Studio One is, without doubt, the most important
record label in the history of Jamaican music. It is in many ways the
foundation label of Reggae.
Studio One has led the way throughout the
evolution of Reggae music in Jamaica. From the very first Ska records
through Rocksteady, Roots, DJ, Dub - Studio One has produced music of
the highest quality throughout its reign. Even today, where the actual
output of new material is minimal, Studio One rhythms are as popular as
they were thirty years ago as singers and producers in Jamaica re-use
and re-record them for new songs on an almost daily basis.
Synonymous with Studio One is Clement "Sir Coxsone"
Dodd, owner and producer of Studio One Records. Here are some of the
artists who started their careers, or recorded, at Studio One: Horace
Andy, Bob Andy, Roland Alphonso, Freddie McGregor, Burning Spear, Jackie
Mittoo, Don Drummond, Marcia Griffiths, Bob Marley And The Wailers, Lee
Perry, prince Jazzbo, The Skatalites, Dawn Penn, Lennie Hibbert,
Dillinger, Ken Boothe, Cedric Brooks, Dennis Brown, Pablove Black, Dobby
Dobson, The Cables, Carlton And His Shoes, Alton Ellis, Hortense Ellis,
The Gaylads, The Gladiators, The Heptones, John Holt, King Stitt, Joe
Higgs, The Lone Ranger, The Maytals, Larry Marshall, Freddie McKay,
Sugar Minott, Michigan & Smiley, Jackie Opal, Johnny Osbourne, Roy
Richards, Slim Smith, Sugar Belly, The Soul Vendors, The Soul Brothers,
The Termites, Wailing Souls, Count Ossie, Willie Williams...
Clement Seymour Dodd began his musical career playing
records in his mother's restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica, shortly
progressing to running the famous Downbeat Soundsystem, and later,
record shops, a recording studio, a pressing plant, and, of course, the
historic Studio One record label. Mr Dodd developed a love of American
R&B from travelling to the US regularly, initially as a farm worker
bringing back exclusive R&B 45's for his soundsystem, and later,
bringing them back to sell in his shops. Soon after this he began to
encourage Jamaican musicians to record their re-interpretation of
American R&B, in a style influenced by the soundsystems and dancehalls
of Kingston. This sound developed into the music style now known as
'Ska'. Ska can be considered as the beginning of Reggae, the musical
voice of Jamaica.
He now divides his time between New York and Jamaica,
where he continues to run the label and his shops. The following
interview was recorded in New York (Winter 2000) where Mr Dodd talks
about the first part of his career.
Were you a musician? Did
you play an instrument?
No, only percussion, just percussion.
What inspired you to become involved with the
Well, actually I started a love of the music business when I
attended several orchestra dances and things like that. And my Mother
had a restaurant so I bought me a Morphy Richards radio and an extension
speaker and started playing records there. And, at that time I was
purchasing a lot of Louis Jordan records and Billy Eckstine, because
that's the music we were playing.
Were you able to buy American records in
Jamaica, and how did that music go down in your Mother's restaurant?
Yeah, in Jamaica. Because of the music we were playing we got a
lot of customers.
Could you hear the American radio stations
Yeah yeah yeah, because I was tuned into Nashville Tennessee,
you know, where Randy had their programme at that time - that was the
big retailers in Tennessee. And then you had like, Voice of America, we
used to tune to listen to, like bee-bop, like Billy Eckstine, stuff like
that was playing.
Did you prefer Jazz or R'n'B?
No I started off Jazz. Jazz was my thing you know, but Rhythm
and Blues came in when you had a lot of farm workers going to and from
America and coming back with these records, so you heard them and got to
love them. So who knows, that may be one of the reasons why I got me a
ticket to travel to Miami. Then while in Miami you turned on the radio
station and all you was hearing was "Blue Cherry" and whatever it is...
Where did you find out about R'n'B?
Well I went to the US farm-working on the fruit and vegetable
section, and there I was exposed to a lot of Rhythm and Blues, so I
actually bought me a Bogan amplifier and speakers, and sent them home.
What part of America did you go to?
That was Liesburg, Florida, picking oranges and stuff like
that, you know. So... but all this time, while in Jamaica I'm always
close to the music, playing it, so my Mother had an idea what it was
like. So when I sent down the amplifier and speakers she got the box
built because I sent her a drawing of how I wanted it to be done. And
actually the first session it was my Mother who operated the
soundsystem. So I'd say that's the first female disc-jockey in Jamaica!
Did you go to dances in America?
Yeah yeah yeah we went dancing, because Jamaicans are happy
people, you know. Jamaicans, they love fun, you know.
Was it because you had the soundsystem that you wanted to
produce some recordings using local musicians?
What really gave me the idea that we needed to produce some
local recording, at about 1960 the Rhythm and Blues dried up and in came
the Rock and Roll, but Rock and Roll wasn't so popular in Jamaica. It
never went over. So I figured, more or less, that we'd have to get in
the studio and get with that heavy dance beat, you know. So that's how
we really thought of doing it.
Did you hire a studio when you did your first recordings?
Yes, I did my first recording session at Federal Records, run
by Khouri, they were on Foreshore Road, so we used them a lot.
What was your first recording session and how did it come
Well my first recording session was with Roland Alphonso, Clue
J, Johnny Moore and a few others I don't remember offhand.
And did you ask them or did they come to you?
No, I went to them because this was something new, you know.
Even the idea of going into the studio knocked them out, because they
hadn't ever thought of anything like that you know.
Were you asking them to record this music to play on your
soundsystem, or was it to sell the records?
Yeah, for the soundsystem. So our first session we did a little
Calypso, Tango and tried a little Rhythm and Blues. And it came back,
and at that time we took it from the dub to the demo - reference disc -
which they actually called Dub-plate., but in those days it's known as
reference disc, and when we played it back at the session everybody went
wild! So the we realised this could be a thing, you know.
Was your soundsystem only playing in your Mother's
No, this was after I had the soundsystem on the road, now
playing all over Jamaica. And the people enjoyed it so much that we
realised that we could have a couple more sessions.
When you made your first recordings, did you think you were
making Jamaican music?
Well yes, we aimed at, like, the crowd I'm used to. After being
there a couple of years playing, ... and we saw the music that they go
for and we started to aim in that direction. But after a couple of
releases, and we saw how it went, and we realise we're aiming for the
world. Get lyrics, trying to please, that's it after we see how the
first set of records went over. When we actually started I didn't dream
it could be a business. I thought it would just be suitable for my
dances and whatever it is.
When or how did Ska first come about?
Well after maybe a year or two of experimenting and trying to
come up with a beat of our own we came up with Ska. With that pounding
rhythm and that guitar riff on the off-beat. We realise it was so
strong, so we set off and we decided we make that our national songs and
you know it went on for a good while, let's say from about '61 to about
'66, or around that time. Then we did a little experimenting again and
slowed down on the rhythm and getting things on the rock side, and came
up with that, what it was, Ska Rocksteady we came up with. And up to now
I think the Rocksteady period was really a very good period in the music
history, Rocksteady. So now there's quite a few what's ruling the
dancehall are copy of the Rocksteady, say '66, '68, ...
When did you first have your studio?
First had my studio in '61.
Was that before Studio One the label?
Yes, that's before Studio One.
By the time you started releasing music on Studio One, did
you know that you were making a business out of music?
Well yes, because after like say about '58/'59 I was going into
the studio so regular that I realise, that I figured more or less, if I
had my own studio I could spend more time on perfection. So that's
really where I got into having my own studio.
So in the 1960s how many people were involved in Studio One?
Well, say weekly - we had ten to twelve musicians employed
weekly, say Monday to Friday working from 10 to 5.
And how many other employees did you have?
That would be say twelve persons in the factory because we
press our own records and we had another twelve persons inside working.
We had three retail outlets, right, all in Kingston and that would be
another six person there, and in the office we may have about four or
five. And three sales rep. For roughly we have employ about fifty
persons. It's just that looking back it look like that much but at the
time ... it look like that, you understand.
Was your Mother still working in her restaurant at this time?
Well no, she was in charge of the factory. She ran the pressing
plant and she also cooked for the workers and stuff like that.
Did you only press and record Studio One records?
No, I press a lot of outside records like Bunny Lee, the
Upsetters, I even press for Duke Reid at the time - a producer like Duke
Reid he use it before he had his studio, you know - and then Harry J he
use it a lot ... Mudie...
Which were the first records you produced which were sold?
Well, we release a song by the name of "My Baby", Jacky
Eckstick, an instrumental, because instrumental was big in those days.
Instrumental by the name of "Shuffling Jug", and one of the early
records was "Easy Snapping" by Theo Beckford. And that was pressed up
Was one of them a hit? Were they played on the radio?
Well, no the people who attended the dance was more than happy
to buy the records that they were dancing to, because we were playing
for two to three years before we started releasing our first music, you
understand. And people now started to send the records that we released
abroad, and they'd get a lot of feedback, you understand, and it took
off from there, England and the United States. And actually why it take
off so heavily in England is because a lot of Jamaicans migrated to
England, like say early '50s and '60s, so they were buying the records
and they were partying out. Then come the mixed marriage, so white and
blacks got together and it just took off.
Did people live at your studio?
Well the only people actually living at Brentford Road was the
Wailers, Marley, Livingstone and Peter Tosh. Actually, I did it for
Marley, because when I signed Marley, his guardian, she co-signed, and
explained to me that where she was living, wasn't really quite suitable
for him to stay, you know. So I set up a room at the back. actually,
when we bought the place, it was a place that someone was living in, so
actually at the back we had about three rooms, so I furnished the room
and set up Bob and then I realise I give him a guitar to help him
practice on and stuff like that. So Peter Tosh and Bunny, they wouldn't
go home in the evening ... they would stay there with him! (Laughs). So
I cleaned up two more rooms, put in beds and stuff like that you know!
Would Jackie Mittoo come in and work there everyday?
Yeah he come in Monday to Friday.
Did all the musicians, like Jackie Mittoo, go home each
Yeah, they go home in the evening.
Was Jackie Mittoo a good musician from the beginning?
Yes, he was very good, but I got him on to becoming a thorough
musician. To help him along the way, I got him to Ernest Ranglin, Clue
J, who plays bass...
Were they better musicians than he was?
Yeah yeah they were thorough musicians, Jackie both learn and
earn by me, but he have the rhythm... inside of him, and I be so close
to the music, playing the music, I had stuff of my own, little lines and
stuff like that and getting it together, but Jackie really turn out to
be a musical giant as time go by.
Many Jamaican musicians trained at the Alpha School, Did
people like Ernest Ranglin and clue J go to the Alpha school?
(The Alpha School, in Kingston, run by Roman Catholic nuns, was, and
still is, a school for wayward or runaway children. It is famous for its
excellent music tuition which has led to it producing many of Jamaica's
finest musicians - for instance, Tommy McCook, Dizzy Moore, Harold
McNair, Lester Sterling, Rico Rodriguez.)
No, Clue J I think, yes, he went to Alpha.
Was Alpha the best school for musicians?
Alpha, yes, well Alpha was a place for unruly kids who gave
their parents problem and the parents had the option to take them there
and while they were there Alpha would learn them a trade, a compulsory
trade, so music at Alpha was the main thing.
So was Alpha the best school?
Yes, 'cause other than that it was just little private schools
which maybe would only tutor you on the piano, but at Alpha it was a
wide section from horns, you know, wind instruments, going right down to
drums, or whatever it is.
Who were the teachers at Alpha?
Well you had some early teachers like Lenny Hibbert and a few
that I can't remember right now.
Was Don Drummond a teacher there, or a student?
A student, student. But he himself was really a monster on the
trombone, I never see anything like it, a unique sound and, you know, he
got out of the instrument what others couldn't get, you know. He was
really a genius, well gifted.
Did you know Eric dean's band? (Jamaica's most
popular Big Band Orchestra)
Oh well yes, the Eric Dean Band. Well, that band, and the
bandmaster, was very helpful after like, coming out of the school,
because he'd be producing the different music that he needs and then
actually he'd sort out the kind of tone. Because coming out of the
school, maybe you'd play a certain way ... but he'd be able to tell you,
like, how to play. But Eric Dean was an early band that they put in a
lot, they helped some of the musicians also.
Who else taught those early musicians to play?
Well, the military always play a good part down there. the
military band always teach a lot of the guys. away from individual
musicians who would help another guy, and so forth. But the main source
was really Alpha, and next place, Tony Hill. Roland Alphonso didn't go
to Alpha, he went Tony Hill.
And would you go to Alpha or Tony Hill to find musicians?
Well now, by the time I got in the business, and going to the
different orchestra dances, I spot the people who I think I needed to
Was there always a live band at the orchestra dances?
Yes, at the different places you know like the Beaumont Club,
where you'd have seen quite a few different bands.
Were the Skatalites formed before you met them?
No, the Skatalites were formed in my studio.
Were they recording for other people but not under the name
Not recording under the name, yeah, but the full band wasn't
recording under Treasure Isle because I knew Jackie Mittoo never play
for Duke Reid you understand.
Did anyone else record the Skatalites?
Yeah, I think his nap was Yapp, yeah, Justin Yapp, yeah but he
recorded by me and he use the Skatalites as the band, you understand.
So the musicians in the Skatalites recorded for other people
under different names, but they only recorded under the name
"Skatalites" for you.
Actually as a point of correction, up until about '80 I was the
only person using the name Skatalites, yeah, recording. Because Duke
Reid, he maybe mention Baba Brooks or like Tommy McCook or whatever it
is, but because the idea was in my studio, the band was formed there
also ... at Brentford road. And like, even the music was started there,
and all those stuff ... and even the amplifier I donated to the band, so
they could really go on the road. But it's just really after the '80s
everything get so mixed up, everybody say, like, Skatalites, Skatalites
[When re-issues of other producers began to say "The Skatalites" on
the sleeve]. But I actually, I was the first person.
Did the bands you recorded perform live?
Yeah I was the first person to get the Skatalites to perform
Were they performing live to promote the records?
No, they were performing live as a means of, like, a living.
Then what helped them to, we ... actually, brought them into the
dancehall, where the soundsystem was playing and bring them on, like
say, midnight and let them play for an hour or two and there's other
people playing the records.
Did people dance to them?
Yeah man, because they were all worked up and they always loved
it on the disc.
Was that exciting?
How many records did you press each month or week?
Like you would ask, how many records I made? I made roughly
twenty songs a week.
Recorded or released?
Recorded, recorded right. Because we sold a lot. From day to
day from ten to five we might do about four songs or five songs, we have
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - five fours would be
Would that be recording the singing as well as the backing
No no that would be like the backing track. What we do now - in
the evening at times, the artist who work, they may ask for lunch time,
or they ask for early one hour, so that way they come in in the evening
and put the voice on. And we have Saturday and Sunday that we also do
the voices. Musically setting up the rhythm during the week, and in the
evenings and on the weekend doing the vocals, because why we did it like
that, them artist would sing the song five/ten different times until we
got the one that we figure is the best.
But the musicians didn't need that?
No! The musicians, we just get them inside there and within
three/four takes we figure this is good take, right? But in the early
days before multi-track everybody had to be singing and playing
together. And sometimes the musicians they get well miserable after four
or five takes and the artist can't get it right so the producer would
say, "Oh it's such a nice tune it looks like we have to make an
instrumental of this if you can't sing it!" (Laughs). So the artist
would tighten up his style and try and sing because two more tries, if
he doesn't sing it, he's going to make it into instrumental! (Laughs).
So he focus hard on trying to make it! So it was real fun. But those are
the days when it's mono, it's monotrack, so everything had to be right
while going, because if you make a mistake you have to stop and start
from the top again. so you can imagine when the musicians are starting
and stopping and it's not their fault it's the artist's fault, this is
how they got miserable at times. so then now, when multi-track came in,
now that's when we were able now to lay the backing track, spend time to
get it well tight! Then you come in the evening, or another time, and
then nobody rushing you to sing something to get it right ... sometime
ten different takes before you get a good take. And you say "That's it"
and move on to something else.
Were you in the studio most of the time?
Yes, I spend a lot of time in the studio. But if I had to go
out, before I go out I gave a sense of direction about what I needed and
Jackie knew me alright, so that was that.
Jackie Mittoo understood what you wanted?
What I wanted, yes. And sometimes we rehearse in the evening
Did you rehearse in a different room to where you recorded?
Yeah we have a different room and then we set up the work for
the next day, you understand.
So if a singer came in in the evening, would you do just one
No. What we did, we had auditions on Sundays.
Yes, every Sunday.
So you never had a day off?
(Laughs). No but we enjoy it, as a matter of fact we didn't
want to go to sleep! because in the nights we all over town. So on
Sundays we get a list of people we select. So then we say "You come back
on Monday evening, you come Tuesday evening, you come whatever time".
And then we would do their recording thing and ... we're getting away
from the mono days, the mono days were more difficult and we weren't
recording that much... but when it came to the time I had the studio of
my own, we had the different artists from Monday to Friday. Well there
were times during the week that an artist comes in from the country and
you find time to listen to him and whatever it is, and sometimes you so
happy to hear him that you figure "Boy! take him in the studio right
away!" You understand? (Laughs). So that was the main thing.
So were they always singing over a rhythm that had already
No no no, at this time all rhythm was made for the artists, the
only thing was that you did the rhythm first and sign the tape with the
name and whatever it is, and the singer came in in the evening, or
Saturday, or Sunday. Because we have some other people residing in the
outskirts, they recorded here Monday, but they wouldn't be able to come
back until maybe Saturday or Sunday, so they come back on Sunday. But
the boys who reside in Kingston, most of them come back in the evenings.
After the recording session is over, you'd term it as "voicing session"
is on now, playing back the rhythm and singing to the rhythm.
So when were the words written? At the vocal recording
No, the words would have to be written before we do the
recording you know.
Would the artist bring the melody with them?
Yes the artist... You listen to it and say "Come in on
Tuesday". Then get the band to lay down the backing track before. Yes,
get the band now to, while he's singing here, now, the band is
rehearsing and practising and do that now a couple of times, 'til when
they figure they get it together. 'Cause how we did the recording: when
the artist comes in, sings his song, then, after a couple of times
listening to the melody, we work up an introduction, you know? So now we
arrange an introduction, plus a solo just in the middle part - usually
where the artist stops singing - you have a horn or guitar play a little
solo, and then the artist comes in.
So though the singing is recorded after the backing track has
been laid down, the artist and the band have met the day before?
Yeah yeah that's right, to fit the song. And the artist being
here he can have a good memory of whatever it is, you know? So when he
comes in he hears it, he knows when to come in.
Was it mainly solo singers, or trios?
No it was either, whether solo or a group, you know? Yeah.
Did people specifically come on Sundays to Studio One Records
for the auditions?
Yes, at Brentford Road, yeah Brentford Road, because after
operating for a while everybody knew that on Sundays they could come as
a matter of fact. And Sundays even before I get to the studio the road
is blocked! Yeah man. (Laughs). Everybody outside.
How many people would come to an average Sunday audition?
It be like two/three hundred! Yeah yeah, just like that -
because some not even artists you know, but some interested just come to
hang about, hang around you know, so we open the gate and let them.
So what happened with all these people hanging about, how did
you get any work done?
Well that day we got through because, what it was like, we had
at the front, a portion of Brentford Road here, and then we have a fence
there (he describes with his hands). The studio is here, so we go
through the gate, the fence here, no-one could get to where we are, we
take them per artist or per group, one by one, take them round to the
back and then sit them down, you know.
What if somebody was no good?
Yes yes well! "Come back next year" You know! (Laughs). Yeah
that's right. We got through it fast, because we had an idea from when
the guy open his mouth, we know whether he can do whatever it is. There
were guys who come who haven't got a good song, but he has a good voice.
So could you get him a song from somebody else?
Yes, yes, we had people working for us who just write you know.
Their job by me, and they got paid, they used to write songs. You
Who were the most famous people who you discovered through
Everyone had to come through that, you know, from Bob Marley
come right down, everybody had to go through that process.
So when Bob Marley played he was one of hundreds of people?
No he wasn't really one of hundreds of people, because a friend
told me of these guys and I heard of them through Joe Higgs. Because Joe
Higgs was one of my regular artists and he had always been telling me
about this group that he's rehearsing.
Because he was teaching them to sing wasn't he?
That's right. So this friend of mine, Seecup Patterson brought
them. When they came I loved that youthful sound that they had, you
know. That's a good sound, wasn't so heavy on the lyrics, they did some
spirituals and stuff like that, and in the meantime, we arrange writing
for them like "It Hurts To Be Alone". And that was one of the first.
When they came did they start to live with you straight away?
No, no, no, no. That was after I realised this was a good group
and I decide to sign them up.
You thought they'd so much in them you wanted to keep them
Yes, so when it came to signing them, then they, the guardian,
came and she co-sign and she explain to me that living by her wasn't
quite right and if I could help them out that way. I was just certain
because I felt the vibes that this guy was a good guy, a good vocalist,
so then we set up the room at the back of the studio.
When did Lee Perry become involved? What did he start doing?
Well now, Lee Perry was like a handyman around me. Lee Perry
was visiting Treasure Isle place before he came by me. As a matter of
fact, how he came by me now is, there was a incident going between him
and Duke or what ever it is, I heard it and I tell him, "if that is the
case, try somebody else, if you're not getting justice there". So he
came by me and... He was more like a handyman, when I have to do certain
errands, he'd go. But we drove up together and went all around, so this
is how he got into the idea of recording, because he was at the Studio
with me from time to time.
Why did you approach him in the first place?
Well this vibe I got about him. Is first between him and
Treasure Isle, there was a song that he was saying it was his song, and
Reid gave it to somebody else. you understand.
But did you feel he was a creative person?
Well yes. As far as ideas of writing songs, you know and we got
together and we co-wrote together, and he didn't have any great voice
but I gave him a chance and he recorded with me a lot, but he was more
like handy you know, to send out to do this, to do that. He was like a
little right-hand man you know! I don't know if you now that term?
Was he a lot younger than you?
At that time he was quite young, I think Perry might be about
six years younger than me, but he was from the country again, the
And was it the same situation when you met Prince Buster at
Well, yes, because Prince Buster, earlier, he came by me and
his mother asked me to take care of him, you know. He was like the gate
man, when we had a session he would stay at the gate.
He was a boxer wasn't he?
Yes! (Laughs). That's the fun part of it, he was never a great
boxer, it was a gimmick because he had a bout at the stadium, and he had
paid the guy to lose, so the guy be like was showing and punch Prince
and Prince get close to him, so Prince had him and Prince punch him on
his back and he lie down, not even a good knock! You know! They held the
purse for a few weeks, 'cause they couldn't see how the guy got knocked
But he was a successful musician wasn't he?
Did you think he was going to be that successful?
Yes yes yes.
Were you rivals?
Well, yes, but we get on together, because everybody know he
was coming out of my camp, that he was my student as well. yeah yeah.
that's when I told you he used to keep gate for me.
Were you rivals with Duke Reid?
Well, he was a good friend of mine, but he was more my senior.
Was it true that he used to send people to mess up the dance?
Yes he did that, but it wasn't all that, because it was before
the gun come into play, so it would be like throwing stones at our back
and stuff like that you know.
Sort of being naughty rather than being dangerous?
Yeah that's right, even the rude now. We call 'rude' naughty.
Instead of dangerous. I like that tern yeah! (Laughs). Because we made
the first set of rude boy songs you know. With Wailers.
Was that the beginning of Rocksteady?
Yeah that's right.
So is that what rude boys are, people with a bit of attitude?
And rude and things like that...
With a lot of people with a lot of attitude, how come running
a business didn't end up in chaos quite often?
Well you see, the respect is there for you.
So you could walk in and everyone would respect you straight
Yeah, that's right you know. And well, what can we say... In
the early days you know there was a lot of love. You know the rude part
came in long after, and as a matter of fact that's when I quit the
Did you stop the soundsystem in the late '60s?
Yeah the late '60s and that rude attitude and carry-on you
know. Well, in my own way I was a disciplinarian you know. I felt you
got to be straightforward and you don't do anything wrong. I'm a
God-fearing person, that sort of thing. Manage ok because it was before
the gun thing and all that. So when I stopped the soundsystem thing,
there was so much other person who wanted to work with me that they
would go and play my record and promote my recording anyway.
So you didn't need to be there?
I didn't need to be there. Somehow somehow, but then the
freedom was there for me to really concentrate with the business side
even more. Because work with the soundsystem, I had to be there
different hours of the night and out there with them. But now I could
spend more time in the studio, get more sleep, you understand? 'Cause at
one time I was a wandering man! Didn't go to bed, just went on going to
the different dances and having fun.
Were the dances at the weekend or everyday?
Well almost everyday. Because Monday nights we call that
Matinee Dance, and we have Wednesday nights Matinee Dance. They would
start about say 8 o'clock, and end say about 2 o'clock, but there come a
time when nobody want to go home, so you just go with it, you
understand! And there was no strict rules, you know in England things
got to be closed by a certain time, you understand, but out there things
just go right on! You understand. Then we usually serenade on Tuesdays
and Thursdays. When I say serenade, it's going somewhere, play free and
announce the dances coming up: "Saturday we be playing such and such,
spend a couple of bucks, see the guys, buy them a beer," you know.
Would that be for an hour or all night?
No, that generally go on 'til 11, 12 o'clock.
Did you ever have a radio show?
Yes, after a while we have a radio show to promote the records.
Yeah. We had the Sounds of Young Jamaica. And Winston Williams used to
do the ... and Jackie take care of that.
How many records were released each week?
Well I'd say, released about 4 or 5 per week.
45s Uh huh.
How many would you press initially?
We'd press like five hundred.
Would the original pressing have a label and packaging?
White labels first. That's how you'd find out if you were going
to press any more. Well, that's right. Then people come in buying it
right, because by this time you got a lot of soundsystem all over
Jamaica. In the early days it was like maybe 6 or 10 soundsystem total
in the whole island, but by about mid '60s man you had soundsystem all
over. This is when I realised I didn't have to go out playing the
records, because the soundsystem was a means of promoting the record
If you had a big hit how many would you press?
Actually after that first 500, you realise how big the thing is
and it depend on how fast that goes, then if you go to the jukebox place
they might have had 2000 or whatever it is.
Just for Jamaica's jukeboxes?
Yeah man Jamaica, yeah man! There were jukeboxes all over, and
that was the thing that helped promote the record also, you understand.
How many copies would a good record sell?
In them days 4000 was a good seller.
Which record do you remember as the fastest selling?
Well I'd say like "Cry Me A River", "One Love", "Simmer Down".
How much did you sell a good record for?
7 and 6.
And how much was it wholesale?
We used to sell it for 4 shilling and sixpence.
Did you have the same currency as England?
At that time, yeah, because after Independence, it changed to
the dollar, the Jamaican dollar. About '69.
So it wasn't much money?
No, no, it wasn't much money, what really usually help was if
you had a good record and you was selling it on pre-release, you'd be
able to sell the pre-release for say 15 shillings. Yeah. So you'd make a
killing. If it was that strong you could cash in on say 2000 15
shillings, and after that now it goes to 7 and 6.
So was it to your advantage to keep it on pre-release?
Yeah, but if it's not selling on pre-release you might see if
you lower the price and see if you can't get some action.
Was a pre-release always more expensive?
Yeah yeah pre-release was always more money, because some
records you go straight to release. some records didn't have that
quality for pre-release.
Was the pre-release for exclusivity?
Not only that but you find the sound-men, the club, would buy it to
play at their club, but the ordinary person would wait 'til it come on
If you sold 4000 in Jamaica how many would you sell in
In England now it was all different, because I have statement
from Island Record up to now. Just few record really sell up to 7000 for
But sometimes they would have a hit, wouldn't they?
Yeah yeah sometimes they have good hit, like Lee Harvey Oswald
and stuff like that you know.
So how many would that sell?
That was always 7000 always! No well actually you know what was
messy then, you had some of the producers here was selling this stuff
for little and nothing or whatever it is. They used to bring up a grip
load of music and just sell it for a round figure. Well these records
now, both whoever had the person who buy it over there, since they never
spend no great money on the purchase of the records, they put the money
into promotion and those were a lot of stuff went into the charts or
You started with Ska and Rocksteady and then Reggae. Were you
always trying to do something new?
Yes yes we always try, because out of a lot of people who were
producing in Jamaica, I think we were the most steadiest in the business
and I think we were the only person with a regular studio band playing
weekly. Because actually I still have at least 60% of my stuff
unreleased you understand. But actually I'm re-doing, the music was good
then, but I don't think much of the voices. So what we are doing now, is
writing new songs and putting them on these rhythms and then it's done
When you recorded Roots music, would it be fair to say that
Rastafarians wanted to record, and you were the only person who wanted
to record them?
Yes. Well, we, I am the person who brought out the Rastafarian.
Because what happen, in the early days you have people like Don
Drummond, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, used to go in the hills and
rehearse with the Rastafarian, which was like Count Ossie. Because this
was a means of, like, rehearsal and really ... with the drums.
Were they Rastafarians, Don Drummond...?
No no they just go where the drums is because then rehearsal
space wasn't so much available where you have guitars and, you know, so
you go in the hills and rehearse, you know, as with the boys, just
beating the drum, exercise, ideas. So after a while now, I brought ten
to like a dancehall, the Rastafarians who usually play the drums. This
was after we make a couple of tracks with them, like, "Another Moses"
and quite a few songs and after get them inside, at the dance, feature
them at midnight, and you have like guys beat the drums and long haired
Rastafarians and things like that, you know.
Were other producers scared of them?
Well they usually figured like they could be bad guys, but I
never see that though, you know. They had their different ideas and
philosophy and whatever it is, and God, and whatever it is.
Did they live in the countryside?
Yes on the hillside and whatever it is. But I didn't fear them,
and then it was a form of music. With me now I was fairly friendly and
had a wide experience of things, so after I brought them in everybody
start using them after. Because it was just drums and whatever it is, so
what you could put together with it so the average person could listen
to it... because they would just be chanting and you know whatever it
is, but you could really get a melody on top of that and whatever it is.
Did you notice a change in music from the '60s to the '70s?
Well in the '70s now you more certain that this is a business
you understand? And lucky for me I always approach it that way from
about '68, getting everybody on proper contract and whatever it is.
there's a question you asked me regarding "Were you trying to build
something like Motown?" Well when I started I didn't know of Motown. The
record companies that I knew of were Imperial in Hollywood. And then you
have Aladdin Records, you have King Records, Speciality Records,
Atlantic was a very good record company, and Modern Records.
So you were collecting the records, but did you know any of
the record company people?
Well, people I know personally was like King.
Was that Sid Nathan at King records?
Yeah I met Nathan, yeah. these are the companies now I really
pattern Studio One after in the early days, then... But I've always
loved Motown Recordings. Berry did a great job.
Have you ever met Berry Gordy?
No I never met him. But I did release Motown in Jamaica. Yeah I
am the person who got Motown very famous in Jamaica.
Did you distribute Motown or license it?
Yes I license, I press them down there, time I had my own
pressing company. Well it did well for a while but after a while Dynamic
Sounds came in and took it from me, Byron Lee.
Was that similar to the 1964 World Trade Fair?
(In 1964 Edward Seaga organised a group of Reggae musicians to go to the
US World Trade Fair to represent Jamaican music. Byron Lee was among the
musicians, while the Skatalites, at that time extremely popular, were
conspicuous by the absence.)
Yeah. He went, but it was all politics, because we were the person
who created the music who really had it going, you know, so he just came
on the bandwagon. Because up to now, Byron Lee can't play good Ska.
(Laughs). No honestly. Wishy washy that hard beat isn't there, isn't
So you had the shop, studio and label to juggle?
But, yes, but I had good help you know. Me and my wife, you
know, we been married a long while you know, 30 odd years.
Did your wife work in the business as well?
Yes, in the early days yes. because we work awhile before we
had the studio now, when we had the studio we had a retail outlet in
Orange Street a number of years and we had another outlet on Barrow
Street, no Bedford street, and this was a busy area, was in the market
area. And the bus used to park along there for the people who's going
out of town, the country people who comes in to sell whatever it is so
we can be there pumping music to the people before they get on the bus,
and they come buy the spiritual or whatever it is. And that was a good
situation, then we had another store along east Green street.
Did the people in the countryside all have record players?
Yes, they all have record players then, because I'm talking
like in the '60s they didn't have a great amount, but there was record
And you say it would often be spirituals that they'd be
Yes, they bought a lot of spirituals and stuff like that.
Was Reggae more for people in town?
Yeah yeah, the city people were more hep to that, you know. But
as time goes by it spread you know. To Montego Bay and the big cities...
You said you had three sales reps, did Studio One distribute
itself in Jamaica?
Well yes, one would go on the outskirts of town: like Montego
Bay and all sorts of places, at that time we'd send out the record on
consignment, you did rack jobbing, we had whole racks in cities all
around Jamaica, so we had one person doing that. Well let's say, by the
time the record business get going to me the shop was like... well at
about that time we had about six record stores around the city, in
Were you selling domestic material and imported releases?
Imported stuff, yeah. Imported stuff, that's right. Well you
see before then we really cut them off because in my store now I was
like a champion, bringing in the Rhythm and Blues, knew the records,
what was happening, what was going, and the latest records.
Were you importing the music from America for your shops?
Yeah yeah from America. As a matter of fact I did so well that
after a while I was releasing records for King Label, yeah, like Nina
Simone "My Baby Just Cares". And quite a few others I got the rights to.
How did you keep up with what was going on in America at that
Yeah, go back and forth and then in the early days. Now, when
we were buying records from America for Jamaica, these were old records.
These weren't current records that's happening at the moment, so most of
the time we had to go into places that had those old records. Going into
the basement, you take off your clothes, and put on something - you
going all through dust! And sometimes the record-seller turn oh so
happy! because he was getting ready to throw them out and those were the
records that were moving! It was really current Rhythm and Blues because
Rhythm and Blues really went down. And then came the Rock 'n' Roll, you
understand, but it never went strong in Jamaica: Rock 'n' Roll.
Where did you go to buy records in America?
I went to the New York area, you know, and Philly and Ohio -
Cleveland, Ohio, but mostly Philly, and all about here because New York
had a few record company, you know.
did you always go to buy records direct from warehouses?
Warehouses, right, the warehouses.
How many records did you bring back at a time?
Numerous records. And there were some warehouses were selling
records, but these records were like blind guys. But it was so cheap it
was worth the effort, so I was buying, like say, five and ten thousand
lot. But you see after you buy a couple of time, you were able really to
get to the owner and say "Send me anything of the following artists and
don't send me whatever it is", and he was happy to send it. And then
what trigger it off, whatever it is, sometime, out of ten thousand
records you got, you might get about four hundred that is good, but
you'll be able now to say, four or five, four hundred different record,
maybe two hundred each and whatever it is... because the ten thousand
lot cost you about 2 cents at that time, you know there is only the
freight to come in, and it came too by the ship, so it wasn't too much.
But it was what you could discover out of this ten thousand say it was
stuff like what you call "bush", but out of the ten there was stuff and
you could make back your money out of it. Because at that time you could
ask for good money for a good record. Because say the going price was at
the time 7 and 6, if you had a good record you could get three pounds
and three pounds was a lot of money! (Laughs)
Did you ever buy records from the Southern states of America?
No. Imported records from there, but sorry I wasn't able to go
down there because that is where the meat of the stuff was coming from,
New Orleans. New Orleans oh, but sure I got on to Randy's in Galleton,
he was able to get what we need from there you know, and while we really
stick to New York or Chicago, sometimes maybe you have a friend or a
relative in the area, you understand, to take care of business.
Are you proud of your role in music history?
Well, looking back at the music business I really have no
regret and I can safely say this, I am responsible about 80% of the
artist that have a career today coming out of the West Indies, because
if the person didn't even sing for me, they using my rhythm, do you
understand? So all the current artists you got out there, they because
of Studio One. They using studio One rhythm.
Do you think a lot of them know that?
Yeah they know that, they know that. and this why it keep the
label alive, because here come a artist with a big song, and it obvious
it coming from this Studio One rhythm way back, so even the youths who
didn't have that record would like to know and buy it. You know! So it
have them advantage then and there, you know.
Do you feel complimented by people using Studio One material
as an influence?
I've been ripped off, really, but somehow God is good to me,
and the sensible people that's in the business are giving us the credit
so we are able to collect here and there, you know.
It seems like Hip hop in America, and James Brown?
Yeah because James Brown was made more popular when Hip hop
came in than the time he was singing first!
Thanks for your time.
Yeah man. Welcome, welcome, welcome.