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Channel One tunes in to 1970s sound

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Many Musicolo-gists tend to believe that Channel One was to the 1970s what Studio One was to the 1960s.

Between 1974 and 1984, the Channel One Studios at 29 Maxfield Avenue in Kingston 13 dominated the reggae airwaves with a multitudinous array of quality reggae recordings that could only be rivalled by its predecessors, Studio One and Treasure Isle.

Doing its own productions and having its own in-house band, Channel One created a sound that conjured up memories of the Studio1 days with their fluid rocksteady-influenced bass lines and Sly Dunbar's revolutionary drum patterns. For a moment it would seem that the whole rhythmic structure of 1970s reggae had been remodelled by Channel One's emergence.

The Studio took the reggae world by storm in 1975 when The Mighty Diamonds, the stellar vocal group of that period, released Right Time. The recording introduced the innovate double drumming style of Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar, and heralded the dawn of a completely new style of reggae rhythms that became known as 'Rockers'. The moment one arrives on location, the unrestrained aura of music is palpably felt. That location is at the southern end of Maxfield Avenue, and became known as Channel One corner.

Maxfield Avenue which runs north to south from Half-Way Tree to Greenwich Town, and cuts a dividing line between the red-hot communities of Trench Town to the east and Whitfield Town to the west, was where Joseph 'Joe Joe' Hookim harboured his ambition to become involved in the music production business.

The eldest of four brothers of Chinese descent, his parents ran an ice cream parlour and bar at the corner of Maxfield Avenue and Spanish Town Road before relocating to number 29 in 1966.

The story really unfolded in the early 1960s when 'Joe Joe' and brother Ernest entered the Juke Box and One Arm Bandit business. Despite their success, their real ambition was to get into music production. It was more like a blessing in disguise when, in the early 1970s, the Jamaican Government outlawed gaming machines, and forced Joe Joe into other directions. That new direction took Joe Joe on a path toward building his own recording studio.

He openly admitted that he had very little knowledge in that area, but wisely decided in the interim to obtain a top-quality Api mixing console at a cost of $38,000.

The entire project, having been completed in six months, was opened for business as a 4-track studio in 1972, with the offer of 'free try-before-you-buy' sessions.

It seemed a strategy to lure producers away from the more established studios, while at the same time affording Joe Joe the privilege of gaining experience in the business.

Producers Bunny Lee and Phil Pratt were two of the first to take advantage of this offer with Delroy Wilson's Can I Change My Mind, and Gregory Isaacs All I Have Is Love respectively, the latter giving the studio its first No.1 hit. Despite other respectable pieces from Stranger and Gladdy, Leroy Smart, and Junior Byles with the roots masterpiece Fade Away, the distinctive Maxfield Avenue sound didn't begin to evolve until the Hookim brothers put together their own house band in 1975.

Appropriately named The Revolutionaries, the group literally revolutionised reggae music in the 1970s with a new type of rhythm that was soon to dominate Kingston's dancehalls. Boasting the best musicians in the land, the line-up included the astonishingly prolific and inventive drum and bass partners 'Sly' Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, who were mainly responsible for the new style.

With the likes of keyboardists Ossie Hibbert and Ansel Collins, Guitarists Rad Bryan, Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Winston Bowen, percussionists Noel 'Skully' Simms and Uziah 'Sticky' Thompson, and horn players Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, and Herman Marquis, they created the rockers thythms which, to a large extent, was based on the Studio One classics of the previous decade.

This leaning of Channel One on some Studio One foundation bass lines, created some amount of animosity between Brentford Road and Maxfield Avenue, and Studio One boss Clement 'Coxson' Dodd retaliated with Sugar Minott versions of I Need A Roof, and Woman Is Like A Shadow, both Channel One recordings. The latter recording by Minott was even on the streets before the Meditation's version.

drums overdubbing

Coxson went as far as to update some of his Studio One classics by overdubbing the drums in the new Channel One double-drumming style. In another ironic twist, Channel One used several popular Studio One artistes like John Holt, Ernest Wilson, The Viceroys and The Wailing Souls, to record on their contemporary rockers rhythms.

The most successful performers to be backed by the Revolutionaries was the Mighty Diamonds - (Donald Shaw, Fitzroy Simpson, and Lloyd Ferguson). After showing an early penchant for soul covers, The Mighty Diamonds increased their tempo, resulting in hit after hit that flowed out of Channel One in a veritable deluge of unparalled consistency.

They hit hard with Right Time, Have Mercy, I Need A Roof, Africa and the militant Back Wey.

The Wailing Souls also managed to maintain the incredibly high standard they reached at Studio One with Back Out and Things And Time.

The Hookims consolidated their position as the top reggae recording studio of the 1970s with the Channel One recordings Satisfaction and Up Park Camp by John Holt, Truly and Yaho by The Jays, Ballistic Affair and Without Love by Leroy Smart, It's A Shame by Delroy Wilson, Fade Away by Junior Byles, Worries In The Dance by Frankie Paul, and the powerhouse instrumentals by the Revolutionaries M.P.L.A, Death In The Arena, Burial, Angola and I.R.A. mostly done on their Channel One Well Charge, Steady and Hit Bound record labels. Other artistes to have recorded with Channel One include Gregory Isaacs, Don Carlos, Yellowman, Sugar Minott, Barrington Levy, Dillinger, Lone Ranger, Barry Brown, I Roy, The Tamlins and Freddy McKay.

The Channel One sound not only captivated the hearts of Jamaicans, its rhythms rocked dancehalls as far as New York, Toronto and London during the 1970s and 1980s. But by the early 1980s the studio was on the decline and finally closed its doors in the mid 1980s.