Jamaican producer and recording artist Vivian Jackson, who became a power on the Kingston roots reggae scene of the ’70s under the moniker Yabby You, died after suffering an aneurysm on Jan. 12. He was 63.
Reared in poverty, Jackson was stricken at 17 with arthritis, which would force him to walk on crutches later in life. As a youth he worked as a potter and a racetrack tout.
In 1971, he formed a group, the Prophets with bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett (of Lee Perry’s Upsetters and the Wailers), guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, and drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Though he grew his hair in the tangled dreadlocks favored by Rastafarian religious cultists, his devout Christianity was reflected in his lyrics, earning him the nickname “Jesus Dread.”
Jackson’s breakthrough came in 1972, when he cut “Conquering Lion” on free studio time granted by legendary producer Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock. The song became a hit in Jamaica, and its vocal refrain — “be-you, yabby yabby you” — was foreshortened into his professional handle.
The tune’s tough rhythm track was transformed into technologically manipulated “dub” by King Tubby and a “toast” — a rap — by top DJ Big Youth. It was recut as “Lord of Lords” by Jackson’s teenage protégé Wayne Wade in 1976. The “Conquering Lion” album of 1975 was equally popular, and its limited dub edition “King Tubby’s Prophecy of Dub” became a much-coveted collector’s item.
Yabby You’s 1978 album “Deliver Me From My Enemies” helped him attain U.K. stardom at the height of roots reggae’s popularity there.
He worked extensively as a producer with other gifted Jamaican talents, including DJs Dillinger, Trinity and Tappa Zukie and singers like founding Black Uhuru member Michael Rose and Willi Williams, originator of the Clash’s hit “Armagideon Time.”
Yabby You gained wider recognition via a series of handsomely produced collections of his vintage work issued by Blood & Fire Records in the U.K. during the ’90s.