Most Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, or Jah Rastafari, represents the second coming of God, their Messiah. However, the deeply spiritual roots reggae singer and producer Yabby You was an unorthodox Rastafarian in that he worshipped Jesus Christ rather than Selassie and often argued about this with other Rastafarians, which earned him the nickname "Jesus Dread".
One such argument inspired the writing of "Conquering Lion", his best-known composition, and his first single credited to Vivian Jackson, his real name, and the Ralph Brothers. He recorded the backing track in 1970 at Dynamic Sounds Studios with the help of drummer Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith and bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett (later a member of Bob Marley & the Wailers), who didn't ask for a session fee because they loved the song. He voiced it under the supervision of Osbourne Ruddock, also known as the sound-system operator and dub pioneer King Tubby, but had to wait two years to scrape enough money together to finance the pressing of 100 copies. The popularity of "Conquering Lion" at sound systems all over Jamaica soon justified a second and third pressing, while its insistent "Yabby You" motif earned Jackson his sobriquet. "People always ask for the song as "Yabby You". When they realise it was me singing, they start to call me "Yabby You", and that's how me get the name, and the name stick on," he told Steve Barrow and Peter Dalton, the authors of The Rough Guide to Reggae.
Released in the UK in the mid-Seventies, "Conquering Lion" became one of the defining tracks of the roots reggae genre and established Yabby You as a cult figure throughout Europe, not only as a singer with a uniquely affecting voice and a writer of meditative tunes full of Biblical references, such as "Valley of Jehoshaphat" and "Judgement on the Land", but also as a producer of well-crafted rhythm tracks ripe for dub reinvention. Indeed, Yabby You also worked with the toasters Big Youth, Dillinger, Jah Stitch, Trinity and Tapper Zukie and the vocalists Michael Prophet, Michael Rose (of Black Uhuru) and Wayne Wade, as well as the melodica player and producer Augustus Pablo and the saxophonist Tommy McCook of the Skatalites.
Born in 1946, he was one of seven children, fending for himself on the streets of Kingston. In his early teens he made iron pots in a rudimentary furnace, but suffered from malnutrition and had lengthy spells in hospital. He was left with severe arthritis, which affected his legs for the rest of his life, and he made a precarious living as a racetrack tout until the success of "Conquering Lion". The follow-up singles "Love Thy Neighbour" and "Jah Vengeance" were credited to Vivian Jackson and the Prophets – but on the British releases of albums such as Chant Down Babylon Kingdom and Deliver Me from My Enemies (both 1977), he was billed as Yabby You, occasionally spelt Yabby Yu, as on the two tracks included on the soundtrack album to Babylon, a film set in the world of the London sound system and directed by Franco Rosso in 1980.
He took an enforced break for health reasons in the mid Eighties, yet returned in the Nineties, just as the Blood and Fire label began reissuing his material, often incorporating vocal and dub versions of the same tracks, as on the excellent double-CD compilation Jesus Dread (1972-1977). He performed until 2005, often with the aid of crutches, but died after suffering a brain aneurysm.
Long-time friend and associate Wallace said Yabby You was "a great thinker. He was controversial to some, but popular with many. Yabby had a lot of fans in California and all over Europe."
Vivian Jackson, aka Yabby You, singer, songwriter, producer: born Kingston, Jamaica 14 August 1946; died Clarendon, Jamaica 12 January 2010.Reuse content