“Runnin’ with the torch of freedom…”

Fitting with the Olympics this week that I chose to recall Keith Hudson’s “Torch of Freedom,” a blaze yourself out of hell track that is two parts testosterone, 2 parts adrenaline, and one part bad as a mutha fucka.  I dare you to find a badder track than this.

I envision Hudson suddenly awoken from a nightmare in a cold sweat with a 103° fever, immediately sitting down and furiously writing this in a cloud of purple haze….

“It was on the Gold Coast
where I envisioned myself,
I were runnin’,
I were runnin’,
Oh runnin’ with the torch of freedom…..Freedom!”

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 3.41

Check my words on Hudson, one of the deepest, funkiest, and darkest producers to emerge from the jungle in the early 1970s.  My review of the 2012 re-issue of Rasta Communication.

It’s like an obsessive/compulsive disorder.  Every Tuesday I wake up and the first thing I do is open up my favorite online record store and check the reggae “New Releases.”  It usually ruins the first part of my day, because 50 out of 52 weeks each year there is nothing worth listening to.  How many Gregory Isaacs’ compilations does one need?  Maybe another Dennis Brown’s greatest hits?

I laugh.

It looks as if Greensleeves has released an expanded reissue of the legendary roots album ‘Rasta Communication,’, combined w/ the Hudson dub album ’Brand.’ No, seriously.  It’s true.

I don’t even read the review, and the $14.00 price for digital download is just an afterthought.  It’s Keith Hudson, seen?

How would I describe Hudson’s music to someone who has never heard it?

Imagine you’re in the house of 1970’s black music.  On the main level, you might run into The Commodores, Bob Marley and the Wailers, or Toots.  Going downstairs to the basement you run into Curtis Mayfield, Peter Tosh, and…hey look! Sly Stone!  Sly shows you a trap door which leads down one more level to a wine cellar.  Only the funkiest brothers stay down here.  I mean you gotta be Lee “Scratch” Perry or George Clinton to be this deep in the dirt.

George calls you over with a whisper to a corner of the cellar where the dirt is loose.  You get down on your hands and knees and start digging.  Faster and faster….until you hit something hard.  George helps you clear away the remaining dirt.

Here is where you find Keith Hudson.

A man who’s productions in the reggae realm are so funky.  So abstract.  So atmospheric.  And oh…so…funky.  A blacksploitation film on wax.

The vibe I get from Hudson is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced when listening to reggae/dub.  And I listen to A LOT of reggae/dub.

A man who’s mind for hauntingly unique riddims ranks with the likes of Lee Perry and Niney The Observer.  Yet he also possesses that deep, velvet voice characteristic of those great 1970’s American black soul vocalists.  Whatever your opinion of his production style, Keith Hudson is one of the finest record makers to ever bless a recording studio.

Often referred to as the “Dark Prince of Reggae,” Hudson is known throughout the Jamaican music scene as a “soul man.” He relishes the part too, sporting a kinky afro as proud as a Rasta with with fully-grown locks.  He isn’t recognized as a huge musical talent as a youth in Kingston, even though he hails from a musical family.  Of course, like many youth of the day he dabbles in music, however, it isn’t until his 14th birthday that he starts hanging out at Coxsone Dodd’s Brentford Road studio, trombone in hand, waiting for his chance to shine.

In 1960 he produces his first record, an instrumental featuring musicians who would go on the join The Skatalites.  It isn’t released until 1968, by which time Hudson launches his own Inbidimts label.  After leaving school he serves an apprenticeship in dentistry, and uses these skills to raise money for recording sessions.  His first real break comes in 1968 when he produces Ken Boothe’s Jamaican hit “Old Fashioned Way“, later versioned by Dennis Alcapone as “Spanish Omega” and U Roy as “Dynamic Fashion Way.”  If you have never listened to this triad of gold, do yourself a favor and check these tracks.  Pure niceness.  All three can be found on the 2004 release “A Hudson Affair.”

Known throughout the scene as a ‘new guy to the business,’ it is Keith Hudson who is one of the first producers to work with many of the emerging deejays.  It is during this early period that he begins working with DJ U-Roy and Dennis Alcapone (e.g. “Shades of Hudson”).

Alcapone speaks very highly of Hudson as a man and as a producer.  He is quoted in David Katz’s Solid Foundation: An Oral History Of Reggae:

“He was a handsome guy and he give me some good encouragement-like, for instance, he open up my first bank account and get stage gear.”

On Hudson’s rethinking of Ken Boothe’s “Old Fashioned Way:”

“That was Keith Hudson’s idea, because Keith Hudson is a man who”s always trying something new.  When I did the intro, he made Errol Thompson. the engineer at Randy’s, splice back the intro so it would repeat.”

He also works with  deejay Big Youth, producing “S.90 Skank,” which is released in 1972.   “S.90 Skank” becomes the deejay’s biggest hit, with added motorcycle noises recorded in the studio, beginning a trend followed by other producers such as Dodd and Perry.

It is during this period, in the early 1970’s, that Hudson begins his association with the Soul Syndicate, featuring legendary bassist George “Fully” Fullwood and Carlton “Santa” Davis on drums.  I spoke recently with Fully Fullwood about his work with Keith Hudson.

“Keith was a great guy you know.  I met him outside Randy’s studio.  He had this friend named Stamma who was kinda this rude boy type you know?  So at first I didn’t want to have nothing to do with him.  He was a great dresser, a very handsome guy.  He drove around in a Caprice.  So when I meet him at Randy’s he says he wants to work with me in the studio.  We became really good friends. 

He had this store downtown, by the Manley statue.  We used to go to the store every morning when we wake up.  We would spend hours at his store, telling jokes, singing songs, you know?”

In 1974, Hudson relocates to the UK where he signs with Brent Clarke’s Atra label and works at Chalk Farm Studios in London with several British-based reggae musicians, overdubbing his Jamaican rhythms.  It’s while recording here that he releases the now-classic ‘Flesh of My Skin, Blood of my Blood’ (1974),  and ‘Torch of Freedom‘ (1975).  Hudson is a producer truly ahead of his time as he introduces a format to Torch of Freedom that will be featured several years later during the “Showcase” period.  The album features vocal cuts with their instrumental versions following immediately after.

Hudson relocates to New York City in 1976, signing a four-year contract with Virgin Records.  After a falling-out with the label over Hudson changing his name, plus the sub-par performance of his soul-influenced “Too Expensive” album, Hudson starts his own label called Joint.  He hooks back up with the Soul Syndicate and gets to work in the studio, laying new tracks and overdubbing existing ones.  Says Fully Fullwood:

“He was immensely talented as a producer in the studio.  He wanted to conquer the biggest songs.  Songs that nobody wanted to touch.  He was such an adventurous producer.  When he start to sing his own songs he have a kind of different voice, different from everybody at that time.  I did so many songs with him.  Probably hundreds or thousands of songs I did with him.  There are no people today like Keith Hudson.  Such a gentleman.  So dynamic.  They just do not exist.”

Hudson’s first production under his new label is the dub classic “Brand,” which is released in 1977.  Again, Hudson bucks the system, releasing the dub version of ‘Rasta Communication’ before releasing the proper album.  ‘Brand‘ is hailed by critics upon it’s release, however, it’s limited distribution keeps the album from truly reaching it’s potential.  In Jamaica, Hudson albums were always hard to come by, as most of them were released only in the UK.  Still, ‘Brand’ is, without a doubt, a seminal work, and one of Hudson’s absolute best. Lucky for fans, the Pressure Sounds label rescued the album from relative obscurity, publishing a remastered version in 1995.

‘Rasta Communication’ is released in the UK on the Greensleeves label immediately following ‘Brand.’  Like it’s predecessor, ‘Rasta Communication’ is lost in relative obscurity for more than 30 years.  That is until April 24, 2012, when Greensleeves re-issues the ‘masterpiece’ completely remastering and expanding the original ten-track album to a double-disc 27 track deluxe edition.  The second disc includes dub companions including the previously unreleased dub to “I Broke The Comb.” It also offers two Keith Hudson 12” singles and rare Jamaican single mixes of “Rasta Country” and “Jonah.”

Recorded at Randy’s, Channel One & Chalk Farm with a final touch from Prince Jammy at King Tubby’s studio,  ‘Rasta Communication’ features some of the most talented musicians Jamaica has to offer including drum and bass dynamic duos Family Man & Carlton Barrett and Sly & Robbie.  Hudson, always the innovator, even enlists celebrated American composers Paul Simon and Frank Zappa.

The album can be described as druggy and hypnotic with very sparse riddims that are urgent in their delivery.  A spacey album, Hudson allows the musicians plenty of room to flourish and experiment.  ‘Rasta Communication’ is a very accessible and refined album, unlike the dark and heavy ‘Flesh of My Skin, Blood of my Blood‘ and Hudson’s other early releases. It is the perfect Keith Hudson album for the new listener as it contains all of the elements that make a Hudson album great: groove-centered, atmospheric sound, thundering drum and bass, and that one-of-a-kind voice, calling you deep into the woods for another murderous trip.

I have included a killer Algoriddim Keith Hudson Mix HEREDO NOT MISS DIS ONE!

Give thanks to George “Fully” Fullwood for his contribution to the story.

Also check David Katz’s Solid Foundation: An Oral History Of Reggae

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