Keith Hudson Biography

1946, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, d. 14 November 1984, New York, USA. As a youth, Hudson attended Boys Town School where his fellow pupils included Bob Marley, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe and the Heptones, with whom he organized school concerts. From an early age, he was a sound system fanatic, and became an ardent follower of Coxsone Dodd’s Downbeat. He also came to know members of the Skatalites, and gained entry to Studio One recording sessions by carrying Don Drummond’s trombone. He was only 14 years old when he produced his first recording, an instrumental featuring members of the Skatalites that was eventually released on a blank label in 1968, and two years later was reused for Dennis Alcapone’s ‘Shades Of Hudson’.

After leaving school, Hudson served an apprenticeship in dentistry, subsidizing his early recordings with money earned from these skills. In late 1967, he launched his Imbidimts label with Ken Boothe’s ‘Old Fashioned Way’, which subsequently became a number 1 in Jamaica. Over the next two years he released hits by Delroy Wilson (‘Run Run’) and John Holt (‘Never Will I Hurt My Baby’). In 1970, he began to feature himself as a vocalist with ‘Working Like A Slave’ and ‘Don’t Get Confused’, which caused a sensation at the time. Over the next two years, he had hits with U-Roy’s ‘Dynamic Fashion Way’, Alton Ellis’ ‘Big Bad Boy’, Dennis Alcapone’s ‘The Sky’s The Limits’, Big Youth’s ‘S.90 Skank’ and Soul Syndicate’s ‘Riot’, and released a host of other singles on Imbidimts, Mafia, Rebind and other labels. His willingness to experiment was evident on U-Roy’s ‘Dynamic Fashion Way’, on which he re-employed the ‘Old Fashioned Way’ rhythm, added a string bass to lay a new bassline, and overdubbed saxophone to transform the track completely. For ‘S.90 Skank’ he arranged for a motorcycle to be surreptitiously brought into Byron Lee’s recording studio so that he could record it being revved up. It created such an impact on motorcycle-mad Jamaica that Coxsone Dodd, Lee Perry and other producers were soon wheeling motorcycles into their recording sessions.

In 1972, Hudson released his first LP, Furnace, on his Imbidimts label. The album featured four of Hudson’s own songs, together with DJ, instrumental and dub tracks. He followed this with Class And Subject, and although he continued to record other artists, from this point in time he concentrated on his own career. In 1973, he emigrated to London, England, issuing Entering The Dragon, which showed him continuing to experiment and develop, even if the results at this stage were inconsistent. In particular, his practice of utilizing one-rhythm track for two or more different songs on one album was an innovation that only fully entered the reggae mainstream some 10 years later. In 1974, he released the masterpiece, Flesh Of My Skin, Blood Of My Blood. Sandwiched between two atmospheric instrumentals was a series of uplifting laments set to bare, understated rhythms, which sounded like nothing that had preceded them and nothing that has followed them, forcefully conveying not only a feeling of pain and oppression, but also an iron resolve to endure and defeat those obstacles. There were two further stunning releases in 1975: Torch Of Freedom and Pick A Dub. The latter is simply one of the greatest dub albums ever issued, featuring versions of his classic singles plus cover versions of the Abyssinians’ ‘Satta Massa Gana’ and ‘Declaration Of Rights’. It also included both the vocal and dub cuts of his cover version of the Dramatics’ Stax Records hit, ‘In The Rain’, on which he makes the song wholly his own. Torch Of Freedom was another one-off stroke of genius, featuring an understated, introverted sound with a distinct soul influence, for a series of songs on the theme of love, before eventually changing its focus for the final song, the visionary title track.

In 1976, he moved to New York, USA and signed a four-year contract with Virgin Records, who had followed Island Records’ lead in signing reggae acts in response to increased interest in the music, primarily from a new, predominantly white audience. If Hudson had released a strong mainstream reggae album at this juncture, then he would probably have become at least as big a star as Burning Spear or Dennis Brown. However, Hudson’s insatiable desire to keep moving artistically and try new things compelled him to follow his own course, and he duly delivered to Virgin a fully blown soul album, Too Expensive. Virgin marketed it along with their reggae releases, but it sounded so out of step with prevailing tastes and expectations that it received a savaging at the hands of the press, and generated poor sales. In truth, it is a strong album, let down only by two poor tracks and an irritating, thin saxophone sound. The reaction to the album severely strained Hudson’s relationship with Virgin, and he released his next single, ‘(Jonah) Come Out Now’, under the pseudonym of Lloyd Linberg on his wryly titled Tell A Tale label. Hudson had moved on again, returning to reggae and reusing the rhythm he had previously employed for ‘The Betrayer’ to build a classic track. Virgin were evidently under whelmed by their artist’s intention to make each album entirely different, and they terminated Hudson’s contract. In October, he released another excellent single in Jamaica, ‘Rasta Country’, before starting Joint, his new label in New York.

In 1977, a dub album, Brand (aka The Joint) was issued, followed the next year by its companion vocal set, Rasta Communication, which included ‘Rasta Country’ and a remade ‘Jonah’. The brilliant, militant songs, outstanding rhythms and inspired playing made both of these albums masterpieces. An unusual feature enhancing several tracks was the excellent slide guitar work of Willy Barratt, who added a ghostly shimmer to the sound. 1980’s From One Extreme To Another was less inspired than its predecessors and marred by overuse of in-vogue synth-drums. Nevertheless, the album still contained some fine music. That year, Hudson also issued a strong DJ album to back Brand, Militant Barry’s Green Valley. His own Playing It Cool was an excellent set, featuring new songs built over six of his earlier rhythms. The following year Steaming Jungle was issued, but proved to be his most disappointing release.

In early 1984, rumours circulated that Hudson was recording with the Wailers in New York, but nothing was ever released. In August he was diagnosed as having lung cancer. He received radiation therapy, and appeared to be responding well to the treatment, but on the morning of 14 November he complained of stomach pains, collapsed and died. Very little of his music has remained on catalogue. Hopefully this situation will change, and allow his music to be appreciated by the wider audience it deserves.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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