Melodica in Reggae : Augustus Pablo & Friends
April 21, 2019 at 10:01 pm #10737
Hello there .. my first post!
Here you will find some informations & profiles about melodica in reggae. There is surely lot of things to say and discuss. For the moment, i will mainly focus here on 70s reggae, hence ignoring recent players (Art-X, Addis Pablo,..)
This topic will consist in 3 main posts:
– a basic Augustus Pablo overview
– detailed listing from others reggae melodica players
– questions & thoughts
I hope html formating will be ok, as there’s no preview function…April 21, 2019 at 10:02 pm #10738
Augustus Pablo, The spiritual father
He was responsible for the (short-lived) melodica craze in the jamaican music industry in the mid 70s, and remained the sole true specialist of this instrument in the reggae field. He also played clavinet, xylophone and piano with great melodic results (check out Marabi, a clavinet tune for exemple)
Discography … full of overlapping compilations & bogus releasse ..also don’t forget Jamaican music market was structured around Singles releases.. most of Pablo’s official album are in fact singles compilation.
—–— The Early Years 1971-74 ——
He played the HOHNER PIANO 26 from the begining (1971) through the whole 70s decade. His distinctive sound is closely linked to this instrument. It seems there’s no reggae melodica record predating the first Pablo recording. i would be curious to hear melodica in older jamaican style such as rocksteady or ska.
Typical early sound : Sahara Rock (74)
Acoustic playing (melodica from 3’42)
This is certainly my favorite period from him. Focus is put on raw groove, great simple & uplifting melody with little echo/dub effect.
Compilation Skanking with Pablo perfectly showcases this early vibe and how melodica can make wonders. I know several people not too fond about reggae who litteraly fell in love with that release.
—– The deep roots years 1975-79—–
Another favorite period of mine. Augustus Pablo style gradually shifted in heavy dub realm. Mood is quite different .. slow, heavy, full of echoes, especially for tunes issued from his collaboration with Lee Perry and his famous Black Ark studio. Reggae roots at his best ! During these years, he launched his own-label « Rockers » and became a producer with great success.
Typical deep roots sound : Black Ants Lane (77)
Photos and LP sleeves seems to indicate that Pablo was still using his Hohner 26 (see here). Sound was less distinctive and recognisable as the overal sound treatment was pretty heavy.
—— Mystical Years 1980-99 —-
The 80/90 decades were definitely not the best for Augustus Pablo, especially as his health problems worsened. The sound gradually ventured into more lightweight melody and digital sound with often an overall pretty bland result (feel free to disagree in the comments). You can still find some nice bits of melody here and here, his last album, released just before his death (Valley Of Jehosaphat, 1999) showed a return in better form.
According to LP sleeves, it seems he gave up his Hohner26 for another model (see photo here after .. Hohner36?). Maybe that could also partially explain the overall sound change in his recordings. I would be curious to hear these melodies with raw Hohner 26 recording.
Typical 80s sound : Pipers of Zion (86)
Typical 90s digital sound : Armagiddeon Dub (90)
He was also seen with another model during an ‘86 Japan live appearance (Suzuki M37 maybe?). Seems pretty occasional.
April 21, 2019 at 10:03 pm #10739
Others melodica players
When it comes to melodica Augustus Pablo remains the great pioneer. Some occasional melodica players appeared soon after his breakout hit “Java” in 1971, mainly coming from piano & horns background, but nobody really explored and played that instrument consistently and the total record output remains pretty small. It should be noted that other melodica models were used (as with Joe White). Listing includes youtube links.
– Bobby Kalphat
The second great melodica jamaican player, coming from a piano background. Great roots vibes (also thanks to riddim from producer Phil Pratt). Bobby Kalphat claimed he was the first one using melodica in reggae field, when using it to arrange tune when living in countryside without possibilities of having a piano. His first recording only appeared one year after Pablo’s debut though.
Don’t miss his cult LP Zion Hill, featuring several great melodica cuts.
Other singles include :
Addis a Wa Wa
Sounds of Now
Black Africa (excellent deep atmospheric dub ..uncredited player but i think it’s Kalphat)
Easy Street Special
– Glen Brown
Another big name you will hear soon after Pablo’s .. a pretty interesting unusual producer, focusing on instrumental tracks and whose nickname is « Rhythm Master »
Not sure which model he played … Hohner26 according to this sleeve ?
The 3 following tracks are credit to Glen Brown, but i feel it’s Joe White who performed uncredited (Suzuki sound and different style)
2 Wedden skank
Not on youtube: Three Blind Mice, Fastest of the fastest, Fresh dance step (awful 80s tracks..)
– Ansel Collins
Stalag 17 (Version)
– Joe White:
Jah Jah Dub :
Big change in sound .. definitely not an Hohner26! LP Sleeve shows another model, and one track is called “Suzuki shuffle” … Suzuki M37 maybe?
Jah Jah Dub is another pure melodica album. Seems pure improvisation on the set (i am not a big fan of his style…).
You can also hear Joe White melodica on Dubwise (also 75).
And some few other singles :
Call me trinity
– Rue Lloyd:
Loving you :
April 21, 2019 at 10:05 pm #10740
- This reply was modified 3 months ago by Martin.
Comments & thoughts
1/ Which melodica to play reggae?
What are your feeling about different melodica sounds here? Did you identified some specific models?
I feel the Hohner 26 definitely suits reggae best
2/ How to get the reggae dub sound?
Studio effect brings really big change in the overall sound (check Pablo early and mid70 work). Any recommandation or advice about how to get interesting echo/distortion effect?
Here’s a recent recording (flute) with great sound effect:
“I use a very old Roland guitar pedal for a lot of my flute playing. I think it’s called the Roland Phase II. If I double-track my flute, playing two in harmony, then put it through the pedal, there’s a weird distortion that is pleasing to the ear! That’s my flute sound.”
I am a total music beginner, and i recently tuned (pretty accurately) my vintage Hohner26. I was dissapointed that i definitely prefer the old slightly out-of-tune sound. My well tuned melodica sound seems now too clean and with little personnality…
When listening Pablo early tracks, what’s your feeling about tuning? Maybe he didn’t tune his instrument after all…
4/ Note sheet
There’s no sheet note available for melodica track, but i was surprised to see a rather good number of amateur recording on youtube from which you can get notes (often with poor sound quality and hard to see key pressing, but it definitely helps a lot!).
I am currently transcribing some video into rough notes (but i have no knowledge to put into a proper sheetnote … maybe midi keyboard to sheetnote with a dedicated software?)
5/ Backing track for recording
Thanks to jamaican instrumental tradition from B-side vinyl, you can get a good number of instrumental or dub version!April 22, 2019 at 12:26 pm #10742
Amazing post, thanks Martin, loads for me to explore here.April 22, 2019 at 5:00 pm #10743
Welcome to the forum Martin.
What a great informative first post.
I’m a Augustus Pablo fan from way back.
As you wrote because of the many overlapping collections I wasn’t aware of his stylistic periods but I could sure tell there were some tracks I liked the sound of a lot better than others.
Thanks to you I now know why and what to look for. 🙂
There is something magical about those early Hohners that even non-musicians respond to.
I don’t know if it’s the metal body the larger mouthpiece or something else.
I hope Hohner is reading these forums and get a clue that they should bring these models back and maybe add a 32 and 36 note version in the same design.April 22, 2019 at 8:28 pm #10744
I didn’t go into full details regarding Augustus Pablo works, but i will post next into annoted single chronological discography (in fact there’s not that much singles with melodica as lead instrument). I think my recommandation list post in the first post should be a good starting point.
Because of their single nature, lot of his works are scattered among many labels. Some of them not being available since their initial release (some fetching quite high…)
Speaking of style, here’s one exemple of how Pablo’s style evolved during his early years
1971 (proto-Cassava piece on clavinet?)
1973 (raw version)
1975 (more melodic)
Same rhythm but different melodica pattern
Some lesser known works inspired from US tunes:
Nat Adderly’s “Work Song”.
Frankie Laine’s “Mule Train”
and a favorite of mine with that unmistakable Lee Perry sound (still Pablo) 🙂
April 22, 2019 at 9:04 pm #10746
- This reply was modified 3 months ago by Martin.
I hope Hohner is reading these forums and get a clue that they should bring these models back and maybe add a 32 and 36 note version in the same design.
Actually there was a recent Hohner marketing collaboration made with Addis, Pablo’s son. Sound is really ugly as expected and Addis seems so bored it’s really painful to watch
I saw several photos of japanese melodica players with an Hammond44 (including Makiko, a reggae player) .. would be interested in hearing Pablo rendition on that Suzuki model (you can see melodica marketed as”Key Hamo” in japanese characters, for Keyboard Harmonica)
You can see Makiko live Hammond @3′
and Makiko playing the vintage Hohner in a really smooth way (great video channel for tutorial with several reggae covers)
another great player (3 covers available)
Great modern composition made over the classic “Marry Me” riddim (69)
April 23, 2019 at 1:38 am #10750
Thanks Martin. You have given me lots to read and listen to as I travel to Jamaica in a couple of months. I have enjoyed exploring the development of 60s and 70s era Jamaican music (Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, and Dub) in recent years and am really drawn to it, as I am to 60s and 70s soul and R&B music in the United States (where I grew up). Interesting that the melodica played such a significant role in this music in Jamaica.
The unpolished nature of some of this body of Jamaican music is part of its appeal, just as an unpolished raggety melodica often sounds just right in some songs, particularly some blues, roots, and reggae songs. I, along with others here on Melodica World, are pioneering new equipment and techniques. You can open your mind to new knowledge here. And I am sure many here would welcome you sharing more of your knowledge about the use of melodicas in Jamaican music.
Regards, LowboyApril 24, 2019 at 8:23 pm #10752
We are indebted to you, Martin. This provides invaluable perspective on the artistry of Augustus Pablo!April 25, 2019 at 12:49 pm #10756
Here’s the detailed Augustus Pablo discography centered on his melodica works in the 70s (i didn’t include works on keyboard,clavinet, xylophone and dub versions). There’s a good 150+ songs to enjoy here, all linked to youtube.
I structured the list around producers and periods, it makes sense as reggae evolved a lot during the 70s and each producer has its own style:
– First part “MELODICA FOR HIRE 1971-75” is centered on Pablo’s early years, working for several producers.
– Second part “MELODICA IN DEEP ROOTS” goes in heavyweight sound territories. Includes tracks centered on his close collaboration with Lee Perry, and also Pablo’s own productions (splitted in several stylistic parts). Also included the few works he did with few occasional producers in the late 70s.
Some few rares titles are still missing, but this list is pretty complete and should provide an interesting starting point to explore Pablo’s outputs in the 70s, and highlight some obscurities which deserves way more attention! Keep in mind Pablo was an highly influential producer, none of these vocals works are included here (most of them use similar riddim though).
I won’t cover his 80s/90s discography for the moment, i must confess it doesn’t interest me a lot. I will probably add several youtube playlists sometime later for a more enjoyable listing experience.
I’ve included discogs links for worthy compilations. Some titles are only available in their raw original vinyl form and have never been reissued since their original release.April 25, 2019 at 12:50 pm #10757
================= MELODICA FOR HIRE 1971-75====================
Producer: Herman Chin Loy
Aquarius Rock compilation (includes Iggy Iggy, East of River Nile, Song of the East, The Red Sea, Aquarius Rock)
Producer: Clive Chin / Leonard Chin
Album “This is Augustus Pablo” (includes: Dub Organiser, Point Blank, Arabian Rock, Pablo in Dub, Skateland Rock, Too Late, Pretty Baby, Dread Eye, Assignement n°1,Jah Rock, Guiding Red,Lovers Mood, Java)
Blackman in Dub
Pablo No Jester
Bells of Death
Bedroom Mazurka + Dub
Don’t gun the man down
Cinderella in Black
Soul on Fire
I am alright
Pablo’s Dub Train
Bass And Drums Version
Pablo in Cow Town/Fiat 125
Fort Augustus Rock/Big Head 50 Skank
Return of Ivan
Pablo A Put it on
Pablo Wanted Dub
Believe a dub
Born to dub you part1
King Tubby Special Mix
A Tuff Dub
Tales Of Pablo
Pablo Big Ride
A Black Version
Pablo Dread in a red
New Lots Express
Producer : Tommy Cowaan
Album ‘Ital Dub’ (includes The Big Rip-Off, Road Block, Curly Dub, Well Red, Gun Trade, Shake Up, Hillside Airstrip, Barbwire Disaster, Mr. Big, Eli’s Move, House Raid, Shake Down)
Discogs reference: Ital Dub
Producer : Enos McLeod
Album ‘Thriller’ (includes Pablo In Red, Pablo Style, Last Of The Jestering, Pablo Nuh Jester, Fat Girl, Rocky Road)
Discogs reference: ThrillerApril 25, 2019 at 12:51 pm #10758
================= MELODICA IN DEEP ROOTS====================
Collaboration with producer Lee Perry – Black Ark Studio
Our Man Flint
Hot and Cold (version 1)
Come Along Jah Son
Bike no Licence
Mr phang, Mr wong, Mr Chin / Chinaman Dub
Black Ants Lane
Thunder Clap / Lightning Chap
Memories of the Ghetto
Babylon Thief Dub
Let’s All Unite
Lama Lava – Mix One
To be a lover dub
(Pablo was also a musician on Lee Perry’s Kung Fu Meets the Dragon LP)
Producer: Augustus Pablo
Ras Menilik Congo
El Rocker Chapter3
Rock To Sleep (Dubplate)
Jah in the hills
Sufferer’s Trod / Sufferer’s Choice
Power of the Trinity
Pablo Love Jah
Orchid Path Love
King David’s Melody
Israel in Harmony
Corner Stone Dub
Earth Rightful Ruler
King Alpha and Queen Omega
Jah Love Endureth
Java (new version)
Lightning and Thunder
Israel School Yard
Discogs References: Original Rockers,El Rocker’s ,
Pablo in Fine Style,Dub, Reggae & Roots From The Melodica King,King Tubby meets Rockers uptown,
The Definitive Augustus Pablo Boxset,East of River Nile, Original Rockers Vol2,Authentic Golden Melodies,The Essential Augustus Pablo,The Mystic World of Augustus Pablo ,Skanking Easy,Earth Rightful Ruler,King David’s Melody
1975-79April 27, 2019 at 2:34 pm #10764
Is there a way to edit previous post? i can’t find any buttons.
I did additional researches, and melodica did appear in some productions around 66-68 (with a minor role). Some people think it comes from Danny McFarnale
It’s a Fire / Science (Java copy)April 27, 2019 at 2:38 pm #10765
Different sound setups from Randy’s (Album “This is Augustus Pablo” ~73)
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