Dynasty of Dub

The descendants of King Tubby still prime the digital dub pump

Ten past 10 p.m. on a Wednesday. A secret undisclosed location in north Miami-Dade. Special guest DJ Mixette is ready to spin a late-night set for those tuning in to the illegal signal of a pirate radio station.

Mark T, a fast-talking, Haitian-born impresario, is tonight's host. His agenda: a ribald evening of contemporary, clandestine entertainment. Earlier, as she prepared her trick bag before departing her house in Lake Worth, Mixette cautioned, "It's underground, so it's gonna be dirty!"

Because she works 60 hours a week managing a nursing home, Mixette hasn't had much time to plan for tonight's radio show. Before her arrival, she's nervous.

"My brother was the king!"
"My brother was the king!"
King Tubby at 18 Dromilly Ave., Kingston 11
King Tubby at 18 Dromilly Ave., Kingston 11

"I don't know what their format is, but I'm very adaptive. I'm gonna go there and hear what the other DJs do. I'll listen to the callers and find out what music they like."

For this foray into the unknown, proper, prim, and professional Mixette plans on a conservative approach. "I don't wanna play slow jams when everyone else is playing crunk," she explains. "My question to myself is, 'Why should these people listen to me? How can I be different but still be the same? What can I bring to the table?'"

As soon as she takes over, the mood changes from ghetto/gangsta to an unmistakable dancehall flavor. Between tracks, she interjects "Spin down, selectah!" or "Rewind, selectah!" making it obvious there's some Jamaican sound-system history in the hizzy.

Mixette's mixes are as wicked as they come. She'll blend opera with Doug E. Fresh. "I've even taken Frank Sinatra," she boasts, "put it behind a reggae version, and made it work."

But throughout the evening, no one hears Mixette's real name: Michelle Ruddock. Even if they did, it's unlikely they'd realize she carries the corpuscles of reggae royalty. Ruddock, the 34-year-old niece of the late legendary dub progenitor King Tubby, doesn't trade on her celebrity lineage.

"A lot of artists today don't know about my past," Mixette says. "They don't know where I'm from, where my knowledge came from. All they know is, 'Hi, I'm Mixette. What can I do for you?'"

There's a familiar reticence about family connections in Mixette's headlong delivery. You can shake the chandeliers off the ceiling or scorch the speaker wires, but don't expect the Ruddock family secrets to make an appearance in Mixette's mix.

King Tubby has been dead for 15 years, the victim of a still-unsolved murder in Jamaica, yet he remains among the most respected figures in contemporary reggae, credited with the innovations that gave modern-day trance, techno, and hip-hop its sonic playfulness and deep-bass grooves. Still, he was always a behind-the-scenes string-puller, not given to music-press profiles. You'd never find King Tubby in front of a microphone on stage.

Then there's Tubby's baby brother, Leslie, a shadowy figure who has settled into embittered solitude in suburban Palm Beach County, resisting any and all attempts to unveil his own unmistakable imprint on reggae music. An incurable electro-tech wonk, Young Tubby -- as he is known by reggae cognoscenti -- can appear paranoid to the point of near-delusion. Leslie Ruddock -- an electronics genius, by most accounts, who built from scratch the machinery that helped create Jamaican music's most crucial subgenre -- goes to absurd lengths to keep his accomplishments under wraps. To this end, he's been remarkably successful.

Nor are Leslie Ruddock's children -- Michelle and brother Keith, another remarkable mixologist with a host of recording accomplishments -- particularly interested in removing the cloak of obscurity from the legend of their famous forebears. Perhaps the most remarkable facet of this creative music family is its ability to leave the past alone, each carving out his or her own idiosyncratic futures.

But sometimes the truth leaks out, like a bottomless bassline shuddering from a subwoofer or an ethereal slice of a vocal fragment slipping in and out of the mix -- be it from a mid-'70s reggae remix or a modern-day club anthem -- and you can feel Tubby's magic touch.


Along with a handful of others, the name King Tubby exemplifies reggae roots. Born Osbourne Ruddock in January 1941, Tubby's nickname came not from a weight problem (he was actually quite trim) but for his knowledge of all things electronic, tube amplifiers in particular. While a Google search will turn up hundreds of documents detailing the story of Kingston's Daddy of Dub, not one mentions Tubby's baby brother.

Leslie Ruddock, born in September 1947, doesn't even amount to a penciled-in footnote in reggae history. And he prefers it that way. Seeking interviews, local scribes like Peggy Quattro from Hallandale Beach's tiny Reggae Report got nowhere, and the world's foremost reggae archivist and biographer, Steve Barrow of England's roots revival label Blood & Fire, was also rebuffed.

Yet Leslie Ruddock was arguably as important and inventive as his older brother. While Osbourne never left Jamaica in his lifetime, Leslie Ruddock moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s, never to return.

Although dub is known as a Jamaican innovation, many of its technological advances were made here in the States, simply because of the level of available equipment. Dub -- the product of budget constraints, sheer serendipity, and a sense of adventure -- has its origin in primitive electronics.

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