The Making of Damian Marley’s "Welcome to Jamrock" | Finer Notes

Damian Marley (2006). Photo by: Evan Argostini, Getty Images.

No one builds a legacy alone, especially not one born from the shadow of a man whose global reverence is tantamount to that more of a deity than merely a musician. Damian Marley is an extension of the legacy of his father Bob Marley and his third album, 2005's Welcome to Jamrock, was him carving his own legacy while still staying true to what his family built. Engineer James "Bonzai" Caruso, who is credited on each of the album's 14 songs, was one of the sonic architects helping Marley take the technology of the time and turn it into music that would transcend generations.

Welcome to Jamrock came out around September 2005 and Caruso tells Reverb he remembers the pair locking in around late 2003/early 2004, attesting it took close to two years to finish Marley's first album in four years. The album was primarily recorded in Miami and Jamaica, with the latter's recording being done in the legendary Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica but also at a studio that has been in the Marley family since 1970, 56 Hope Road.

Speaking with Reverb, the six-time Grammy Award-winning engineer/producer describes the vintage recording technology from the Marley family used to record Welcome to Jamrock and the lengths he went to preserve the original sound of Marley's definitive title track.

Damian Marley - "Welcome to Jamrock"

Born on July 21, 1978, Damian Marley is the youngest of Bob Marley's 11 children and was only two years old when his father passed away in 1981. The multi-talented artist probably has few memories of any time he spent with his larger-than-life father in his family's iconic mansion on 56 Hope Road, where the original Tuff Gong Studios resided and Bob lived until his dying day. 56 Hope Road is now the Bob Marley Museum celebrating the reggae icon's life and work, in part, by preserving the home how he left it. The studio may have been converted into a multimedia hall, but still had more than enough to help Bob's youngest offspring welcome the world to Jamrock.

"They had a 2-inch, 24 track analog machine. Little drum booth to the back of the control room that is all wood with natural light coming in from the skylight. Old SSL desk is in there and it's pretty well equipped and comparable [to other studios]," Caruso says.

Equipment limitations at 56 Hope Road or Tuff Gong were alleviated by bringing in equipment from Miami to Jamaica, such as the Telefunken U 47 and Telefunken ELA M 251E. The Neumann U 87 and U 67 were also in the rotation to record vocals, guitars, and drums. Tuff Gong Studios has been operating out of 220 Marcus Garvey Drive since it moved from 56 Hope Road in 1981. When Caruso and Marley set up shop in the legendary studio for Welcome to Jamrock sessions, it had been 20 years since the move. Nearly 20 years later, Caruso remembers how the studio has evolved since those famed sessions.

251 Clones on Reverb

"Back then, they had a Sony MCI console. I was there last year and they've upgraded to a Neve console, which is really nice. They have a nice, really good-sized tracking room with a drum kit I love and an old piano in there I love. They also have a Hammond B3 organ. They have the classic instruments and sounds."

Welcome to Jamrock is a family affair. Damian's brothers Julian and Stephen play on the album and it even has a flip of their father's "Pimper's Paradise" song from his epochal 1979 album The Uprising. Julian played the Hammond B3 Organ on Welcome to Jamrock on more songs than Bonzai can remember. "The Hammond Organ is a very complicated instrument. You could go to a four-year university to study the Hammond organ. There are so many different tones, overtones, and harmonic elements to working that beast. It's a wonderful sounding instrument, especially if you have the Leslie speaker cabinet," Caruso says.

As far as Stephen, he worked on percussion and synthesizers, mixing the past with the present, the digital with the physical. "Most of the percussions are the real deal. They're not from a keyboard. They're real tambourines, shakers, djembe, cabasas, and such. Keyboard-wise, we had a [Roland] Fantom, which is a beast of a keyboard," Caruso remembers. "We even used old analog synths from way back in conjunction with digital synths in order to stack them to get a unique sound between analog and digital together.

The most important instrument on Welcome to Jamrock is Damian's voice. But his other instrument of choice was the MPC—for programming drums, truncating samples, and working on loops. The vocal chain Caruso used with Damian was a Neumann U 87 into a Neve 1073 preamp into a Tube-Tech CL 1B. "As far as mixing, there was some LA-2A and API compression, probably some Massenburg EQ or SSL EQ, with an analog hall or chamber reverb and a sprinkle of delay," Caruso says.

Back when they were recording, the interface I/O for Pro Tools came in "888s" which were an eight-in and eight-out, double rack unit. Eight inputs go into Pro Tools and there are 8 outputs, but Caruso could stack them. When it came time to mix the Welcome to Jamrock record, they only had two 888s, leaving him with 16 outputs from Pro Tools to work with, and the last two channels were to record the mix bus off of the analog desk into Pro Tools. He did a lot of combining and mixing in Pro Tools and then spread out the 14 outputs along the analog desk.

"A lot of those little elements you hear on the record were added in the eleventh hour right at the end. All that backward sound was done on the last day of the mix. Same with the jungle beat repeats and delays on the drums at the end of the record—I did that the last day as well," Caruso says.

The album may sound like a festival of sound, but the intentionality of the music was paramount. Caruso remembers a few sessions of musicians jamming out for six or seven minutes to find the magic three-minute section for a song to be built on, but most of the time they were focused on the three-minute section. With the titular track that would go on to be Damian's defining record, Caruso made sure not one detail was overlooked before it was born in the public's ears.

"If you listen closely to that record, you're going to hear vinyl scratch noise when you drop the needle on the record. For whatever reason, the mastering engineer they sent it to decided to filter that out. I listened to the master and wondered, 'What did this guy do? That's wrong.' So, I had to take it to Chris Athens Mastering and he restored it back to what it was supposed to be. I'm glad I caught that because it would've been a different sounding record."

Welcome to Jamrock would go on to win Best Reggae Album at the 2006 Grammy Awards, with the titular track taking home the award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance. Beyond the gold gramophones, Welcome to Jamrock established Damian's name outside of his father's domineering legacy with the help of Caruso's technological wizardry.

Finer Notes is a new series that looks into the equipment, techniques, and untold stories that went into shaping classic albums, where engineers and producers discuss how they used the equipment of the time to make a body of work that's timeless.

About the author: Keith Nelson Jr is a seasoned music journalist who followed his innate passion for knowledge to interview some of the most influential figures in the music industry. He's a journalist who connects the dot to see the bigger picture.

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