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Various - Straight to the Head: Jogibs Records Presents Knockout Sounds

  by Adrian Janes

published: 8 / 12 / 2021

Various - Straight to the Head: Jogibs Records Presents Knockout Sounds
Label: Cherry Red Records
Format: CD


Mixed bag of styles and quality in this compilation of early reggae from Joe Gibbs, who became one of the music’s pre-eminent producers.

This compilation of reggae producer Joe Gibbs’ work is drawn almost exclusively from 1970. Practically speaking this may have something to do with licensing issues, but in terms of the music it’s a year that sits at an intriguing point between the early days of reggae as a recognised style (Toots and the Maytals’ ‘Do the Reggay’ was released just two years previously) and its growing international popularity and innovative flowering through the adventurousness of dub in the years that followed. Gibbs originally trained as an electrical engineer and ran a repair shop for radios and TVs. It was in the back of this shop that he first began recording artists in 1966 on a two-track machine. Four years later, the sound of much of this album retains that simple appeal, almost suggesting a reggae equivalent to the Hi Records sound Willie Mitchell established for Al Green and Ann Peebles. The main techniques Gibbs employs to make the sound less dry are reverb and echo, applied to instruments (e.g. the organ on ‘Niney Special’) and to voices, making their declamations the more impressive. Busty Brown’s raw echoed voice on ‘Rock the Clock’ recalls Dave and Ansell Collins’ more famous ‘Monkey Spanner’, while Lord Comic (‘Jack of My Trade’) summons a deep growl that seems intended to both intimidate his namechecked rivals like U Roy and to entice women, his bursts of boasting one example of the rise of toasting. This sexual element, so often suggested by the compulsive reggae rhythm, is spotlit on the ribald banter of The Two Soul Brothers’ ‘Pussy Catch A Fire’, (where, despite the siren sound effect, their concern does not seem to be an enflamed feline), the female moans and sighs on ‘Still Water Runs Deep’, and Lizzy’s ‘Wear You From the Ball’ (a knowing response to U Roy’s ‘Wear You to the Ball’.) Several of the compilation’s tracks are ‘versions’, tracks stripped of their vocals to be played at an event for an MC or toaster to improvise to, their skill in this being one of the key factors in ensuring the popularity of a sound system. (Put into an American context with funk records, Jamaican DJ Kool Herc later used such practices to become a founding father of hip hop.) These versions are probably the clearest examples of how the music gathered here is chiefly meant for dancing, as they are often simple and repetitive. What close listening does reveal are early nods towards what became dub, such as the way the bass and drums are pushed to the fore and other instruments all but disappear on The Destroyers’ ‘News Flash Version’, or the comically echoed vocals, distorted organ and moments of faded out drums on The Now Generation’s ‘Echo (Version)’. Between the instrumentals and the toasts, only a few tracks are truly realised songs. The best of these is ‘United We Stand’, on which Cynthia Richards and Al Brown combine in a soulful style, like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell transplanted to Kingston. There is strong feeling too in ‘Honey No Money’ by Niney and Slim Smith which almost rescues the banal lyrics, while ‘Seeing Is Believing’ combines Carlton Gibb’s forceful echoed vocals with plaintive harmonies to create one of the more impactful tracks. One of the more gimmicky yet appealing tracks is the instrumental ‘Hi-Jacked’ by Count Matchuki and the Destroyers : It’s a catchy, brass-led tune, interspersed with messages between the pilot of a hijacked plane and Havana, in this era often the airport of choice for such ventures. Another tune that’s still more dynamic is ‘Movements (The Joes Gibbs Way)’: interestingly, unlike those tracks which have hints of dub and suggest the future, this is one that revives the ska past through its clattering drum breaks and “chicka chicka” vocals. An unfortunate defect of the booklet that comes with this album is the lack of information about how successful these tracks actually were. Yet despite few of the figures involved, other than Joe Gibbs himself, being amongst the top rank of reggae artists and producers, in its evocation of both a producer still developing his craft and the atmosphere of a dancehall, this is a solid compilation that is best moved to rather than analysed.

Track Listing:-
1 Straight To The Head - Johnny Lover
2 Compass - The Destroyers
3 Honey No Money - Niney & Slim Smith
4 News Flash - The Destroyers
5 News Flash Version - The Destroyers
6 Perfect Born Ya - The Immortals
7 Niney Special - Niney & The Destroyers
8 Rock The Clock - Busty Brown & The Destroyers
9 Rock The Clock (Version 2) - The Destroyers
10 Pussy Catch A Fire - The Soul Brothers
11 Ten Feet Tall - Lizzy
12 Movements - Count Matchuki
13 Red Red Wine - The Immortals
14 Musical Recipe - Andy Capp
15 O Lord - Winston Wright
16 Hi-Jacked - Count Matchuki
17 United We Stand - Cynthia & Al
18 Jack Of My Trade - Lord Comic
19 Aquarius - Lizzy & Cornel Campbell
20 Ghost Walk - Carlton Gibbs
21 Ghost Capturer - The Joe Gibbs All Stars
22 Straight To The Head - Johnny Lover
23 Seeing Is Believing - Carlton Gibbs
24 Joy Stick – Lizzy
25 Head Cup - Johnny Lover & Charley Ace
26 Echo (Version) - The 3rd & 4th Generation
27 Nevada Joe - Johnny Lover & Destroyers

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