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Studio One tribute

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Studio One tribute
May 09, 2013 06:33PM
Studio One tribute

“You used to have Count Smith the Blues Blaster,” remembers Bunny Lee. “Well, he and Coxsone amalgamate together afterward. And Coxsone used to have a little sound. That time it didn't even name Sir Coxsone Downbeat yet. They would call him royal Clement Dodd. He went to farm worker and came back. He was really a cabinet maker and when Mr Dodd come back now he like the music business and then he and Count Smith get together and Smith helped him to come along. But through Coxsone keep travelling backward and forward now he bring in the Americam blues and the sound became well known. He keep expanding all the while. And then he went into the liquor store business.

“Coxsone was before Duke Reid you know,” Lee continues. “The first sound in Jamaica was a sound named Goodies. Then you have one called Count Nick the Champ. And then Admiral Deans and Count Jones. The main sound then that come up afterwards was Coxsone.”

With some four thousand or more recorded titles to his name, Clement Seymour Dodd or Sir Coxsone the Downbeat as he is more generally known was the most prolific producer in Jamaican music during the 20th century. From the late 1950s right up to his death in 2004, his studio musicians kept abreast and ahead of the changing trends in sounds and blues and compiled what is to many the finest catalogue in reggae music of them all.

Clement Seymour Dodd was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 26, 1932. His parents ran a liquor store, and the young Dodd got his taste for music by playing American jazz records for their customers. His nickname of Coxsone was in tribute to his ability as a cricket player, after the English Yorkshire team’s brightest star of the era. On completing his schooling, Dodd found work as a labourer in the sugar cane fields of America’s Deep South, and while there fell in love with the early R&B sounds, in particular the hard end of the shuffle-rhythm spectrum that would prove popular with many other Jamaican listeners.

Dodd returned home with a substantial addition to his record collection, and in 1954 he got in on the ground floor of an emerging trend in Jamaica, the sound system. His own system was known as Sir Coxsone the Downbeat, and it quickly became one of the most popular in Jamaica, rivalled chiefly by that of the flamboyant ex-cop Duke Reid. At the height of his operation’s success, Dodd had up to five units playing around Kingston on the same night. Competition between sound systems was intense, and Dodd made numerous record-buying trips to the US in search of the latest, rarest and most danceable tunes. During this era, Jamaican deejays started the practice of scratching out the labels on their records, so that competitors wouldn’t know what they were playing and couldn’t duplicate their most popular selections. Dodd’s theme song was a Willis “Gator” Jackson jump blues called ‘Later For Gator’, which the Jamaican retitled ‘Coxsone’s Hop’.

As the hard driving US rhythm and blues music that had dominated the Jamaican sound systems gave way to the more lightweight rock ’n’ roll records towards the end of the 1950s, so Coxsone arranged some sessions at Federal studio in Jamaica in 1959 featuring artists like Bunny & Skitter (Arthur Robinson and Vernon Allen) performing tunes such as ‘Ain’t Gonna Talk’, ‘The Wicked’ and ‘Chicken And Sliding’, Jackie Estick with Clue J And The Blues Blasters on ‘Hard Blues Woman’ and Lascelles Perkins with ‘No More Running Around’ and released these on his Worldisc record label. They sold maybe enough to recoup his investment, though perhaps more importantly for the producer gave him exclusive music for use on his own sound system. The following year, big hits for the label with Theophilus Beckford’s ‘Easy Snappin’, Alton Ellis & Eddie Perkin’s ‘Muriel’, Derrick Morgan’s ‘Leave Earth’, Clue J And The Blues Blasters’ ‘Pine Juice’ and Bunny & Skitter’s ‘King Spinner’ set the scene for a burgeoning Jamaican recording industry.

In 1961, Dodd released over one hundred titles and in 1963 opened the first black owned studio in Jamaica on Brentford Road in Kingston; officially called the Jamaican Recording and Publishing Studio, it came to be known as Studio One, which also served as the name of Dodd's signature label from then on. By 1966, he was issuing nearly 400 records a year. The cornerstone of his recordings were a group of musicians known as The Skatalites, most of whom had been with Coxsone ever since he first started recording but who were officially so named at a meeting that took place at the Odeon Cinema Theatre on Constant Spring Road in Kingston in June 1964. Present on this day were drummer Lloyd Knibbs, bass player Lloyd Brevett, saxophonists Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso and Lester Sterling, trombonist Don Drummond, trumpeter Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, guitarist Jerome “Jah Jerry” Hines, keyboard prodigy Jackie Mittoo and singer Lord Tanamo. All these musicians had been recording together and with each other for several years now and some of them had careers in music making stretching back ten and fifteen years. In recent times they had been fulfilling studio duties for a variety of local producers, specifically Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd, and it was Dodd who wanted them to form officially as a band so that they could accept live engagements, but he had not been able to find anybody willing to lead them. Guitarist Lynn Taitt had been approached but as a Trinidadian expatriate felt unable to command sufficient respect and declined the offer. Tommy McCook had also said no, though eventually he was persuaded to change his mind.

Several of these musicians had been educated at the Alpha Boys School, a Catholic institution run by nuns. Founded as an industrial mission school by the Sisters of Mercy in 1890, it had within a couple of years of its existence established a Drum and Fife Corps and by the beginning of the First World War had evolved into the Alpha Boy’s Band. Described on one occasion by the Jamaican Gleaner as “The nursery for brass band music in Jamaica”, the institution has for the past century been the main source of wind instruments for the Jamaica Constabulary Band, the Jamaica Military Band, the Jamaica Regiment Band and the West India Regiment Band. In addition, it has provided a ready pool of trained musicians available to adapt their skills in a variety of more commercial idioms. Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Lester Sterling and Johnny Moore were all trained at Alpha and in addition to their grounding in military music, all were adept at playing contemporary urban American styles like big band swing, rhythm and blues, jump boogie and jazz. During his long stay in Nassau from 1954 until the early 1960s, Tommy McCook had absorbed various Latin and Caribbean influences and this was also to have a bearing on the Skatalites sound.

When McCook arrived back from the Bahamas in 1962, it was his intention to play jazz, but hearing the Coxsone produced ‘Schooling The Duke’ by Don Drummond playing on the airwaves, he realised that something was happening on the island and decided to involve himself. It was as the eldest, most diplomatic and responsible of the Skatalites that he was persuaded to become their leader and he was also the member who named the group. The music was already being referred to as ska by this time and space travel was one of the big talking points of the day. When someone suggested the group be called the Satellites, Tommy made a pun of the word and the Skatalites they became.

Many titles subsequently reissued as by the Skatalites were in fact recorded and released before the group as such came into existence. Prior to their forming as a live entity, instrumentals recorded by the musicians had variously been credited to Roland Alphonso And His Group, Don Drummond And His Group, etc. Under the aegis of the Skatalites, they released a couple of dozen singles, including well known titles like ‘Ball O’ Fire’, ‘Dr Kildare’, ‘Beardman Ska’ and ‘Independent Anniversary Ska’ for Coxsone Dodd, ‘Sandy Gully’, ‘Trip To Mars’ and ‘Latin Goes Ska’ for Duke Reid, as well as sessions for Top Deck, Prince Buster, Randy’s and Beverleys too. Perhaps the group’s most famous recording was ‘Guns Of Navarone’ for Coxsone Dodd, issued in 1965 and a UK Top Forty hit for six weeks in early 1967. As well as the personnel mentioned at the Odeon Cinema Theatre meeting, the group were supplemented on their recording duties by the likes of guitarists Lyn Taitt and Ernest Ranglin, by Richard Ace, Cecil Lloyd and Aubrey Adams on keyboards, saxophonists Gaynair and Ska Campbell, and Baba Brooks and Raymond Harper on trumpets among others. Joining Lord Tanamo on live shows was the dynamic performer and Barbadian expatriate Jackie Opel, who until his death in a car accident was a singing sensation in Jamaica, as well as local lass Doreen Schaffer.

The majority of these musicians hailed from the districts of East Kingston. They were joined in the studio by vocalists mostly based in the rough ghettoes of Western Kingston. By the mid-1960s, Dodd was recording singers like Derrick Morgan, Joe Higgs, Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, Ken Parker, Bob Andy and vocal groups such as the Clarendonians, Wailers, Gaylads, Heptones, Ethiopians and Hamlins. He released hundreds of titles each year right up until 1973 when his output suddenly slackened and by the early 1980s he had more or less ceased active production in the Jamaican recording industry. However, the producer continued to repackage his back catalogue on his own labels, while companies in the States such as Heartbeat and Soul Jazz in the UK were also responsible for issuing Studio One music. In fact, Coxsone was instrumental in the day to day running of Studio One right up to the time of his death in 2004 and four days before he died Kingston’s Brentford Road was renamed Studio One Boulevard

For this tribute album, Coxsone’s natural heir Bunny “Striker” Lee has put together his own productions of some 50 Studio One favourites as recorded by his own stable of artists. Some of the titles feature reworkings of their songs by the original Studio One artists, including titles such as John Holt’s ‘Fancy Make Up’ and ‘Love I Can Feel’, Alton Ellis’s ‘Can I Change My Mind’, Horace Andy’s ‘Skylarking’ ‘Just Say Who’and ‘Love Of A Woman’, Delroy Wilson’s ‘Riding For A Fall’, Trying To Conquer Me’, ‘Rain From The Sky’ and ‘Dancing Mood’, Lord Tanamo’s ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’, Ken Boothe’s ‘The Train Is Coming’ and ‘Moving Away’, Cornel Campbell’s ‘Queen Of The Minstrels’ and ‘Stars’, Dennis Brown’s ‘No Man Is An Island’ and ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, Jackie Mittoo’s ‘Ram Jam’, ‘Hot Milk’ and ‘Darker Shade Of Black’ aka ‘Norwegian Wood’ and Earl Morgan leading the Heptones on Leroy Sibbles’ ‘Fattie Fattie’. Songs like Jackie Opel & Doreen Schaffer’s ‘The Vow’ and ‘Welcome You Back Home’ are performed here by Jackie Edwards and Doreen Schaffer, while Freddie McGregor and Fitzy’s ‘Why Did You Do It’ features Freddie McGregor and Errol Dunkley as vocalists. Derrick Morgan weighs in with a couple of Wailers tunes, ‘Simmer Down’ and ‘Put It On’, while Jackie Edwards performs the Wailers’ ‘I’m Still Waiting’ and Larry Marshall’s ‘Mean Girl’. Hortense Ellis tackles Marcia Griffiths’ ‘Melody Life’ and ‘Mark My Words’. Ernest Wilson’s beautiful ‘Undying Love’ is sung here by Cornel Campbell and features harmonies supplied by Barry Biggs and Jackie Edwards, while ‘Why Birds Follow Spring’ again features Cornel Campbell on lead vocals with harmonies from Ernest Wilson and Jimmy Riley. Other titles showcase Johnny Clarke with his own individual reworking of Carlton And His Shoes’ ‘Love Me Forever’ and the same singer joined on harmonies by Barry Biggs and Jackie Edwards also covers the Abyssinians’ ‘Declaration Of Rights’ and The Hamlins’ ‘Soul And Inspiration’.

The other two CDs in this special luxury package feature a full length interview given by Bunny Lee to reggae radio DJ David Rodigan in the early 1990s. The first of these discs is basically Striker talking of his days as a producer. The second intersperses Bunny with some of his most famous productions from the likes of Val Bennett, Roy Shirley, Horace Andy, I Roy, Prince Jazzbo, Max Romeo, Glen Adams, Stranger Cole and Lloyd Charmers.

Penny Reel – November 2005