Augustus Pablo – The Original Rocker [21 June 1954 – 18 May 1999]

by May 17, 2019Articles, News, Obituary

Augustus Pablo - The Original Rocker

Artist Info

Augustus Pablo 1954-1999

Career: Solo artist, producer, arranger

Website: Augustus Pablo

Selective Discography


  • This Is…Augustus Pablo (1974)
  • Ital Dub (1974)
  • Thriller (1975)
  • King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown (1976)
  • East of the River Nile (1977)
  • Original Rockers (1979)
  • Africa Must Be Free by… 1983 Dub (1979)
  • Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Firehouse (1980)
  • Authentic Golden Melodies (1980)
  • Earth’s Rightful Ruler (1982)
  • King David’s Melody (1983)
  • Rising Sun (1986)
  • Rebel Rock Reggae (1986)
  • Rockers Come East (1987)
  • Eastman Dub (1988)
  • Presents Rockers Story (1989)
  • Blowing with the Wind (1990)
  • Presents Rockers International Showcase (1991)
  • Heartical Chart (1993)
  • Meets King Tubby at the Control in Roots Vibes (1996)
  • Red Sea (1998)
  • Valley of Jehosaphat (1999)
  • El Rocker’s (2000)
  • The Great Pablo (2000)
  • Dubbing with the Don (2001)
  • Jah Inspiration (2001)
  • Skanking with Pablo: Melodica for Hire 1971–77 (2002)
  • In Fine Style: 7″ & 12″ Selection 1973–79 (2003)
  • The Essential Augustus Pablo (2005)
  • Augustus Pablo Meets Lee Perry & the Wailers Band (Rare Dubs 1970–1971) (2006)
  • The Mystic World of Augustus Pablo: The Rockers Story (2008)

Augustus Pablo – The Original Rocker | May 18, 2019, it’s 20 years ago Augustus Pablo passed away.

Born 1954, St. Andrew, Jamaica, Horace Swaby aka Augustus Pablo, often in ill health, not only was responsible for putting the melodica on the musical map, but he also played a key role in the musical history of Jamaica. In his role as musician and producer he has helped to shape reggae so much that his music can easily be described as ‘the sound of the Seventies’. Augustus Pablo ultimately succumbed to the nerve disease Myasthenia Gravis and passed away in hospital on 18th May, 1999.

Horace Swaby

He was born to a wealthy middle-class family and attended Kingston College with Clive Chin and his close friend Tyrone Downie, who would become keyboard player with Bob Marley and The Wailers. His and Tyrone’s interest in music had already lead them into a local church where they practised their keyboard skills on the organ. In 1969 Horace Swaby was standing in Herman Chin-Loy’s ‘Aquarius’ record shop at 9 Constant Spring Road in Kingston. He was holding a melodica in his hand that had been lent to him by a young girl at school. The instrument was used in Jamaica in school music lessons, but had never before been taken seriously by professional musicians. Herman Chin-Loy, who had a much-deserved reputation for experimenting with new sounds, asked the slightly-built teenager if he could play it.  Because he was so taken with the musical response that he booked recording time that same week at Randy’s Studio 17 on North Parade in the heart of downtown Kingston.

Iggy Iggy

With a tune entitled “Iggy Iggy” Herman Chin-Loy gave the youth his recording debut and more significantly, a new name – AUGUSTUS PABLO – which was not strictly new itself as for the past few months the Aquarius record label had sporadically appeared bearing the credit Augustus Pablo. Herman Chin-Loy had coined the name to add a measure of mystic to the identity of keyboard players. These recordings actually feature Lloyd Charmers or the Upsetters’ organist Glen Adams.

Far East Sound

The seeds of what was to become the minor-key dominated “Far East” sound of the future Augustus Pablo/Rockers team were sown. The follow-up was another instrumental – the first cut of “East Of River Nile” – with Pablo alternating rudimentary but spooky solos on melodica and organ over a jagged riddim. At the age of eighteen Augustus Pablo had his first hit with his friend Clive Chin at Randy’s for Clive’s ‘Impact’ imprint with “Java”. That tune was voted top instrumental on 1972 in Jamaica. He soon established himself through his releases on his own Hot Stuff and legendary Rockers label.  The latter was so named because the records were promoted on his brother Garth’s fledging Rockers Sound-system).


Following the release of “Skanking Easy” – an update of the Studio One Soul Vendors’ classic “Swing Easy” – Augustus Pablo was soon a leading light in the upcoming band of “rebel” artists and independent producers. These included the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Winston “Niney” Holness and Glen Brown who were to radically and irreversibly re-define the parameters of reggae music.

King Tubby

Augustus Pablo was constantly setting new standards, searching for new ideas. His productions, distinctive as they already were by his “Far Eastern” style of playing, became as individual by their arrangements as, say, Coxsone’s or Upsetter’s were by theirs. The way in which the riddims were mixed was also important to Pablo. In common with Vivian Jackson, Lee Perry, Bunny Lee and several others he employed King Tubby to mix his productions. King Tubby’s studio has always made its own highly innovative mark on Pablo’s music. It actually led to the release of an album that confirmed and spread both men’s reputation : the 1976 released dub set “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown”.

King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown

The album was (and still is) a sound revolution. A real shock to the senses. Even the highly advanced computerised mixing of today’s sound doesn’t match the work of Pablo. King Tubby’s mixing control pushes the sound over the limits! The album was Pablo’s first self produced set. The release was released in the US by Clocktower Records without Pablo’s permission. The music on this album moved Pablo forward without delay!


One album Pablo wasn’t too happy with was “Thriller”. It came out in England in 1975 on the Nationwide label. But unlike “The Harder Shade Of Black” album, which is clearly a various artists album, “Thriller” has always come across as a Pablo, which it isn’t. It states that on the front cover – ‘Featuring Augustus Pablo’. But with the excitement that Pablo’s name generated, somehow the ‘Featuring’ got lost. In time though, the message would have got through, but other forces were at work. By 1979 the album was given another title, “Pablo Nuh Jester”, after the first track on the album. Then a year or so after that it was changed again to “Dubbing In Africa”.

Scratch and Pablo

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Pablo got together around 1977-78 to work on an album recorded entirely at the Black Ark studio and produced by Perry. The tracks for the album were recorded and mixed, but sadly never saw release. One of the recordings, “Vibrate On”, was issued and can be found on Island’s “Scratch On The Wire” set, a Perry produced various artists album. Another one was a version of “Java”, which was called “Lava” by Daddy Kool, who put it out on single with Bob Marley’s “Rainbow Country” on the flipside.  The Pablo album produced by Perry is certainly one of reggae music’s lost treasures. Hopefully one day they will be found and released.

Jacob Miller

Something else that Augustus Pablo had in his favour was an uncanny knack for picking on unlikely or unknown vocalists to sing or toast over his riddims. Thus he provided the public with good music but also the chance to hear what these people could do given the opportunity. Perhaps the most successful example of this is Jacob Miller, who under the influence of Pablo gave the reggae massive “Keep On Knocking”, “Each One Teach One” and “Who Say Jah No Dread”. Dillinger is another artist whom Pablo captured at his best. Hugh Mundell and Tetrack – his most exciting discoveries to date – are now held in the highest esteem by reggae consumers.


The group Tetrack was formed in 1972 by childhood friends Paul Mangaroo, Dave Harvey, and Carlton Hines, then living near Wareika Hills in East Kingston. The vocal trio came into contact with the iconic producer in 1974, for whom they started recording songs. This resulted in this debut album, called “Let’s Get Started”, eventually released in 1980. Pablo’s Far East Sound is omnipresent on this set: laid back, somewhat meditative, atmospheric, and a relatively strong reliance on the instruments the melodica or clavinet, relatively emphasized cymbals, while tending toward minor keys. Producer Augustus Pablo’s trademark instrument, the melodica, is also scattered throughout. Pablo released a monumental album of dub versions, called “Eastman Dub”. 

Africa Must Be Free By 1983

The singers with whom Augustus Pablo had his most fruitful associations were Junior Delgado and Hugh Mundell. The latter was extremely young, barely in his teens, when he recorded for Pablo. His debut album “Africa Must Be Free By 1983” became a classic roots set and said much about the commitment that Pablo, as a producer, could inspire in even the most youthful of singers. Other singers such as the Heptones, Locksley Castell, Ricky Grant, Delroy Williams and Norris Reid have also met some fame on Pablo’s unique riddims.

Blowing In The Wind

Though Augustus Pablo’s most consistent and creative period was over by the end of the 1970s, strong records have still continued to appear on Rockers and the newer Message label. The roughhouse spirit of the last two decades might not seem conducive to Pablo’s laid-back approach, but he’s issued good music by Junior Delgado, as well as Bunny Brissett, Yami Bolo, Spliffy Dan, cultural chatter Blacker T and Johnny Osbourne. Regarding his own outings during this period, Pablo has not always been able to keep up the standard of his best work. However, just when the reggae cognoscenti were writing Pablo off, his reputation was restored with the 1990 released “Blowing In The Wind”.

amazing contribution to roots reggae

Augustus Pablo will be remembered as the somewhat frail-looking Rastaman, who made an amazing contribution to roots reggae both as a melodica/keyboards player and as a producer with an immediately recognizable style. In the hearts of his many worldwide fans he definitely will live on as “Augustus Pablo – The Original Rocker”.

Sources: Ray Hurford’s “More Axe 3”, Chris Lane’s liner notes by “Original Rockers”, Paul Coote’s liner notes by “The Red Sea”, Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton’s “Reggae The Rough Guide” and “Dub Vendor Newsletter August ’98”.

(Kaya, JA/Above Records, US/Heartbeat, US 1974)

Beautiful instrumental album featuring Pablo on piano, organ, clavinet and trusty melodica recorded and produced at Randy’s studio in 1974. Includes “Pablo In Dub”, “Lovers Mood”, “Too Late”, “Point Blank” and “Arabian Rock”. This was the album that set Augustus Pablo firmly on the musical map as a leading figure in the burgeoning rebel rock movement that immediately preceded the Rastafarian inspired roots music that dominated the rest of the decade and sealed reggae musics role as a vehicle for the dissipation of social protest and spiritual inspiration. Essential !

track listing: Dub Organizer, Please Sunrise, Point Blank, Arabian Rock, Pretty Baby, Pablo In Dub, Skateland Rock, Dread Eye, Too Late, Assignment Number 1, Jah Rock, Lover’s Mood, Java Original, Guiding Red

(Trojan, UK/Clocktower, Canada/Lagoon, France 1975)

Often overlooked, and poorly recieved by some critics at the time, “ITAL DUB” can now be regarded as a fine dub album mixed by Tubby and comprised of riddims produced by Tommy Cowan mainly for Jacob Miller & The Inner Circle with Pablo blowing his melodica over the top. Includes dub/melodica mixes to “Forward Jah Jah Children”, do-overs of Bob Marley’s “Rebel Music”, “Natty Dread” and Tosh’s “Funeral”, Junior Byles’ “Curly Locks” and “Ire Feelings” as well as tougher than tough originals like “Eli’s Move”, a version of Miller’s “The Truth Has Come Again”, “Shake Up” and “Shake Down” and “Barbwire Disaster”.

track listing : The Big Rip Off, Road Block, Curly Dub, Well Red, Gun Trade, Shake Up, Hillside Airstrip, Barbwire Disaster, Mr. Big, Eli’s move, House Raid, Shake Down, The Way It Is

(Yard Music, JA/Shanachie US/Clocktower US, 1976)

“Lion!” From its dramatic opening – the intro to the dub of Jacob Miller’s “Keep On Knocking” – to its shimmering conclusion with “Satta” “KING TUBBY MEETS THE ROCKERS UPTOWN” is – alongside “Blackboard Jungle” – the best dub album ever made. The combination of Pablo’s raw drum and bass riddims – Carlton Barrett in an absolutely blinding form – the superb Bobby Ellis’ horn arrangements, Errol T’s precision engineering at Randy’s again – all treated to King Tubby’s corruscating mixing techniques, have never been surpassed. Tracks like “Each One Teach One”, “Say So” and the title track came as revelations when this album first landed in 1976. The vocals – sometimes upfront in the mix for a brief moment before hurled back into the bottomless mix in a giddying, decaying spray of echo and reverb – other times heard as if from a distance, barely discernible, compelling the listener to search out the original…”Baby !”

track listing: Keep On Dubbing, Stop Them Jah, Young Generation Dub, Each One Dub, 555 Dub Street, Braces Tower Dub, King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, Corner Crew Dub, Say So, Skanking Dub, Frozen Dub, Satta Dub.

(Message, JA/Greensleeves, UK/RAS, US 1978)

Pablo’s first self-produced instrumental (as opposed to dub) set is a timeless expression of vision and inspiration. With the exception of “Jah Light” – a melodica cut to Douglas Boothe’s “When I Fall In Love” – “EAST OF RIVER NILE” is evocative amalgamation of Pablo’s minor-chorded “far east” melodic sense, Lee Perry’s Black Ark sound – on some tracks, most notably the incredible “Unfinished Melody” – and of course the mixing genius of King Tubby. This album’s deeply spiritual vibe – summed up by the classic cover shot of Pablo perched on a rock beside a fast flowing river surrounded by verdant greenery – recieved a mixed reception at the time. Pablo had moved on from the charged up skanks of “This Is” and “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” and at this distance it sounds like what it is : a classic !! Also includes a beautiful melodica version of “Africa Must Be Free” and of course the brilliant title track.

track listing: Chant To King Selassie I, Natural Way, Nature Dub, Upfull Living, Unfinished Melody, Jah Light, Memories Of The Ghetto, Africa (1983), East Of The River Nile, Sound From Levi, Chapter 2, Addis Ababa.

(Rockers International, JA/Greensleeves, UK 1979)

“Forward Jackson, backward Coxsone !” intones Augustus Pablo on the intro to the formidable “Rockers Dub”, Pablo’s sound boy dub plate version of “Frozen Dub”, itself a do-over of the Soul Vendors Studio One instrumental classic “Frozen Soul”. Pablo had attended a fruitless session at Coxsone Dodd’s Brentford Road studio whilst an unknown aspiring session musician. Coxsone habitually referred to anyone as “Jackson”, Pablo’s obvious admiration for Dodd’s legendary productions led him to rework many of them in the new “rockers” style he and the other “rebel” producers were forging, and “Rockers Dub” was obviously aimed straight at Coxsone’s head ! A treat from start to finish, included are full instrumental cuts to “Cassava Piece”, “Up Warreika Hill” and “Pablo’s Theme Song”, Jacob Miller’s “Who Say Jah No Dread”, Hugh Mundell’s “Africa Must Be Free By 1983” and Horace Andy’s “Ain’t No Sunshine”, plus Dillinger’s sound boy challenge “Brace A Boy” and its beautiful xylophone version “A.P. Special”. Compiled by Chris Lane and Dave Hendley it’s the perfect compliment to “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” and is needless to say essential.

track listing: Rockers Dub, Up Warrika Hill, Cassava Piece, Tubby’s Dub Song, Jah Dread, Brace A Boy, Thunderclap, Park Lane Special, New Style, AP Special

(Rockers International, JA 1992)

Amazing compilation of rare and previously unreleased Pablo versions to classic riddims including a cut to the Gatherers’ “Words Of My Mouth”, Yabby You’s “Conquering Lion”, Lloyd Parks’ “Slaving” as well as his own “Far East”, “Islington Rock” and Norris Reid’s wicked “Entrance To Jah World”. Also includes one of his first recordings “Viva Torado”. Again pretty much essential we’re afraid.

track listing: Meditation Dub, Tippa Tone Dub, East Man Sounds, New Lots Express, House Is Not A Home, Chain Gang Dub, Viva Tirado, Islington Dub, Satta-3, Jungle Cry.

(Aquarius/Black Solidarity, JA 1998)

This beautiful album contains some of Pablo’s earliest and finest music including the original “East Of The River Nile” and its deejay version “Soul Vibration”, Pablo’s debut single for Herman Chin-Loy the near perfect “Iggy Iggy”, the mind bending “Red Sea”, the run out of superlatives “Song Of The East” and that’s only the beginning. This truly is 100% essential containing the type of music that collectors have had to pay ridiculous sums for before it was re-issued on compact disc. One of the best releases of revive reggae music of the year 1998! Essential stuff!!

track listing: The Red Sea, Iggy Iggy, East Of The River Nile, Soul Vibration, Song Of The East, Uganda, Youth Man, Invasion, I-Man, African Rock, African Zulu, 405, Reggae In The Fields, Darker Shade Of Red.

(Alligator, JA/Greensleeves, UK 1983)

Something of a hotchpotch, drawing from tracks recorded between 1977 and the early 1980s. This is not usually seen as Augustus Pablo’s golden period, though most of this material sounds better in retrospect, and “King David’s Melody”, the version to Junior Delgado’s “Away With Your Fussing And Fighting”, always seemed one of Pablo’s better pieces of the time.

track listing: King David’s Melody, Zion High, Mr. Bassie, West Abyssinia, Israel In Harmony, Rockers Mood, Sufferers Trod, Revelation Time, Selfish Youths, Corner Stone Dub, Kent Road.

(Greensleeves, UK/Shanachie, US 1987)

Perhaps the most underrated Pablo album, as traditionalists in 1988 found it difficult to accept their hero employing digital riddims, or quite such a low-key approach. The tracks for this album were recorded at HCF Studio, Creative Sound and Tuff Gong. The sound is more mellow instrumental sounding than previous Augustus Pablo releases. Contains “Dubbing The Oppressors”, the excellent dub version of Junior Delgado’s “Raggamuffin Year”.

track listing : Sun Ray Dub, Jah D Special, Rockers Comes East, Dubbing The Oppressors, Zion Seals Dub, Pablo Meets P Smart in LI, Progression Dub, Revelino Dub, Babylon Loosing Dub.

(Greensleeves UK 1990)

Just when the reggae cognoscenti were writing Pablo off, his reputation was restored by this truly amazing return to form in 1990. The new element that made a difference was nyahbinghi drumming, half a decade before it returned to fashion with its employment on Cobra and Buju Banton records. True, it is only featured on two tracks – “Blowing In The Wind and “Drums To The King” – but these are the longest on the album, and the non-nyahbinghi workouts still have Pablo sounding far more focused than on most of his modern material. The trumpet of Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, one of the original Skatalites, is a further link with tradition, and another delight.

track listing : Blowing With The Wind, Twinkling Star, Ancient Harmonies, Creation Blues, Zion UFO, Eastern Code, 21 Years After, First World Call, This Song, Drums To The King.

More reviews:

Jacob Miller – Who Say Jah No Dread
Augustus Pablo Presents DJ’s From The 70s To 80s
Tetarck - Let's Get Started