On May 18, 1999, reggae fans world-wide were given quite the blow as news spread about the passing of one of Jamaicas most creative minds, Mr. Horace Sawby, more commonly known as, Augustus Pablo.
Horace was born in a lower middle class neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica in 1953. He was always frail looking and more light skinned than the others he grew up around. Horace took a liking to music almost straight away. As a teenager, he taught himself piano and became a devout rasta. He became so good on piano that in the late 1960's, he was invited to join the Youth Professionals band which was the original group with Family Man Barrett (the group who went on to become the Hippy Boys, then the Upsetters and finally the Wailers band, with different sets of musicians), but he declined the position, wishing instead to concentrate on session work.
His first session was for producer Herman Chin-Loy who gave Horace the name, Augustus Pablo. This was a name given to all instrumental tracks that came from Chin-Loy's stable. In fact, keyboard player Glen Adams was the first Augustus Pablo before he emigrated to the US and Horace took his place! A little bit after that session, Augustus started the Rockers Sound System with his brother Garth. It has been said that the sound was named Rockers because it played rock n' roll as well as reggae which was quite different in those days. Rockers would also come to be known as the name for Pablo's own record label. But more on that later.
One of the main things Augustus is known for is his introduction of melodica (a small keyboard that is blown into sort of like a harmonica) to reggae music. It is a common story that says he obtained the melodica from a friend who told him to use it for practice. When Herman Chin-Loy saw the instrument, he told Augustus to bring it into the studio, as Herman was very interested in having newer, fresher instruments and musicians on his records. The melodica took off, the people all enjoyed it and it remained an almost trademark sound of Augustus for the rest of his carreer. Another sound Augustus is more readily associated with is his 'far-East' sound which began with his first hit "East of the River Nile". The new mesmerising, almost hypnotic sound would be another trademark sound for Augustus as the years progressed.
From the success of "East of the River Nile", Augustus decided to start his own label and produce what he wanted to produce. Gathering musicians like Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, Robbie Shakesphere, Fully Fullwood, Dirty Harry and many others like them, Augustus created the true Rockers style reggae, with his ominous melodica floating above everything else. But instrumentals were not all Augustus produced. Soon he was producing unknown vocalists like Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell, Tetrak and many others. Of the singers, Pablo had the biggest success with Hugh Mundell and the "Africa Must Be Free by 1983" album.
Other notable successes were his ventures into dub, a music that mixed and echoed and delayed reggae to the point of madness. Like many other producers of the day, Pablo took his music to King Tubby to be mixed and a big hit was scored in the UK for the dub version of Jacob Miller's "Baby I Love You So" which was renamed "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown". The success of this version spawned a dub collaboration album with the same title as the single. The album was a huge success and even today, it is called one of the greatest dub LP's ever. The absolute restructuring of Pablo's heavy rhythms and eerie melodica by King Tubby seemed to match the style of Augustus Pablo perfectly, and dub is still to this day one of the main things Augustus is known for.
Augustus even seemed to be quite active during the 1980s when all the roots music turned dancehall and all the rhythms turned digital. But while most roots producers didn't quite know how to adjust, Augustus seemed to move quite comfortably. Though his stable of artists wasn't quite as loud as in the previous decade, he was still highly active in producing and playing sessions and live shows. He is even credited with breaking Junior Delgado, Yami Bolo and Icho Candy in the 80's, giving them a break they might have otherwise not had.
He continued recording through the 1990's, adding more digital rhythms to his sound. But unfortuantly on May 18, 1999, he died from a nerve disorder called myasthenia. He watched as the people he helped bring into the music (Hugh Hundell, Jacob Miller)and people he often worked with (King Tubby) die before his passing, causing a great shock to the reggae world in general. Horace "Augustus Pablo" Swaby left behind a wife Karen and a son Addis. He also left behind an amazing catalog of music and the reggae world should be thankful just for that.
Augustus Pablo (1953 - 1999)
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