Photo by Dennis Morris
I’ve spent the past several months going back and forth with our good friend Randall Grass of Shanachie Records about his much-anticipated Yabby You project due out this year which will feature 3 discs and a good measure of written material from those who knew Yabby You. The project is notable not only because it will feature at least one disc of previously unreleased material, but also because the proceeds of the project will go to Yabby’s widow Jean.
Randall has always been a big supporter and proponent of Yabby You’s music, having previously released several other Yabby projects on his Shanachie label. Anyone who knows Randall also knows that he will not release the set unless and until it is ready. He always seeks out the highest quality audio for each track he includes. So after many months of emails, phone calls, and digital audio transfers, Randall finally agreed to speak openly about the project.
I really wanted to find out what was driving him to release another Yabby You project (and, of course, will it include new material).
Randall is very passionate about Yabby You’s music and his deep respect for the artists is evident as he explains why he started the project.
“Right before Yabby passed Blood and Fire went out of business and I thought to myself that once again Yabby You’s music will be largely unavailable. Of course, we had our One Love, One Heart collection out but Fleeing From The City was not even in print anymore. I just think it would be a tragedy if his music went largely unheard because again I put him on the same level as Augustus Pablo, Burning Spear, King Tubby, and Lee Perry, but he is not recognized as such. Only the deepest people into reggae know of him. We all remember how tough it was to get copies of even his major albums while he was still alive. I mean Conquering Lion it took me a while to find a copy of that.”
I’m sure there are many within the roots reggae circle who feel the same about Yabby You, but having the idea and vision to do the project is one thing, developing a set that offers something new and unique is much more difficult. And then there is the music. Was there any unreleased material worth publishing? If so, who has it? Even better, who owns it?
“I started putting all the music together just reaching out to people like yourself, and Ray Hurford of Small Axe, and Roger Steffens, Ton van Arnhem, and Doug Wendt, David Katz, David Corio, and others who know this music. All these people have been extrememly helpful. The internet and web sites like You Tube have been so helpful. Ray Hurford was trying to remember a Junior Brown cut and I just looked it up on You Tube and that was it. Monifa Hylton who handles Yabby’s publishing and Jean, Yabby’s widow have been very helpful. In fact, they just sent me 11 DATs of what is supposed to be unreleased material that I’m going to go through and see what’s there you know.
Alex Peacemaker spent a lot of time with Yabby and he had some tapes that Yabby left with him for safe keeping. They are not labeled so we were trying to guess who the artists were on the tracks. One sounded like Hugh Mundell but then we determined it to be Half Pint. Yabby was the first person to record Half Pint. There’s a cut called ‘King of Kings’ that I had never heard before. There’s a U-Brown cut. Another cut called ‘Reggae Make You Feel Alright.'”
So what will the box set contain?
“I want this to be a real statement of Yabby You’s greatness. I want to speak to more than just the real hardcore fan who’s looking for the rarest stuff.
It is a 3-disc set. The first disc is called “CLASSICS” and nothing on that is really rare. I tracked it like I would a DJ set when I used to do radio you know, just one fantastic cut after another. My hope is that anyone who listens to it whether they know yabby’s music or whether they never heard him before will say ‘Oh My God’ you know? The second disc I’ve tentatively titled “THE MANY MOODS OF YABBY YOU” and it includes some stuff from Fleeing From The City, a love song ‘Stranger In Love’, and some stuff he produced for other artists like Michael Prophet, Wayne Wade, Half Pint, Patrick Andy, Trinity, and also some instrumentals and dubs. The third disc will contain “RARITIES” unreleased stuff, and some stuff that has been released but is very obscure. One track by The Prophets titled ‘Give Thanks and Praise’ I had never heard although the dub is on the Beware Dub release. I even asked Yabby and he didn’t remember. I found out through You Tube that Ton van Arnhem had it and he ended up gifting it to me which was just incredible and a really beautiful thing.”
Grass plans to release the Yabby You project later this year.