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World Music Features

Yabby You

By Matt Scheiner
Published August 2, 2007

Yabby You (aka Vivian Jackson), the hitmaker and producer known for his 1972 single “Conquering Lion” speaks in warbled patois from his Jamaican homeland, adding to the musician’s wizened mystique. Despite his physical pitfalls, he’s still able to perform three to four times a year.

It’s not hard to visualize Yabby You (aka Vivian Jackson) on the other side of the phone, hunched over and Yoda-like from the rheumatoid arthritis that’s afflicted him and his touring schedule for most of his musical career. The hitmaker and producer known for his 1972 single “Conquering Lion” even speaks in warbled patois from his Jamaican homeland, adding to the musician’s wizened mystique. But despite his physical pitfalls, he’s still able to perform three to four times a year, albeit only when the weather is warm: “when the time cold I can’t even fah move round like when the time hot,” says Yabby, a little beaten down by his predicament. And while there is no cure for chronic rheumatoid arthritis, Yabby admits that reggae music helps ease the pain. His self-administered medication comes by way of reissued and previously unreleased material that Yabby says literally surrounds him. “I have so much tune, so much material from the ’70s that was never released.” Indeed, Yabby’s 1977 Deliver Me From My Enemies album was never officially released—until now, thanks to Blood and Fire, an outfit known for its compelling reissues of reggae classics. Yabby is also well known for his production work and is responsible for launching the careers of Michael Prophet, Wayne Wade and Tony Tuff.

Deliver Me From My Enemies was mixed at King Tubby’s studio and the vibrant mixologist even gave the prized singer his unique nickname (the name was taken from the “Conquering Lion” chorus). The album is an absolute masterpiece of roots reggae that Blood and Fire has solidified with extra dubs, four 12” singles released from 1977-78 and two previously unreleased dubplates of “Pick The Beam.” Yabby’s meditative harmonies coupled with an all-star band featuring Sly & Robbie, Clinton Fearon and Albert Griffiths from the Gladiators and Chinna and Tommy McCook, give the album an air of authenticity—Yabby’s music was created with purpose that still holds up today. “I don’t like to criticize, but I have to speak the truth. Dis type of music dem bringin’ out, the dancehall, I don’t think it really good for reggae,” says Yabby, suddenly perfectly coherent and spirited. “The original reggae was culture music teaching people the way of righteousness, peace and love. The music was non-violent. It’s not supposed to teach violence and slackness. Dis dancehall ting, I don’t think it good for reggae.”

As a progenitor of roots music, Yabby is happy that labels like Blood and Fire are going back to the source. “People turnin’ back to the original music,” he quips. “The dancehall, computer thing losin’ power. People are going back to the acoustic one drop stuff.” The original sound that Yabby endorses is all over Deliver Me From My Enemies. Tracks like “Pound Get A Blow,” “Lonely Me,” “And Amlak” and “Pick The Beam” are classics that helped establish Yabby as a spiritual, ruminating roots musician. Yabby’s singing (much like that of Burning Spear and Morgan Heritage) is very harmonious and contemplative—running over Hammond organs, hushed horns and thumping bass lines, all expertly balanced and mixed to perfection. The songs are tight, the music is powerful and the vibe never fails. “Free Africa,” featuring Trinity, and “Babylon A Fall,” with its catchy chorus, are not to be missed.

Blood and Fire has already released Yabby’s Jesus Dread box set that packages Conquering Lion and Walls Of Jerusalem into one collection, and Yabby suggests that some of his classic dub albums are not too far behind. But over the years his condition has held his music back, making him come in and out of musical existence with reissues and releases, forever surfacing and disappearing for long stretches of time. And although he’s occasionally been sheepish about releasing his material, Yabby says he finally feels comfortable that Blood and Fire has his “tune” in its able hands. “I never really b