One of the most important melodica players ever, Augustus Pablo was the first to use the melodica in reggae and was also instrumental in popularizing the genre of Jamaican dub. Pablo was most active during the 1970's as a 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 learn music. Pablo quickly became obsessed with the instrument, playing it all the time. As his proficiency on the melodica grew, Pablo became more and more interested in using it in reggae.
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 some tunes on melodica. Loving the melodica sound Chin Loy recorded several tracks but the most important 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 and 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 and it was at this time that Horace Swaby took on his new name, Augustus Pablo. The name actually came from Chin Loy, who used it as a pseudonym for the keyboard players he used for recordings. Another recording East of the River Nile saw moderate success. The track being notable for blending East Asian sounds and reggae, with Pablo's melodica weaving in and out of the tunes jagged drum beat.
Soon after his work with Chin Loy, Pablo joined the band Now Generation, where he mainly played keyboard. After leaving that band Pablo joined forces with friend and producer Clive Chin. Playing his melodica they recorded the instrumental "Java" which would become a huge hit in Jamaica, effectively launching Pablo's solo career at age 18. Now a major reggae artist, Pablo began recording with other notable producers, such as Lee "Scratch" Perry and Leonard Chin. Pablo recorded another big hit with singer John Holt called "My Desire", again featuring the lovely tones of Pablo's melodica.
Pablo soon went on to form his own record labels Hot Stuff, Message and Rockers. Releasing a series of successful instrumentals and collaborating 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 Tubbys 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 melodicas status as reggae legends.
In the late 1970's 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 1980's 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 is 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 great melodica playing and unique style both as a musician and a producer will forever be remembered.