History of dub music
Dub music began in Jamaican reggae production studios in the late 1960s. Reggae dub versions were initially created for both creative and economic reasons: they didn’t require extra studio sessions and they required invention and experimentation in order to create something new from existing tracks. This arrangement was possible because Jamaica didn’t ratify the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works when it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, which allowed artists to rework musical creations without copyright concerns until 1994.
Osbourne Ruddock, AKA King Tubby, is widely credited as the inventor of dub music, although the creative act was the result of serendipity rather than deliberate effort. His parallel talents for the art and science of music allowed him to master the form: 40 years later, King Tubby’s dub music albums are still among the best.
By 1968, King Tubby had used his background in television and stereo repair to create his own sound system called Hi Fi Sound. Hi Fi Sound was famous throughout Jamaica due to Tubby’s unique ability to add echo and reverb effects to his recordings via his own handmade recording and production technology. He also worked for Duke Reid, one of Jamaica’s top reggae sound system operators and producers, as a master cutter at Treasure Island Studios. In that role, King Tubby cut one-off acetate recordings for exclusive use by Reid’s sound system, a process known as “dubbing”. During one session, Tubby accidentally forgot to include the vocal track on a recording. When he played back the mistake, he decided he liked the stripped-down riddim. Shortly thereafter, he took the acetate to a dance. He first played the “proper” recording with the vocals on his sound system, then followed it with his new, purely instrumental track. The crowd went wild and dub music was born.
King Tubby’s Hi Fi became Jamaica’s leading dub sound system, as his technology allowed him to create “versions” of popular reggae songs that took on a life of their own with the additional remizing and unearlthly echos and reverbs punctuating the rhythm. In 1972 Tubby set up his own recording studio where he was able to build and experiment with a growing array of effects devices. During this time he also began to collaborate with Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bunny Lee, and others.
As Tubby’s popularity grew his first real rival appeared in the form of Errol Thompson, the sound engineer for Joe Gibbs‘ Amalgamated label. Gibbs had Thompson create instrumental versions of his singles on the albums’ B-sides, resulting in a practice that is still common on reggae singles today: the A side includes a vocalist while the B side is an instrumental version that Gibbs called dub. The first vocal-free dub reggae album was “The Undertaker,” released in 1970 and engineered by Errol Thompson, with music and sound effects by Derrick Harriott and the Crystalites.
Thompson’s dub creations were limited by his equipment though. While he used buttons to abruptly switch tracks on and off, Tubby had invented analog faders, reverb, and equalizers to create radically new sounds.
As dub music evolved through the 1970s, Tubby increasingly treated his equipment as an improvisational musical instrument. Tubby began working directly with reggae musicians, forming close relationships with Bunny “Striker” Lee and Lee “Scratch” Perry and his band The Aggrovators. These musicians provided Tubby with hundreds of rhythms, or riddims, often jamming while Tubby worked his dub magic alongside them, recording and remixing their music in live studio sessions. Tubby became their conductor and band mate, injecting samples, test tones, and more into the tracks while reshaping them with loops, reverbs, and echoes. Tubby famously struck the spring reverb unit with his hand to create echoing thunderclaps.
Throughout the early 1970s, reggae studios began competing with each other, releasing progressively more innovative dub versions. In 1973, King Tubby’s relationship with Lee “Scratch” Perry culminated in Blackboard Jungle Dub, a seminal dub-only album, marked the beginning of dub’s recognition as a distinct musical genre. Blackboard Jungle was a stereo dub album that is still counted amongst the best in the genre. In the mid-1970s King Tubby released Surrounded By the Dreads at the National Arena and King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub, establishing himself as dub’s premier musician, producer, and innovator.
In addition to creating the dub music form, Tubby also created the next generation of great dub artists, training Lee Scratch Perry, Prince Phillip Smart, Lloyd “Prince Jammy” James, and Overton “Scientist” Brown at his dub production studios. Prince Jammy went on to form the Imprint label and become Jamaica’s leading dub producer. Scientist went on to become a leading dub artist, in turn training Mad Professor.
In 1985, King Tubby built a new studio and released Anthony Red Rose‘s hit Temper. On the verge of leading a new wave of dub innovation through the ’80s and beyond, Tubby was shot and killed outside his studio in 1986. The assassin’s identity and motive remain a mystery today.