ATX Sound System: April 18, 2019

Mr. McGregor, Please Take a Bow

Ahead of his set at Austin Reggae Fest on Sunday (4/21), we’ve also had our favorite Freddie McGregor album in heavy rotation this week. Released in 1979, Mr. McGregor is the singer’s “real” debut solo album, released on the Observer label, and several factors combined to make this recording special, including the producer, the backing band and the studio where it was made.

When we say it was his “real” first album, that’s because the iconic Bobby Bobylon was also released that same year by Studio One. However, Bobylon contains tracks recorded over a period of years for Coxsone Dodd prior to release and thus lacks some of the cohesion of a proper album, in our opinion.

The use of several foundational (read: familiar) instrumentals from Studio One’s back catalog on Bobylon helped to make it an especially user-friendly proposition, contributing to its’ “classic” status. Mr. McGregor, by comparison, is noticeably tougher: The production is harder, crisper, and the band more muscular. In short, it was a more roots-y and contemporary sound for the time, and a more fully-realized album on the whole.

The biggest influence on Mr. McGregor was producer Winston “Niney” Holness (aka Niney the Observer). Niney and his friend Lee “Scratch” Perry were both alumni of Joe Gibbs’ studio in the 1960s, and the two young producers played a significant role in the birth of modern reggae music at the end of that decade. Niney was also an ardent dread who made his disposition well known with the release of his blistering classic “Blood and Fire” in 1971, and he would go on to produce some of the hardest tunes in the catalogs of Max Romeo, Johnnie Clarke, Big Youth and others throughout the 1970s. By the time he went into the studio with McGregor, Niney had softened up a little bit. But only a little.

Also fundamental here is the backing band, the members of which included Leroy “Horsemouth” Brown (drums), George “Fully” Fullwood (bass), Earl “Chinna” Smith and Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont (guitar), Keith Sterling (keyboards) and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson (percussion). Effectively, this band was the Soul Syndicate, who had recorded with everyone from Augustus Pablo to King Tubby, and had served as Niney’s house band for years (they were also known alternately as The Observers and, when recording for Joe Gibbs, as the Aggrovators). Among other plaudits, Fully was the man responsible for the legendary “Stalag” bassline (Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam”, Tenor Saw’s “Ring The Alarm” and countless hip-hop samples since), Chinna played with Bob Marley, while Bingy was also a member of the Morwells and, later, Roots Radics. Suffice to say, McGregor was working with probably the finest session band on the island at the time.

Finally, there was the studio, Channel One. It was something of a revival period for Channel One. King Tubby protege Scientist had recently become their new house engineer (though he did not work on this album) and, after the owner’s nephew was put in charge of the operation in the late-70s, a new 16-track console was installed, giving the facility a significant update. Channel One had always been renowned for its great drum sound, but this new board gave the adventurous Niney more freedom with which to work and would be responsible for the aforementioned crisper, more modern sound.

McGregor, meanwhile, was encouraged to explore both of his definitive styles–socially-conscious roots and radio-friendly Lovers Rock–and he does so evenly and convincingly. There’s nothing too syrupy (though “Brandy” pushes the envelope) nor anything too militant (however, “Rastaman Camp” and “Walls of Jericho” could certainly rattle a lightweight dread). Ultimately, Mr. McGregor was another one of those special moments in reggae history when Jah seemed to guide all of the planets into alignment.


Lee “Scratch” Perry Makes a Mix

We were pleasantly surprised this week to see a brand new 50-minute mix by none other than social dating app himself, created for free no credit card hookups. Comprising material old and new, it spans the iconic artist’s career from the early days right up to his forthcoming collaboration with producer and On-U Sound founder Adrian Sherwood.

London-born Sherwood first worked with Scratch in the mid-1980s and has since worked with the likes of Prince Far-I, Sly & Robbie, Primal Scream and Mikey Dread. Their forthcoming album together is titled Rainford, a nod to Scratch’s birth name, Rainford Hugh Perry, and is released May 31.

True to form, you can hear Scratch picking up the mic throughout the mix, occasionally speaking, babbling or simply making breathing noises. Which is somehow perfect. The highlight, however, is the as-yet-unreleased new material. While Scratch has been remarkably prolific of late (especially for a man now in his 80s), On-U Sound is boasting that this might be Perry’s “strongest batch of original material in years.” Judging from what we’ve heard here, they may not be wrong.


Click here to hear all the dub sounds we have been listening to the last few days.