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Smokey Room puts Baffling Smoke Signal under the glass

By Smokey Room (AKA Ron)

I sometimes joke that if a song was recorded in Jamaica when Lee Perry was walking past on his way to the grocery store, Ron will know about it. Through his amazing Smokey Room website, Ron has done his best to list almost every record out there with a Lee Perry connection. When Heartbeat released their Baffling Smoke Signal collection in 2002, it featured several previously unreleased tracks — or did it? Ron gave it a listen and reported back to Upsetter Station. (Mick Sleeper)

As a long time Scratch fanatic, I've always caught the little details on CD re-releases. While listening to Heartbeat's Baffling Smoke Signal, I noticed certain things. It's a fine release, but let me share some additional details on the tracks.

As I have mentioned on my own Scratch website, I suspect "Ketch Vampire" by Devon Irons to be a custom made mix, probably done by Heartbeat's Chris Wilson himself. Of course, I'm not 100% certain, but Heartbeat has been doing this ever since they produced their first Studio One CDs in the early 90s. I think the mixes are okay, but it should be mentioned on the CD if it is a more modern mix.

I have heard several copies of Aura Lewis' "Full Experience" on the Sun Power 7 inch, but the mix on this single probably isn't a Lee Perry mix. I don't even think it was recorded at Black Ark. However, the version on this CD is outstanding and really unique in its form.

Scratch's "Baffling Smoke Signal" has been released on several occasions. First Perry released it on a Black Art 7 inch, which plays at 33 RPM and is as long as the later version that appeared on the Black Starliner "Black Art" 12 inch. The version on the original Black Art 7 inch hasn't been re-released yet.

"Down Here In Babylon" by Brent Dowe has more versions than you might think. Originally released as an 1975 Upsetters 7 inch, alternate versions have been anthologized on Justice League's Black Arkives and Jet Star's Original Super Ape. The version on Baffling Smoke Signal is labelled as a previously unreleased alternate take. It features Brent Dowe solo, without the usual backing vocals, and an organ creates the afterbeat instead of a saxophone. Subtle, but noticeably different.

Although "Natty Take Over" is credited to The Upsetters, it's actually Jah Lloyd (AKA Jah Lion) on the vocals. The song has been released on Jah Lloyd's Teem label. So this one isn't a Black Ark recording.

The first time I heard "Lizard Stick" by The Upsetters was on this CD, so what can I say. Great instrumental on the "Babylon Deh Pon Fire" rhythm.

If you ask me, I'd say the version of The Congos classic "Ark Of The Covenant" is another suspicious Chris Wilson mix. The dub is just like "Noah Sugar Pan". Exactly half way through the song, the dub version gets pasted in; you can notice the bass levels rise considerably.

"Set Up Yourself" was like "Lizard Stick" - brand new to me. Never heard this one before, and a pleasure to my ears.

Leroy Sibbles' excellent "Garden of Life" is a different version than the one on Trojan's Open The Gate. The vocal version on Open The Gate has more reverb and echo added and was taken from the "Big Spanner Disco Ajax" 12 inch. The Baffling Smoke Signal cut, obviously has less reverb and distorted echoes. I love that bit where the music stops and the drum machine drops in.

"Feast Of The Passover" has become my personal favourite.

The first time I heard The Congos' "At The Feast" was in my early years of collecting Lee Perry's creations. It's such a catchy, uplifting song, and whenever I play it, it brings a little smile to my face. My PM 7 inch copy is the same mix as the one on Build The Ark (Trojan). Years after Trojan's Build The Ark, Island released "Feast of the Passover" on Arkology. The first thing I noticed about the Arkology version was the drum break, right before the Congos come in. On Build The Ark, the splash-cymbals of the drum gets turned away when only the echo of the cymbal returns. The Arkology cut has the full splashing cymbals and even more - after some 2 minutes and 50 seconds, the rhythm fades away and another bit gets faded in. That bit of vocal that gets faded in was a complete surprise to me. "Feast of the Passover" on Baffling Smoke Signal has become my personal favorite though, I like the way The Meditations do their backing vocals.

If you can get your hands on the Black Art 12 inch cut of "Reggae Music" by Hugo Blackwood and Dr. Alimantado, I'd say go for it. Both "Reggae Music" and "Rastaman Train" are extended versions, even more extended than the JA "Upsetter Disco Jam" 1977 12 inch, which was used as a template for the last year's Trojan re-issue. If you know of the above issues, you have probably heard that difference between the extensions and the cut-out bit on the Baffling Smoke Signal issue. The song appears to start normal but after some 50 seconds, some vocals are cut out. After you hear Blackwood singing "...through and through your mind" you can still hear the cutting and pasting. It should go on with "the dreadlocks a jump it", but only that bit is cut out here. Very strange!

Finally "I Was Appointed" by Junior Murvin is another mind blowing cut. I had never heard before, so I was really excited to hear it.

March 2004