Uziah “Sticky” Thompson: the man who shaped modern music without you even knowing it
You’ve heard a lot of Uziah “Sticky” Thompson, who died this week aged 78.
Even if you don’t know it, you have. As one of Jamaica’s elite session musicians, he became an integral part of the sound of Sir Coxone Dodd, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Joe Gibbs and Sly & Robbie, creating the “riddims” that have echoed through the decades via reggae’s versioning and dance music’s samplism.
He was right at the heart of rocksteady and ska, played on several of the all-time landmark 1970s reggae albums – The Wailers’ Burnin’, The Congos’ Heart of the Congos, Culture’s Two Sevens Clash among others – and went on with Sly & Robbie to join the Compass Point band, who played on an impeccable run of early 1980s records with Grace Jones, Tom Tom Club and Gwen Guthrie. It was through this that his rhythms reached right into the heart of modern club music. He recently described the job of a percussionist as “seasoning”, which is as good a description as any: without him, whole sections of modern music would have a lot less flavour.
Whole books could be written about the records he’s contributed to, but as a brief tribute, here are ten all-time classic Sticky situations (and one illustration of how he kept his groove well into old age).
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Skatalites – ‘Guns of Navarone’ (1965)
Thompson began as a vocalist or “caller” for Sir Coxone, but it was his vocal percussion that helped to define exactly what ska was.
The Techniques – ‘Little Did You Know’ (1965)
His recording debut as a percussionist, and a killer rhythm. Asked recently how he played so fast on this track, he replied laconically: “I play and stop, play and stop.”
Cool Sticky – ‘Train to Soulsville’ (1968)
On a ‘Ring of Fire’ lift, Sticky is indeed cool.
Junior Byles – ‘Beat Down Babylon’ (1971)
An early and classic recording as one of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Upsetters.
The Congos – ‘Fisherman’ / Lee “Scratch” Perry – ‘Fisherman Dub’ (1977)
It doesn’t get much better. Perry’s production tends to attract all the attention – but he could never have done what he did without the perfectly synchronised machine he assembled from his session players, and Thompson’s percussion flourishes are as vital as any other part.
Culture – ‘Natty Never get Weary’ (1978)
One of the finest early moments from Thompson’s tenure with The Revolutionaries: his pots-and-pans clatter absolutely makes this.
Black Uhuru – ‘Sensimilla’ (1980)
Thompson’s percussion filtered madly in the mix, around the birth of the high-tech sound that Sly & Robbie would keep dub alive with through the eighties.
Grace Jones – ‘Pull up to the Bumper’ (1981)
The detail in the compass point productions was second to none, and Thompson’s scrapes and rattles shoot through the mix here like ghosts of the city.
Tom Tom Club – ‘Lorelei’ (1981)
Perhaps the purest club groove in TTC’s catalogue, this wouldn’t be what it is without those guiro zips and zaps.
Dennis Brown – ‘A Little Bit More’ (1982)
Going right through the 1980s, Sly & Robbie’s clean and slick productions would continue to be lent a special springiness by Thompson’s involvement.
Bonus: Blue Glaze Mento Band – ‘Sly Mongoose’ (2011)
Though Thompson’s glory years were the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, he never stopped working at a high level – moving to Florida and playing with the likes of Ziggy Marley, Sinead O’Connor and a load of others. But he kept on at the grassroots level in Jamaica too, as a producer and just jamming with local musicians. This clip, with him simply tinkling a triangle – albeit with virtuosic steadiness and groove – shows how much he retained his love of playing right into his ’70s.