Compass Point All Stars
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The Compass Point phenomenon was designed to be to reggae-based pop/rock music of the 80s, what Nashville was to country music, or the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was to soul and R&B in the 60s: a recording facility animated by in-house sets of artists, musicians, producers and engineers, all dedicated to a specific and highly recognisable sound and style.
It all started with Compass Point Studios built in 1977 in Nassau, Bahamas, by visionary Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records. The core of what would later be called the Compass Point All Stars (sometime spelled Allstars), stricto sensu, was a recording band that Blackwell put together in 1980, based on jamaïcan (reggae) foundation shaped around legendary combo Sly & Robbie, with Sly Dunbar (drums), Robbie Shakespeare (bass), joined by Mikey Chung (guitar) and Uziah "Sticky" Thompson (percussion), with British rock flavour brought by Barry Reynolds (guitar, of Marianne Faithfull's Broken English fame), spiced up by synth-dominated keyboards from French-African Wally Badarou (of burgeoning Level 42), and Tyrone Downie later (keyboards of The Wailers fame). Together, under Blackwell's direction in person, and building on co-producer Alex Sadkin's skills at engineering and mixing, the recording band managed to deliver a highly praised and distinct sound, for what are today viewed as seminal albums by Grace Jones and Joe Cocker, right from the beginning."I wanted a new, progressive-sounding band" said Blackwell "a Jamaican rhythm section with an edgy mid-range and a brilliant synth player. And I got what I wanted, fortunately".
Another prestigious resident of this early period was Robert Palmer, who augmented the CPAS sound on Joe Cocker's project. Sly & Robbie went on to use some of the CPAS for Black Uhuru and Gwen Guthrie projects, eventually adding Darryl Thompson, Spaceman Patterson, and Monte Brown (guitars) to the core of the band. An attempt to record a band album was made, but ended up as a Sly & Robbie's project (Language Barrier). The stars would eventually encompass all Compass Point resident stars of the era, most notably Chris Franz (drums) and Tina Weymouth (bass) of Talking Heads fame. Together with co-producer Steven Stanley engineering and mixing, they would start Tom Tom Club. Brit engineer Andy Lyden came to work on a Badarou solo project, and became a resident engineer as well. The core of CPAS resided in a condominium called Tip-Top, at top of the hill behind the studio. It was a highly productive body by then, even appealing to business giants, as reported by Wally Badarou on his website: "The Compass Point All Stars (as we ended up being called) even had a try at godfather of soul, Mr Dynamite, James Brown, yes. But that one did not work out, mainly due to publishing disputes".
A larger family
A musical community was born, and the Compass Point All Stars label would eventually extend throughout the 80's to anything either originating from Compass Point Studios, productions by Bill Laswell and remixes by Larry Levan and François K Kevorkian included; or somewhat related to what went on over there, from resident or non-resident artists, regardless of genre and sonic identity, starting back from The B-52's. This largo sensu acception has been displayed on compilations such as Funky Nassau/The Compass Point Story/1980-1986 released by Strut Records, incorporating works by Chaz Jankel, Cristina, Will Powers, Guy Cuevas, along with extensive interviews by David Katz: "I don't believe anything could ever sum it up" said Wally Badarou of Compass Point's heyday, "like nothing could ever sum up Motown or Stax sounds: the studio itself, the engineers, the producers, the artists, the vibes of the time, and only the specific combination of elements does the job".
Hard rock acts such as AC/DC and Iron Maiden made very successful recordings at Compass Point, but were never labelled "Compass Point All Stars". Conversely, initial CPAS members found themselves producing numerous projects abroad, for the likes of Foreigner, Power Station, Marianne Faithfull or Valerie Lagrange.
Despite the overall excitement for what was produced over there, the experience did really last past the early 90's, mainly because of everyone's personal agendas. About half of the greatest recordings that took place were hardly planned in detail. Things were done in a constant happening fashion most of the time, for the groove to rule, sometimes to the cost of efficiency. Virtuoso Alex Sadkin no longer was there, and Blackwell's growing interests in other ventures did not allow the momentum to sustain any further. The studio itself went through rough times in the early 90's, only to be successfully salvaged by producer Terry Manning and his wife Sherrie: a long list of prestigious personae, from Julio Iglesias, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Sade to Mariah Carey, has kept the studio's spirit high ever since.
2006 and beyond
CPAS members kept busy individually nonetheless. They never did re-unite physically in a recording studio but, thanks to technology, they collaborated remotely on half a dozen projects since the mid-2000s. Those projects include Warrior by ex-Black Uhuru Michael Rose, and Grace Jones' Hurricane which got the whole of the original line-up re-united somehow.
In 1987, for Island Records 25th belated anniversary, some of the initial CPAS performed live for the first time, backing Eric Clapton on "I Shot the Sheriff". Mikey Chung and Sticky Thompson did not participate. Event took place at Pinewood Studios dubbing stage, UK, of 007 James Bond fame. Video of it has been released as Island 25: Alright Now.
CPAS were to back VV Brown, Tynchy Strider and Grace Jones on 26 May 2009, launching the Island 50 festival held at the Shepherds Bush Empire, London. Percussionist Sticky Thompson still could not attend.
Deemed as genuine CPAS work
(i.e. involving all initial musicians)
- Black Uhuru: Chill Out
- Grace Jones: Warm Leatherette (feat. "Private Life")
- Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (feat. "Pull Up to the Bumper","I've Seen That Face Before")
- Grace Jones: Living My Life (feat. "My Jamaican Guy")
- Gwen Guthrie: Gwen Guthrie (feat "It Should've Been You", "Peek-a-Boo")
- Gwen Guthrie: Padlock
- Joe Cocker: Sheffield Steel (feat. "Talking Back to the Night", "Ruby Lee")
- Junior Tucker: "Some Guys Have All The Luck"
- Sly & Robbie: Language Barrier
- Tom Tom Club: Tom Tom Club (feat. "Genius of Love")
- Tom Tom Club: Close to the Bone
Produced by (or contributed to by) some CPAS members
At Compass Point Studios in the 80s (list far from complete):
- Barry Reynolds: I Scare Myself (by Barry with Mickey, Sticky & Wally)
- Charlélie Couture: Pochette Surprise (with Barry, Mickey, Sticky, Wally & Steven)
- Gregory Isaacs: Night Nurse (with Wally)
- Gwen Guthrie: Just For You (with Wally)
- Jimmy Cliff: Give The People What They Want (with Sly, Robbie, Sticky & Wally)
- John Martyn: Sapphire (with Barry, Sticky, Andy & Steven)
- Ian Dury: Lord Upminster (with Sly, Robbie & Tyrone)
- Lizzy Mercier Descloux: Mambo Nassau (with Wally & Steven)
- Mick Jagger: She's The Boss (with Sly, Robbie & Wally)
- Robert Palmer: Pride (by Robert)
- Robert Palmer: Riptide (by Robert, with Wally)
- Talking Heads: Speaking In Tongues (by Chris & Tina, with Wally & Alex)
- Wally Badarou: Echoes (by Wally, with Andy & Steven)
- Wally Badarou: Words Of A Mountain (by Wally)
- Will Powers: Dancing For Mental Health (with Steven)
Outside Compass Point, Nassau (list far from complete):
- Marianne Faithfull: A Child's Adventure (with Barry, Mickey and Wally)
- Foreigner: Agent Provocateur (including I Want to Know What Love Is, with Alex and Wally)
- Valérie Lagrange: Les Trottoirs De L'Eternité (with Barry and Mickey)
- Power Station: Some Like It Hot (with Robert and Wally)
- Power Station: Living In Fear (with Robert and Wally)
- Michael Rose: Warrior (with Sly, Daryl and Wally)
- Grace Jones: Hurricane (with the whole of original line-up)
- Island Records website
- Compass Point Studios website
- Wally Badarou website
- Strut Records website
- Island: island50.com
- Mojo: Island 50
- Sly & Robbie were signed to Island Records in the 70's
- M. Faithfull was signed to Island Records in the 70's.
- Nicknamed Prophet, for his near-exclusive use of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer.
- G. Jones Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life / J. Cocker Sheffield Steel
- "Broken English" excerpt from Faithfull: An Autobiography / David Dalton / Little, Brown & Co, New-York
- "Keep On Running – The Story of Island Records" by Chris Salewicz, p. 135. Interview by David Katz.
- Adding backing vocals on "Sweet Little Woman", along with Jimmy Cliff.
- Chapter 45 from Nathalie Delon: Pleure pas, c'est pas grave / Flammarion
- "Keep On Running – The Story of Island Records" by Chris Salewicz, p 135.
- Died in a car crash in 1987.
- Chris Blackwell had longed for the movie business for quite some time.
- On Amazon