The fact that they even agreed to reunite to record an album seemed an impossibility.
Three gifted Jamaican vocalists, Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin, Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig, and Cecil “Skelly” Spence, had overcome the crushing poverty of Kingston and the crippling effects of polio to become one of the most celebrated roots reggae acts of the late 1970s. This ‘holy trinity’ of Rasta street preachers mysteriously disbanded in 1981, just when they were on the verge of picking up right where the recently deceased Bob Marley had left off.
However, it is Washington, D.C.-based radio disc jockey Doctor Dread, AKA Gary Himelfarb, who approaches the trio, now living in New York, with a proposition. With a goal of bringing classic roots reggae to the masses, Doctor Dread launches a record label from his D.C. home called RAS (Real Authentic Sound) Records. By the mid-1980s, he managed to create a network of roots reggae artists, many of whom he signed to the label, including Black Uhuru and Inner Circle. While each individual member of Israel Vibration is pushing Doctor Dread for a solo album, Himelfarb is only interested in uniting the ‘holy trinity’ once again.
Instead of offering each member a solo contract, he offers each of them a train ticket to Washington, D.C. to record a reunion album. Fast-forward to 1988. Israel Vibration arrive in the lobby of Lion and Fox Recording Studios at 1905 Fairview NE, Washington, DC. Their legendary backing band Roots Radics were already sound-checked and ready. The trinity have arrived to record their tracks with the Radics. Engineer Jim Fox had the 24 track and monitors all set and ready. Fox recalls:
“I swear I felt this levitation thing going on. I hadn’t even met them or seen them yet, but just the fact that they were out in the lounge. I wasn’t aware of the gravity of the situation that Israel Vibration was coming in. So we’re kind of all waiting around and then somebody says ‘They’re here!’. They didn’t come in to the studio through the control room, they went in directly from the lounge. I had the microphones set up already, everything was there, the Radics were there and Wiss comes walking up to the mic and he sings the first verse of “Cool And Calm”:
“Standing on the corner,
Reasonin’ with your bredren,
You never mean no trouble,
You never do no harm,
Takin’ it cool and calm,
And a so we a gwaan,
gwaan, gwaan, gwaan”
Hal Lion, an electronics and radio engineer by trade, got his start with Hearst Metrotone News covering the White House and providing most of ABC’s prime time news features in the early 60’s. In the mid 60’s the networks began forming their own crews using a new medium called video.
Knowing that the future of broadcast media was in film and video, Hal Lion, along with several of Washington, D.C.’s film industry players, formed Associated Producers. Associated Producers consisted of the best film producer, writer, cameraman, electrician, and of course sound man the region had to offer. They moved into 1905 Fairview Ave NE, Washington, D.C., which had been the home of Capitol Film Labs for the prior 20 years. Soon after, Hal and Sally Lion formed Lion Recording Services, Inc.
Lion Recording Services became a full service industrial recording studio in 1967. Continuing in the tradition of film-crew audio, Lion provided services for location recording for synchronous film and radio, and began providing services for film mixing.
It came to Jim Fox as an epiphany while attending college. He is playing drums in a local band and studying to become an electrical engineer when he comes to the realization that he needs to plot a course for a successful career – but in what?
“I was like what am I going to do? After the late night gigs, school was pretty tough. I was in an electrical engineering program. So I’m listening to Jethro Tull. It’s a Friday night. I had a couple glasses of wine and I’m listening to the Benefit album and Time for Everything is playing and Martin Barre is on the guitar performing a solo and I’m sitting there with my head between the speakers like ‘I wish I was there when this happened so I could be a witness to what was done. I just wanted to be a witness.’”
Fox got the opportunity he was looking for when he was hired by Hal Lion in 1973 as chief engineer in charge of production and maintenance while Hal concentrated on expanding cassette duplication. At Lion Recording Services, Fox managed all production of audio visual slide shows, voice-overs, location audio, and mixing. Fox also began expanding the studio to accommodate live musicians, which lead the two to form Lion and Fox Recording, Inc. in 1979.
Fox was then fortunate enough to record a young reggae band out of Philadelphia called Black Sheep. Recalls Fox:
“As far as reggae goes, there was a group called Black Sheep from Philadelphia that was doing some shows in DC at some coffee houses that were near the old studio. So they came in and wanted to do some recordings. We did a little demo thing and then they decided they wanted to record an album. I wasn’t familiar with reggae at all. He laughs, “I remember they said they wanted to do some dubs, so I told them we could make some copies for them!”
Fox recorded the album Gathering for Black Sheep in 1981. He also makes calls and sends letters to whoever he could, attempting to get distribution and promotion for the new release.
1982 was a big year for Reggae Sunsplash. Beginning in 1981 the festivals were filmed and recorded for release, the first being Reggae Sunsplash ’81: Tribute to Bob Marley on Elektra Records. Since the recording of the event required synchronizing the audio with the video, the producers looked to Lion and Fox, who specialized in location radio and film recording. Jim Fox was tapped to go down to Jarrett Park, Montego Bay, Jamaica in July 1982 to capture the event. He talks about this being a pivotal event in his recording career:
“We did a lot of film and video work here. In early 1982, KSR Group (Kulberg, Reed and Stark) got together and they wanted to film 1982 Sunsplash. So they called me up because after my recording with Black Sheep, supposedly I knew something about reggae. They were bringing in video trucks from England and needed me to help hire the audio truck, to record, and to make sure everything synchronized with the video, so they called me to do that.
It was a major break for me because I was in Jarrett Park for 10 days, working on 2 hours sleep every day. We recorded 94 rolls of 2-inch tape. The experience was just awesome, it was really great.”
For the Jamaican artists, it was now acceptable to record with Jim Fox and Lion and Fox Studios. This was underscored by the fact that Dr. Dread’s D.C.-based RAS Records was signing some serious acts to the new label – acts like The Melodians, Don Carlos, Peter Broggs, Freddie McGregor, and the Grammy Award-winning Black Uhuru.
Upon his return from Jamaica, Jim Fox found himself back in the studio editing the master for the new Peter Broggs album for Dr. Dread’s Ras Records. The album was titled Rastafari Liveth and is considered by many to be a landmark roots reggae album.
“That’s really where my relationship with Dr. Dread started. The album was recorded by Soji Hamilton, mixed by Scientist, and it is a classic sounding Kingston, Jamaica reggae album. Soon after that he brought me the new Melodians album and I mixed that album for him.”
It’s 1983 and Live and Learn Records brings Jim Fox a single that they want to release. they needed Jim’s help in editing and cross-fading the vocal version to the dub version. Fox recalls:
“It’s this guy singing ‘Here I come again, wah-oy,’ you know? I was just like ‘who is this?’
“He says, ‘This is Don Carlos, he’s a classic Jamaican singer with a lot of history. This is the new single. He’s just now going solo.”
“Here I Come Again” was the single.’ As soon as I heard that I had to go find out everything about this guy. Next I discovered him singing “Harvest Time.”
Fox describes the feeling he got when he listened to these now-classic Don Carlos songs:
“I got this feeling, you know, inside the body. It was like a spiritual thing that just took over. And that’s when I really started to get it – this vibe – that everyone talks about.”
The “Here I Come Again”/”Here I Come (Version)” 7″ produced by Delroy Wright was issued by Live and Learn Records in 1983 and jump-started the solo career of perhaps the greatest living singer ever to come from Jamaica.
But this was only the beginning.
Soon after, Doctor Dread schedules studio time to record vocals. Fox is thrilled to meet Don Carlos. The tracks were recorded by Errol Brown at Tuff Gong Studios, Hope Road, Kingston. Yet in 1984 Carlos arrives in Washington, DC to voice and mix Just A Passing Glance. The all too memorable photo on the album cover was taken in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. and features Carlos “glancing” back at a vision of His Imperial Majesty.
I spoke with Don Carlos recently regarding his decision to work with Jim Fox:
“Yeah, mon Jim Fox one of my favorites, you know? He one of my favorite people me ever work with. Jim Fox is a professional. Him is a good man, you know? Working with Jim was like magic. I wish those days, I mean to get those feeling again. Yeah mon. Jim Fox him the best! Whenever him mix an album that album well mix! It is the best mix you can get!”
Carlos would go on to record four albums in total with Jim Fox over the next 10 years, including the classic albums Deeply Concerned, 7 Days A Week, and Ease Up. The legendary singer even moved to Washington, DC for several years during this period.
“Me live in DC in like the 80s. I want to tell you ‘bout 3 or 4 of my youth in DC and Maryland.”
When I asked him to sum up his experience recording with Fox while on RAS Records, Carlos had this to say:
“I will tell you, Jim Fox will always be my Number 1. There is a group in California now called Rebelution. Them love Jim Fox. I don’t think they will do another album unless Jim Fox is involved. There is this other band. Dem called Groundation. Them love Jim Fox so much. He did some tour wit dem too. I saw dem on tour couple times. Dem want Jim Fox to travel with dem. But Jim, that’s not his style, you know? Jim need to be in the studio working on those sounds. That’s his passion. That’s his love. That’s his life.”
BLACK UHURU – THIS WHOLE WORLD IS BRUTAL
It’s 1986 and Dr. Dread has signed the mighty Black Uhuru to RAS Records after they broke away from Island Records. Interestingly, this is the same Black Uhuru that Don Carlos co-founded in the early 1970’s in Jamaica. By 1986 the group consists of founder Duckie Simpson, American singing sensation Puma Jones, and brand new singer Junior Reid, who replaces the recently departed Michael Rose.
“I finally proposed to my wife and we set a date of January 4 to get married. So on December 5th I get a call from Doctor Dread and he says ‘Fox! Great news! I just signed Black Uhuru and we want to schedule studio time! We want to come in on January 4th!’
So I’m like, uhhh, let me get back to you on that. I asked my wife and of course it was out of the question. So RAS did a couple days in New York on the album. Well, I couldn’t have a honeymoon. A few days later we were voicing and mixing the Black Uhuru album.
It was Junior Reid, Puma Jones, Duckie Simpson. “Fit You Haffe Fit” and “Conviction Or A Fine” were done in Jamaica with Steven Stanley. “Great Train Robbery” and “Brutal” were done in New York on January 4th with Arthur Baker, and the rest was done here at Lion and Fox.
I distinctly remember when Puma Jones voiced her tracks at Lion and Fox. She has such a mysterious voice.”
Black Uhuru are backed by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare AKA “the riddim twins” on the album. The duo are responsible for introducing the “Rockers” sound into reggae in the late 1970s, which all but replaces the classic “one drop’ riddim. Rockers is best described as a more mechanical and aggressive style of playing reggae with a greater use of syncopated drum patterns. This style defined the sound of Black Uhuru for much of their career.
Sadly, Puma Jones eventually leaves the group when she is taken ill with cancer a few years later. She succumbs to the disease in 1990, leaving the roots reggae world without that strong, modern voice that she had.
The result of those sessions is the Brutal album, which finds Black Uhuru taking a new direction as it includes several tracks aimed directly at the burgeoning dancehall crowd. The dub version of the album titled Brutal Dub is released soon after and brings in another Grammy nod for best reggae album in 1986. As fate would have it, after the announcement of this nomination, Brutal Dub is pulled from the lists when the Grammy committee learns that this album is not a vocal release but merely a “so-called” instrumental release, clear evidence that the industry had no understanding of the phenomenon called Dub.
ISRAEL VIBRATION: STRENGTH OF MY LIFE AND BEYOND
The trio of vocalists who make up Israel Vibration are considered one of the most uniquely gifted groups Jamaica has produced. All three are inflicted with the deadly polio virus as infants and spend their childhood at the Mona Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica. As a teenager, Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig devotes himself to the Rastafarian faith, something that did not bode well at his institutional home. Apple’s bredren follow him into the Rasta faith, and it isn’t long before all three are thrown out of the institution.
Having to fend for themselves for the first time in their lives, all three bredren end up living in the bush and singing on the streets for money. Apple describes this period in an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner in February 1990:
“It was a terrible time. We had to sleep on the bare ground and when it rained we had to shelter under the branches of trees. And as for food, we went for days without eating. It was this sort of existence that made us into Israel Vibration. During the days we didn’t have anything to do. We used to sing.”
After spending six years on the streets, the group enters the Channel One Studio in 1975 with producer Ernest Hookim and cut the single “Bad Intention,” but it is never released. The Twelve Tribes of Israel, a House of Rastafari, step in and produce their first 45 rpm single “Why Worry” in 1976, which is produced by U Booth at Treasure Isle. “Why Worry” is released on the Twelve Tribes label and is so successful that producer Tommy Cowan books them at the Channel One Studio to record the album The Same Song in 1977. They follow with the album Unconquered People in 1980, which is recorded at the newly built Tuff Gong Studio and released on Cowan’s Top Ranking label.
It is during the Unconquered People recording sessions that the trio meet Doctor Dread for the first time. It is rumored that Bob Marley listened to the recording of the album in his Tuff Gong office and praised the group for their unique vocal delivery and the depth and spirituality in the lyrics.
What happens next sets the course for Israel Vibration’s emigration to America and their eventual partnership with Dr. Dread and RAS Records.
For the next album, the trio enter the studio with producer Junjo Lawes at the helm. Recalls Apple:
“The second time we entered the studio to voice the tracks, we heard other peoples’ voices on our original music. We were told that the producer had other artists singing on our rhythm tracks. When we confronted Junjo about this there was a big argument and we told him that we did not and could not work this way and left.”
The album, Why You So Craven, is finished by The Tamlins, mixed by Scientist, and sold by Lawes to Dynamic, who release it in its incomplete form.
It is several years later when the trio, each living in Brooklyn, New York, enter Lion and Fox Studios under the RAS Records label to record Strength Of My Life. The album includes the best musicians their native Jamaica has to offer: Flabba Holt on bass, Bingy Bunny on guitar, Style Scott on drums, Dwight Pinkney on lead guitar, Earl Fitzsimmons on piano, Sticky Thompson on percussion, Augustus Pablo on melodica/overdubs, Mallery Williams keyboard/organ, and Brass Tax from Parliament Funkadelic on horns.
The album, brilliantly engineered by Jim Fox at Lion and Fox Studios, establishes a new standard for reggae recording and introduces a sound that will characterize Israel Vibration’s records for the next 15 years. The Radics lay down fat riddims to their melodies, over which the trio conjure a variety of unique atmospheres and moods.
The album opens with the flawless “Cool And Calm,” which establishes a relaxed vibe that flows throughout the album. The listener is taken on a hazy journey through slums and collie fields, while the trio sing songs about religion, social injustice, poverty, love, and strength. It’s an album that strengthens the soul. Material this strong is usually only found on the debut album of an artist or artists who have been struggling to make it for some time. This is an album that is the “second-debut” of a trio of artists who struggled for years just to stay alive.
Jim Fox’s mix of the album sets a new standard for reggae recording. Fox shows what can be done when recording a truly great artist backed by one of the finest bands in the world. Each instrument is crystal clear. The bass is heavy. The vocals, almost sung at a whisper, come through strong against such heavy instrumentation. It is often said that there is a perfect mix for every recording. The job of the engineer is to find that perfect mix. It is daunting – like trying to find a needle in 1000 haystacks, however, Fox finds it and the listener is left with no doubt as to why Israel Vibration decide to record a total of 18 albums at Lion and Fox.
If Strength Of My Life served to tell the reggae world that Israel Vibration was back, then the follow-up album Praises signals that they are gaining strength and building a much stronger bond the second time around. Songs like “Vultures”, “New Wave”, and “Jailhouse Rocking” are considered by many to be modern reggae classics. It is the Roots Radics that shine brightest on Praises, with Flabba Holt laying down his heaviest basslines on tracks like “Jailhouse Rocking”, where he tests the structural integrity of the modern speaker system. However, it is Jim Fox’s masterful mix that allows the Radics to test the boundaries of the studio space without overtaking the whispery vocals of the trio. It is this that makes his recordings of Israel Vibration so great.
This “Fox sound” sets the standard for reggae recordings during this period. Roger Steffens, founding Chairman of the Reggae Grammy Committee said this of Fox during a recent interview:
“The sounds he has helped these musicians realize reverberate over the decades and one can recognize the “Fox Sound” almost immediately. He helped boost the careers of many of reggae’s biggest lights, and made them brighter. Jah bless Jim Fox and all his crucial works.”
Of the first two albums Israel Vibration recorded with Jim Fox, noted reggae historian and author David Katz (People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae) says:
“On Strength Of My Life, songs like “Greedy Dog” and “Live And Give” holding real palpable tension, especially when the eerie backing vocals kick in. I think Praises has a harder edge. I love the live horns and organ sound on “Vultures”, another edgy track. “There Is No End” has lots of great percussive sounds. I would say you can hear that both those albums were not rushed. Care was taken to make sure they were recorded properly.”
I spoke with Cecil “Skelly” Spence, one of the few living legends of reggae, about his experience recording with Jim Fox at Lion And Fox Studio:
“I have to say in the 30 years of my career, I-man worked with many great engineers, and Jim Fox is also one of those great engineers. From when we signed with RAS Records, I don’t know how many albums we record with RAS Records, but Jim Fox was always the engineer. To be considered a great recording engineer, one has to have patience. It is very important. Jim Fox is one of the most patient guys I ever work with. This is what I recall when I say he is one of the greats.”
I also asked him about his favorite album that Israel Vibration recorded with Fox:
“The Strength Of My Life album is a really nice album, you know. It was our first time recording outside of Jamaica so there was a concern about the sound. It was my first time working with Jim and it came out really good. I know personally that many artists prefer Jim to work with because they know what they will get. I recall, all Jim need is his cup of coffee-tea, and him work all night long ‘til morning come, then him work more.”
From 1990 through 2003, Lion and Fox and Israel Vibration put out at least one record every year with the exception of 1998 and 2002. This includes several dub albums and three live recordings. At the same time, Fox is being pulled in other directions and his brilliant work with Israel Vibration opens opportunities all over the world.
“In 1994, again, another Doctor Dread connection, Los Cafres, they called and I was able to go down to South America and Argentina and mix an album for Los Cafres. So that was all well and done and good. Then I did Instinto Dub for them. Just last year, 16 years and about 10 albums later, they called me back and said ‘Hey, why don’t you come down and do this album with us.’ So last year I went down and mixed their newest album (El Paso Gigante). When I was down there they told me that Rolling Stone Magazine (October 2009) put out an issue that voted the best reggae albums produced in South America. The number one album was that album I did in 1994 for them (Instinto, recorded at Panda Studios, Buenos Aires, Argentina).”
It isn’t possible to spend as much time with Israel Vibration and the Roots Radics as Jim Fox did during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s without becoming a family of sorts. When Fox speaks of these musicians it is clear that he holds them in highest regard. These are his bredren. It is in 1993, during the tour promoting the IV album that guitar legend Eric “Bingy Bunny” Lamont of the Roots Radics is taken ill.
“If my imagination serves me right it was the first part of January and it was really cold out. I wanted to go to the funeral down in Jamaica but I just couldn’t make it. I was mastering the IV Dub album. So the night he was being buried I went and got out the 2-inch tapes and I started to remix the ending of the last song so that it had the rhythm guitar going out on a lasting reverb, and the band fading out, and the rhythm guitar playing out into the band fading. So I spliced it to the end, you know, replacing the actual mix that we had. I just felt terrible that I wasn’t there. My respect for Bingy Bunny was (pause) very, very high. He’s just the greatest guy and what an incredible musician.”
In 1995, with Wiss stuck in Jamaica due to problems with his papers, Fox travels to the island to record what would become the crowning achievement for Israel Vibration in the 1990s, an album titled On The Rock. A stunning album with a conscious message aimed squarely at the ‘rudeboys’ of the day. By far their most cultural album of the decade, the single “Rudeboy Shufflin’” is a surprise breakout hit, even finding its way to BET and MTV with a killer video.
Wiss, having lived in Brooklyn for nine years, needed to get his passport in order. So Dr. Dread booked a round trip ticket to Kingston for him and Wiss to go to the US Embassy and get Wiss’s papers in order. So something happened in the interview and the customs agent decided he didn’t want to give Wiss back his papers. So “Mr. Consular Man” opens the On The Rock album:
“I’ve been away in another land / For over nine years
Had to return to Jamaica now / To set my way clear
I had to go to the embassy
To be interviewed by men of authority
Who didn’t want to see I go through
So they did all that they could do / Just to slow I down
Harsh authority was impound
So then I realise / I was bound in a jam down
For so long, for so long”
HISTORY IN THE MAKING AND THE FUTURE OF REGGAE ROOTS
Throughout the late 1990s, Fox continues recording and mixing some very notable roots reggae albums including Culture’s One Stone and the dub version Stoned (1996); Israel Vibration’s Free To Move (1996), Live Again (1997), and Pay The Piper (1999); Don Carlos’ 7 Days A Week (1998); and Dean Frasier’s critically acclaimed follow-up to his Dean Plays Bob album (1996). In 1997 Fox releases his Dub For Daze compilation featuring rare and unreleased dub tracks from Don Carlos, Freddie McGregor, Gregory Isaacs and others.
It’s just another day mixing and mastering at the Lion And Fox Studios in 1999, now located in the Lincolnia section of Northern Virginia just off I-395, when Fox signs for a package delivery in the lobby.
“I’m down there in Virginia and I happened to be in the front office for some reason because I’m usually not there. This delivery guy comes down to deliver a package so I grabbed it and signed for it. So he looks at the signature for a few seconds and he goes:
‘You Jim Fox?’
So I say ‘yeah’, and it was Bird, Ryan Berty, the drummer for a band called SOJA.
So he says ‘I’m in a band.’
I say ‘come on down, bring your band, let’s do some recording.’
He said he’s in a band, and he knew who I was, and he was familiar with all the reggae albums we had done here. It was really very nice. He had a sparkle in his eye and I could tell he was really excited to be doing this. They came in to the studio. You know, they wanted to get booked at the local bars here and they needed a demo tape to give to the bar managers. They came in on a Saturday and we were supposed to do it in one day because money was kind of tight.
I was totally blown away. The material from the beginning was just so deep. Jake’s writing was so deep. They were so into it. I slowed them down a bit and told them ‘let’s just record it all today and then we’ll mix it tomorrow.’ I wasn’t even thinking about the money thing. I just wanted to get it right. We did four songs and four dubs, and that’s the EP, that’s the Soldiers Of Jah Army EP.”
Bassist Bobby Lee recounts this chance meeting during our recent interview.
“Byrd was working as a courier and when he found out he was delivering a package to Lion and Fox studios we knew that it was where a lot of our favorite reggae records had been recorded. When he walked into Fox’s office he had no idea what he looked like. So he said ‘I have a package for Jim Fox’ and the guy behind the desk signed for the package, scribbled Fox onto the paper. He felt inclined to tell him about the band and ask how much it cost. The rest is history!”
So who is SOJA?
SOJA, which stands for Soldiers Of Jah Army, are a group of local reggae musicians who met at an Arlington, Virginia high school and are now playing to stadiums in South America. They have more than one million followers on Facebook. They have released two commercially viable live concert DVD’s – one recorded in Falls Church, Virginia at the historic State Theater, and the other in Hawaii. They have managed to do what no other American roots reggae act has done – use the power of the web and social networking sites to become an international sensation.
It is around 2005 that SOJA makes the transition from a struggling local favorite to global roots fusion warriors. Fast forward to today. SOJA recently co-headlined a tour with British reggae legends Steel Pulse, who got their start opening for Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1977.
It isn’t so long ago that Hemphill met bass player Bob Jefferson at an Arlington, Virginia high school. Hemphill and Jefferson form SOJA after enlisting schoolmates Eric Rogers (keyboards, harmony vocals, later replaced by Patrick O’Shea in 2003), Ryan Berty (drums), and Ken Brownell (percussion).
SOJA’s initial offering is a four track EP featuring matching dub tracks on the B-side. The SOJA Showcase EP is issued locally on blue vinyl and is a true rarity these days.
The release of the Soldiers of Jah Army EP in 2000 is a hit on the Atlantic coastal scene, especially in the Washington, DC area where there is a rather sizable Rasta population. The band continues it’s successful collaboration with Jim Fox and record Peace In A Time Of War in 2002, a more mature album with overt political themes.
In 2006, SOJA enter Lion and Fox once again to record Get Wiser with Jim Fox, their second full-length album. It debuts in the Top 10 Reggae Albums on iTunes and has remained in the top 100 since its release. The album release party is held on January 6, 2006 at The State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia, where the band is introduced by legendary Jamaican broadcaster and Bob Marley biographer Dermot Hussey. The show consists of two separate sets, with the opening set being older songs, and the second set being Get Wiser in its entirety. The show is recorded live and mixed by Fox, and released as a DVD, known as the Get Wiser Live DVD, on November 21, 2007. Over the next few years, Fox collaborates with SOJA on several singles and EPs.
In August 2009, SOJA releases the album Born In Babylon. The band’s next album, Strength To Survive was released on January 31, 2012.
I spoke recently with lead singer Jacob Hemphill about how Jim Fox has helped shape the band. Says Hemphill:
“He has taught us a lot. Where to simplify, where to expand, which songs had the most potential and why. Also, he taught us how to set up to record. We still do it the same way he does, start to finish.”
Working again with Jim Fox, SOJA releases Beauty In The Silence on September 24, 2021. The album goes on to win the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for that year. It is the first time an American reggae act has won the reggae Grammy and it causes a huge ripple effect in the industry. For his work as Engineer on the album, Jim Fox also wins his first Grammy Award.
While Jim Fox stayed busy in the studio throughout the nineties recording, mixing, and mastering the best that reggae had to offer, his services were often called upon to work live events all over the world. One notable live event was the Marley Magic Live at Central Parl Summerstage in July 1996. The performances by the Marley family were captured live on audio and video for a DVD profiling the event. Lion and Fox was there to capture all of the magic.
At the same time he is witnessing the emergence of SOJA as a huge international success story, a bonafide reggae legend comes knocking at Jim Fox’s studio door. Julian “Junior” Marvin, former lead guitarist for Bob Marley and the Wailers, and front man for The Wailers Band, moves to Washington, DC in 1999 to help launch XM Radio’s all-reggae channel The Joint. Marvin, knowing full well that the Lion and Fox Studio is just a short walk from his home in Arlington, Virginia begins to spend countless hours in the studio.
“Yeah, I was around the corner on North Van Dorn, so I could actually walk there,” says Marvin during our recent interview. “I spent every day jamming with his engineers that work there. It was Big D., Mike Caplan, Rob Burhman, and Abas Zand. There was a guy there doing wiring named Ronnie Edwards, he was a guitar player. We would jam every afternoon and Jim was teaching me the new computer stuff like Pro Tools because this was around the time when everything in the studio was going to computers. I got a job at XM satellite radio because you had to know Pro Tools to get the job. I needed to learn the technology so Jim was my teacher for a while.”
Marvin thinks so highly of Fox that he decides to record his first solo project with him at Lion and Fox.
“Jim Fox is such a humble guy man. He really is. He has done so much to promote this music and done so much to help this music in the United States, more than any producer I know. And he doesn’t go after the money, he goes after the music. He’s great man. He’s one of the best. So when it came time to record my album Wailin’ For Love, Fox was the man.”
“He studied the work of one of the best engineers ever, a guy by the name of Errol Brown at Tuff Gong, who works with Ziggy Marley right now and also did some work with Bob Marley. Jim is a musician, a drummer, and he really likes Jethro Tull, and we became very good friends, very close friends.”
As if recording with one of Bob Marley’s main guys, a man handpicked by Marley to bring a new vibe and texture to his already-brilliant music, is not enough, Fox collaborates with a man who is making all the right moves right now in the “world-a-reggae;” A man who has garnered the respect of Rastafari’s elite elders.
It is in Jamaica while recording the Israel Vibration album Jericho in 2000 that Fox is introduced to a driven young man from California named Harrison Stafford AKA ‘Professor’ – the name given to Stafford by the elders when he was teaching the first course on the History of Reggae Music at Sonoma State University.
Professor is a founder and lead singer of the sensational Groundation, a nine-piece band with an altogether new reggae sound, featuring swirling, jazz/funk inspired horns, stout Latin and African based poly-rhythmics, and soulful harmony vocals. Groundation is considered uniquely authentic roots reggae band in the vein of The Abyssinians, The Congos, and The Melodians. They use analog instruments and recording equipment rather than digital, with Professor explaining “No digital, we don’t work with synthesizers. Just like in the 1970s. We stick to that format.”
Groundation is a band that is redefining a genre. Their critically and commercially successful albums tell a “collective and linear story that seeks to interpret the truly historic times we are living in.” Their reputation as an authentic roots reggae band comes not only from Stafford’s unquestionable knowledge of the genre and culture, or from their use of analog recording, but also because they work hand-in-hand with the greatest living roots musicians. Don Carlos, The Congos, Pablo Moses (singer), Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace (drummer), Ras Michael (percussion), and Marcia Higgs (singer) are just a few of the names that have collaborated with Groundation.
I spoke with Stafford recently about his history with Fox and how he made the decision to enlist Fox as his engineer early on. Stafford explains:
“Everything that Doctor Dread put out went through Fox’s hands, whether it was recording it, mixing it, mastering it, mixing and mastering it you know. That’s pretty much the stuff I heard and listened to growing up. So when I started a band I realized I wasn’t getting the sound I wanted. So my goal was to get some money together, find Jim Fox, and fly him out here. I wanted to work with Jim Fox in an all analog space.”
It is during one of his trips to Jamaica to conduct research and interviews for his film Holding On To JAH that Stafford is first introduced to Fox:
“I met Jim Fox in Jamaica. He was there working with Israel Vibration and Joseph Hill (of Culture) I think. I saw him working on the 2-inch machine at Leggo. I saw him at Tuff Gong. I saw him at Anchor Mixing Lab. You don’t really notice him unless you actually turn your head and see him at the console. You don’t feel his presence in the studio, he’s there to capture what you are doing as a musician.”
So what is it that makes Jim Fox’s mix of an album so desirable to musicians that his talent is so respected and in-demand all over the world? This is the question that needs a definitive, clear, and concise answer. It is Stafford who is able to explain it better than anyone else:
“Why his mix is better? There’s a sound that happens. There’s a feeling with the music when you get it real strong. It feels strong because all the instruments, you can hear them all. Everything. This feeling of strength, Fox knows what that sounds like. Sometimes when you hear an album the high hat is really strong, or the percussion. With Fox, you hear everything and it’s strong, and it’s clear.”
The motto at Lion and Fox is one that has characterized the work being done there since the early 1980s, when Jim Fox started recording reggae artists: “History in the making.” When I ask Fox about the many legendary reggae recordings tracked at Lion and Fox, he tends to downplay his role in reggae music history. He’s a guy who is more prone to heap praise on those recording engineers who he admires, guys like the great Errol Brown of Tuff Gong, Steven Stanley, Dennis Thompson, Stephan Stewart, Chris Daily , Bravo, Soji, and Scientist.
I ask him specifically about the moniker ‘History in the making’ and the circumstances surrounding his decision to put into words what he’s been doing for 30 years at Lion and Fox:
“I always wanted to be a witness, you know? That’s what got me into this business, to be a witness to some of these performances. During the Free To Move album, we were tracking along and everything’s going great. Doctor Dread had to go out. He didn’t want to stop the session so he said keep going and I’ll call in later. So we’re recording Apple’s song “Pretty Woman” and the Roots Radics, they had to slow down and speed back up again, there was a major speed change. They were so tight, I mean they were just on it. It was incredible. So we just got done recording it and Doctor Dread calls in and says:
‘Hey Fox how’s it going?’
So I said ‘Doc, you’re missing it, it’s history in the making.’
That was the first time I said those words out loud, and I realized that I had been a witness to history from the very beginning.”
For a full listing of Jim Fox’s recording, mixing, and mastering credits please visit HERE.
And now a little history about reggae in Washington, D.C. and the formation of RAS Records from the June 1987 issue of the Washington City Paper…