Joe Gibbs – Remembering the Hitmaker
by M. Peggy Quattro
March 17, 2008 – It was Feb. 21, 2008, and I had just arrived in Kingston for the Reggae Academy Awards. Riding in a taxi from the airport, I was surprised, and then stunned, when the driver suddenly muttered aloud, “Joe Gibb’ dead.” “What?,” I said, “for real?” “Yea mon…‘eart attack” he calmly replied. With another 20 minutes before reaching the hotel, I began to think about the man, Joe Gibbs – producer extraordinaire – and about the time I spent working alongside him at his record pressing plant in Opa Locka, Florida.
There is no doubt that Joe Gibbs will be remembered as one of the most preeminent producers in Reggae’s history. A hardcore entrepreneur who became a Reggae giant, Joe Gibbs was seemingly quiet, yet carried a gun, and feared no man…or woman. From the 60s, consistently through the 70s and 80s, Joe Gibbs surrounded himself with such great talents as Errol “Errol T” Thompson, Niney “the Observer” Holness, Bunny “Striker” Lee, and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Errol T and Joe formed a creative bond and were known as “The Mighty Two.” Together they revolutionized Reggae and Dub and packaged it for the world. Joe’s business and production sense, combined with ET’s outrageous engineering skills resulted in ground-breaking recordings.
Joe Gibbs’ name will be forever associated with Dennis “The Boy Wonder” Brown, producing most of the finest Reggae albums Brown ever made; every song a wonder. From D Brown’s early albums that included Words of Wisdom and The Prophet Rides Again, to the 1980 cross-over A&M Records Love Has Found a Way, with the international hit single of the same name, Joe Gibbs and Errol T super-charged the young singer’s career. With songs becoming hits, and records flying out the door, Joe Gibbs and Errol T changed the direction of Reggae music.
It was in 1982 that I worked as Joe Gibbs’ assistant at the pressing plant (when he looked like the picture above.) Dennis Brown was a huge star with tons of hit singles, and the plant was busy pressing singles. I was fascinated with the process and would go in the back to observe. I watched the vinyl go from a black blob to a 7” single, and enjoyed knowing that it would soon grace somebody’s turntable, somewhere in the world. The Joe Gibbs label had so many artists with hit records the plant never stopped. The Gibbs roster included hundreds of artists. The walls of the office held the coolest album covers from such greats as Culture and Two Sevens Clash, Beres Hammond, Delroy Wilson, the Heptones, John Holt, Big Youth, George Nooks/Prince Mohammed, Yellowman, Gregory Isaacs, The Ethiopians, the Mighty Diamonds, J C Lodge, Prince Far I, Hugh Mundell, Dillinger, Ranking Joe, Prince Jazzbo, Luie Lepke, Clint Eastwood, I Roy, one-hit wonders Althea and Donna (who can forget “Uptown Top Ranking?), and what about those Joe Gibbs and the Professionals albums? Joe did not sing, trust me, and The Professionals, well, they were the house band that included Sly and Robbie, Lloyd Parkes, Bubbler Waul, Bo Pee Bowen, and Dean Fraser, to name a few.
I had the pleasure of meeting many of these artists and musicians when they passed through Miami. Most of them trying to catch Gibbs in a generous mood. If lucky, I would write them a check and the boss man would sign. He was not all that organized office-wise, and I was overwhelmed with the paper work. The place was filled from top to bottom with boxes of albums, singles, and plant supplies – and the waiting artists with screw faces and their own record books – and when it came time to pay up, Gibbs was deft at disappearing.
In the mid-80s, the time finally came when Gibbs’ business practices caught up to him. The final act of boldness was putting his name as writer on JC Lodge’s smash hit “Someone Loves You Honey.” I thought it was odd since I thought that Charlie Pride wrote the song. Eventually, it was discovered by the actual lyricist Don DeVaney , and he demanded royalties. A long legal battle and lots of money later, Joe Gibbs lost. The plant was closed and Gibbs returned to Kingston.
This knocked him down but not out. While regrouping, his son, Rocky, released a string of retrospective albums that were hugely successful. British and US labels also jumped on the Gibbs bandwagon and released their own compilations. This is great for fans that were not around during the Joe Gibbs producing and pressing days. Now, those classic songs, great music, outstanding vocals, and humorous album covers are a part of Reggae history for the next generation to enjoy.
Gibbs continued to enjoy the well-earned respect of his peers and younger performers. Steely & Clevie honored the veteran producer with their 2002 album Old To The New: A Steely & Clevie Tribute to Joe Gibbs Classics. This featured Dancehall sensation Sean Paul and Sasha performing “I’m So in Love With You,” produced by Gibbs himself, I’m told. The song was lifted from obscurity and added to Sean Paul’s Grammy-winning CD, Dutty Rock. The single had entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 82. Now, that’s a comeback. Gone but never forgotten, Joe Gibbs Music lives on.