Smart Reggae producer dies at 53

Philip Smart.
Photo courtesy of his sister Andrea McDonald

New Yorkers are grieving the death of Freeport, Long Island music producer Phillip Smart. Beloved by musicians, singers, radio personalities, engineers, technicians and those he encountered, Smart, 53 died on Feb. 25 after battling pancreatic cancer. Since news of his passing went viral, alums, associates, friends and veteran entertainers have been stopping into HC&F Recording Studios to reminisce the gentle giant who toiled to promote reggae music he was passionate to share with the universe.

“Great leaders create great leaders,” Bryan Morris, senior engineer and long-time collaborator said. Morris said he met Smart in 1986 and from then on a mentorship evolved into what will likely become an inherited legacy. According to Morris, Smart “saw something in me and developed it.”

What the music specialist probably sensed was that Morris’ dedication, willingness to learn and keen ear could be nurtured. Morris claimed that under Smart’s tutelage nothing seemed as alluring as working at the studious.

Denise “Bandit” Shields echoed similar sentiments.

“I love music, always did and with Phillip’s guidance realized this was what I wanted to do.”

Shields had been working at National Broadcasting Corporation and already tested the music scene singing with Sensi (– a friend who banded to form the SONY-signed all-girls group named Worl-A-Girls) before meeting Smart. After meeting, Shields said she juggled regular commutes from Manhattan after work to Long Island. Her apprenticeship refined skills as a mixer, and producer.

“One day Phillip just said to me ‘you have a session today, set up the band,” Shields explained.

“Same thing with me,” Morris interjected, “he felt I was ready and just threw me into action.”

“That’s how he was trained at (King) Tubby’s,” Morris recalled. “He taught by example and it was up to us to learn from watching. When he knew we were ready, he would just say ‘do this or that.’

Smart’s introduction to the specialized music area began in Havendale, Kingston, Jamaica when he interned with Osbourne Ruddock AKA King Tubby. Allegedly, nicknamed Prince Phillip by producer Bunny Lee, Smart migrated to New York in 1976 and less than a decade later opened his own recording studios.

He also established two labels – TanYah and Eclipse. And to round out the cycle records must maneuver Smart also helmed his own radio show. For nearly quarter of a century, his “Get Smart” show from WNYU promoted reggae.

Smart’s proficiency with Pro-Tools, building rhythms and mixing music had been reputed since he opened a 24-hour recording studio that attracted practically every budding recording artist. His early embrace of digital technology put him ahead of others who relied on analog. Grammy-winning reggae deejay Shaggy recorded five albums at HC&F. Although Shaggy built his own recording studios, on hearing news of Smart’s declining health rushed to visit him at the hospital.

Smart’s production skills is unique to recordings by Shinehead, Wayne Wonder, Super Cat, Shabba Ranks, Monyaka, Sister Carol, Shelley Thunder, Garnet Silk and a multitude of local Jamaican acts.

A little known fact is that Smart’s unique technique has been commissioned by Jamaican talents living on the island who requested his production skills. Although many never set foot in his Long Island recording studious courier service enabled a Smart production. Allegedly, Smart’s procedure was to send an arrangement which an artist could add their lyrical voicing. In reverse, after voicing was added to tracks laid by Smart, the package would be returned to Smart for mixing. In most case, a radio-ready record and hit hailed a Jamaican production which was actually made in New York.

Now known as Pyramid Recording Studio, the walls of the former HC&F are defined by wood panels and plaques boasting Smart’s contribution to making hits for Grammy winning reggae singer Shaggy. Smart’s imprint is indelible on records recorded by dancehall deejays Capleton, Sizzla, Tony Rebel, Red Fox, Jesse Jendau, Chrisinti, Cecile, Sean Paul, Buju Banton, Barrington Levy and singer Freddy McGregor.

Brooklyn’s Paul “Jah Paul” Haughton whose current album was produced by Smart said: “Phillip was never about money or fame, he nurtured artist and encouraged young artists to practice and improve.”

Haughton said in his quest to record an album he often by-passed studious in Brooklyn and Queens in order to get to the producer known as Prince Phillip.

“Other producers would always call me to check out their place but I always know that Phillip would give me more than studio time, he would help me make the best music I can,” Haughton explained.

“Sometimes I would tell him how I hear a song, and he would listen and then tell me “Jah Paul, try it this way.” Everytime it would sound better,” Haughton added.

Four days after his death, former New York radio personality Francine Chin stopped into the studio to reflect on the years she had known Smart.

“I wasn’t sure how I would react walking into this place, we had so much good times here,” Chin said. “It is hard to imagine that Phillip will not be coming back.”

Chin’s association with Smart broached three decades. She said without Smart’s assistance she might have been deficient in playing appealing music to the demanding NY radio audience.

“Phillip used to mix music for me and just give it to me to play on the radio,” Chin said.

With new and innovative music Chin said she had an edge that other deejays did not easily acquire and program directors would curiously inquire.

Prince Phillip Smart is survived by wife Georgette and son Phillip. He is grieved by sister Andrea, brother-in-law Michael McDonald and enumerable amount of friends and associates.

About the future of Pyramid, Morris said: “He was like a father to me and he left us with enough to continue.”

After a wake in Baldwin, LI, Smart will be buried on Feb. 15 in Fort Myers, Florida.

Catch You On The Inside!

Jah Paul Haughton, Francine Chin, engineers Bandit and Bryan Morris at Smart’s studios.
Photo by Vinette K. Pryce

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