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Studio One Kings (SJRCD 156 - 2007)

Larry Marshall - I've Got To Make It
Horace Andy - Every Tongue Shall Tell
Alton Ellis - The Well Run Dry
Johnny Osbourne - Water More Than Flour
Anthony Rocky Ellis - I'm The Ruler
Cornel Campbell - Pretty Looks Isn't All
Alexander Henry - Please Be True
Burning Spear - Them A Come
Joe Higgs - Change Of Plan
Devon Russell - Roots Natty
Ken Boothe - Be Yourself
Freddie McGregor - I Shall Be Released
Freddie McKay - Father Will Cut You Off
The Ethiopian - Locust
George Philip - One One
John Holt - I Don't Want To See You Cry
Delroy Wilson - Won't You Come Home
 
One Sunday morning in 1959 the already renowned Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin and bass-player Cluett 'Clue-J' Johnson, who had a similarly revered reputation, were requested in a surprisingly formal manner by Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd to meet him at the liquor store he ran in Love Lane in Kingston. "I need something to get away from this 'blues', " he told the two master musicians, bemoaning the manner in which Jamaican music was imitating contemporary American black music.

In the store's back yard the three men sat down and worked out the recipe for a new sound; they sought a formula for a music that was distinctively Jamaican whilst retaining its roots in the R&B and popular jazz that beamed down into Jamaica from radio stations in the southern American states.

Although Coxsone Dodd was not a musician himself, he had what Ernest Ranglin described as "an extraordinary pair of ears". He was also a wizard at contriving musical concepts. "He was really the man, the man who came up with the ideas. But he couldn't play, so he would come and explain it to us. After explaining it, I always knew what the man wanted."

Ska, the music that resulted from that Sunday morning session, was a shuffle boogie rhythm of the type popularised by artists like Louis Jordan and Erskine Hawkins; the unexpected emphasis on the offbeat only emphasised its addictive flavour. An apocryphal explanation of the galloping sound of ska was that this was a replication of the way music on those southern stations would fade in and out. Ranglin, however, had a simpler explanation. "We just wanted it to sound like the theme music from one of those westerns that were on TV all the time in the late 1950s." The term 'ska' was an abbreviation of 'skavoovee', a popular catchphrase of the time, a term of approval, for the use of which 'Clue-J' was famous. (Coxsone for his part addressed almost every man he encountered as 'Jackson', for which verbal eccentricity he was at least equally renowned.)

The first ska record that was released, after it had received tumultuous acclaim at dances, was 'Easy Snappin'' by Theophilus Beckford. It featured pianist Beckford on vocals, 'Clue-J' on bass, Ian Pearson on drums, Ken Richards in guitar and Roland Alphonso on tenor sax and trombonist Rico Rodriguez. The record was a big hit; its b-side was 'Silky', featuring Ernest Ranglin on his own composition.

'Easy Snappin'' was also the first tune Coxsone recorded at Federal Studio. When Federal bought a two-track studio, Coxsone bought their original one-track from them and installed it in the new premises he was taking over at 13 Brentford Road, to the north of Trench Town. It was here that he first developed the Studio One imprint, having previously used a number of different labels, including Downbeat, the name of his soundsystem. Three years later Federal graduated to an eight-track machine, and Coxsone purchased their two-track.

It was in the yard at the rear of Brentford Road premises, formerly the site of a club called The End, that Coxsone Dodd would hold his legendary Sunday auditions, at which sometimes over a hundred young performers would queue up, looking to 'mek a try'. After a young Bob Marley had successfully graduated to both Studio One recording artist and a position of A&R scout, Coxsone Dodd would turn new artists over to him to find songs for them; Bob Marley would then sit down with his guitar with artists like Delroy Wilson or Hortense Ellis, and rehearse the tune; Bob's Trench Town musical tutor Joe Higgs, a superb songwriter, also recorded both as a solo artist and as part of the Higgs and Wilson duo that had first hit in 1958 with 'Manny Oh': as fitted his Trench Town background, Joe Higgs was a 'reality' singer with Studio One in the mid-1960s - his 'I Am The Song' the greatest signifier of this. The man later known as the Tuff Gong was not the only Coxsone artist to supplement his recording income with another function at Brentford Road; both keyboards maestro Jackie Mittoo and Heptone's vocalist and in-house bass-player Leroy Sibbles had similar roles: later in the decade the outstanding vocalist Larry Marshall also worked as an engineer at Studio One.

Delroy Wilson, later known by the sobriquet of The Cool Operator, was an original rude boy, and had in fact pre-dated Bob Marley as a Coxsone recording artist. One of the archetypes of the extremely youthful performers who peppered Jamaican music, although not as young as the 10-year old Dennis Brown later in the decade, Delroy Wilson had begun recording with Coxsone Dodd in 1962; the man still known for his Downbeat sound system was then using the rental recording facilities at the JBC Radio studios. Along with the Maytals, the good-looking Delroy Wilson brought Coxsone his very first hits, whose original intention was as weapons in the 'sound war' against rival sound system operators Duke Reid, King Edwards and - especially - Prince Buster, his former gateman and arch-enemy.

As the years went by 13 Brentford Road attracted most of the supreme vocalists in Jamaica, almost all of them at first owing considerable debt to US soul singers. It was the relatively brief period of rocksteady; from the end of the summer of 1966 until approximately twenty-four months later, that saw several of the most majestic of these artists come to the fore. Although only eighteen when he started out as a solo artist right at the beginning of the rocksteady era, the heartfelt Ken Boothe had many huge hits for Coxsone during this time with tunes like 'The Train Is Coming' and 'Feel Good'.

Meanwhile, John Holt, one of the most immortal of JA singers, with a beautiful voice, jumped back and forth between Studio One and Treasure Isle. With his group The Paragons, he was in rocksteady mode, but he soon started to make early reggae recordings. He had huge hits with 'Stranger In Love' and his cover of the Temptations' 'A Love I Can Feel'.

Another singer. a true king of Jamaican music, who also slipped between Coxsone and Duke Reid, is Alton Ellis, one of the island's greatest ever vocalists, a gorgeous crooner. At first taking an anti-rude boy stance with Duke Reid, his rocksteady songs with Coxsone Dodd were of a broader less specific appeal, represented at best on his 'Alton Ellis Sings Rock & Soul' classic album.

Freddie McKay also slipped between both studios, making beautiful hits for both label bosses. Meanwhile, both Johnny Osbourne and Freddie McGregor, a pair of the island's most enduring singers, had complex relationships with 13 Brentford Road. In 1969 Osbourne cut the great 'All I Have Is Love', but didn't record for Coxsone Dodd for another ten years, having moved to Canada. Returning to the fold he turned out a trio of classic singles as well as his 'Truth And Rights' album; as Sugar Minott had done the previous year, Johnny Osbourne mined the wealth of old Studio One rhythms for his material. Freddie McGregor had recorded with the label's mid-sixties stalwarts The Clarendonians when he was so young he needed to mount a box to reach the microphone. As a solo act at Studio One, however, he had to wait until the next decade.

For his part, Cornell Campbell had been a member of The Sensations, at the point when the sound shifted from ska to rocksteady: Frankie Lyman's 'Juvenile Delinquent' was the first song they recorded, a dancehall hit. But then he joined The Uniques and The Eternals. His solo tune 'Pretty Looks Isn't All', which highlights the singer's chilling falsetto, is simply a masterpiece.

On a roots level none could compare with the almost wilfully un-commercial sound of the magnificent Burning Spear, the original man from the hills. that his music and majestic presence ultimately should have permitted him to become the elder statesman of Jamaican music is an overwhelming testament to a man who stayed true to his art.

But he was not the only one. As though reaching back to the cultural reality tunes of Joe Higgs, Horace 'Sleepy' Andy's beautiful alto tones consistently proved his 'Skylarking' tune was simply the beginning. A true man of the people, Sleepy would gain wider recognition through his work with Massive Attack, but always remained true to his Jamaican roots. Embracing Rastafari, as he did, was almost a way of staying alive for him. Born in 1951 into a world of grinding poverty, Horace Andy became a teenager during the era of the Rude Boys, living out their actions to the soundtrack of the ska music that Ernest Ranglin, Clue-J and Mr Dodd came up with that Sunday morning in 1959. Most of his Rude Boy contemporaries ended up dead, many of them having graduated to become political gunmen during the undeclared civil war of the 1970s. "It was music that saved me from being a bad boy," said this man who would often be obliged to sleep rough because his mother so disapproved of his musical activities. Music saved Horace Andy, giving him a life his mother could hardly have predicted. And he certainly was not the only one.

 
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