Starting with the Skatalites, Jamaican recordings largely revolved around a select floating pool of the island’s best musicians; top producers began calling on the Revolutionaries in the mid-’70s. The group’s importance, however, extends far beyond providing music to many roots classics; Revolutionaries backing tracks dominated Jamaican music when dub, the foundation of the mix culture, became a widespread reggae phenomenon. The group pioneered the four-beat “rockers” rhythm on recordings like the Mighty Diamonds’ 1976 Right Time, as well as more syncopated variations on songs such as Black Uhuru’s “Sponji Reggae” (1981). The rise of the Revolutionaries also marked the arrival of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar as the most crucial bass and drums team in Jamaican music. The group’s dub work has been showcased on full-lengths such as 1978′s Reaction in Dub and 1979′s Goldmine Dub, as well as countless anthologies.
Along with Shakespeare and Dunbar, the core Revolutionaries included Ossie Hibbert, Ansel Collins, Errol “Tarzan” Nelson on keyboards, Radcliffe “Duggie” Bryan on guitar, Uziah “Sticky” Thompson on percussion, Skatalites veteran Tommy McCook on tenor sax, Herman Marquis on alto sax, and Vin Gordon on trombone. Given the highly fluid nature of studio work, other A-list veterans like Earl "Chinna" Smith and Tony Chin on guitar, Bertram “Ranchie” McLean on bass, Robby Lyn on keyboards, and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace or Carlton “Santa” Davis on drums might fill in. In fact, the Revolutionaries is only the name for the house band on sessions at Channel One studio with producers Jo Jo Hookim and Ernest Hookim. Many of the same musicians also recorded as the Professionals for producer Joe Gibbs, the Aggrovators with producer Bunny Lee, and the Black Disciples with producer Jack Ruby. By whatever name, in whatever combination, these players played a crucial role in defining roots reggae to listeners outside Jamaica. The Mighty Diamonds’ Right Time album in 1976 ushered in the rockers rhythm and the Revolutionaries soon became Jamaican hit-makers in their own right with singles like “MPLA” and “Angola.” Four LPs — Vital Dub Strictly Rockers, Revolutionary Sounds, Revival Dub Roots Now, and Satta Dub Strictly Roots — came out in Jamaica on the Well Charge label.
By the early ’80s, Sly & Robbie had toured with Peter Tosh before joining Black Uhuru, and many other members of the Revolutionaries were out on the road backing major Jamaican vocal groups. The Roots Radics took over as the chief studio session band, but the Revolutionaries’ legacy was already cemented as the dub phenomenon gathered momentum and prompted the release of the group’s music outside Jamaica. The brilliant Revolutionaries Sounds, Vol. 2 (1979) served up gloriously simple roots reggae that hearkened back to dub’s origins as the instrumental B-sides of Jamaican singles. Burning Dub, Outlaw Dub, and Goldmine Dub, among others, also appeared in 1979. The group backed up Serge Gainsbourg on his reggae albums, 1979′s Aux Armes et Cætera and 1981′s Mauvaises Nouvelles des Étoiles.
A few albums appeared during the early ’80s, including I Came, I Saw, I Conquered and Revival. Numerous Revolutionaries collections and archival releases have appeared since the beginning of the CD era, including 1995′s Channel One Revisited Dub, 2001′s At Channel One: Dub Plate Specials, and 2007′s Drum Sound: More Gems from the Channel One Dub Room. ~ Don Snowden & Paul Simpson