During the early-1960’s in Kingston, Jamaica a feud was born between two Ska musicians, Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan. Although the two never physically fought and were friendly outside of their recording studios, it was their fans that regularly clashed at Jamaican Dancehall’s. It became such a problem that the government, in efforts to curb the violence, stepped in and asked the two to stage a “peace photo shoot” that depicted the “rivals” as friends.
What sparked it all was Derrick Morgan’s release of “Forward March,” a celebration song about Jamaica’s independence from Great Britain. Prince Buster claimed a saxophone solo in the aforementioned single was copied from a studio session performance by original Skatalites member, Lester Sterling (he was a studio musician under contract with Prince Buster during this period).
Offended, Prince Buster quickly recorded “Black Head Chinaman.” At the time, “Forward March” was released by the Chinese-Jamaican producer Leslie Kong and his label, Beverly Records. Hence the opening line, “You done stole my belongings and give to your china man.” Under the umbrella of this rivalry, a few hit singles and influential Ska rhythms were created.
Here’s a near-complete list of the back-and-forth between the two:
Judge Dread was born Alex Hughes in 1945. Before becoming a musician, he bounced in night clubs, worked as a debt collector for Trojan Records, wrestled semi-professionally and was a personal bodyguard to prominent Ska/Reggae artists such as Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan and Desmond Dekker.
His stage name is often confused with the comic book anti-hero, Judge Dredd, however; his moniker is borrowed from a Prince Buster song titled “Judge Dread.” Although he based his songs on existing Ska rhythms and even well-known nursery rhymes, it was his lyrics full of sexual innuendo and double entendre that caused his notoriety within the music scene.
During the 70’s, Judge Dread had a total of eleven hits on the UK Singles Chart, which was more than any other Ska/Reggae artist at the time. His songs were extremely popular (“Big Six” sold over 300,000 copies), but they didn’t receive any airplay because the BBC banned all eleven singles from the airwaves. That feat granted him in a spot of the Guinness World Record book.
The BBC went as far as to ban almost every song associated with Judge Dread, full of sexually suggestive lyrics or not. “Molly” is a perfect example of a “clean,” yet banned Judge Dread single.
I first learned of Judge Dread in the mid-90’s while I was listening to Rice University Radio in Houston, TX. They had a program on Thursday nights simply titled the “Ska Show.” I’ve been a fan ever since and “Big Six” was the very first Judge Dread song I ever heard.
“Real Rock” by Sound Dimension is considered to be a crowning achievement in the history of Reggae. It was produced by the legendary Sir Coxsonne Dodd in 1967. Notably, Ska/Reggae superstar Jackie Mittoo sits behind the Hammond organ on this track.
This instrumental song has been sampled by over 30 artists that spans not only a multitude of genres, but also decades within the recording industry.
After the original, my favorite track with this famous rhythm (or “riddim”) would have to be Willi Williams’ “Armagideon Time.” Subsequently, it was covered by the Clash. You can find it on the B-side of their “London Calling” single released in 1980.