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Studio One Dancehall (SJRCD281 - 2014)

Why Oh Why - Ernest Wilson
Lend Me The Sixteen - Johnny Osbourne
Haunted House - Windel Haye
Ghetto Girl - Green Tea & Chassy
Time A Run Out - Johnny Osbourne
Noah In The Ark - Lone Ranger
Thanks And Praise - Devon Russell
Rebel Disco - Brentford Disco Set
I Don't Know Why - Doreen Schaffer
Lonely Lover - Slim Smith
Roots And Herb Style - Field Marshall Haye
Peace Truce Thing - DJ Dawn & The Ranking Queens
Cure For The Fever - Jim Brown
Peace Treaty Style - Sugar Minott
It Deep - Lloyd Robinson
Far East - Barry Brown
Flood Victim - Windel Haye & Captain Morgan
Pick Them Up - Ernest Wilson
 
When Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd first ruled the dancehalls of Kingston in the 1950s, fighting off the competition from Duke Reid, Tom the Great Sebastian and other local sound system operators, few could imagine how long his reign would eventually last. but when the emergence of 'dancehall' as a distinct style of reggae appeared towards the end of the 1970s, with vocalists and deejays making new songs often created using classic Studio One rhythms replayed by in-house studio bands for a number of competing producers, the influence of Clement Dodd and his musical vision became in many ways even more omnipotent than ever before.

A young singer, Sugar Minott, was the first to bring to the attention of Sir Coxsone this new musical fashion, showing examples of how new producers were copying Studio One rhythms. Not surprisingly, Dodd's creativity and business acumen meant that he was quick to respond to this turn of events, and not, as might be expected, by taking these producers to court - after all 'dancehall' was really the ultimate compliment to the foundation music created at 13 Brentford Road.

Instead he began to record a new stable of Studio One singers and deejays - Sugar Minott, Lone Ranger, Michigan & Smiley and others - performing over original classic Studio One rhythm tracks first created in the late 1960s - in the process producing some of the most innovative, chronologically time-warping and creative music of his career.

And by 1978/9, Sir Coxsone was - once more - literally ruling the dance. Classic Studio One tunes were being given a fresh lease of life by new upcoming artists at Brentford Road, who in turn were producing massive new hits in the dance. Part of the creative strength of these new Studio One recordings was that the young artists making them had grown up performing on neighbourhood sound systems, and were already well versed in the art of vocalising new melodies over Studio One's classic rhythms - supplied to local sound system operators on dubplate - by the time they came to make their own records for Coxsone Dodd.

Capitalising on this success Coxsone started releasing new albums such as Johnny Osbourne's Truth And Rights, Freddie McGregor's Bobby Bobylon and Michigan & Smiley's Rub A Dub Style - all stone-cold killers. With (replayed) foundation Studio One rhythms similarly central to the dancehall releases of rival producers, and with dances often featuring a strictly 'Studio One' set at some point during a session, whichever way you looked at it Sir Coxsone was in many ways nice-ing up the dance like never before.

But once again, few people at that point could have realised what we now know - that this resurgence in Studio One's dominance of the dance was only temporary; Clement Dodd and the evolution of Jamaican music were for the first time in his life about to move along separate paths. to understand why we need to step back a few years to the first stirrings of dancehall in the mid 1970s, and the economic and social background from whence the style emerged.

Dancehall was born out of the violent and political turmoil of the island during the 1970s - its nascent beginnings occurring as the bloody 1976 election between socialist Michael Manley and right-wing Edward Seaga led to murderous gun fights between rival supporters of their two respective national parties -  the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) - with much of the year being declared a state of emergency including during the election itself.

Gun crime, gang warfare, political polarisation and economic hardship escalated in Jamaica throughout the 1970s. In 1974 then Prime Minister Michael Manley set up the Gun Court, a branch of the Jamaican legal system set up specifically to deal with criminal activity related to firearms.

To help gain votes during the 1976 election, both political parties were accused of co-opting gangs in various disputed territories. As the elections loomed, the intransigent parties became more extreme in their methods of coercion, employing heavyweight gunmen such as Bucky Marshall (for the PNP) and Claudie Massop (for the JLP) to 'enforce' garnering support.

On 3rd December 1976, two days prior to Smile Jamaica, a free concert organised by supporters of Michael Manley, Studio One's greatest alumni, Bob Marley, was shot by unknown gunmen inside his house. Marley performed at the concert (without Bunny Wailer or Peter Tosh who both remained in hiding) but soon after left the island to live instead in England. Ten days later Manley won the election but Jamaica's troubles continued.

Two years on, in an attempt to diffuse the rising political violence on the island, opposing gang leaders Marshall and Massop arranged for Marley to return from his self-imposed exile to Jamaica to perform at the One Love Peace Concert. Here, the singer famously persuaded Prime Minister Michael Manley and rival Edward Seaga onstage to clasp hands together above his own head in a rare and spontaneous moment of solidarity. Unfortunately the event did little to quell the violence. In new elections held in 1980, when Manley was defeated by Seaga, over 800 people were killed in the lead up to the voting. Massop and Marshall were also both killed within two years of the concert.

As coping strategies to the daily grind, few recreational activities could rival a sound system dance and dancehall music came about as the expression of this culture. As the tension, violence and economic hardship increased on the island, dancehall allowed people to temporarily escape. Self-referentially celebrating the drama of the sound systems - the clothes, the styles, the technology, the characters, the slang - dancehall was about pure unadulterated pleasure, and soon replaced the 'international' success of roots music in the first half of the 1970s as the music of choice on the island. And, unlike the one love of Bob Marley, or the PNPs earlier adoption of Delroy Wilson's uplifting anthem 'Better Must Come', dancehall music was never going to allow itself to be manipulated by political parties.

For the always savvy-minded Clement Dodd, it was the constant making over of Studio One rhythms which occurred at Channel One's studios, 29 Maxfield Avenue, Kingston 13, in the mid 1970s - where vocalists backed by the innovative in-house Revolutionaries, featuring crack drum-and-bass duo Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, were causing a stir - that first enticed him to 'reply' to this new copyright-busting turn in events in the musical sound wars. With the principal 'don't get mad get even', Studio One began its own re-versioning, heralding in the new proto-dancehall ere at Brentford Road.

This began in 1975 when the young Sugar Minott convinced Clement Dodd to let him record his own cut of the Meditations' recent hit 'I Need A Roof' (as 'Roof Over My Head'). The meditations song was recorded at Channel One with the roots vocal trio performing over the Revolutionaries' take on Larry Marshall's 'Mean Girl' - a song originally recorded by Marshall at studio One in the late 1960s, backed by the Sound Dimension. So, uniquely, when Minott covered 'I Need A Roof', he was able to perform the proverbial pulling-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick of singing his cover version of the song over the original Studio One rhythm. The dancehall battlefield lines were drawn and the hyper-creative chronology-twisting innovative new style had begun.

Clearly quick off the mark in this new sound clash, Minott was the primary driving force behind the new period at Studio One. His re-versioning of the Meditations' 'Woman Is Like A Shadow', again cut at Channel One, even managed to get released before the trio's own song hit the streets. (Minott's version was released on the Studio One offshoot Budget label in Jan. 1976, the writer cheekily credited as Joe Steal!). Minott had begun his career as selector on the Sound of Silence Keystone sound system and also joined the vocal roots group The African Brothers, alongside Tony Tuff and Derrick Howard, in the late 1960s. The group released a few early singles before in 1974 recording a debut single at Studio one, 'No Cup No Brock', but split up shortly afterwards leaving Minott free to launch his solo career.

The singer had already used Studio One dubplates on his sound, improvising his own songs in the dance. He perfectly understood the new language of dancehall, and when it came to his solo audition for Sir Coxsone chose to sing over old rhythms on tape rather than accompanied by live musicians. A stunning set of forward-looking proto-dancehall singles followed, such as 'Hang On Natty', 'Oh Mr DC' and those already mentioned.

Studio One embraced this new concept, playfully re-versioning itself, such as with Freddie McGregor 'reply' to Minott's 'Hang On Natty' on his own 'Come Now Sister' (with both songs created over the same rhythm - the Heptones' 'In The Groove'). The young deejay team of Michigan & Smiley also came out of this dancehall world, having learnt their craft on the Third World Disco and Black Harmony sound systems, similarly well versed in creating songs over Studio One foundation rhythms. When Minott released the single 'Vanity', with the lyrics 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow', Michigan & Smiley came out with the massive 'Rub A Dub Style' quoting 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your rub-a-dub flow'.

Lone Ranger was born in Kingston, moved to London as a child before returning to Jamaica in 1971. By 1974 he had launched his deejay career and recorded his first single for Studio One in 1977. His humorous and relaxed style of deejaying, also sometimes known as sing-jaying, bridged the gap between the first generation classic deejays and the new dancehall style. As well as recording massive hits for Studio One, such as 'Love bump', 'The Answer' and 'Three Mile Skank', Lone Ranger was equally successful with a number of the island's most prominent producers including Winston Riley, the Hookim Brothers and his friend Chester Synmoie, with whom he released one of his biggest hits of all, 'Barnabas Collins', released on the Thrillseekers label in 1979.

By 1978 the singer Sugar Minott had decided to leave 13 Brentford Road to set up his own Black Roots/Youth Promotions organisation, loosely based on the 360 degrees principle of Studio One - studio, label, sound system - where, once again like Clement Dodd, he also began to cultivate a roster of new artists around himself including Little John, Tristan Palmer, Barry Brown and Tony Tuff. Before leaving, he recorded the single 'Peace Treaty' at Studio one (featured here, and not appearing on any of his three albums); hypnotic rhythms, keyboards (probably Pablove Black), syndrums, use of echo and the incorporated steppers drum rhythm patterns of the effortlessly creative Brentford Disco Set/All Stars house band showed everyone that Studio one still ruled. Clement Dodd had also wisely recorded and stockpiled Minott's performances over many classic rhythm tracks and was consequently able to release three Studio One albums by Minott between 1978-82 - which essentially became the template of the new dancehall sound at Brentford Road.

One of the beauties of the dancehall era at Studio one was that it was not simply a replacement of the older artists with the new. Aside from the re-using of classic 1960s Sound Dimension and Soul Brothers songs as the basis for new songs - and the clever 'updating' of these rhythms by various Brentford Road in-house session players in the 1970s (such as Bagga Walker, Pablove Black and Eric Frater), adding new bass lines, electronic drums and more - the period also led older first generation vocalists to successfully cut powerful new tracks, regenerating both their own careers and the catalogue of Studio One at the same time.

Such was also the case with newly created tracks such as Ernest Wilson's 'Pick Them Up' and 'Why Oh Why', the latter of which was itself versioned by the likes of Lone Ranger (at Studio One), slackness deejay General Echo (at Winston Riley's Techniques), Sly & Robbie (a whole album - Adam & Eve - for Channel One), and others.

Ernest Wilson first came to Studio one as a teenager in 1963, as one half of the Clarendonians, alongside his friend Peter Austin. The group later expanded to a trio when Freddie McGregor (aged seven!) also joined. With over 30 sides cut for Clement Dodd, the Clarendonians became one of the most successful groups of the ska and rocksteady era. In 1967 Wilson began his solo career at Studio One with the single 'Money Worries'. Into the 1970s Wilson recorded as a solo performer for a number of producers, including Joe Gibbs, Leslie Kong and the Hookim Brothers at Channel One, whilst continuing to cut sides for Clement Dodd. But it was the youngest member of the Clarendonians, Freddie McGregor, whose anthemic 'Bobby Bobylon' was set to become one of the defining albums in the new Studio One dancehall era.

New singers and deejays continued to revitalise the catalogue with fresh takes on old rhythms. Established singers also found a new lease of life, either by performing in this new style, or in the case of Slim Smith, literally being resuscitated when the newly updated version of Smith's 'Lonely Lover' 1966 rocksteady hit came out in 1979, the singer had already been dead for seven years.

Coincidence or not, Johnny Osbourne's re-entry onto the Kingston music scene in 1979, after a ten year hiatus in Toronto, Canada, occurred as the popularity of dancehall hit an all-time high, rapidly becoming the island's new soundtrack. His first port of call on returning home was straight to Studio One at 13 Brentford Road, resulting in a string of impressive 12" singles and the now classic album Truths And Rights.

Osbourne had begun his career in the 1960s as lead vocalist for the Wildcats, recording for producer Winston Riley's Techniques label. in 1969 he released his debut album Come Back Darling for Riley as well as a sole single for Clement Dodd, 'All I Have Is Love', but almost immediately afterwards migrated to Toronto to join his family.

After his group Ishan People disbanded, Osbourne returned back to Jamaica and was to play a key role in the island's music scene. As well as working with Clement Dodd, Osbourne also had great success with producer prince jammy (including massive hits such as 'Water pumping' and 'Budy Bye') and later with Bobby Dixon. In point of fact Osbourne became one of the most in-demand singers on the island in the dancehall era. He continued releasing great singles for Studio one well into the 1980s (but unfortunately a second album never emerged).

Here on the track 'Lend Me Your Sixteen' we hear the Sound Dimension's almost omnipresent 'Real Rock' rhythm effortlessly rolling onwards into the new dancehall era as Osbourne vocalises his plea to borrow a 16-track tape machine - much better than a four-track - in order to mash down the dancefloor.

Studio One's dancehall music was in many ways simply a continuation of its original template, a celebration of the dance - joyous, uplifting music, good for the mind, body and spirit.

As we can see from some of the titles here the theme of peace loomed large in the minds of many Jamaican reggae artists during this era, and the violence on the island was to have a profound effect on Jamaican music and ultimately on Studio One itself. DJ Dawn and the Ranking Queens 'Peace Truce Thing' cleverly quotes Althia & Donna's 'Uptown Top Ranking', a massive hit for producer Joe Gibbs based on the rhythm of Alton Ellis's 'I'm Still In Love With You' recorded for Studio One (and on which the Brentford Road Disco Set in-turn update here for the Ranking Queens).

the violent build-up to the 1980 election was to prove unbearable for many Jamaicans. When the right wing, American-backed, Seaga - renamed CIA-GA by witty Kingston graffiti artists - won the election over the socialist Manley, a new era had definitely arrived. For clement Dodd, the violence also became too much, the area around Brentford Road a virtual war zone. After a gunman broke into the studio, Dodd, like many others, decided to leave the island and relocate to Brooklyn, New Jersey. As the taciturn Dodd later commented to the Village Voice in New York "1980, that's when I knew I had to leave".

From here on Studio One and dancehall moved along separate paths. Clement Dodd closed the studio at 13 Brentford Road and set up a new one in Brooklyn - but this was more of a voicing studio, with no house band. From his new base, he nevertheless continued to release classic albums, such as the earlier mentions Sugar Minott albums, as well as Lone Ranger's badda Dan Dem and Willie Williams' Armageddon Time. Singers continued to voice new songs over original rhythms - on tapes sent up from Kingston - but there was no longer an equivalent of the Brentford Road All-Stars. Dodd also quietly continued to experiment with new studio equipment, reversioning and remixing old songs.

Dancehall similarly changed direction around this point - Seaga's election and the death of Bob Marley in 1981 coincided with a more hedonistic style, with singers focussed on celebrating the new environment around them - the gun culture, the don dadas (gangsters), slackness (lewd lyrics) and cocaine - the new island drug of choice. For Clement Dodd this type of dancehall never appealed, often commenting of the people who put out these records that they were "reducers not producers".

So here, this album's focus is simply on the uplifting, classic music of Studio One's halcyon last great era, when dancehall was king.

S. Baker
 
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