Dynasty of Dub

The descendants of King Tubby still prime the digital dub pump

"I still keep the basics," she adds. "Two cases of vinyl, a bag of CDs, and my laptop. I don't forget any of my elements -- they're all there with me."

Yet this regal reggae bloodline also bears the taint of seclusion. Keith Ruddock e-mailed New Times out of the blue, introducing himself as King Tubby's nephew. First contact with Michelle Ruddock was extremely positive. Yet when invited to sit for photographs to accompany this article, Leslie Ruddock reacted with a combination of annoyance and hostility that evidently trickled down to his progeny.

Within weeks of the radio broadcast, Michelle stopped answering her phone; when finally reached, her initial openness had shifted to icy quarantine. Keith made several promises to return to West Palm Beach -- first for Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and finally sometime in late January. He insisted he'd put everything aside for a meeting and photo shoot. "Press always comes first," he added.

"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

Then, as February rolled around, bad news did too: "I can't make it down," he said. "Family problems."

In contrast to Keith's accent-laden patois, his father's sharp, clipped English bears almost no trace of his heritage. "I don't do that 'Yeah, mon' thing," Leslie Ruddock snaps. "It don't work no more. Remember, I didn't just get here -- I grew up in this damned country. I've been in this country since Johnson was the president. Jamaica is just the land of my birth -- what's the big deal? I left it a long time ago."

Yet America hasn't always been friendly: While in Brooklyn, his friends recall, Tubby's apartment was burglarized. So in 1982, he moved to South Florida, but his first studio space here (in Miami) was robbed as well. So he relocated to Fort Lauderdale and opened a recording studio at 2811 W. Broward Blvd. Young Tubby's Music Center was the biggest studio between Kingston and New York for reggae artists, and Ruddock fondly recalls the halcyon days of sessions with vocal talents Sugar Minott, Johnny Osbourne, and Barrington Levy as well as the late, great Dennis Brown and Augustus Pablo.

Inside the Broward Boulevard studio -- next door to a strip club -- Ruddock's disciplinarian side surfaces. In telling the tale, he punctures one of the biggest misconceptions about dub: that everyone involved must have been incredibly stoned to come up with such mind-bending sounds.

"That's the part of the music business that I resented constantly," he says angrily, "and still do. I would come into the studio feeling good, and the minute the musicians come in and start smoking their goddamned ganja shit, stinkin' up the place, I'd have to open up the window.

"I don't smoke," he says. "Or drink. I never did. Why should I be suffering because that guy smokes his ganja? So I had a tough time, especially when using other people's studios. I used to carry this little gas mask with me."

He admits it probably looked a little silly to see someone behind the console wearing a gas mask with filter cartridges, but he didn't care.

"If someone said, 'Tubby, why you put that thing on?' I'd say, 'Man, I can't breathe in here with all that smoke!'"

Silvera recalls, "He had this phobia about smoke, so [musicians] would go do it outside in the car before they came in. He told me that cigarette smoke will form a charcoal film on the equipment, the diodes, and really mess it up."

During his stint in Fort Lauderdale, Ruddock had three rules musicians and engineers had to follow: No smoking in the studio. No food in the studio. And no firearms.

He also remembers recording artists who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- pay for the studio time they'd booked. "I did a lot of grinnin' and bearin', man," he says. "I had guys who pushed a gun into my navel and said, 'What money you talkin' about?' I've been down those roads. I could have lost my life so many times."

Ruddock knows that enduring these indignities is part of the work, and even at 58, he's still bitter.

"Listen to me," he says solemnly. "Luck don't run my way. It's hard work!" His voice rises. "I'm talking about 45 years of constant soldering! Getting electrical shocks! Listening to all kinds of shit from guys who don't even know how to play their goddamned instruments!"

Softly, he adds: "It's not about fame. It's not even about money. It's about -- somebody gotta do the goddamned work."

A few days a week, he repairs equipment in the back room at Boca Music. "He really knows his stuff," owner Brian Baldwin says. "He catches things that we don't normally catch. He's probably the best electronics repair guy around."

"That's all he does," says Ace Kari, salesman at Schumacher Music in Stuart, where Ruddock also works part-time. "He fixes anything that has wires and tubes and transistors, whether it be a TV or a microphone and everything in between." Kari has gotten to know Young Tubby a bit and understands his reluctance to indulge curious writers.

"That part of his life is over and done with. He wants to be left alone. It's a shame, but he's done."

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