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Artist Hall of Fame

Ossie HibbertText by Harry Hawks

One of the great unsung heroes of Jamaican music Ossie Hibbert not only played piano and keyboards on countless hit records but also wrote, produced, arranged and engineered countless more.
Date Added: Jul 11, 2012 Copyright (C) 2018 Dub Store Sound Inc.
Real Name: Oswald Hibbert
Jan 16, 1951 - Jul 1, 2012
Place of Birth: Kingston
Jamaica
Related Artist(s):
Aggrovators
Revolutionaries
Soul Syndicate
Professionals
Earl Chinna Smith
Sly & Robbie
Lloyd Parks
Bobby Aitken
Born Kingston, Jamaica January 16th 1951 Ossie grew up in Jones Town, Kingston 12. "My father used to play guitar, but not professionally, while my mother used to send me to lessons to learn the piano" and plenty of other musical influences were to be found on the teeming streets of Jones Town and neighbouring Trench Town.

"When I was only eleven or twelve I used to listen to Coxsone(CS Dodd)'s Number Two set... the deejay was big and we called him Red Man... I believe he lives in London now. Coxsone's Number One set sometimes played in the neighbourhood especially on a Monday night and the deejay for the Number One set was always King Stitt. Coxsone generally played his own music but a popular Trench Town sound called Sir Nyah used to come to Jones Town and play everybody's music ..." Ossie Hibbert

By the late sixties Ossie was playing regularly in a band in Kingston's Stables nightclub.

"I was seventeen or eighteen when I first played in a band... it was around the time 'Monkey Man' by The Maytals came out... they were the resident band at the Stables Club on Red Hills Road. Lloyd Parks was on bass... I grew up with Lloyd Parks... Bobby Aitken on guitar and Winston Grennan on drums. To tell the truth Bobby's band was called the Carib Beats but we were just called the Stables Band." Ossie Hibbert

Even for a youth with Ossie's abundant musical talent it was still an uphill struggle and it would be a number of years before he was recognised and recruited by Kingston's record producers to play on their sessions. It should go without saying that one of the first was the ubiquitous Bunny Striker Lee...

"I always used to call Ossie 'No Go' because once he sat at the piano or organ stool he wouldn't get up until he'd done five or six tunes..." Bunny Striker Lee

"But I'd started to record before I started in a band... I used to get sessions and Bunny Lee was the first producer I ever worked for. I used to play a couple of tunes for Mrs Pottinger(Sonia Pottinger) too. I used to play the piano or the organ but whenever I played with 'Snapping' (Theophilus 'Easy Snapping' Beckford) it was the organ. 'Snapping' was not an organ man. Strictly a piano man! When I played with a next musician I'd play piano... Bunny Lee always used to love the organ shuffle." Ossie Hibbert

"That is the reggae! The organ a go 'reggae, reggae, reggae'. That is the real reggae! When a man talks about reggae they don't really know what they talking about if they don't talk about the organ shuffle but it's an important thing in the music..." Bunny Striker Lee

Ossie finally made it to the first division of session musicians after providing empathetic keyboard accompaniment for Big Youth's breakthrough hit, 'Ace 90 Skank', a Keith Hudson production released on Keith's Mafia label in 1972.

"When I became a full time musician the song that really broke me was 'Ace 90 Skank'... before that nobody really knew me. It was only Bunny Lee and some of the other producers who knew me. The rhythm was on one track... and we just took it away! When Big Youth came on that rhythm that made me famous and then people like Duke Reid used to use me." Ossie Hibbert

Ossie then graduated to playing keyboards and piano in one of Kingston's top session bands, The Soul Syndicate, together with George 'Fully' Fullwood on bass, Earl Chinna Smith on lead guitar, Albert Valentine 'Tony' Chin on rhythm guitar and Carlton 'Santa' Davis on drums.

"I played with The Soul Syndicate: Fully, Chinna, Tony and Santa. We played on all of Bunny Lee's and Niney's earlier songs like Dennis Brown's 'No More Will I Roam' and 'Cassandra'. They played Bob Marley's 'Sun Is Shining' at Randys but The Soul Syndicate don't get the recognition they deserve..." Ossie Hibbert

Early in 1975 Ossie moved down to Maxfield Avenue just as Jo Jo(Joseph Hookim) & Ernest Hookim's Channel One was set to become the most important studio of the era. The Hookims were starting to make an impression with The Mighty Diamonds' 'Right Time' a record that provided a template that the reggae business would adhere to for the remainder of the decade. Bunny Striker Lee... "he's like a father to me"... had gone to Chancery Lane, also known as Idler's Rest and where Kingston's musicians congregated, to look for Ossie. At first Ossie was not quite sure why he had been summoned but he soon became an integral part of the Channel One hit making machine initially as one of TheRevolutionaries in-house band and then as a producer, engineer and talent scout "I always used to select the artists for Jo Jo."

"Bunny Lee came to check me at Idler's Rest... 'Ossie a Chinaman want see you! Him tell me to tell you to come!' and that's how I got with Jo Jo but the first Diamonds hit tune 'Right Time' was already on the road on dub so I don't know why he sent for me! I was working with Sly (Lowell Sly Dunbar) on drums, Ranchie (Bertram 'Ranchie' McLean) on bass and a guitarist named Duggie (Radcliffe 'Duggie' Bryan). Officially me and Sly used to make the tunes but Jo Jo was always named as the producer... after a while Ernest said to me 'I need help... I'll show you the board'. And Ernest taught me the board... done showed me everything! Knowing what sound good is the thing. I done know what sound good so it was not hard for me! Jo Jo did have a sound and everything we did was good!" Ossie Hibbert

Channel One's top two deejays, Dillinger and Trinity, provided the 'guide' vocal and bassist Robbie Shakespeare sat in on the piano for Ossie's engineering debut when The Revolutionaries laid down an instrumental version of Roy Richards' (or even Little Richard's) 'Freedom Blues'. Re-titled with the militant name of 'MPLA', the dub side was released as the a side and "the straight instrumental relegated to the b side." It proved to be the record of 1976 and the more traditional 'Dance This Ya Festival' with Freddie McKay followed soon afterwards.

"The first tune that I engineered by myself was 'MPLA' and I asked Robbie to come and play the piano. Trinity and Dillinger were singing the song to make sure the measurements were right! The next song was a Festival song...'Big Heel Boot' with Freddie McKay. Bobby Ellis arranged the horn section... he came with the horn section well prepared..." Ossie Hibbert

At the same time Ossie was also working alongside Errol 'Errol T' Thompson(Errol Thompson) at Joe Gibbs Retirement Crescent studio and Ossie gave two of his albums to The Mighty Two to release on Joe Gibbs Record Globe in a rather unorthodox licensing deal.

"Errol Thompson was driving this car! So I gave Joe Gibbs(Joel Gibson) two albums 'United Dreadlocks' and 'Earthquake Dub' and Errol T gave me the car..."Ossie Hibbert

In addition to his work at Channel One and a selection of excellent singles on his Hound Dog, Ossie Sounds and Earthquake labels Ossi also released the seriously obscure 'Crueshal Dub' album on Earthquake, the superb 'Creation' long player from Freddy McKay and Gregory Isaacs' faultless 'Mr Isaacs' album in 1978 that included 'Storm' and 'Slave Master'. And with Lloyd F. Campbell(Ossie Hibbert from the Continental Printery, he produced the awesome 'Mr Knows/Know It All', one of the best twelve inch releases ever, featuring Gregory Isaacs and The Revolutionaries at the height of their powers. The following year Ossie made it to Number Eleven in the UK National Charts with Errol Dunkley's cover of John Holt's Studio One hit, 'OK Fred', which was released on the Scope label.

Never losing his drive and enthusiasm Ossie continued to work in the reggae business where his knowledge, expertise and musical understanding inspired a generation of artists and musicians. He was the first to pair ragga superstars Chaka Demus & Pliers on record with 'Gal Wine'.

"... I'm a big man now and I know everything about the business!" Ossie Hibbert

And, when we last spoke, Ossie was looking forward to taking over the controls at Channel One's brand new state of the art recording studio located as far uptown as their Maxfield Avenue premises had been downtown... on West Kings House Road.

"It's on West Kings House Road about a hundred... hundred and fifty yards from the corner of Constant Spring Road near the Canadian Embassy. You can't miss it!" Ossie Hibbert

Ossie was always a diffident but affable and extremely likeable character who could never be accused of self approbation although he also told me that he was working on a book with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare his fellow musicians in The Aggrovators, The Professionals and The Revolutionaries. We hoped it would start to set the record straight regarding the story of his stellar career but it will now be left to Sly & Robbie to finish the work. Ossie died tragically following a heart attack in New York on 1st July 2012 after attending Beres Hammond's 'Groovin' In The Park' stage show in Queens, New York. An undisputed giant of Jamaican music Ossie Hibbert's name is nowhere near as widely known as it deserves to be and his towering presence in reggae music will be greatly missed. Our condolences go out to his family and friends at this tragic time.

Sources:
Interview with Ossie Hibbert London UK/New York, USA 11th January 2010
Liner Notes: The Evolution Of Dub Volume Five The Missing Link GRE 2061 2010
With kind permission of Chris O'Brien, VP/Greensleves
Jul 11, 2012 Text by Harry Hawks
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