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Studio One - The home of J'can popular music

Published:Sunday | August 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM
The Skatalites in earlier years, with Lloyd Brevett (fifth left) with the upright bass. - Contributed
Dennis Brown
From left: Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh of the Wailers.
Coxson Dodd - Studio One
Toots and the Maytals
Bob Andy
Delroy Wilson
Alton ellis

The name Studio One is held in reverence by music lovers at home and abroad, and it is difficult to imagine how Jamaican music would sound without Studio One's involvement.

The late Clement Seymour Dodd, decorated with numerous titles, including Sir Coxson, Downbeat, Roundbeat, Jackson, and Sir D, would perhaps be the first name that comes to mind whenever this magnanimous institution is mentioned, it being his brainchild.

Many others may, however, argue that the exceptional array of gifted singers and musicians that graced the institution played an even greater role in establishing Studio One as the all-time most successful and popular recording studio in the land, and as such they would be the first to be remembered.

If I was brave enough to attempt listing the many artistes who have passed through the gates of 13 Brentford Road, now Studio One Boulevard, the home of Studio One, it would probably run like an unending roll-call and I surely would be out of writing space before I could proceed further with this article.

It was in the latter half of 1963 that Dodd built this famous Studio, which over time came to be considered a Jamaican version of Berry Gordy's Detroit- based Motown Studios.

Covering the gamut of Jamaican popular music, names like Don Drummond, The Skatalites Band, The Wailers, Delroy Wilson, Toots and the Maytals, Bob Andy, Alton Ellis, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, The Heptones, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Marcia Griffiths and boy wonder Dennis Brown are but a conservative few that have been immortalised within its walls. It is almost impossible to recall any early Jamaican artiste of note who didn't record at Studio One.

Dodd, the man behind all of this, was in fact born in Kingston of full African parentage on January 26, 1932.

Many of his boyhood days were spent along Love Lane in the heart of Kingston's busy commercial scene. While attending All Saints Primary School in west Kingston, cricket became his first love and a famous Yorkshire English cricketer named Coxson, his idol, from whom he acquired his nickname.

His other love was, of course, music.

Musicologist Mannie Campbell, one of the most knowledgeable persons on Jamaica's music history, and a consultant to many of even higher standing, spoke to me in glowing terms of their boyhood days as best friends living along Love Lane:

"We used to attend dances together as teenagers at places like Forrester's Hall, Kings Lawn, Silver Lining and Liberty Hall where the fledgling sound-system circuit was dominated by early operating giants like Thomas Wong, 'The Great Sebastian' and Arthur Reid, 'Duke The Trojan'.

An ardent lover of rhythm and blues, the early exposure, no doubt fired the imagination and egotistic zeal of the young Dodd into areas of similar activity.

But it would not be such an 'easy road' in a 1940s Jamaican society where participation in Jamaica's industrial and commercial life was almost exclusively reserved for foreigners and people of non-African lineage.

Luckily though, in his family there were people who were already exposed to commercial activity. His Mother ran a 'cold supper shop' at Ladd Lane and Laws Street, where she entertained her customers with a basic music system. Dodd's aunt operated a retail outlet in central Kingston and his stepfather, Mr Darlington, was a builder by profession, who supervised the erection of Studio One, on land that once housed The End nightclub.

According to musicologist Campbell, the real turning point in Dodd's life came with the issuance of a farm-work visa to the United States around the time of Hurricane Charlie in 1951.

This enabled him, while travelling, to purchase well-needed equipment, vinyl 45 records and three speaker boxes to start his sound 'Sir Coxson Downbeat'.

Returning to Jamaica, sometime in 1952, he put his sound on the road, having his first engagement that same year. In the meantime, he opened his own liquor and record shop at the intersection of Love Lane and Beeston Street from where he sold both commodities while entertaining customers with his sound. He gradually developed a gathering, and orders for musical engagements began to pour in, forcing Dodd to make several trips abroad to acquire the necessary equipment to satisfy the growing demand for his music.

In time, he had no less than five sets operating simultaneously at various venues on a given night.

Dodd's next move - The building of a recording studio, pressing plant and printery along with the production of raw undiscovered talent, was perhaps the highlight of his career and for which he was best known.

After doing his earliest recording at Ken Khouri's Federal Records, he brought Studio One into operation in 1963 with a bang by enlisting the services of the mighty Skatalites Band.

The band did some memorable ska pieces, while backing immortal gems by The Wailers, The Maytals, Jackie Opel, Lord Creator and others.

Studio One followed up by spanning the full gamut of early Jamaican music with the cream of the lot coming from Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Delroy Wilson and The Heptones.

The studio also has the distinction of giving birth to the offspring of reggae - dancehall.

Recording for Studio One in the early 1970s, Lincoln 'Sugar' Minott was indeed the vanguard and main protagonist in that movement with pieces like Vanity, This Old Man, and Is It True, among others. In the end, Studio One became both the nursery and the university of Jamaican popular music.

Many of the rhythms that have rocked dancehalls over the last quarter of a century have either been copied or influenced by Studio One creations and many present-day artistes are riding on them without even realising it.

Tracks from The Heptones' On Top album, Real Rock, Rockfort Rock and Full Up rhythms were heavily copied, while Channel One borrowed heavily from the Studio One catalogue.

While the positive impact of Studio One is obvious, there were also very clear negatives. There was an issue with the remuneration artistes received from the music tycoon. He fell out with some, including Leroy Sibbles, Bob Andy and Alton Ellis. But Dodd, in his defence, maintained that he had binding contracts with them.