In the late 1990's, a certian influence crept its way into the American ska scene. The influence was the introduction of dub music into modern ska. Before dub was brought into the ska world, most ska fans wouldnt go passed rocksteady in their reggae collections, sometimes venturing only into skinhead reggae and never into roots, rockers or anything else Jamaica had put out since the early 70's.
This new trend of bands doing dub started with ska bands begining to play more of a reggae sound. Foe example, the Stubborn All-Stars, a band fronted by King Django, who had been known from their debut album to be a straight traditional ska band with big horn arrangements and so on, put out a more reggae album (which a dub track as the second to last track on the album) for their second release "Back With A New Batch". Also New York rocksteady band The Bluebeats had slapped two dub versions onto the end of their debut album "Dance With Me".
Another thing that was to bring about the new dub was California bands starting as more of a skinhead reggae band. The Rhythm Doctors are one who started as a instrumental skinhead reggae band. And having a dub master like Brian Dixon as the rhythm guitarist, theres no doubt the Rhythm Doctors ended up with a couple of dub tracks on their debut "Reggae Injection".
What really put the icing on the dub cake though was the opening of the now legendary Version City studio in New York. When asked what the studio was like Vic had this to say: "Well, it's pretty nasty down there. When I go there, I use my time well, because its not a place you would choose to hang out in. Ive been working there a long time, and I am really crazy about the sound there". The studio was run by Skinnerbox/Stubborn All-Stars front man, King Django. With this studio Django started working on recording collaborative effords from what was dubbed the NYC Ska Mob (essentially Agent Jay (guitar), Victor Rice (bass), and Vic Ruggiero (keyboards, vocals) and whoever else would be around. But Django put up a no covers policy and had everyone work up all original rhythms. Some of the cream of the Version City crop can be found on the "Version City" collaboration album released by Stubborn Records. But that aside, with these new rhythms, Django, Jay and Victor Rice would use bits and pieces from each song and create new songs in true version style, even creating some heavy dub in the process.
In my opinion, the best dub from Version City was put out by Victor Rice. His debut solo album "At Version City" on Stubborn Records features an all star ensemble of top NYC ska musicians playing outstanding instrumental ska and reggae and then 4 heavy dub tracks to top it off. Also, Victors songs on the "Version City" were heavily influenced by dub, with Victor even bringing out Agent Jay to play the xylophone, a instrument originally pioneered in reggae to great effect by Augustus Pablo. Django and Agent Jay though werent close behind in the dub department. Especially Django who put out the third Stubborn All-Stars album, "Nex Music", featuring a great dub of their "Not Like A Star" song. Actually Django hasn't stopped making versions on that rhythm or the "Wash Away Evil" rhythm. He also is known for mixing tracks for The Radiation Kings, Slick Olde Bishops and more. The highlight of Version City's dub output was released in 2000 on Jumpstart Records as "Version City Dub Clash" featuring many great versions by the Grand Masters of the studio.Version City Dub Clash
Back in California, there was no studio to center all the creativity on, but thats not to say the creativity wasnt there. Brian Dixon (of Checkmate, SeeSpot and Rhythm Doctors) has become a top name for dub in the American ska scene mising heavy tracks not only for his own projects but also for other bands like the Irie Beats, The Allentons, the Cover Ups and anyone else who needed a good dub. And Brian definitly enjoys it as he says in a interview I had with him: "I found that engineering was my calling from when I was a kid playing in those crappy punk bands. We would go to some cheap studio and record a demo and I loved the whole process. As far as dub goes, it is what I enjoy the most. I get to take an someone else's tune and make it my own". Hepcat, who had always toyed around with dub, put a hidden dub mix of "The Secret" on the end of their "Right On Time album and put two short dub interludes (cleaverly named "Lude One" and "Lude Two" on their newest "Push N Shove" album. Even smaller bands got into the act with The Debonaires (Riverside, Ca based ska-reggae band) putting a dub mix of their "Losing You" song as a hidden track on their debut album, courtesy of sax player Dave Sakover.
The person to come closest to matching Brian Dixon in the prolific department though is the man closly associated with Sacramento based rocksteady-reggae band the Steady Ups. This man is named Dr. Echo and with the tight reggae rhythms given to him by the Steady Ups, theres no way he can put out anything bad. He released his debut album "Cure for the Dubless" on the Jumpstart label and its an excellent view of his style. All we need is for Mr. Dixon to put out a dub album of his own.Dr Echo
Leaving America for a little while, the ska band to toy with Versions the most was Dr Ring Ding and the Senior All-Stars who put out a all version album featuring dubs and new songs over old rhythms. The album is called "Diggin Up Dirt" and is a great example of what Version is all about.
I know there is plenty, plenty more out there so if anyone has any suggestions or additions please don't hesitate to fill me in. And be sure to check out all of this great dub.
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