Studio One's happy hunting ground - Camaraderie, love recalled during early days of pioneering studio
Studio One recording company, situated at 13 Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica, became the happy hunting ground for many early Jamaican recording artistes who went on to achieve great success.
John Holt, who passed away recently and who was featured in last week's article, was one of those who benefited from the Studio One experience, having made three trips there prior to his departure from group singing.
On his first trip there, he was in the company of Bob Andy, Tyrone Evans, and Howard Barrett. The quartet, parading as the Paragons, made its debut with the double Love At Last and Play Girl in 1964. With Andy absent, and Holt in the ascendancy, they returned as a trio at the birth of the reggae era to record the album John Holt, Paragons and Friends. Holt made his final trip to Studio One to record the solo super album A Love I Can Feel, which became one of the flagship albums out of the institution.
Other artistes who have benefited immensely from the Studio One experience include Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, Marcia Griffiths, Fredrick 'Toots' Hibbert, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Bob Andy, and many others.
What contributed most to the success of these early Studio One artistes was the camaraderie, love, and deep friendship among them. In those early days, money - although a necessity - was of little concern to them as far as reward for music was concerned. It was the fun of hearing their music on the radio and the joy of being together that was important.
In a 2010 interview I had with reggae queen Marcia Griffiths, she recalled her experiences at Studio One in no uncertain terms: "That was the most beautiful time in my life. I wish I could just live it all over again because everyone in Studio One was like one big, happy family. We never got paid, but we were so happy. It was like a nine-to-five job. All the artistes met there, shared what we had among each other, and we had one happy time. And I believe that's one of the reasons why those songs will last forever because they were done with such sincerity and purity. We weren't thinking about money. We just wanted to go in and express ourselves."
Obviously, there were others who were concerned about money for survival, and Bob Andy fell into that category. He told me in an interview that he acquired a job with producer Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd as a record carrier so he could earn his bread as depending on royalties in those days was uncertain.
Andy made further contributions to Studio One as an audition man and songwriter, penning several successful recordings for Ken Boothe, The Gaylads, Marcia Griffiths, and himself. His compositions - Feel Like Jumping, Mark My Word, Melody Life, Truly, and Tell Me Now - incontrovertibly sent Griffiths on the road to success.
For himself, he debuted with Crime Don't Pay and followed up with 11 other singles, which were held for some time before being released to the public on an album titled Songbook.
Andy had mixed reactions concerning Dodd's personality: "Coxsone was a genius in himself. There are some non-progressive things I could say about him, but inspirationally and influentially, he knew how to get something out of an artiste. He had a wink that was very reassuring and comforting, so when the other side of him didn't match up, it became very disappointing."
Andy paid his dues, but surely, the Studio One experience augured well for his future endeavours. Ken Boothe saw Coxsone as one who "had good ears".
"He knows which song to bring for each person, and it was like the Motown thing, where artistes wrote for each other. It was a time when artistes were more together in heart and mind," Andy said.
The camaraderie, love, and concern for each other in the early Studio One family was further expressed in the way artistes assisted each other in ensuring the success of a recording.
Bob Andy received the spontaneous injection of backing vocals from the Wailers on his recording I've Got to Go Back Home.
In an interview I had with him, he explained: "That night when I was voicing the song, they happened to be around and realised that the song would need their type of complement, and they just went to the other mike."
As it turned out, I've Got to Go Back Home was sheer musical euphoria that resulted in it becoming one of Jamaica's musical anthems and, perhaps, the first call for repatriation in popular music.
Andy received similar treatment from the Heptones on his recording I'm Going Home, while the Gaylads backed Ken Boothe on Baby Don't Cry. Boothe, along with Jackie Mittoo, returned the complement to Marcia Griffiths on her debut recording, Feel Like Jumping, in 1968.
Most, if not all, of these recordings were musical spontaneity, with the singers and Jackie Mittoo being the main orchestrators. As the years went by, it became obvious that many of the rhythms that have rocked dancehalls for the past quarter of a century were either copied or influenced by Studio One creations.
It was in the latter half of 1963 that Dodd built Studio One, which, over the years, has become famous at home and abroad for the quality of its output. Discharging a unique downbeat sound, over time, it came to be considered a Jamaican version of Berry Gordy's Detroit-based Motown records. The conceptualiser, Clement Seymour Dodd, was born in Kingston of full African parentage on January 26, 1932. Dodd's earliest experience came from his mother, who owned a cold-supper shop in the heart of downtown Kingston, where she would entertain her customers with a basic music system. Dodd's sound, Coxsone's Downbeat, came on the road in 1952 and ruled dancehall before he went into the recording and production business.