Interview Date: October 23, 2011 @9am EDT
Sly Dunbar as of right now (Continued)
Last week we left off talking about Sly Dunbar’s renowned contributions to Peter Tosh’s band and the Mighty Diamonds first album for Virgin Records “The Right Time” (Virgin Records 1976). But this amazing outpouring was just the beginning of what was to become a string of groundbreaking albums from this innovative and influential man.
“Two Seven Clash” was yet another phenominal album by him and a band called Culture; both aiding in and revolutionizing UK music; helping to bring upon the reggae/punk culture which defined an era and shaped its music. This was one of the main albums that was known to have been an inspiration at the time for bands like ‘The Clash’ and ‘The Rolling Stones’ (who were motivated by and borrowed heavily from these reggae beats). When I asked Sly about recording with Culture on “Two Seven Clash” he said:
“[it] Was done a Joe Gibbs studio when artists come with some great songs then you can find patterns when they [Joseph Hill, Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes] singing great songs to play [then] the bass man is going to find wicked bass line and the musician is going to play and really groove it, you know, but sometimes when there is no song it’s hard to find a pattern.” – Sly Dunbar (GoingThruVinyl 2011)
After I spent some time talking to him; it came out in our conversation that one of his greatest achievements and one of the things that he is most proud of (professionally speaking) came from him putting in the time to develop his sound at Channel One. It was only after dedicating time that he was able to know precisely how to do things precisely, such as mic the drums or understand the acoustics of the Channel One room in order to get the best sounds out of the drums. Once this was achieved, the albums that he started putting out at Channel One Studios during those seminal years started pouring out; both he and Channel One shaped Jamaican music and influenced people for years to come. Never seemingly content or smug about his accomplishments; he tells me that even today he tackles every project like it is the most important project ever.
“I try to make every song like that, Wicked. I try to put everything I have into it.” – Sly Dunbar (GoingThruVinyl 2011)
As we found out in Sly’s Drummer shout out list (previous podcast); his inspiration comes from a lineage of great drummers; people like Phil Callender, Drumbago and his ultimate hero Lloyd Knibb. Though Dunbar never forgot where he came from, his real secret lies in not to just borrowing for other Jamaican drummers but going out and to pull rhythms and beats from other drummers in other genres, like Jazz and Disco beats and incorporate it into Reggae.
At one point, when we were talking about working with Peter Tosh, I stopped and asked him if he ever dwelt on his successes. Just knowing that the work he did, way back then, will probably last forever in the fabric of our culture. I wondered if a song he contributed to could somehow weigh heavy on him somehow. His response was typical of the man I got to know:
GTV: You have been on some recordings that will outlast both you and I; do you have a deeper sense of satisfaction knowing that these songs are going to outlast you or I? Do you have a deep sense of satisfaction?
Sly Dunbar: I try to make every song like that, you know [laughs]. I try to make a song that people will like to listen and like forever; So I try to put everything I have into it. Maybe every song might not make it that way but try to go for that. . . someone came to me and they were listening to “Dance This Ya Festival” which was a festival song of Freddy McKay, and one of the guys said to me: 'Tell me something, what were you thinking when you played that drum?' And I said, Boss I don’t remember. All I know is that I had to win and I just did it! And the guy said it is the wickedest beat that played in the festival ever.
GTV: Do you think it’s true?
Sly Dunbar: Yeah well when it comes to festival time in August and they start playing all the Festival songs from back then; when that one comes on there is a different aura it hits you and comes from nowhere. (GoingThruVinyl 2011)
When I asked him about his friend and fellow musician Peter Tosh he said:
Sly Dunbar: I remember when we came to Toronto with Peter Tosh and we played at this place where the stage would spin. I was watching it on Youtube and I said “Wow” this is the first time I get to hear what the band really sounds like because I’m always playing, but I don’t know sounds like upfront.
Peter was the person who put Robbie and myself live for the first time and took us on the road so people could see us playing together. He was the person who really did that and then the Grace Jones stuff was the stuff that really opened us up to a wider marketplace because what we were doing on the Grace Jones album, you know. But Peter was the one who took us on the road as a complete rhythm section and give us the freedom to play.
GTV: Do you have a favourite Peter Tosh song?
Sly Dunbar: One of my favourite Peter Tosh songs for me was Steppin’ Razer. I Like Steppin’ Razer; I think that [song] is wicked! I made a fill in with Robbie and I didn’t know if I could go for that fill in but I just went for it. I like his version of “Get up, Stand up” and there is a song on “Dread or Alive” called “Nothing but Love”. There is a bunch of Peter Tosh songs I like; I like “Mystic Man” and "Buk-in-hamm Palace". You know, I was listening back to some of the stuff these days and it really sounds so different for the everyday recordings.
GTV: What were the Black Uhuru like?
Sly Dunbar: The Black Uhuru were cool. I grew up with Michael when I was a kid and his brother and I were like good friends, you know. So I knew them from then and I was trying to get his brother into the production thing and then he died in a car accident. So when Michael came to check me out I was, like, OK.
GTV: The Black Uhuru were such a great band.
Sly Dunbar: Yeah they were great man! Great group. Everything was so spontaneous in the studio; we would just go in and cut.
GTV: What do you remember about Sensemilla?
Sly Dunbar: What I remember there is the song called Africa on it and I remember when the groove was going down, Ansell Collins was playing the piano solo; a [normal] reggae album has four bars and he hit those four bars and go for the solo. Then the next day we were listening back (me and Robbie) and I said ‘Boy, Ansell Collins just killed the solo’ and ‘that was just so fantastic.’ When you listen back to that record and [the song] Africa and you just hear that piano solo. Another thing with that album when we finished it and gave it to Island it took so long for the record to come out that it first came out in Jamaica in a white jacket. No credit, no crediting the musicians, and no producers but when the album comes out I asked them to review the album again so the album got two reviews at the same time. People couldn’t believe the sound on that record. The first time Chris Blackwell heard it in the studio in Nassau he asked us what is this? Man this is fantastic so that sound became the Grace Jones sound.
GTV: You did an album (Aux Armes et Caetera, Polygram 1979) and went on tour with Serge Gainsbourg. What was that like?
Sly Dunbar: We did the album in one week and “I Three” [of Bob Marley and the Wailers] did the backing vocals. The album came out and it was a smash all over Europe! I mean in Paris and all over; it was the biggest selling reggae album. We did a tour in some parts of Europe with him.
GTV: Did you like the album?
Sly Dunbar: Yeah, I think it is one of the best sounding albums. I think that is in the top five reggae albums of all time! My favourite track was called Lola Rastaquouere.
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