Dynasty of Dub

The descendants of King Tubby still prime the digital dub pump

The effect is better heard than described, but Wright tries his best: "'Cha-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya.' We did a version of a song called 'Queen of the Minstrel' with that echo thing, and it went 'Peeeeow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow. '"

Silvera recalls, "It was really freaky. That spring was the most amazing thing. Just now, today, people are starting to get the effects that he got way back then."

Ruddock recorded these sounds and sent them down to King Tubby. "I got a telephone call from my brother in Jamaica," Ruddock laughs, "and he asked me, 'How the hell did you do that?'"

"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

When the sound turned up on King Tubby's mixes, it instantly revolutionized music on the island. "As soon as I 'eard those records," Wright says, "I knew it was our stuff."

"Nobody ever heard anything like that before," Leslie Ruddock says. "Everybody want that." Joyously, he describes how one such experiment gave rise to a frequent nickname: "We made a record that went, 'Iggy Iggy, Agga Agga, and when the guy says play the music, just Stagga!' And when that part came, I just hold it like that so it goes, 'STAGGA Stagga stagga stagga stagga stagga stagga... '" From that moment, a group of in-the-know industry insiders started calling Leslie Ruddock "Stagga."

Young Tubby's remarkable inventions made friends like Silvera ask him, "'You know how rich you could have been if you had patented that?' But he didn't want to get involved with that part of the business. He wanted to stay behind the scenes." Silvera even advised him to design an emblem to label the power amps and pre-amplifiers he'd assembled.

"You know, so they'd say Built by Young Tubby. But he wouldn't do things like that. A lot of what Tubby knew was learned from Stagga. Stagga was exposed to a lot of things you couldn't get in Jamaica, and he shared that with Tubby," Silvera says.

Ruddock can't escape the Tubby trademark anyway. There's a wide gap between Source magazine and the London Observer, but Tubby's name is enough to fill it.

"What is known as hip-hop today," Leslie Ruddock intones, "is originally what we used to do in the late '60s and the early '70s. But they just know my brother's name. If you go back and trace the history, on the lips of every guy in the reggae business, they always say, 'KING TUBBY!'"

Keith Ruddock still remembers running around King Tubby's studio as a young child. In fact, he lived with Osbourne Ruddock in Kingston until he joined his father in the States in 1985. While in Jamaica, he learned about primitive equipment that could work miracles. Today, with digital 48-track mixing consoles and ProTools at his disposal, he still remembers the magic created at King Tubby's.

"His studio was just the way it was supposed to be," he marvels in a heavier-than-expected accent. "Other studios tried, but they couldn't capture the way Tubby used to dub."

Most of what Keith Ruddock understands, he learned at his father's side. "Personally, he taught me about how sound works, from an electronic perspective. Trust me, when he builds it, it works the right way."

In 1991, Keith moved to West Palm Beach, where the lack of opportunity stifled him. "I'd be down there more," he says, "but nothing's going on." So for the past two years, he's lived in Washington, D.C., playing club gigs across the country under the Digital K rubric.

"We do the sound-system thing," he explains. "I'll DJ, and we have a toaster on the mic. I'm playing dub plates and tracks from a laptop, but we keep that old-school, '70s dancehall vibe."

With Wright producing, Keith Ruddock is ready to release his second album of modern-day dub. Back to I Mon Roots, on Wright's Jah Life label, is a spooky labyrinth of crevasse-deep grooves and futuristic sound effects. Drum machines skitter, chitter, and bounce, while synthesizers chirp like mechanized cicadas. Electronic basses boom and pop like gas bubbles, shaking walls, while everything shudders with reverberations suggesting underwater sonar. Ghostly vocal traces come and go like wraiths sticking their skulls through a crack in the door, whispering, then vanishing.

In short, it's King Tubby's legacy retooled for the modern age. "I take my hat off to people who build upon what he built," Keith says. "Digital is pure signal, but the analog roots -- you have to be true to it."

Ever since she followed her brother from New Jersey to South Florida in 1996, Michelle Ruddock has been honing her DJ technique for house parties and occasional club events, specializing in, as her dad jokingly calls it, "hip-hop shit."

Like her brother, Mixette had, by the time she'd set up shop in Palm Beach County, already learned electronics from her father. "I believe in foundation. I believe in structure," Mixette says. "I see where my ancestors came from. I've seen where they put all these 20-cent radios together at one watt apiece and make a 200-watt amp out of garbage. I've seen it with my own eyes."

Like Keith, Mixette stays grounded in the analog realm but is gradually inching toward digital. "I can mix and scratch with my laptop," she crows. With 15,000 MP3s on there, she no longer has to travel with ten crates of records.

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