Monday, December 22, 2008

Jah Wobble Steps Out

I often wonder what the 'average person' (whatever that means) feels about music.  I mean... do they feel anything when listening?  Or is it just... well, there?  

Ask someone why they like what they are listening to, and you'll more often than not get a well thought out, 'I just do!' in return.  

I can respect that.  After all, the arts are nothing more than any other form of entertainment out there; a distraction from complex and sometimes difficult lives.  Whether that distraction from Every Day Life is mindless - or thought-provoking, in the end it is still a distraction.  

To a lot of us, music is a mindless entertainment.  To some, it is a Psalm.  Or a means of catharsis.  

To bassist Jah Wobble, music was a life raft.

- Steel Leg V. The Electric Dread - Virgin Records #VS239, 1978

Childhood friends with both John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) and John Ritchie (Sid Vicious), John Wardle was in the eye of the emerging punk hurricane in the United Kingdom.  In 1978, a shared appreciation of anger, alcohol, reggae and a subsequent interest in the bass guitar made Wardle an ideal choice as cornerstone to Lydon's second band, Public Image Limited (PiL).  

It was a role in which the drunkenly christened Jah Wobble would thrive.  

"No one listened to bass in rock music before PiL…"

- John Lydon

From 1978's debut 7" single, Public Image b/w Cowboy Song (Virgin #VS228, October 1978), until the sessions that would result in the Trout Mask Replica of its day, the Metal Box album (Virgin Metal 1, November 1979), Jah Wobble's low-end dubby bass lines would dominate the early sound of PiL.  So much so, in fact, that when Wobble departed the band in mid 1980, PiL - rather than replace the bass in the equation, focused on the huge drum sounds that would define the Flowers of Romance album.  

Even out of the band, Wobble's shadow cast heavy on PiL.  

And if you believe the myth that Phil Collins enjoyed the Flowers of Romance drum sound enough to incorporate it into his own chart-topping material, we can add the dreck that is Phil Collins' solo career to Wobble's achievements.  

Thanks, Mr. Wardle.  We all owe you for that one.  Jerk...   
- The Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble in 'Betrayal' - Virgin Records #V2158, 1980

Prior to leaving Public Image Limited - and in the spirit of the early philosophy of a PiL Umbrella system that allowed each of the band members avenues to release their own material, Wobble, along with noted DJ Don Letts and fellow PiL member Keith Levene (billed here as Stratetime Keith), contributed to the Steel Leg v. The Electric Dread 12" EP (Virgin #VS239-12, December 1978).  

Oddly released the same month as Public Image Limited's First Issue debut, Steel Leg V. The Electric Dread is an enjoyable four song reggae-based album.  Well... three, if you subtract the first punk track, the aptly titled 'Steel Leg'.  Frankly, I'd rather set my eyes on fire than have to listen to that one ever again.  It is a terrible, terrible cut.  
Thankfully, the reggae goodness that is Electric Dread scores a clean knock-out in this battle.   

In addition to several 12" solo EPs, Wobble would also release the solid The Legend Lives On... Jah Wobble in Betrayal (Virgin #V2158, May 1980) solo LP before splitting Rotten and Company in an acrimonious hail of well-publicized (and possibly gimmicked) ill will.     
Interestingly enough, two tracks on Betrayal were accused as being unauthorized use of PiL background material by the remaining members of the band.  It is true that Blueberry Hill (track 3) and Not Another (track 4) do incorporate PiL riddims (bass and drum rhythm patterns) - in this case The Suit and Another, both from the Metal Box album.  However, Wobble has always stated that he had simply done what reggae producers have done forever; that is, reusing riddims for other songs.  

Makes sense to me.  Obviously not to the rest of PiL.

568 albums later, Jah Wobble stands as a survivor. 

Having quit drinking in 1986, thanks to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program, Wobble has since chased the ever-elusive muse with a determination that makes even the most prolific blush.  Whether it has been backing William Blake poems, paying homage to Car Ads and Elevator Music, or birthing dub lines seeking spiritual fulfillment, one of the constant themes of Jah Wobble's thirty year discography is that there is no constant. 

And that exploration, self-assessment, and a dedicated drive to fulfill one's potential are the keys.  

Bass just happens to be the man's car.  

Praise, Jah!

Links of Interest:

* Steel Leg Vs The Electric Dread 12" -- To Live and Shave in LA blog

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