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Born: January 28, 1941
Died: February 6, 1989
Biography: King Tubby is to this day synonymous with dub. He was a man who had a passion for fiddling with sound equipment, and turned that passion into a new musical genre and a veritable art form. He may have started his career as a repairman, but before he was done, his name was one of the most respected around the world. He worked with virtually every artist in Jamaica, and his name on a remix was like gold, a seal of quality that was never questioned.
King Tubby was born under the more humble name of Osbourne Ruddock in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 28, 1941. Initially, the closest he got to the music scene was via the airwaves, as Ruddock spent his teens working as a radio repairman. In the mid-'50s, Jamaica was undergoing a revolution that saw the audiences move out of the dancehalls, which had once packed them in with live music provided by big bands, and onto the streets. There the sound systems ruled as traveling outfits set themselves up on a sociable street or corner and blasted records to crowds through a speaker. Initially they were small, but the sound systems quickly grew in size and legend; the competition extremely fierce and often violent. Speakers were the usual victims of these rivalries (sometimes along with the DJs, organizers, and even the audience). The people weren't the only ones who were damaged, which is why in the late '50s the operator of a Waterhouse sound system approached Ruddock for help. The repairman fixed that speaker, then another, and another, until he was providing first aid for a variety of sound systems around the city.
A born tinkerer, Ruddock inevitably began coming up with ways to improve things as well. He spent years working on other people's sound systems, but by 1968, he was ready to open his own shop: the legendary Tubby's Home Town Hi Fi. The sound he provided there was nigh on perfect, which meant King Tubby himself was now beginning to look around for something new to fiddle with. Producer Duke Reid offered the perfect solution via a job at his Treasure Isle studio as a disc cutter. There, King Tubby began deconstructing and reconstructing music in the same way he had sound systems, but these early efforts were really remixes, an already old skill in Jamaica. The remix began as a "version" B-side, nothing more than an instrumental of a vocal track. Ruddy Redwood, a sound system MC and engineer at Treasure Isle, had taken the next logical step forward, physically remixing records in the rocksteady years to place the focus on the bass.
King Tubby took this concept to a whole new level. He started stripping out not only the vocals, but cutting up instrumental parts, dropping them in and out of the tracks, adding new effects and sounds, while also making use of phasing, shifts, and echoes. Many of these experiments were pressed onto acetate dubplates and spun at his sound system. These stripped-down tracks were integral to the rise of the DJs, and King Tubby not only cut exclusive dubplates for his favorites, he also hired the best to perform at his sound system. U-Roy, I-Roy, and Big Youth were just some of the stars who made their mark toasting at Tubby's Hi Fi.
In 1971, King Tubby was ready to take another leap forward and opened his own studio. There, the experiments continued as the remixer turned engineer moved into the area of studio effects. The studio quickly became a favorite for the likes of Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry, Prince Tony Robinson, and Glen Brown. It was the latter man who history acclaims as the first to actually credit a King Tubby mix on record. The aptly titled "Tubby's at the Control" was a remix of "Merry Up" by God Sons (an alias for Tommy McCook and Rad Bryan). Robinson followed suit, releasing "Tubby's in Full Swing," on a song credited to Lloyd Robinson and Carey Johnson. [Read more via AllMusic here]