“Judge Dread Rock Steady” by Prince Buster - album review

TJR says

On the tightly-knit music-loving island of Jamaica, the latest singles can grip the nation like a soap opera – as I have discovered from first-hand experience. It has been that way for more than half a century – and the big story of 1967 was Buster’s dramatic turning on Rude Boy culture. Light entertainment it may be – but there was a real social statement here to boot. Buster felt that the glorification of the rude boy had gone too far – these petty criminals and hard-line gangsters were a genuine menace to society and nobody in music was speaking out. Derrick Morgan had released “Tougher Than Tough” featuring the line “Rudie’s Don’t Fear”. The bad lads in the dance would smash beer bottles against the wall when it played, flexing like peacocks. Buster tipped over the edge after an incident in West Kingston where a rude boy broke into a school, raped a school girl, and battered and assaulted her teacher. It was time, Buster felt, to portray these characters in a more appropriate negative light. It was a brave decision. Literally, he put his very life on the line with real-life gun men. The Prince was notoriously a tough guy himself – but no man can fight a gun.

Buster kicks off the LP magnificently with the title-track: “First, allow me to introduce myself, my name is Judge Hundred Years. Some people call me Judge Dread. Now, I am from Ethiopia, to try all you rudeboys for shooting black people. In my court only we talk, cause I am vex, and I am the rudeboy today.” The connection with Ethiopia is significant here – the Jamaican love for Ethiopianism was generally entrenched in society, not least with the Island’s Rastafarians. Rudeboy Hess, Rudeboy Adolfus James, Rudeboy Emmanuel Zechariah ‘Zaki’ Palm and George Grabandflee are brought before the court, with minimum sentences of 400 years, and extra dollops of 500 lashes for any courtroom disorder. When Zechariah ‘Zaki’ Palm speaks back after being sentenced to 400 years for shooting charges Judge Dread barks: “Hush-up what you try to do, shoot me too? 400 more years for you.” This has me on the floor every time! Judge Dread is the people’s hero right there. The rest of side 1 can’t compete, but “Rock With A Feeling” is a truly great instrumental. The full potential of the riddim would be realised when The Slickers took the baton with “Johnny Too Bad”, their festival winning song in 1971.

With the Judge Dread single having caused a furore – artists and kids on the street leaped to defend the rudies – the onus was on the Prince to consider revising his stance. Three months after the “Judge Dread” single, “The Barrister (The Appeal)”, which kicks off side 2, was issued. Judge Dread opens up the hearing ominously: “All of a sudden ya hear Rude Boys say they not rough, they not tough, they weren’t saying that 3 months ago.” Straight away it doesn’t look good for the appeal. Barrister Dreadlock, reportedly a big shot from Europe, fails to set the rudies free. In fact, he himself is charged with racial injustice and slave trading. A nice side-dig at imperialists there won’t have harmed Judge Dread's rep with the Jamaican public. “LIFE IMPRISONMENT FOR YOU BARRISTER DREADLOCK” proclaims Buster. “I am Judge Dread and I am saving the black nation.” It’s hilarious. Furthermore, sentences were increased to SIX THOUSAND YEARS for those rudies who had the impertinence to appeal.

Judge Dread Dance (The Pardon)” completed the singles trilogy, again working the original riddim. The first two had been a shock to the general public – the third confounded yet again. Unbelievably, the Judge has a complete change of heart thanks to several hundred letters from the public, and offers pardons to Emmanuel Zechariah ‘Zaki’ Palm and George Grabandflee, on the condition that they report daily to their probation officers and are seen to behave themselves in the next 5 years. A celebratory mood is played out in court as the Judge announces that he has brought along a freedom man by the name of Brother Rico (Rodriguez) whose irresistible trombone invokes an impromptu courtroom dance featuring even Judge Dread himself. It seems the Judge had made his point, and this seemed to appease a volatile situation out on the streets. This whole bonkers sketch could only happen in Jamaica – and it was extremely well played by the Prince.

The Jukebox Rebel
18-Nov-2008

A1 [03:42] 9.7.png Prince Buster - Judge Dread (Judge Four Hundred Years) (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
A2 [02:34] 6.4.png Prince Buster - Shearing You (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
A3 [02:57] 6.2.png Prince Buster - Nothing Takes The Place Of You (Toussaint McCall, Alan Robinson) Ska / Rocksteady
A4 [02:25] 6.7.png Prince Buster - Ghost Dance (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
A5 [03:01] 7.5.png Prince Buster - Rock With A Feeling (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
A6 [03:06] 6.0.png Prince Buster - Sweet Beat (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
B1 [03:48] 8.6.png Prince Buster - The Barrister (The Appeal) (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
B2 [02:51] 6.6.png Prince Buster - Dark Street (Dan Penn, Chips Moman) Ska / Rocksteady
B3 [03:38] 7.3.png Prince Buster - Judge Dread Dance The Pardon (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
B4 [02:28] 6.7.png Prince Buster - Show It Now (Cecil Campbell) Ska / Rocksteady
B5 [02:46] 5.8.png Prince Buster - Raise Your Hands (?) Ska / Rocksteady
B6 [03:10] 8.0.png Prince Buster - A Change Is Gonna Come (Samuel Cook) Ska / Rocksteady




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