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Slim Smith: Unique's Technique

Music history is littered with tragic and confusing endings. The story of Slim Smith is one of those. Maybe not as convoluted as the story of Sidney or as sad as Nicholas, but none the less, pretty complex.

The island of Jamaica was rife with talent during the flowering of its recording industry. Often times, labels and studios would have a day set up specifically for walk-in auditions. But Slim came to prominence fronting two groups: the Uniques and the Techniques.

At the time Slim recorded with these groups – and producer Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee – Jamaican music was in a state of flux. The boisterous good natured ska beat had slowed down a bit and become referred to as rock steady. This new music was characterized, in part, by a wider lyrical palette that began incorporating social topics and commentary. Ska, even as it was a voice for a newly freed nation sometimes eschewed hard criticism for danceable love songs or a sporadic condemnation of those pesky rude boys.

Slim used all of these approaches to writing. And including his clear penchant for Detroit style soul music, he was an avid fan of rock music.

As a creative mind, Slim seemed restless at times, breaking up groups, joining new ensembles and then reforming his previous combos. He recorded under his own name for a few years as well, all the while seeking some elusive musical achievement. Slim’s songs were popular, he was in demand and as Jamaican music again shifted from rock steady to reggae and dee jay style chanting, he found his melodies being pushed back to the top of the charts as they accompanied new singers and toasters.

His demise, though, has been obscured by the sheer volume of different accounts of how it transpired.

Some hypothesize that Slim met his end on October 9, 1972 as a result of cuckolding some poor fellow who sought revenge. Others figure, he simply trashed his apartment in an intoxicated state and bled to death. Whereas Lee Perry’s “Who Colt the Game,” recorded by Bob Marley, asserts that Slim’s producer, Bunny Lee, was in some way involved.

Of course, we probably won’t ever know what occurred considering a great many people involved in Slim’s life have passed on as well. But the body of work that Slim and his cohort have left listeners can serve to illustrate how similar people actually are, regardless of where or when they live.