Channel One: Maxfield Avenue Breakdown

Ragnampaiza Version
Jail House Version
Speak Easy
Natty A General Version
Dance Dis Ya Festival Version
Woman Is Like A Shadow Version
King Of The Minstrels
Have Mercy Version
CB 200 Version
Black Man Version
Rema Skank 12"
Ballistic Affair Version
School Days Version
Fire Bun Version
Counter Attack
Answer Me Question Version

The sound of Channel One, which achieved worldwide prominence in the mid-seventies reggae boom, was to wield an unparalleled influence throughout the world yet its origins were based on little more than Ernest and Jo Jo Hookim's lifelong love of music and their fascination with the way it was made. Their story has been detailed in two previous Pressure Sounds releases (PSCD14 Well Charged Channel One and PSCD22 When The Dances Were Changing) and they originally opened their Channel One studio in 1972 at 29 Maxfield Avenue, Kingston 13 for their own use and had no intention of renting it out to other producers. The Hookim's spent a lot of time discussing and trying out various mixing boards before coming to the decision that a four track API desk would best suit their purposes. They hired Bill Garnett, a Jamaican living in New York with a serious reputation as a technological wizard, to install the board and he spent two weeks back in Jamaica ensuring that the sound was right. It was the sound of Channel One that was of crucial importance and the best quality equipment, especially microphones  such as Neuman, Sony and AKG, was always used. These microphones gave the 'depth' of sound that was so important towards making "Sly's drums roll like thunder" but even so the Hookim's were always striving to get the required amount of separation on each track. This was needed in order to give them complete flexibility on every track - something the brothers worked tirelessly towards.

The Hookim's importance was in the new elements that they brought to reggae music in terms of the clarity of their sound and a recording made at Channel One in its heyday is unmistakeable. The freshness of the sound captivated the Kingston music fraternity and it soon became apparent that a trip down to Maxfield Avenue was essential for any producer who wanted to have hit records. Session musicians still tell stories of preferring to work through the night and leave the studio in the morning rather than risk leaving in the hours of darkness such was the insalubrious nature of the area, but it never stopped them from coming. The demand soon meant that there was very little time left for the Hookim's own productions so Sundays were set aside for the 'select few'. With Ernest and Barnabas in charge of the board their in house band, named The Revolutionaries for reasons which should be obvious, laid down track after track led by the incredible talents of Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar on drums that were to change the direction of reggae music for the remainder of the decade.

The significance of Channel One to the development of reggae music cannot be overstated and it fostered the long overdue rise of the Jamaican musician as a star in his own right. Previously the names of the musicians who had shaped the music were unknown outside of people within the business and those who avidly studied the small print on the back of the LP sleeves. Each successive era was defined by a particular sound peculiar to a core of musicians but The Skatalites, The Hippy Boys, The Dynamites or The Soul Syndicate could just have easily become ...... All Stars depending on who was actually financing the session and it's ironic that the production team at Channel One actively aided the breakdown of the producer's hold over the music.

By the time that Channel one rose to prominence the white-hot heat of dub innovation had passed and the ground rules for the genre had already been established (if not set in stone) so Ernest and Barnabas knew exactly what they were aiming for and who they were aiming it at. Much emphasis is placed on the notion of 'originality' but the entire history of recorded music in Jamaica is based around adopting, adapting and improving on already existing musical forms and reggae music has always worked off a combination of the old and the new. Much criticism was directed at Channel One at the time of its greatest success due to an alleged lack of originality yet Jo Jo has never denied the debt he owes to the history of Jamaican music. Many Jamaican classics have their roots in the rhythm & blues of America and a rhythm such as MPLA (versioned here as School Days) can be traced through Roy Richards at Studio One to Little Richard in Georgia in the deep south of America with Freedom Blues. The origins of many Studio One ska classics can be found in the work of Mongo Santamaria and while this is of interest to musicians and keen students of the music it never detracts from the strength and prominence of the version in hand.

The Hookim's always understood the importance of connecting with the record buying public and their work within the juke box industry had given them valuable insights into what makes a record sell. Jo Jo is still proud of the way that their Channel One version sides were made directly for the sound system market and how they hit the spot every time and the version sides of 45rpm releases that make up this album are all taken from the period of Channel One's greatest success. Every single release would have a custom mixed dub side and the version side of Ballistic Affair, for instance, is totally different to that of Eastman Skank yet both are versions of the same rhythm. Some are straight instrumentals such as the cuts to In Cold Blood here entitled Speak Easy while others are completely over the top effects laden mixes such as the car horn extravaganza from Dillinger's Natty A General. The cut featured here to the Diamond's version of the Wailers' Good Good Rudie is a no-nonsense old time version mix that let's the rhythm stand proud stripped of its vocals with nothing at all added and the beauty of Sly's drumming is quite breathtaking. Originals such as The Meditations' Is Like A Shadow (which Sugar Minott was to later version at Studio One) and covers such as The Spinners' It's A Shame sung over by Delroy Wilson and translated by Dillinger into Fire Bun are all mixed down in the Maxfield Avenue melting pot to produce that unmistakeable Channel One sound.

In much the same way as the blues had formed the basis for the whole sixties 'rock' revolution so dub was to form the bedrock of the eighties and nineties 'dance' movement where reggae's techniques were to be used over and over again. Now trace back reggae's origins to rhythm and blues and see that there is nothing new under the sun! No attempt was made to capture a 'live' performance on tape but what was created in the studio was actually the 'real' thing and techniques that had been previously viewed as studio trickery or faking became integral elements as the excellence of the Channel One sound came to the fore. This pivotal form has subverted the very notion of music making and elevated the role of the mixing desk to that of a musical instrument while profoundly influencing the development of recorded music in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Harry Hawke

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