King Jammy, Winston “Steely” Johnson and Cleveland “Clevie” Brown, and Bobby “Digital” Dixon are generally credited with ushering in the digital revolution of reggae music, they were far from the first to use a digital riddim for a song.  Who then was the very first jamaican musician to use a drum machine in a song?  Bob Marley.

Yes, it is true.  Bob Marley, the charismatic soul-rebel with the kinky afro and million-dollar smile – the man who took the reggae beat from the hills and gullies of the land of look behind to every corner of the earth, carrying the heavy weight of its message on his shoulders for a decade, first used a drum machine for several tunes on the Natty Dread LP.  The description of the actual instrument varies from person-to-person.  David Katz refers to it as a “primitive rhythm box” that was used solely as a “percussive element buried beneath the mix of usual live instruments.”  This is true for its use in songs like  “Rainbow Country” and “Dub Revolution.” However, according to our good friend Inyaki Yarruto of Basque Dub Foundation (who has researched this topic thoroughly) the instrument used is actually a Gibson Maestro Rhythm King and it is clearly used in place of live instrumentation on “So Jah Seh” and “No Woman, No Cry,” both from the Natty Dread album.  The artificial sound of the drum machine or “riddim box” is instantly recognizable on the Natty Dread album setting it apart from the others to follow.  The Wailers’ experimentation with the device is short-lived and is not used again in any of their music.

Winston “Steely” Johnson refers to it as an electronic “riddim box” and credits The Wailers as the first ever to experiment with the new technologies that first became available in Jamaica in the early 1970s.

Although used sporadically by Lee “Scratch” Perry in Wailers tunes from the same period (most notably “Rainbow Country”) the drum machine is not re-introduced into the music until 1983 when Sly Dunbar uses a Roland 808 to supplement his drumming on tunes like Ini Kamoze’s “Trouble You A Trouble Me,” Dennis Brown’s “Revolution,” and Black Uhuru’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”

“So Jah Seh” is probably my favorite Bob Marley song.  It has always been rumored that Rita Marley wrote the song.  While many attribute the lyric “So Jah Seh,” not one of my seeds, shall sit in the sidewalk and beg bread” to the Bible, there is actually no reference in the Bible that comes close to mirroring this language.  This skillfully and artfully written song is nothing short of a Marley masterpiece.  The riddim, while unusual and off-putting at first, is as infectious as anything I’ve heard and it will follow you for a week after hearing it only once.  Another element of the song that never gets recognized is the brilliance of Al Anderson’s guitar.  Anderson was recruited in 1974 to add a rock element to Natty Dread. As he related to me in our interview from 2012, Al states:  “I slept on the floor or on the beach for at least the first year I was brought into the band.”  He is playing such an intricate guitar solo under Bob’s singing that you almost wish Bob would have showcased it as a proper guitar solo in the song.  But he didn’t and the song is perfect and Marley knew just what he was doing.

So here is a “So Jah Seh” mix-up from 2012 which features the album cut, version, live and alternative cuts.