Album of the Week: Bunny Lee & Brad Osborne’s King of Dub (1978)

Bunny “Striker” Lee was one of reggae’s premier producers. Discogs credits him with production on over 2000 recordings, as well as writing credits for legends such as John Holt, Max Romeo, Dennis Brown and more. His Jamaican reggae productions form the backbone of King of Dub, a Jamaican-Bronx record of unassailable dub music.

This album is erroneously attributed to King Tubby on Spotify, which is somewhat understandable. The LP cover suggests that the artist is simply “King of Dub”, and the back cover’s notes from Clocktower Records founder Brad Osborne read in part, “For the right sound and effect, KING TUBBYS ‘the dubmaster’ is a must, knowing when to bring in the Rhythm and leggo the Bass and Drum”. The album was also mixed partially at King Tubby’s studio in Jamaica, and what with Tubby being a prominent King of the dub genre, the confusion is almost inevitable.

Little is written online about Brad Osborne, but this blog post from 2015 gives some insight. Osborne imported records from Jamaica to his shop in the Bronx based on the personal connections he had with Jamaican producers like Bunny Lee and King Tubby. According to the post, Osborne was given exclusive music on tape from these producers and often overdubbed them with flutes and pressed them to vinyl for Clocktower.

King of Dub, then, is a compilation of Bunny Lee productions for reggae artists that Osborne selected and released. With Sly & Robbie holding down the rhythm section you can’t go wrong (this is a general rule in reggae releases): the thing bangs. Like all dub, it’s best heard on loud speakers rather than an iPhone (the LP sounds particularly tight). Horns, organ, echoing vocals and dubby beeps abound on the opener “King Zion Dub”.

Much of the joy in this dub collection comes from tracking the many instruments or lack thereof (and as with any dub, the mixing board becomes an instrument): you’ll hear a horn appear out of nowhere, then fade out, leaving only bass and drums, then a guitar will enter, then echo away. The hi-hats will change in timbre and then drop. At times the music might come to a complete halt altogether. “Rubba Dunza”‘s ominous bass-heavy track is complimented by occasional drum splashes.

The final track “Stalac 80 Dubwise”, a scorching dub of “Stalag 17” by Ansell Collins (better known as the riddim used by Sister Nancy in “Bam Bam” as well as Chaka Demus & Pliers “Murder She Wrote”), is not listed on Spotify. Whether this is due to some sample clearance issue or the title’s similarity to the Nazi POW camp Stalag 18 is unclear. I believe that the track listed as “Fancy Up a Dub” is actually an edit of “Stalac 80 Dubwise”, but I would have to relisten to my record to be sure. Nevertheless, the final track here is a true ranking dub that tops off what is one of the greatest dub albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.

Listen to King of Dub here.

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