubby`s, and christened by Bunny Lee***. Again, if you wanted this scything sound, then to Tubby`s you had to go. 

To further maximize rhythms and studio time, and minimize costs, Bunny brought in DJs and MCs to create additional cuts. He produced sessions with all of Kingston’s “toasters and boasters” from “Alcapone to Zukie”, often fueling the competition between them – creating series of name-calling disses and counter records. Putting some comedy in the dance. 

Lee was also central to the export of dub to the UK, Europe, and the world. For the overseas market he now collected this music, which had previously been confined to specials and flip-sides of limited JA 45s, for release as LPs. Showcases not so much for “traditional” artists, but Tubby`s studio engineers. It was Bunny Lee who crowned Tubby, King, who made Lloyd James, Prince Jammy, royalty. James describing Bunny as “a great vibes man”, dancing, laughing and cheering, endlessly encouraging, “he make everyone work wonders”.

It was Striker, who introduced Overton Brown to King Tubby, and named Overton, Tubby`s last apprentice, Scientist. 

Philip Smart called Bunny simply, succinctly, sweetly, “The Godfather Of Dub”.

Notes

*That honour probably goes to Errol Thompson and Clive Chin at Randy`s.

**Bunny Lee bailed Tappa Zukie out of jail and gave him some rhythms to work with – this eventually led to records like M.P.L.A. a degree of global fame, and slots supporting artists such as Patti Smith.

***Bunny Lee was eating a box of chicken wings – “flyers” – at the time.

References 

Michael E. Veal / Dub / Wesleyan

Steve Barrow / King Tubby`s Special 1973 – 1976 / Trojan

Steve Barrow / If Deejay Was Your Trade / Blood & Fire

Diggory Kenrick / I Am The Gorgon / Newborn Productions, Jamaican Recordings

Track-list
King Tubby – Lets Do The Dub
King Tubby – Dub Of Rights
King Tubby – I Trim The Barber
Johnny Clarke – African Roots
Jackie Mittoo – Disco Jack
King Tubby – Dub Plate Style
Val Bennett – The Russians Are Coming
Busty Brown – Soon I’m Gonna Make It
Tappa Zukie – Jah Is I Guiding Star
Big Joe – In The Ghetto
Slim Smith – Turning Point
Little Boy Blue – Dark End Of The Street
Leroy Smart – Gold Helps The Man
Vulcans – Star Trek
Jackie Mittoo – The Sniper
Slim Smith – The Time Has Come
King Tubby – Dub Station
King Tubby – Release The Dub
Johnny Clarke – Live Up Jah Man
King Tubby – Living Version
Johnny Clarke – Dread A Dread
Johnny Clarke – None Shall Escape The Judgement
Dr Alimantado – Mash It Up
I Roy – War & Friction
King Tubby – A Harder Version
King Tubby – Channel 1 Feel This
Delroy Wilson – I Want To Love You
Horace Andy – You Are My Angel
King Tubby – King Tubby In A Fine Style
Bunny Lee – Blood Sweat & Dunza Dub
Prince Jazzbo – Good Memories
Bunny Lee – Come To Me In Dub Part 2
Prince Far I – Psalm 1

 

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