|"I'm the man to quench your musical thirst... "
Cool Stick & The Upsetters: 'Dry Acid' 1969
Born in Hanover in the west of Jamaica on 1st August 1936 Uzziah Thompson moved to West Kingston, "I'm like twelve years old when I came to West Kingston", in 1948 where he eventually found employment with Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd(CS Dodd)'s Downbeat sound system. He initially assisted with setting up the sound before he graduated to deejaying as 'Cool Stick'.
"I used to lift sound box... house of joy (speaker boxes) and all those things for Coxsone and for Duke Reid... until we started to play... put on records and deejay." Uzziah Thompson
Talking over records was still a largely unrecognised art form but pioneers including Michael 'Count Matchuki' Cooper, Percy 'Sir Lord Comic' Wauchope, Noel 'King Sporty' Williams and Winston 'King Stitt' Sparks slowly but surely established the genre on Kingston's sound systems through their 'jive talking' introductions. Originally inspired by American radio announcers their 'peps' soon made the journey from the dance hall to the recording studio. However, Cool Stick's considerable contributions including talking over and using his voice to make percussive sounds, on Coxsone's huge 1965 hits with The Skatalites, 'Ball O' Fire' and 'Guns Of Navarone', did not mention his name on the label.
"Coxsone come hear me a deejay one day and take me go a studio one time and just said 'do the same thing'. I didn't know my rights... I didn't know nothing! My first records... I do songs for Coxsone named 'Guns Of Navarone' and 'Ball O' Fire'... all of them tune there! But the songs came out and did nice and me get a little something! Give thanks still but those songs weren't my personal thing..." Uzziah Thompson
That same year while deejaying and recording for Duke Reid's Treasure Isle set up Uzziah managed to achieve a name check at least, although not a credit, on 'Girls Town Ska'. Credited to Baba Brooks & His Band, Cool Sticky features on the record's introduction "Hey Sticks where you going tonight? I'm going down by Girls Town" and he recalled "I also did a song for Duke Reid named 'Gun Fever'..." which was credited to the Baba Brooks Band. A classical, highly influential deejay who was great at his job before there was ever a job description he was rarely credited on his releases and the only way the listener knows it's Cool Sticky is by recognising his exciting, highly individual delivery. He also started to work as a session musician and his added momentum helped drive Duke Reid's production of The Techniques' 'Little Did You Know', his first big hit as a percussionist, to prominence in 1965. Incidentally Uzziah is not the Count Sticky who recorded a number of mento flavoured releases in the early sixties for Dada/Baba Tewari's Caribou and Kalypso labels such as the wonderful 'Chico Chico'.
"You have a Sticky named Count Sticky... I know him! He always worked on the North Coast. He played the congas but he is a calypso man! He used to live in Pink Lane... and I'd go and check him and he'd say 'Hi Sticky' and I'd say 'Hi Sticky!' The two of us used to live nice but we do a different work... totally!" Uzziah Thompson
While working at Studio One Uzziah had befriended Lee 'Scratch' Perry(Lee Perry) and, as ska translated into rock steady, he worked with Scratch for up and coming producer Joe Gibbs on two exquisite releases: 'El Casino Royale' over Stranger & Gladdy's 'Just Like A River', credited to Lynn Taitt & The Jets, and 'Train To Soulsville', a version to 'Train To Skaville' which was actually credited to Cool Sticky. As reggae came to the fore "from Kingston to Montego Bay I leads the way..." and Sticky appeared on the breathtaking 'Dry Acid', produced by Scratch and credited to The Upsetters on Pama's UK based Punch subsidiary where he proclaimed "it's Cool Stick... with his walking stick!" at the very end of the record. He recorded a number of superb talking versions including his take on The Ebony Sisters' 'Let Me Tell You Boy' for Spanish Town producer Harry Mudie entitled 'Wha Do You So', 'Dread Lock' a version to Little Roy's 'Bongo Nyah' for Lloyd 'Matador' Daley credited to The Matadors on Pama's Camel subsidiary, 'Bigger Boss', a version to 'Everything Crash' for Sir JJ credited to Ansel Collins & The JJ All Stars, 'What's Your Excuse' for Ranny Bop Williams credited to The Hippy Boys on Pama's Bullet label and 'CN Express (Part One)' over Eric Monty Morris' sublime 'Say What You're Saying' for Clancy Eccles which was credited to Clancy's All Star..." Clancy did give me a bicycle". And when Sticky's 'Musical Bop' for Striker Lee was released in London on Pama's Bullet label it was credited to King Stitt. Tony 'Prince Tony' Robinson's first production, 'Cassa Boo Boo', released that same year in Jamaica on the Soul Shack & Top Of The Pops labels and in the UK on Trojan's Grape subsidiary, was introduced in fine style with "here comes the man Prince Tony" by Cool Stick. As 1969 gave way to 1970 recording deejays came to permanent prominence through King Stitt's recordings for Clancy Eccles and U Roy's work with Duke Reid but the unassuming Cool Stick was now left behind by the tidal wave of talking talent that not only included King Stitt and U Roy but also I Roy, Dennis AlCapone, Scotty and Lizzy.
"Me never really take them things to live off of it you know.... 'cause it's not really my line (of work) but through me in it I just....well... you understand! " Uzziah Thompson
Sticky's contribution to the early deejay school has been overlooked for far too long and a complete compilation of all of his groundbreaking talking sides is long overdue. In 1970 Clancy Eccles released King Stitt and Clancy Eccles' essential 'Dance Beat' where the pair reminisce about the early sound system days, running through the names of the foundation deejays over a pulsating reggae rhythm, and also inform the listeners where Cool Stick was now to be found.
"Spar? Do you remember the deejays them?
Oh! The bad, bad Red Hopeton. A funny, funny man...
You remember Count Matchuki? A him the boss with the hot soul sauce!
...You remember Brother Sticky? A him play the chi chi down a studio now..."
Clancy & Stitt: 'Dance Beat' 1970
He established himself as a percussionist with Scratch while working with Bob Marley & The Wailers and Sticky was never too far from the studio, unless he was in a touring band, for the next three decades.
"Well... me do some little things with the Upsetter... some talking things... but I mainly played percussion with Upsetter. Everybody all a knock, knock, knock so me get a grater and play the grater when Scratch start make some tunes and the man say 'Yes!'. 'Cause when The Wailers leave Coxsone and Lee Perry them come the whole a we was there. All of those songs with The Wailers like 'My Cup', 'Mr Brown' the 'Soul Rebels' album... I was always in the studio with The Wailers and Joe Higgs and the whole a them man there!" Uzziah Thompson
It would be easier to list the albums that Sticky did not play percussion on rather than give examples. Seriously! Just pull any classic long player out of your collection such as Black Uhuru's 'Sinsemilla', 'Visions Of Dennis Brown', Burning Spear's 'Dry & Heavy', 'Heart Of The Congos', Culture's 'Two Sevens Clash' or Gregory Isaacs' 'Soon Forward' and you will find his name... put the record on the deck and you'll hear him loud and clear. And, of course, there were countless sessions for seven and twelve single releases where, as ever, you could hear him every time. Whereas in the previous decade he had livened up a session with his chat he now did the same with his percussive skills which Sticky likened to the work of a master chef.
"So me go inna the profession.... you can't cook without seasoning you know!" Uzziah Thompson
It's been said before that the unfortunate fate of the backing musician is to do just that... stay in the background but it is an all too easily ignored fact of record making just how important percussion is. In the mid seventies Sticky worked closely with master drummer Sly Dunbar in the Channel One house band, The Revolutionaries, where he helped shape the influential 'rockers' beat.
"He had great tempo... Sticky was always happy when him in the studio. He was one of the steadiest percussionists to work with". Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar
He also appeared on a handful of releases as a vocalist and sung ''A Matter Of Time' for Joe Gibbs, 'God Knows' for the Savoy's label and released two self productions on his own Stick label 'Live The Life' and 'What Goes Up Must Come Down'.
"I sing two little songs for myself named 'Live The Life' and 'What Goes Up Must Come Down'. I made 'A Matter Of Time' and 'God Knows' in the mid- seventies... but I didn't remember those little songs there! I just did a little thing there but nothing too tough. Them songs never really sell...but they played and people hear them! But singing wasn't my real thing... it was percussion you know!" Uzziah Thompson
With the advent of digital reggae Sticky was no longer required as regularly for session work "no whole heap a work nah gwaan. A computer thing a run the place now. Only one and two man will give you a call" but he continued to play an important role in the Jamaican music industry as a member of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers recording and touring band. He played on their Grammy winning albums 'One Bright Day' and 'Conscious Party' and on Stephen Marley's 'Mind Control' album... another Grammy winner. He also worked outside of the reggae field with artists as diverse as Gwen Guthrie, Grace Jones, Sinéad O'Connor and Tom Tom Club. In the New Millennium, Sticky relocated to the USA where he continued recording as a member of the Compass Point All Stars on international crossover recordings including Sly & Robbie's 'Blackwood Dub' released on Groove Attack in 2012.
A mainstay of Jamaican music for over half a century from its earliest beginnings in Kingston's sound systems, through its first worldwide breakthrough with ska, crossover success with reggae and throughout its international recognition from the seventies onwards Sticky Thompson has probably appeared on more records than any other Jamaican musician. Although his incredible contribution to the sound of reggae might have been overlooked he accepted this lack of recognition with quiet dignity... but just listen and you'll hear him everywhere.
"Yes but you know me no get no title nor credit nor little nothing! But me no fussy still... that's what me a show you... me just cool. Me will get my own when it comes..." Uzziah Thompson
Uzziah Thompson died of a heart attack in his Miami, Florida home on 25th August 2014. He is survived by his wife, Sharon, five children and a brother. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends on their sad loss.
Hasse Huss: Interview with Uzziah Thompson
Bob Marley Museum, Old Hope Road, Kingston, Jamaica 26th October 1996
Howard Campbell: Uzziah 'Sticky' Thompson Dies Jamaica Observer 27th August 2014
Howard Campbell: Life After Sticky Jamaica Observer 31st August 2014
David Katz: People Funny Boy The Genius Of Lee 'Scratch' Perry Payback Press 2000
With grateful thanks to Paul Coote & Hasse Huss
|May 29, 2015 Text by Harry Hawks