Although I bought this when it first came out last year as part of my optimistically large pile of lockdown reading it’s taken me until lockdown number three to finally give it the time it deserves. Rather amazingly it is the first and only book in existence dedicated to shining a light on the life and works of one of the most important figures in the evolution of popular music – the original dub inventor himself, Osbourne Ruddock a.k.a. King Tubby. Whilst I accept that being a dub and reggae enthusiast I may approach the subject from a slightly biased and over enthusiastic opinion, I would still argue that there aren’t many people in the last 50 years who have not only single-handedly invented a new musical genre but also created a radically new creative approach to producing music that arguably laid the foundation upon which much of modern day dance music was built – the remix.
Given these achievements it is somewhat surprising that no one has attempted a book like this before. However, as becomes fairly clear early on in the book, this wasn’t an easy story to tell. A combination of confusing and contradictory first hand accounts and a reluctance amongst many of Tubby’s closest family and friends to be interviewed (which is probably not surprising given the painful memories associated with his brutal murder in 1989) means that there often isn’t an awful lot of original source material to work with. Despite this author Thibault Ehrengardt does a fantastic job of creating a fascinating insight into the world of a quiet understated musical genius whose impact on modern music far exceeds the column inches that have been written about him.
One of the key things that I took away from the book was a clearer picture of Tubby himself as a person and how both his character and background played such a key role in his ground breaking musical achievements. Before Tubby became a musical genius he was an electrical genius and he approached creating music in the same way he approached building amps – by taking them apart to understand their component parts before rebuilding them to his own improved specifications. In addition to his electrical business he was also a respected and highly successful soundman as owner of his own Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi, a champion sound in Kingston until it was unlawfully vandalised by the police in 1975. It is this practical experience of being out at the dances and seeing what tunes moved the crowds that also played such an important role in helping him craft a new powerfully distilled hybrid of reggae that focused on creating maximum impact on these big sound systems – dub.
The book also contains a fantastic collection of photos, many of which have been supplied by Tubby’s family and these in themselves provide a unique and fascinating visual insight into his world. My particular favourites are the shots of inside his studio at 18 Dromilly Avenue which not only show his legendary MCI mixing console but also confirm that his studio was indeed located in his mother’s old bedroom as evidenced by the distinctive gold velvet curtains. Another valuable and intriguing Tubby artefact that the book put me onto is the only known recording of Tubby's Hometown Hi-Fi in action which was a made at one of their dances held in Kingston in 1975. Whilst the audio quality isn’t great it still gives you an idea of the immense bass Tubby’s system was able to deliver and it’s a real treat to hear U-Roy in full flow on deejay duties. For those who are interested the MP3 can be download here from the Who Cork The Dance website. Finally I also have the book to thank for discovering this amazing piece of footage from a BBC documentary that shows 80’s reggae pop sensations Musical Youth recording at Tubby’s studio with none other than the mighty Scientist at the controls behind the famous mixing desk (also spot Sugar Minott having a chat with them):
Whether you’re a long time Tubby obsessive or just interested in finding out a bit more about the history of dub and Jamaican music I would strongly recommend spending some time with this book. I found it a fascinating read that not only helped me gain a greater understanding of King Tubby and the evolution of dub but also allowed me to more accurately appraise and appreciate the far reaching impact of his achievements.