fountainhead from which sprang rap, Jamaican deejay music is still
undervalued in the world outside Jamaica. Even there, outside of a few
Jamaican cultural specialists and musical history aficionados, there is
a lingering suspicion that what the legion of Jamaican deejays do is
somehow not musical, or otherwise less worthy of consideration than the
work of vocalists or instrumentalists.
Yet, at its
best, deejay music is both highly creative and culturally vibrant,
particularly in reflecting the concerns of the broad masses of Jamaican
ghetto-dwellers. And via the craft of the remix - known in Jamaica as
'dub' - as well as by the contributions of deejays without number, those
same ghetto-dwellers have exerted on the popular music of the world an
influence that is simply everywhere. Hopefully this compilation will
dispel any doubts, as a posse of Jamaica's finest mic-men - some
well-known, others regrettably obscure - prove that they are all still
more than capable of rocking any dancehall to its foundations.
commonplace to say that Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd recorded most of
the original rhythm tracks that became the 'first cuts' to countless
'versions' (copies) by other producers in the three decades since they
were first laid. Although he can claim to have recorded most of the
important singers and players in modern Jamaican popular music, his
deejay catalogue on record, while still impressive, has a less
innovatory look, with no U Roy or Big Youth, the two main
innovators in the period 1969-1979. Then again, if he hasn't recorded
every deejay in Jamaica, his music has been their staple diet. It would
be true to say that their can be none amongst them who haven't learnt
their trade as deejay toasting, boasting, chanting, jiving and rhyming
over Coxsone's original licks at countless dances in Jamaica
since the 1960s. And of course, a Jamaican deejay is slightly different
from the man on the radio who plays requests - deejays on the island
have never merely put records on the platter like the more conventional
jockeys, so don't ask them to play 'Misty' for you. Right from the
earliest dances, when guys like Count Machuki first picked up the
microphone in a capacity that roughly corresponds to a 'Master of
Ceremonies', they augmented and animated the selected record with much
wordplay, vocalisation, and inventive slang language - the so-called 'Ja-Kan'
- as well as voice effects known as 'peps', that indicate that Jamaica
was equally a pioneer in the matter of 'human beat-boxes'.
By the end
of the fifties, Sir Coxsone Down Beat sound system was one of the
big three sets on the island. The other two were owned and operated by
Duke Reid (The Trojan) and King Edwards (The Giant). In
1962-3, their main competitor Prince Buster celebrated their
supremacy - a temporary state, as he sang it - in records like, 'They
Got To Go' and more specifically, 'The King, The Duke and The Sir'.
These three sound systems hadn't invented the practice of using deejays
to introduce and spice up the records - that distinction goes to a sound
called Tom the Great Sebastian, who utilised the talents of Count
Machuki from 1950 until 1954. Then Tom was offered a residency in a
better district of Kingston and moved from his central Orange Street
base. Machuki took up microphone duties with new sound system
Coxsone Down Beat, named for a 1950s Yorkshire cricketer admired by
its owner, Clement Seymour Dodd, the future founder of Studio
By the end
of the 1950s, Coxsone had three sets on the road, with the second set
operated by a man who was to become a backbone of the informal Studio
One family, King Stitt. Stitt had learned selecting from dancing
off the selection of US R&B played by Machuki in the dancehalls of
downtown Kingston, and soon progressed to handling the mike at dances.
By the end of the 1950s every sound system had a deejay selecting and
spicing up the music with 'chat'. In the 1960s, men like Prince
Buster and Sir Lord Comic made records that could be called
'proto-deejay', but it would be King Stitt who became the true
pioneer deejay on record in Jamaica when he recorded a series of tunes
for producer Clancy Eccles in 1968. He caught on with the crowds
who came to see him for his appearance - not for nothing was he known as
'The Ugly One'. As it turned out, Stitt didn't make that many tunes for
Studio One, but he does have an LP on the label ('Dancehall 63') where
he demonstrates just how the Down Beat sound system might have sounded
when he was at the controls.
Then at the
end of the decade came U Roy, on King Tubby's Hi-Fi, and
the modern deejay era was truly born. A fan of Count Machuki, he
had deejayed sets like Dickies' Dynamic and Sir George The
Atomic before landing a job with Waterhouse-based soundman King
Tubby, and the two figures who were to shape much Jamaican music
over the next 15 years came together as a team of sorts. U Roy
made a series of records for Duke Reid that defined the direction
of deejay music for the next few years until the advent of Big Youth,
who further redefined it in a new more socially-conscious direction in
his turn. All of these phenomena had exploded on the Jamaican dancehall
scene and in Jamaican communities worldwide before anyone made 'rap'
records in Brokklyn or The Bronx. And, back in Jamaica until 1979, and
in Brooklyn from 1980 on, Coxsone Dodd was there to record the
deejays who had grown up on his rhythms. This compilation in the Soul
Jazz 'Studio One' series collects some of the best, most for the first
time on CD or even LP.
1. Count Machuki & The Sound Dimension "More Scorcher"
Count Machuki supplies one of his trademark introductions,
before the effortlessly propulsive rhythm track to the Bassies' vocal
"Things Come Up To Bump" begins; trombonist Vin Gordon offers his
variations on the theme, with Machuki interjecting briefly in the latter
half of the tune. This track illustrates the part played by the deejay
in the period up to 1968-9 and the advent of U-Roy, himself an admirer
of Machuki's jive-saturated delivery and 'Ja-Kan' slang.
2. Prince Francis "Rockfort Rock"
Prince Francis made a few sides for Studio One, but none better
than this exemplary piece of the Sound Dimension's killer instrumental "Rockfort
Rock". The original on which this rhythm is based was written by the
pioneering Puerto Rican bandleader Rafael Hernandez and is called "El
Cumbanchero". Like many other rhythms originated at Studio One, it has
become a staple of dancehall in the ensuing years. Prince Francis also
used to deejay on Dennis Alcapone's 'El Paso' set, along side other
aspiring hopefuls like Lizzy, Samuel The First, Dillinger and a very
young Little (later Ranking) Joe.
3. Dennis Alcapone "Power Version"
The mighty Dennis, who took over the dancehall from U-Roy from
1971, here at the absolute peak of his form, "taking you on the highways
and byways where it's at". The track is named to celebrate the victory
of the PNP in the Jamaican election of 1972, "Power" being prominent in
party slogans throughout the campaign. Clarendon-born Dennis selects his
homeboys The Clarendonians for the backing track - the duo's version of
the Four Tops "Until You Love Someone" (retitled "(You) Can't Be Happy")
- and maintains an effortless flow of victorious cock crows, whoops, sly
asides and jive comment from the Machuki lexicon.
4. Dillinger "Natty Kung Fu"
Dillinger created his own style out of influence from Dennis
Alcapone - he had often been given the mike on the El Paso set by the
elder deejay before he ever recorded - and Big Youth. By mid-decade he
was one of the most successful of all Jamaican deejays, scoring an
international hit for Channel One and Island Records with "Cocaine
(Running Around My Brain)". His Studio One LP ("Ready Natty Dreadie")
has long been considered a classic, with Dillinger dealing with topics
of the day over a selection of wicked rhythms. Here he elucidates on
Kung Fu: "Introducing to you the modern techniques of self-defence",
launching into a tour of Kingston which even takes in the Kung Fu
'temple'. The rhythm here is from "Freedom Blues", by the blind
singer/instrumentalist Roy Richards and is a cover of a song from Little
Richard's 1968 comeback LP "The Rill Thing". The rhythm itself -
commonly known as "MPLA" after a Revolutionaries' re-cut for Channel One
in 1975 - has gone on to be versioned well over 100 times up to the
5. Jah Scotchie "Man Of Creation"
This obscure deejay slightly resembles Dillinger in style, but
little else is known about him. Mr Dodd remembers only that he died a
few years ago. This is his only side for the label, a solid generic
canter through what amounts to a cultural catechism, rescued from the
mundane by the fact that it is on a truly immortal rhythm track, The
Abyssinians' ultimate roots masterpiece "Satta Massa Gana". The cut used
here has no trace of the vocal; instead it comes from tenor saxist
Cedric Brooks' instrumental titled simply "Satta".
6. Jim Brown "Seen Him"
Jim Brown began recording for the label in the eighties; he
represents the 80s dancehall generation with most consistency for Mr
Dodd. Here he rides the studio re-cut of trumpeter Jo Jo Bennett's
Rocksteady "The Lecture". Latterly Jim brown has changed his name to Jim
Nastic and will soon have his first album released by Studio One.
7. Jah Buzz "Love In The Arena"
Little is known about Jah Buzz - he cut three sides for the
label in the late 1970s. This one utilises an updated version - added
percussion and bass drum - of a Soul Vendors' classic called "Whipping
The Prince" from 1968. That instrumental was an attack straight to the
head of Prince Buster, and was based on an instrumental called "The
Funky Doctor" by session drummer Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie. Roland
Alphonso is heard on tenor sax.
8. Prince Francis "Street Doctor"
"Sidewalk Doctor" was the title given to the Studio One take on
Marlena Shaw's soul original "Woman Of The Ghetto"; Phyllis Dillon did
the first Jamaican cover of Shaw's epic song. Prince Francis gives it
his best shot riding the rhythm with tenacity and élan. Prince Francis
only made a handful of records before fading from the scene, but this is
one of his best, almost reaching the height of "Rockfort Rock" above.
The rhythm was again adapted in 1974 by Clive Chin at Randy's for his
version, "Guns In The Ghetto". This cut features Ernie Ranglin in the
background on fuzz guitar.
9. Lone Ranger "The Answer"
Lone Ranger was definitely one who greatly shaped the style
followed by many deejays in the 1980s, along with men like the late
General Echo and Ranking Joe. Coxsone issued this track because re-cuts
of his original rhythm track for Slim Smith's "Never Let Go" had been
mashing up the dancehall in 1977-1979; Ranking Trevor cut a hit version
for Channel One, and producer Don Mais made perhaps the definitive
re-cut with Soul Syndicate for his Roots Tradition label with vocalist
Philip Fraser. That version propelled many more cuts, notably Brigadier
Jerry's biggest hit "Pain", but here Lone Ranger gives a definitive
"Answer" from the foundation studio, flashing witty lyrics, some nice
trills and even a phrase or two from U-Roy - "Runaway child, you better
stop your runnin' wild". Ranger cut two albums for Studio One before he
went on to bigger things with producers Leon Synmoie, Winston Riley and
others, with hits like "Barnabas Collins". His biggest hit for Studio
One was on another Slim Smith rhythm ("Rougher Yeat") the classic
'love-bite' saga "Love Bump".
10. Prince Jazzbo "Crime Don't Pay"
The great Jazzbo, another Clarendon-born deejay and producer,
resident of Spanish town, first made his mark in the dancehall as the
1960s turned into the 1970s. Deejaying for a 'lickle three-box sound'
called the Whip in the former capital, he clashed with and vanquished
the then dominant systems operated by Rudolph Redwood (Ruddy's Supreme
Ruler of Sound) and Seymour Williams (Stereo) and in the deejay's own
words, 'ran dem outa town'. Shortly after that, as he told this writer
in 1994, "Sir Coxsone discover I as a great deejay". Jazzbo began
recording at Brentford Road, cutting some of his best-ever tunes in the
process, often with a 'serious' content: pro-literacy as on "School", or
as on this track, wherein Jazzbo inveighs against the gun and the bomb
then beginning to appear in the ghettos of Kingston with what was to
become deadly regularity. Unaccountably, Jazzbo had to wait 20 years
before his LP for Studio One was released, but "Choice Of colours" was
definitely worth it. (Still more Jazzbo sides await re-issue from the
label). The rhythm here is, unusually, a Coxsone re-cut - Keith hudson's
"True True (To My Heart)", better known in its hit incarnation as the
rhythm for Big Youth's epochal "S.90 Skank".
11. Brigadier Jerry "Every Man A Me Brethren"
With legendary status in the dancehall as a cultural deejay par
excellence for the Jah Love sound, the Brigadier remains under-recorded,
especially when compared to his contemporaries like the similarly
committed Charlie Chaplin. He recorded this - lyrically a roll call of
his peers in the eighties dancehall, with namechecks for Chaplin, Josey
Wales, Lord Sassafrass, Nicodemus and Ranking Joe among others - in New
York, along with a couple of other titles for Mr Dodd. This is perhaps
the best of the bunch, a cut of the immortal "Love Me Forever"
originally sung by Carlton & The Shoes. This cut has clappers drum
overdubs and features in the background the late Roland Alphonso on
12. Big Joe "Version Of Rights"
Big Joe enjoyed success between 1973-1976 with titles for Harry
Mudie, Lloyd Daley, Leonard 'Santic' Chin, Ivanhoe, 'Lloydie Slim'
Smith, Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs and Winston Edwards; he also released sides
on the Shelter Rock label, a joint venture with Jah Pops. From
mid-decade he cut a few albums - for Bunny Lee and Linval Thompson -
before disappearing from view. The records he left behind show an
assured performer, fully capable of enhancing any rhythm he rode,
particularly when of the quality here, a cut of The Abyssinians' roots
classic "Declaration Of Rights".
13. Lone Ranger "The Big Match"
Lone Ranger again, here revisiting "The Answer"/"Never Let Go"
for an entertaining football match commentary, in which a dread scores
the winner against the baldhead team. Ranger made something of a
speciality of these narrative records, always with plenty of good
humour, and set a pattern that many more would follow.
14. Jah Jesco "Warning"
Jah Jesco made two sides for Studio One; this one has never
been anthologised before and is a version of a rhythm known as "College
Rock" that also supplied the foundation for Leroy Smart's mid-seventies
hit for Channel One "Ballistic Affair". The unknown Jah Jesco shows
himself as a more than competent deejay - his other side for the label,
"West gone Black", is also worth hearing.
15. Prince Far I "Natty Farmyard"
Apart from a version of "Johnny Too Bad" ("Johnny Gets Worse")
cut for Syd Bucknor, Mr Dodd's brother-in-law, this brilliant,
echo-soaked toast is the only example of the gruff voiced Prince at
Studio One. Dealing with Rasta principle in matters dietary and mineral,
it uses studio stalwart Larry Marshall's beautiful "Mean Girl" rhythm.
16. Charlie Ace "Father And Dreadlocks"
Charlie Ace - apparently murdered in the mid-1980s in
Kingston's endless ghetto wars - was undoubtedly an innovative deejay of
the generation that followed U-Roy. He also sold records from his famous
van, converted to the mobile "Swingaling" record shack. He released some
brilliant records on his own label - also named "Swingaling" - but this
is his only known side for Studio One. It's a funny and eloquent
retelling of what must have been a frequent occurrence in middle-class
households in Kingston during the mid-seventies, as the youth sought to
climb on the 'Rasta bandwagon'. The still underrated Charlie Ace acts
out the scenario perfectly, riding a cut of another classic Larry
Marshall song, "Throw Me corn".
(Blood & Fire Records / Author of "The Rough Guide To Reggae")