IN a 2002 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Uzziah 'Sticky' Thompson spoke about the lack of session work for percussionists in contemporary reggae.
“Nuh whole heap a work nah gwaan, a computer ting a run the place now,” he said. “Only one an' two man will gi' yuh a call.” Thompson, who died last Monday at age 78 in Florida, played on countless hit songs during a 50-year career.
Those hits ranged from ska (Little Did You Know by the Techniques); rootsreggae (I Need a Roof by the Mighty Diamonds); pop (Genius of Love by the Tom Tom Club, Pull up To The Bumper by Grace Jones) and contemporary reggae (One Bright Day by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers).
He was part of a long line of outstanding percussionists who served Jamaican pop music with distinction. Others include Denzil Laing (father of Tony); Noel 'Scully' Sims; and Herman 'Bongo Herman' Davis.
Denver Smith, maybe the best known of the new wave of reggae percussionists, hailed Thompson as “the mystical percussionist".
According to Smith: “He was just different and always made me want to listen, watch, and learn without him having to say much. He only gave me a smile here and there, until that day when we ended up in the same room to work on Mind Control, Stephen Marley's Grammy-winning acoustic album. It was then that he gave me his blessing as a real percussionist with a few words and a smile when he heard something he liked.”
The percussionist and horn player had major roles in ska, rocksteady and roots-reggae. The advent of computer beats in the 1980s cut their time in modern Jamaican music as many producers looked to lower costs. Clive Hunt is not one of those producers. He still calls on percussionists.
“I use percussion on every song I produce. Being a producer that produces live reggae music, the tracks are not complete without a percussionist,” he said. “Last week, for example, I used Bongo Herman and I played percussion on two new songs.” Smith's first major gig was touring with Luciano in the late 1990s.
Since then, he has worked with acts like Jimmy Cliff, Shaggy, Etana, Damian Marley, Christopher Martin, Tarrus Riley, Dean Fraser, Jah Cure and Gentleman. He says not many producers are as open as Hunt whose own career began as a horn player.
“Recording sessions are sometimes hard to get since the era of technology and gadgets. We are sometimes overlooked by producers who do most of their music with computers but we do get sessions,” he explained.
“When we do, we represent and show that we cannot be replaced because we have the sound to capture the soul of a song as the great ones did back when music was live.”