One of the most important melodica players ever, Augustus Pablo was the first to use the melodica in reggae. He was also instrumental in popularizing the genre of Jamaican dub. Pablo was most active during the 1970s as both a recording artist and record producer.
Born Horace Swaby in St. Andrew, Jamaica in 1954, Pablo attended the Kingston College School where he learned to play the organ. It was during this time that a young girl lent him a melodica which was used at the school to help teach kids music. Pablo quickly became obsessed with the instrument. As his proficiency on the melodica grew, Pablo became more and more interested in using it to develop original and interesting reggae songs.
Augustus and Herman Chin Loy
Sometime in 1971, Pablo met record producer Herman Chin Loy. Chin Loy was looking for new sounds and asked the young Horace Swaby if he would play his melodica. Loving the melodica’s sound, Chin Loy recorded several tracks. The most important of these was the song “Iggy Iggy” which would expose many to the sound of the melodica and help establish it as a serious instrument. The soft, pleasing sound of his melodica over the heavy bass rhythms created a new and exciting sound in reggae music.
Pablo then began recording for Chin Loy’s Aquarius record label. It was at this time that Horace Swaby took on his new name, Augustus Pablo. The name came from
Soon after his work with Chin Loy, Pablo joined the band Now Generation, where he mainly played
Pablo soon went on to form his own record labels Hot Stuff, Message, and Rockers. He released a series of successful instrumentals and collaborated again with Clive Chin on the 1974 album This Is Augustus Pablo. The following year he would work with the legendary reggae artist and engineer King Tubby on the album Ital Dub. A year later, in 1976, the two would release King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, regarded by many as one of the most important dub albums of all time. Pablo’s melodica playing on this record is astonishing and cemented his, and the melodica’s, status as reggae legends.
His Later Career and Life
In the late 1970s, Pablo continued to put out successful albums and worked with various reggae artists, such as Jacob Miller, Bob Marley, Roman Stewart, the Heptones, The Immortals, Earl Sixteen, Delroy Wilson, Junior Delgado, Hugh Mundell, and Freddy Mckay. During the 1980s, Pablo produced fewer albums but still made some excellent records, including the critically acclaimed Rising Sun in 1986. Despite ill health, Pablo continued touring worldwide and released an excellent live album recorded in Tokyo in 1987. In 1990, he released the highly praised album Blowing With the Wind, showcasing his supreme melodica skills.
Suffering for years with the nerve disorder myasthenia gravis, Augustus Pablo died of a collapsed lung on May 18, 1999. The strict Rastafarian was pivotal in the development of reggae, dub, and Jamaican music as a whole. His excellent melodica playing and unique style both as a musician and a producer will forever be remembered.