Starting with the Skatalites, Jamaican recordings largely revolved around a select floating pool of the island's best musicians; top producers began calling on the Revolutionaries in the mid-'70s. But the group's importance extends far beyond providing the music to many roots classics; Revolutionaries backing tracks dominated Jamaican music when dub, the foundation of the mix culture, became a widespread reggae phenomenon. The rise of the Revolutionaries also marked the arrival of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar as the next great bass and drums team in Jamaican music. With Carleton Barrett and Aston "Family Man" Barrett on the road with Bob Marley & the Wailers, Sly & Robbie were the rhythm section of choice when reggae emerged as an international force.
Along with Shakespeare and Dunbar, the core Revolutionaries included Ossie Hibbert, Ansel Collins, Errol "Tarzan" Nelson on keyboards, Radcliffe "Duggie" Bryan on guitar, Uziah "Sticky" Thompson on percussion, Skatalites veteran Tommy McCook on tenor sax, Herman Marquis on alto sax, and Vin Gordon on trombone. Given the highly fluid nature of studio work, other A-list veterans like Earl "Chinna" Smith and Tony Chin on guitar, Bertram "Ranchie" McLean on bass, Robby Lynn on keyboards, and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace or Carlton "Santa" Davis on drums might fill in. In fact, the Revolutionaries is only the name for the house band on sessions at Channel One studio with producers Jo Jo Hookim and Ernest Hookim. Many of the same musicians also recorded as the Professionals for producer Joe Gibbs, the Aggrovators with producer Bunny Lee, and the Black Disciples with producer Jack Ruby. By whatever name, in whatever combination, these players played a crucial role in defining roots reggae to listeners outside Jamaica. The Mighty Diamonds' Right Time album in 1976 ushered in the rockers' rhythm and the Revolutionaries soon became Jamaican hit-makers in their own right with singles like "MPLA" and "Angola." Four LPs -- Vital Dub Strictly Rockers (known as Right Time Dub outside the island), Revolutionary Sounds, Revival Dub Roots Now, and Satta Dub Strictly Roots -- came out in Jamaica on the Well Charge label.
By the early '80s, Sly & Robbie had toured with Peter Tosh before joining Black Uhuru, and many other members of the Revolutionaries were out on the road backing major Jamaican vocal groups. The Roots Radics took over as the chief studio session band, but the Revolutionaries' legacy was already cemented as the dub phenomenon gathered momentum and prompted the release of the group's music outside Jamaica. The brilliant Revolutionaries Sounds, Vol. 2 served up gloriously simple roots reggae that hearkened back to dub's origins as the instrumental B-sides of Jamaican singles. Negrea Love Dub, Outlaw Dub, and Goldmine Dub all followed in 1979; Black Ash Dub came out in 1980; Reaction in Dub and Macca Rootsman Dub in 1988; Jonkanoo Dub in 1995; and Phase One Dubwise after that. But fans or the curious should proceed with some caution. Between the hazy Jamaican copyright laws and the numerous small British, European, and Jamaican labels that sprang up to release reggae, there's no guarantee of good sound quality or that the same tracks won't show up with different titles on releases bearing the Revolutionaries name. ~ Don Snowden