"When Jamaica got independence in 1962 I was working at Uni Motors and then I used to get time off and go to the studio with Derrick Morgan. I used to move with Slim Smith and Derrick Morgan and Roy Shirley and I started doing my own thing with them. Derrick Morgan is my brother in law now but before he married my sister he and I used to go around a lot as at that time we were good friends. I used to do plugging... when I say plugging I used to get their records played... for Leslie Kong, Coxsone(CS Dodd) and Duke Reid on 'Teenage Dance Party' and we'd dance so if you had a record to plug you'd put it on and dance to it and show the latest moves. Yeah man! We had to just create some moves!" Bunny 'Striker' Lee
As ska began to wane in popularity Bunny started to use the many contacts and friends that he had made while plugging other producers' productions and began to produce his own records in the brand new rock steady style.
"So I was around the business but I didn't actually start for myself until 1967. The greatest man that came to Jamaica and changed the whole beat from ska to rock steady was Lynn Taitt. He was from Trinidad and was only on the island for a few years. Lynn Taitt came as a foreigner and took over the whole music business. He was a nice person too because when I started my thing I only had twenty pounds to give to Lynn Taitt and Lynn Taitt got four men... brought in a four piece band... himself and three others and we did 'Music Field' with Roy Shirley. So those guys helped me when I just started." Bunny Lee
And many, many more producers, musicians and artists helped out Striker as he rose to the top... but Bunny always returned the favour.
"Yes. Carly and Family Man (Carlton & Aston Barrett) those brothers were my rhythm section for a while... but after we started making the hits everybody started using them and all the big musicians like Hux Brown then played with them.. they became the musicians of the day" Bunny 'Striker' Lee
The hits kept on coming. In 1969 ' Wet Dream' by Max Romeo in the faster reggae style was released on Bunny's Unity label in the UK where it spent twenty five weeks in the British Charts without any radio play because it had been banned by the BBC. Alan Freeman used to describe it as "a record by Max Romeo" on Sunday afternoon's chart run down on Radio One.
" Wet Dream' was a tune now! I put it on the 'Hold You Jack' rhythm and we voiced it up at Coxsone's studio." Bunny 'Striker' Lee
Striker's propensity for hit making was unprecedented and in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 he was awarded the title of Jamaica's Top Producer. In 1971 he won Jamaica's first Gold Record for Eric Donaldson's 'Cherry Oh Baby' a slow song using Bunny's 'broken beat' which was the runaway winner in that year's Festival Song Competition.
"'Well, one night the Festival eliminations were on and I went along with Delroy Wilson and some of the other artists. When this guy (Eric Donaldson) sung the tune Delroy bring it to me and I decided to record it the next day." Bunny 'Striker' Lee
A precedent had long been set in Kingston where instrumental or alternative vocal versions of popular songs were an established part of the scene and 'doing over' or 'versioning' another producer's rhythm had always been prevalent in the musical rat race.
"We couldn't afford for every song to get a different set of musicians so we use the same rhythm over again..." Bunny 'Striker' Lee
A straightforward 'rhythm' version without vocals or with an added horn or organ part was not really a leap too far from what was already going on and Bunny Lee and King Tubby were instrumental in the step forward into the music that would become known as dub.
"And from there Tubbys started to get really popular. We did a next tune and Niney(Winston 'Niney' Holness) carried it to U Roy said 'Awoah! Another version of the tune?' And Niney came and said 'Striker! The new name now is 'version'.' And that's how the name version a come in.
"I had the Bunny Lee Radio Show and I used to advertise Tubbys on it. 'If you want your dub and all the latest discs and thing check King Tubbys'. In those days I never used to put the version on the record so you'd have to go to Tubby's to hear the dub play. Tubbys started to get popular and I started to get Tubby' to mix and used him as an engineer."
Bunny 'Striker Lee
Together with Soul Syndicate drummer Carlton 'Santa' Davis Striker then originated a new style of rhythm based around the Philadelphia disco sound termed 'flying cymbals' that became known as 'flyers'.
"Yeah... I used to get Kentucky Fried Chicken and when it came they'd say 'put up the flyers for Striker' meaning the chicken wings (which I loved) and they used to say 'Striker. When you a go fly?'" Bunny 'Striker' Lee
The first Bunny Lee recording in this new style was with his singing sensation Johnny Clarke on his interpretation of Earl Zero's 'None Shall Escape The Judgment'. Striker had given it to Tubby for exclusive play on the Home Town Hi Fi where it rapidly became his most in-demand dub plate and Tubby was not pleased when Striker decided to release the tune on vinyl and end its exclusivity. Tubby's apprentice Phillip Smart was the man at the controls for the blistering dub side... the appropriately named 'This A The Best Version'.
Striker's 'flyers' rhythms completely dominated the scene throughout 1974 and on into 1975. His two dub albums showcasing these rhythms 'King Tubby The Dub Master Presents The Roots Of Dub' and 'King Tubby The Dub Master Presents Dub From The Roots' both came with photographs of the King at the controls in his Dromilly Avenue studio. The album 'Brass Rockers: Bunny Lee & King Tubby Present Tommy McCook & The Aggrovatars' featured Tommy McCook and his tenor saxophone resplendent on the front cover and the entire Aggrovators band photographed and named with their respective instruments on the back. Released through Total Sounds these albums were the first vinyl releases to promote King Tubby with music lovers in Jamaica and internationally.
"I started to put their names on the LP sleeves because people never used to put on the musicians' names. I was the first to start that. Give Caesar what him due! Who play organ. Who play what. And that's why these men made a name for themselves because now you could know 'Sly on drums' or 'Santa on drums'". Bunny 'Striker' Lee
"...but it was Tubby's 'Roots Of Dub' that set a precedent. Because it was distributed by Total Sounds, Jamaica's leading record distributor at the time, the music reached many people who were previously unfamiliar with this new development in reggae" Beth Lesser
Over the years Striker has been one of the few enduring constants in an ever changing cast of characters. Although he rarely records nowadays he is still one of the most important people in the Jamaican music business and his rhythms and songs are endlessly recycled and sampled. He has spent the last three decades licensing, re-licensing issuing and re-issuing his copious catalogue through a plethora of different record companies in Jamaica, England, America, Canada, Japan, France, Holland & Germany. In October 2008 at Kingston's National Honours and Awards Ceremony Striker was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer for "more than forty years of dedicated service to the music industry".
Jan 13, 2011 (Feb 1, 2011 Update) Text by Harry Hawks