Allegedly produced by Jack Ruby in 1975, “Black Slavery Days” could be heard echoing in the hills and gulleys of Ochi Rios as it was a hit among the sound system scene there. The Soulsville Sounds System used to feature it in their set. Black Skulls lead singer, Winston Tony “Black Skull” Thomas, wrote the haunting tune. Tony used to sing with the original Justin Hinds & Dominoes Group.
Lawrence “Jack Ruby” Lindo was a reggae producer and sound system operator based in Ocho Rios who oversaw the early careers of Burning Spear, Big Youth, Heptones, Gaylads, Justin Hinds, the Eagles, and a few other less renowned yet immensely talented reggae artists. He ran the Jack Ruby Hi Fi Sound System. One of Ruby’s distinguishing marks was his ability at recording horn sections, though not at the expense of the vocals, harmonies, and the message (on those cuts that had lyrics). Burning Spear’s “Slavery Days,” is one of the finest examples of this. Interestingly, Ruby’s son, who works under the name Jack Ruby Jr., is a deejay who has worked with The Toasters, and his grandson is the popular singer Sean Kingston.
Now, according to legendary reggae musician Junior Dan AKA ‘Dan Left Hand’ who was interviewed last year by my good friend Angus Taylor, the first release of the original album was not authorized. Here is what he had to say regarding Jack Ruby:
“Yes it’s all over the place. Jack Ruby was nowhere around! (laughs) Nowhere in sight! If he was in the picture then he gave Downey the tapes and stayed in St Ann’s because he never came to the studio once during the recording. Black Skull said he never knew the album was released. He came to New York in 1994 and he saw it at VP. They took him to the store room and he saw his records piled to the ceiling and they gave him two boxes. That’s all he ever got from that. Then Downey gave it to Mark at Honest Jon’s to re-release a couple of years back, all without the consent of the artist. Now Black Skull is asking me to go the PRS to see what I can do about it. As for the music from that album, Downey called me and called Malawi a couple of times saying, ‘I have this album and I want you to help put this together. It’s an all-of-us production.’ That’s how it got done. Black Skull said he heard Downey got the tape from the Chin brothers in St Ann’s. That’s Andy Chin and his brother, the big exporters, and he claimed that Andy Chin had the tape. So I don’t know what happened, I just know what we did. We went in the studio with Downey, we did it and he took it off. The next thing I hear it’s all over the place. At least they still put my name on it! (laughs)”
Why am I not surprised that Thomas never got paid for this absolutely essential foundation killer?
Bassist Darryl Jenifer of Washington, DC’s Bad Brains mashed up this classic tune with the Brains’ “I & I Survive” on his solo album In Search of Black Judas (ROIR, 2010). While researching this post I read that Darryl and Bad Brains actually worked with Thomas on this 12″ mix, which was cut in 1982.
In the words of the great B. I. G. “If you don’t know, now you know.”
Many thanks to RasDashanSound for posting a HQ vinyl transfer so I did not have to spend half a day doing it!