Pressure Sounds | Savage Jaw

Well Charged Channel One

The Meaning Of Life (12" Version) - Leroy Smart
I Man Time - I-Roy
Tribal War - John Holt
Pay Them - The Enforcer
Pay Them (Version) - The Enforcer
All Gone - Trinity
Give Me - Earth & Stone
Beware - Creole
Beware (Version) - Creole
Shaka The Great (Extended Version) - Overnight Players
Lawless Society - Wailing Souls
Lawless Society (Version) - Wailing Souls
Up Park Camp - John Holt
Up Park Camp (Version) - John Holt
Leftist - The Revolutionaries
Leftist (Version) - The Revolutionaries
I Know Myself - Ernest Wilson
School Days - Trinity
School Days Version - Trinity
No Fire It - McWoner

The revolutionary sound of Channel One was no overnight sensation or flash in the pan but the result of serious amounts of hard work, dedication and, perhaps most important of all, a real love of music.

The Hookim family were born in St. Andrews, Kingston. Their father was from China and their mother was a Chinese-Jamaican and their sons were Joseph or 'Jo Jo' the eldest, Paulie the middle brother who repaired bicycles, Ernest a technician and Kenneth were all involved in music from a very early age. They loved R&B, particularly Louie Jordan, and one has to remember the importance of music as one of the few forms of entertainment in the days before television arrived in Jamaica. As much as they loved the music they were even more fascinated with the way it was made and the brothers were always trying to get hold of amplifiers (which were always difficult to obtain) and Paulie started his own Sound system called 'Well Charged'.

However, they began their involvement in the entertainment business proper by controlling juke boxes and one armed bandits but in 1970 the Jamaican government outlawed gaming machines leaving them with just the juke boxes so in 1972 they decided to branch out and build their own recording studio in Maxfield Avenue deep in the heart of the Kingston 13 ghetto. Their original intention was not to hire out the studio but to use it for themselves and the first release on their own Channel One label was by Stranger Cole & Gladdy - 'Don't Give Up The Fight' which sold a very respectable two thousand copies. Jo Jo wryly recalls that they were relatively easy to dispose of because of the Hookim juke boxes and that their cousin, Ramsey, was the only one to return any of the records!

There were initial problems and one of the first albums they recorded with Alton Ellis was scrapped because of poor sound quality although one of the tracks from these sessions 'Tell Me' was a huge dubplate in the dancehalls hit for the UK based Lloyd Coxsone Outernational sound system. At first veteran engineer Sid Bucknor was employed by Jo Jo but Ernest soon took over at the mixing desk literally picking it up as he went along. They used an AP1 mixing board which meant that they were able to customise their sound and they learnt much by sheer perseverance. The brothers even carried out any repairs necessary using just the manual for the recording desk. It really was a labour of love.

Things started to improve for the brothers as they gradually collected their in-house band, The Revolutionaries, together fuelled and inspired by their legendary drummer Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar and Bertram 'Ranchie' McClean on bass both of whom were hugely influential in establishing the Channel One sound. Ernest and Jo Jo often had an input into the patterns that Sly would play and as Ernest perfected the art of recording drums live their in-house speciality became recording drums live with the track. Ernest would often spend the whole day with Sly perfecting the Channel One drum sound - much to Jo Jo's exasperation. Studio time is always money! To say that this dedication to getting things just right paid dividends would be a serious understatement and when the Mighty Diamonds released 'Right Time' in 1975 there was no turning back. I can remember the weekend that the record was released in the UK, strolling around the Granville Arcade in Brixton on Saturday morning and hearing every shop (I think there were five at the time) playing the record simultaneously all morning. This really was the start of something big. 'Hey Girl' & 'Country Living' had already proved moderate hits for this talented vocal trio but 'Right Time' was a milestone in reggae music combining the very best of rock steady's heady ingredients: an excellent message song, relaxed beautiful harmonies and urgent soulful lead delivery coupled with the latest 'rockers' rhythm based around the militant drumming of Sly Dunbar.

Their sound was to dominate and influence the entire Jamaican recording scene for the next three years with every producer stepping forward with a variation or version of the sound. Ironically enough even Coxsone Dodd at Studio One (whose rhythms formed the basis of so many of the Channel One hits) had to grudgingly jump aboard the bandwagon. Channel One made international stars of the Mighty Diamonds and their debut long player. 'Right Time' / 'I Need A Roof', was signed by Virgin in the UK, while deejays Dillinger and Trinity became household names through their work with the Hookims: I-Roy had a lot to do with the success of Channel One both as a performer and behind the scenes too and Jo Jo has never forgotten his contribution because of his vibes - he was able to turn a session around through his charismatic personality. He would vibe up the musicians and help Ernest and Jo Jo coax more out of the players. I-Roy's penetrating version of 'Right Time', included here, expounded and expanded on the original song's theme. Continuing with the same theme of retribution is the mysterious Enforcer with 'Pay Them' - one of the most spine tingling records ever made - a plea for justice in the face of inequity set against one of the best original rhythms to ever come out of the Channel dominated by Sly's full frontal assault on the drum kit - even after twenty years of repeated listening it's still almost impossible to work out quite how he does it. Channel One was also a populariser of reggae music - for instance Little Roy's 'Tribal War' one of the most incisive critiques of Kingston's internecine strife appealed only to the stern roots followers until John Holt adopted it for a Channel One release and achieved a massive his. The message remained the same - and it reached a lot more people this time - and it's important to stress that this is meant in a positive way with no disrespect at all intended towards Little Roy, John Holt's updated interpretations of his classic back catalogue numbered amongst many of the Hookim's biggest hits. A number of Jamaica's greatest talents forwarded down to Channel one to sample a bit of the magic on Maxfield Avenue and veteran harmony trio the Wailing Souls made some of their best remembered (and best) work there all collected together on their essential 'Best Of' set on Empire apart from 'Lawless Society' - the one that got away. Recorded at the last session before the studio shut down and only released recently on a very limited edition 7" pre-release pressing featuring Carlton 'Santa' Davis on drums it shows the Wailing Souls at their most harmonic and lyrical best - this is the first time it's been available on CD/LP format.

The Revolutionaries were an integral part of the set up with the aforementioned Sly and Ranchie aided and abetted by Robbie on bass, Duggie & Chinna on guitars; Santa on drums; Ansel Collins, Touter & Ossie Hibbert on keyboards, Sticky, Skully & Barnabas on percussion with the horn section of Tommy McCook, Don D Junior & Herman Marquis together formed the bedrock for the sound. Their updating of nearly the whole canon of classical reggae, rocksteady and ska instrumentals defined the summer of 1976 - you couldn't go anywhere without being assaulted with the sound of Sly's double drumming and their updating of the timeless 'Love Me Girl'/'Frozen Soul' shows them at their laid back insouciant best and 'Leftist' almost dare we say it, eclipses the original version. Their long playing dub outings were also truly essential and I can remember one shop charging - and getting with no argument either - upwards of twenty five pounds for a copy of Vital Dub when it was first imported into the UK around Christmas 1976. Money well spent!

The music was covered on all fronts and Jo Jo reckons that he sometimes felt embarrassed to see nine out of the top ten records on his own Well Charge label. This is typical a man who always preferred to keep well out of the limelight, 'I would prefer to have a top ten hit rather than a number one', and he used his innate knowledge to continually upgrade and perfect the sound. He knew for instance, that the first twenty seconds of a record are the most important especially in Jamaica because that's all the record shops would play to their customers and he personally re-arranged the beginning of the Mighty Diamonds 'I Need A Roof' so that it was more difficult to version. One thousand copies with the original arrangement were released before Jo Jo called a halt.

He used to regularly call on a group of youths who would hang around the studio to come in and listen and decide whether the music should be put to tape or not. Needless to say this would drive the musicians crazy. He remembers with great satisfaction how much love the music was made with then, how influential and popular Channel One was and he's always keen to emphasise just how much fun was had by everyone in the mid/late seventies heyday. That magical chemistry has proved impossible to repeat and though many tried to emulate the sound by using the studio and even the same session musicians and engineer no one ever managed to capture the feel of Channel One's own output.

The business side of music making was never neglected either and Channel One were the first to release a twelve inch forty five rpm record in Jamaica - 'Truly' - a version of the Marcia Griffiths classic by the Jayes and Ranking Trevor where they pioneered integrating the vocal and deejay cut on the same side of the release. Their 'Channel One Economic Packages' - seven inch releases that played at thirty three and a third rpm - followed the same path but were discontinued due to poor sound quality. However the vastly improved dynamic range of the twelve inch with much more bass and treble proved very popular in Jamaica but even more so abroad and they actually made more money for all concerned. Channel One not only recorded the music but mastered and pressed the records and printed the labels too - a truly independent set up - and in 1979 the studio was upgraded to sixteen track facilities and Jo Jo started the Hit Bound label. However in 1982 Jo Jo relocated to New York not long after the murder of Paulie and he lost a lot of his interest in the music business. 'Much of the enjoyment went out of it for me' which is hardly surprising. Hit Bound in New York went on to release an innovative series of one rhythm and 'Clash' albums with top artists and up and coming artists sharing one side of an album each but unfortunately no new music has come through since these times.

This set gathers together (number) slices of the Hookim enchantment with a bias towards roots and culture but it should serve as a handy sampler for all that the Maxfield Avenue powerhouse was capable of. It's fair to say that another (number) would fit the bill just as easily or even another (number) such is the strength and depth of their recorded works. Watch out for more Channel One releases on Pressure Sounds in the not too distant future.

Harry Hawke

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