Back Around

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Reggae fans should head to the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Saturday for a triple bill featuring Pacific Vibrations, Salinas’ own Dubwize, and reggae legend Mikey Dread.  Dread, also known as The Dread at the Controls, has been a major driving force in reggae music since the 1970s and is widely considered to be one of the most influencial performers and producers in the genre.

Dread, real name Michael Campbell, was born in Port Antonio on the east coast of Jamaica.  He was a gifted student at high school and went on to study engineering at Jamaica’s College of Arts, Science and Technology.  On graduating, he went to Kingston to work for the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation, the island’s radio and TV network.  The year was 1976, and reggae was rarely played on Jamaican radio.  Dread bucked the trend, doing a radio show called “Dread at the Controls” (hence his nickname) which featured solely reggae. 

Initially, the show was not well-received.  The upper-class people of Jamaica saw reggae and Rastafarianism as subversive and dangerous, but as the show became more established people started to see that it was having a positive effect on Jamaican youth.  The police officers on patrol at night began to drop into the studio to see him.  He recalls, “They used to say to me ‘Why, Mikey ya’ know, what I mean is there is nothing out there tonight because the crime rate fall, because all the bad boys have gone home to listen to the show.’”

Dread’s show became famous for discovering and promoting new local reggae artists, and he began creating remixed versions of their recordings.  His work was heard by King Tubby, who encouraged Dread to make his own records.  Soon, working with Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry, Dread became one of Jamaica’s leading reggae artists as well as a producer of other bands’ music.

By this time, punk rock was in its heyday in the UK, and The Clash, looking for a new sound, invited Dread to produce their single “Bankrobber.”  Dread flew to London, where he worked with the band on the single.  “Bankrobber” reached number 12 in the UK charts, and the clash invited Dread to produce their next album, “Sandinista!”  Despite working on several tracks, the project never truly came to fruition and Dread is still indispute with the record company over royalties.  However, working with The Clash led to Dread being invited to produce songs and albums by several other artists.  The most recent collaboration was with Seal on “Lips Like Sugar,” which is featured on the soundtrack of the movie “50 First Dates.”

In 1993, Dread moved to Florida, where he currently lives.  He returned to school, studying at the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute and Lynn University, where he received a BA in Communications.  He set up his own record label and after much legal wrangling has re-released his back catalog.  His most recent release, an 18-track CD titled “Rasta in Control,” is being hailed by critics as his best work to date.  Of the album, he says “I’m trying to bring back around the music I grew up on, music that kids can listen to and sing along without the parents slap them in the mouth for what they’re saying.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 3, 2005

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