Sat | Jun 25, 2022

The enigmatic Duke Reid the Trojan

Published:Sunday | June 19, 2022 | 12:11 AM

Duke Reid with his Trojan sound system.
Duke Reid with his Trojan sound system.

( It’s Father’s Day in the year of Jamaica 60 and as part of the Jubilee celebrations, The Sunday Gleaner’s Entertainment section is featuring the sound system culture, which was born in Jamaica in the late 40s and 50s through the creativity of the pioneering ‘Fathers’.)

Described on the Trojan Records website as an “enigmatic character”, Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid owned one of the biggest sound systems of the 1950s – Duke Reid’s The Trojan – and his colourful legacy is drenched with greatness.

After spending 10 years as a policeman in Kingston, the “soft-spoken, but powerfully built” Reid and his wife bought the Treasure Isle Liquor Store in the heart of West Kingston. The Duke had a passion for guns, perhaps nurtured by his decade in the police force, and it is said that he was never seen without two pistols.

Writing in The Sunday Gleaner in November 2014, Roy Black stated: “Although he had left the force, he still retained a passion for that job and continued to wear his guns at all times – .45 and .22 calibre pistols – tucked in his waistband, with a rifle at his side, during recording sessions. Occasionally, he would release a couple pellets in celebrating his approval of a successful audition. One critic jokingly asserted that he even kept them on while in the shower.”

In the 1950s, the flamboyant Reid, who reportedly wore rings on every finger, set up his Trojan sound system, which critics said rivalled that of Sir Coxsone Dodd and also Tom the Great Sebastian. He was even crowned King of Sound and Blues at the Success Club in Central Kingston during the late 1950s and it was a title which he reportedly held for two years. Business savvy, Reid went into record production and also hosted his own radio show Treasure Isle Time, which was aired by RJR. Reid used this programme and his sound system to promote his latest releases.

In 1962, he scored ska hits with Stranger Cole, the Techniques, Justin Hinds and Alton Ellis & the Flames. As ska evolved, developing a slower beat which would eventually become known as ‘rocksteady’, Reid found much success with hits such as the Paragons – Ali Baba and Wear You To The Ball; Alton Ellis – Cry Tough, Breaking Up, Rock Steady and Ain’t That Loving You; The Melodians – You Don’t Need Me, I Will Get Along,among many others.

RECORDING INDUSTRY GIANT

His bio on trojanrecords.com notes that by 1964, Reid was firmly established as one of the giants of the rapidly Jamaican recording industry, with his work, predominantly issued on his newly launched Treasure Isle label, regarded as among the finest produced during the ska era. Providing musical accompaniment on most of his productions throughout this time were the Skatalites, a nine-piece instrumental group that included the cream of Jamaica’s session players. For 18 glorious months, this supergroup dominated the Jamaican music scene, performing on countless sessions for producer of note, with Reid among their most regular employers. As well as backing artistes such as Justin Hinds & The Dominoes, Stranger Cole, Eric ‘Monty’ Morris and Owen and Leon Silveras, the group also cut a plethora of superb instrumental sides under a variety of aliases.

Elsewhere, it is stated that when rocksteady’s popularity waned by the late 1960s, Reid found success briefly with U-Roy, with hits such as Wake The Town, Wear You To The Ball, Everybody Bawlin’ and Version Galore. However, by 1973 his popularity began to wane as a result of his refusal to record ‘Rasta’ lyrics in an environment increasingly dominated by ‘conscious’ reggae music.

In the mid 70s, a trip to London to seek medical advice confirmed that he had cancer. On September 26, 1976, Duke Reid passed away at St Joseph’s Hospital in Kingston. He was 61.

Reid was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music. His nephew, respected studio engineer Errol Brown, accepted the award.