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The Making Of A Reggae Diva

  • Written by  jamaica observer
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IN her just-released autobiography, I'll Never Write My Memoir, singer/actress Grace Jones remembers recording some of her biggest hit songs at Compass Point, the Nassau, Bahamas complex owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.

Drummer Sly Dunbar and bass player Robbie Shakespeare, members of the Compass Point All Stars Band, played critical roles in those 1980 sessions.

Dunbar, 63, said they were approached by Blackwell to chart a new direction for Spanish Town-born Jones, a flamboyant figure who had three albums for Island Records to her name.

They took up his offer, headed to the Bahamas capital where they met her. Before leaving Kingston, Sly and Robbie had completed recording sessions at the Channel One studio with Black Uhuru, a hardcore roots-reggae group from the Waterhouse community.

They took a tape of those songs to Nassau.

"What wi do first was listen some demo of her stuff, then play the drum an' bass to find the right groove," Dunbar recalled.

Later, they played the Uhuru tapes for Blackwell, Compass Point engineer/producer Alex Sadkin, and Don Taylor, Bob Marley's former manager.

"Chris sey, 'what is this?!' Wi tell him sey is a group wi working wid," said Dunbar. "Right away Alex sey is dat soun' Grace should have an' wi start work."

The initial songs Sly and Robbie worked on with Jones were Warm Leatherette and Private Life. They also cut Pull Up to The Bumper and My Jamaican Guy.

Warm Leatherette and Private Life were included on what became the Warm Leatherette album released by Island in 1980. Pull Up to The Bumper and My Jamaican Guy were used on later albums by Jones.

"Wi couldn't believe how the tune dem soun'. Everything jus' click," Dunbar gushed. He added that while Jones had a reputation for being outrageous, she was easy to work with.

"She was cool, I guess she was comfortable 'cause she was aroun' Jamaicans," he said.

Dunbar and Shakespeare were accompanied to Nassau by seasoned Jamaican studio musicians -- guitarist Mikey Chung and percussionist Uziah 'Sticky' Thompson. French keyboardist Wally Badarou and British guitarist Barry Reynolds also played on the Warm Leatherette sessions.

Though containing mainly covers of pop songs, its fresh, reggae-driven beats made Warm Leatherette Jones' most successful album to date.

Within a year, Sly and Robbie were the driving force behind the rise of Black Uhuru. They also played on Nightclubbing and Living My Life, Jones' follow-up albums for Island.

Dunbar said he and Shakespeare last saw Jones when they backed her on Island's 50th anniversary show in London in 2009.

He credits their work with her in the Bahamas for enhancing their growing reputations as musician/producers.

"It opened doors for Sly and Robbie for even Bob Dylan to call us to play on his Infidel album. It really did a lot for us," he said.

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