Tuff Love

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Music making on Marley turf

“Snoop was a little puppy when he came here—and he left a lion,” says Derrington Mills, manager of the record-pressing factory at Tuff Gong. After our mutual fit of laughter subsides, he explains that this place is Bob Marley’s (nick) namesake recording, rehearsing and production operation. This hallowed ground houses a recording studio with the largest voicing room in the Caribbean (it could easily house an orchestra), a popular, private rehearsal space and facilities for vinyl pressing, CD duplication, graphics and mastering. The likes of Estelle, Akon, Lauryn Hill, Rita Marley, talented Marley progeny and many, many more have laid down some of their most loved tracks right here.

Since the factory is Derrington’s turf, the walk-round this legendary property starts there. He points to four vintage record-presses and explains that back in the day Bob bought two for his first studio on Orange Street—and the second pair for his home at 56 Hope Road. The story about this place, on Marcus Garvey Drive, is that it used to be Federal Records, and when Bob was alive, at one point he wasn’t allowed inside. So after Bob died, “Rita came and bought the place up,” Derrington said with a smile.

Derrington reaches into a barrel and retrieves a palm-full of black pellets. “Vinyl is very expensive to produce because it comes from oil,” he explains, “so whatever’s trimmed from the pressed records is melted down and made into more.” After imprinting a record with grooves of sound and setting the label in place, Derrington concludes that “it takes just 28 seconds to trim, drop on the stack and dry.” One wall of the factory is covered in Marley-family album art—and two massive whiteboards feature the signatures of countless visitors.

Next stop is the CD duplicating room where two young guys spend their days designing artwork and sliding blank discs into stacks of drives where they’re burned with tracks. Next is the recording studio where the walls are lined with the actual gold records awarded to Bob Marley for sales of many millions. After gawking at these invaluable artifacts, we are taken out back, where a fragrant garden grows.

At this point, Lorna Wainwright, the longtime Marley family friend and manager of the recording studio, appears to explain what’s planted. She points to robust aloe plants, which she said are called “single bible,” ultra-potent lemongrass (aka fever grass), peppermint, healing noni—and then up into the eaves of a tree where “otaheite” apples are reddening in the sun. As we walk to the parking lot, she hands me a sprig of lemon grass that would waft a fresh memory the whole road home.

Photo by William Richards 


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