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Studio One Soul (SJRCD 050 - 2001)

Leroy Sibbles - Express Yourself
Norma Fraser - Respect
Leroy Sibbles - Groove Me
Sound Dimension - Time Is Right
The Heptones - Message From A Black Man
Otis Gayle - I'll Be Around
Jerry Jones - Still Water
Sound Dimension - Soulful Strut
Richard Ace - Can't Get Enough
The Chosen Few - Don't Break Your Promise
The Eternals - Queen Of The Minstrels
Norma Fraser - The First Cut Is The Deepest
Ken Parker - How Strong
Ken Boothe - Set Me Free
Senior Soul - Is It Because I'm black
Jackie Mittoo - Deeper And deeper
Alton Ellis - I Don't Want To Be Right
Willie Williams - No One Can Stop Us
 
The story of the influence of US music on the development of Reggae has been versioned many times. For all the keen reception in Jamaica of radio stations line WINZ out of Miami and WNOE from New Orleans, and the regular appearance on the Caribbean circuit of such American stars as Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield, it is from the beginning a history driven by the wayward magic of records, the expressive charge and allusive fascination of vinyl, covers, labels. An English chartbuster on the Mod imprint Immediate, for example: 'The First Cut Is The deepest', a Cat Stevens song covered by P.P. Arnold with proto-prog-rockers The Nice, cropping up here by Norma Fraser. This is the version excursion of composite musical cultures continuously  recycling and renewing themselves, enmeshed with the biggest mass movement for social justice and civil rights of the twentieth century. It is the story of barriers broken down and new solidarities opened up: a kind of 'musical communion' as a Baba Brooks title puts it, patterned by the outernational hand-to-hand passage of records, its key setting the sound system dance.

Clement Dodd himself was an avid record-collector, a Jazz connoisseur. His father's job on the docks turned up records brought by American sailors to exchange for rum, maybe to pay off a pimp. As a migrant farm worker in the early fifties he would return from Florida cane fields with the best new R&B for his Sir Coxsone Downbeat Sound System, still buzzing with the excitement of local juke-joints. Soon he would be licensing records for distribution in Jamaica: and bulk-buying from warehouses in New York and Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland, to supply the Musik City Shop he set up in 1959. But exclusives - with scratched-out labels - were a must for Downbeat, and when the American public switched to Rock 'n' Roll it was the sudden shortage of killer R&B that spurred Coxsone into the studio. He organised local musicians to produce their own supply of Jump Blues and New Orleans R&B: and Ska evolved from the encounter between these interpretations, such native idioms as Mento, and other favourites like Bossa, Mambo and Merengue, Jazz and Big Band Swing. At first Coxsone would cut these sessions onto dub-plates solely for the use of his sound system, perhaps followed up by a handful of blanks for other deejays. This ideal medium of promotion and market research quickly gauged demand for releases to the public, and so in 1962 - the year of formal independence from Britain - Clement Dodd decided to build the Jamaican Recording and Publishing Studio, better known as Studio One. Behind this affirmation of new nationhood and international ambition is a motive echoed by the Hitsville USA sign on the Motown building in Detroit, and Soulsville USA on the Stax offices in Memphis, and by Motown's slogan 'The Sound Of Young America' where Studio One sleeves would announce 'The sound Of Young Jamaica': the power of music to transcend social difference

Unity and peace are the key themes of Curtis Mayfield, justly celebrated as the major Soul presence of the Rocksteady years 1966-68. (He nodded back with a production credit on the Epic album 'The Real Jamaican Ska'). His songs, arrangements and falsetto lead, his lucid and vulnerable sensibility, poise and sharp tailoring, and the ghost in him of long-time JA favourite Sam Cooke - all these made never-ending impressions. his group themselves stand over a fabulously rich Reggae tradition of vocal trios: here The Eternals stray further than The Techniques from The Impressions' 1962 hit 'Minstrel And Queen' - itself a re-working of 'Gypsy Woman' - as lead singer Cornell Campbell's license elaborates an enraptured reverie about musical inspiration. Curtis' sixties career epitomises the synthesis by Soul music of Gospel and R&B and also its vital and deepening inter-relation - which Reggae followed - with the freedom movement. Significantly, the Rocksteady years mark a period of artistic decline for Curtis himself, reversed by his last two singles for ABC-Paramount in 1968, during the months Rocksteady gave way to Reggae and soft Soul to more diverse influences. 'We're A Winner' and its version 'We're Rollin' On' were both still - in Curtis' words - "locked in with Martin Luther King". The civil rights leader had been acclaimed on his visit to JA three years earlier: in April he was assassinated. In Chicago, in the spring of 1968, Curtis founded his own independent Curtom Records: swapping classic suits and ties for pastel flares and leather trench-coats, he began to imagine a harder, more militant funk. In Kingston - where the new Black Power politics were more attuned than Civil Rights to the militant nationalism of Marcus Garvey - Bob Marley trimmed his locks and combed out an afro, to the sounds of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. With an imitative, inaugural exuberance that harks back ten years to Coxsone's R&B, Leroy Sibbles versions Charles Wright's hippy celebration of the sixties' movement, 'Express Yourself'.

By the close of 1968, students had torn up Paris streets and American campuses, after the example of Black uprisings in US city after city; Tommy Smith and John Carlos had stood with clenched fists on the podium at the Mexico Olympics; American losses to the Tet offensive had at last swung a US majority against the Vietnam War. In Jamaica Peter Tosh and Prince Buster were arrested during a demonstration against the Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith; and there was serious rioting when the Jamaican government blocked re-admission of the Black Power intellectual Walter Rodney. Several tracks on this compilation directly express political energies which were red hot in this first year of Reggae. Others make their soulful impact by encoding social discontent and political resistance in stories about personal grievance, almost to bursting. Sometimes the Reggae version follows Aretha Franklin's anthemic interpretation of 'Respect', and explodes these allegories : in this way - underlined by his new title, 'Set Me Free' - Ken Boothe utterly eclipses Diana Ross' vocal, and Alton Ellis darkens even further Luther Ingram's sublime classic. Though this genre of Reggae-Soul versions is conveniently viewed in weak, lightweight opposition to Roots Reggae, classic Soul made available in powerful and sophisticated form the key terms - loss and pain, hope and longing - of the diaspora consciousness usually assigned exclusively in Reggae to Roots. And at the same time themes based on Garveyite ideas of racial purity unravel along those more maverick routes opened up by cultural mobility and change.

Reggae music refreshes and re-invents continuously. Dub, toasting and juggling turn what is familiar into an ambush. These are techniques of resurrection developed for the dancehall which are themselves reworked in remixing and extended formats, rap and turntablism. A Studio One original like The Cables' 'What Kind Of World' courses through many versions before giving Morgan Heritage - its current worldwide hit 'Down By The River'. Such foundation rhythms have become casually synonymous with Studio One. Likewise nothing in Reggae comes close to the scope and quality of Coxsone's Soul coverage. This is in part a tribute to his own musical taste, but more importantly to his amazing roster of singers, arrangers like Jackie Mittoo, Larry Marshall and Leroy Sibbles, and to the solidity and longevity, inventiveness and technical brilliance of Studio One musicians. Coxsone was the first in Jamaica to hire a full-time studio band: over the years it is easily a match for such acclaimed American counterparts - all represented on this album - as the Funk Brothers at Motown, the Muscle Shoals Band at Fame, Booker T and the MGs at Stax. Many Reggae covers are routine and empty-handed, churned out quickly for easy cash and cheap thrills. This compilation is more like a series of responses: sophisticated and loving, ebullient and heartfelt, affirmative and searching. The music basks in its sources and influences, in a place all its own.

VERSION TO VERSION

1. Charles Wright And The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, 1967.
Leroy Sibbles and band reveal the JB-funk behind Wright's allegiance to Sly Stone and his 'whole new thing'. "Express Yourself II" in 1971 was musically more laidback (and faithful to Sly), more pointedly political and anti-Vietnam.

2. Aretha Franklin, 1967.
The summer of 'Retha', Rap and Revolt. "I just lost my song - that girl took it away from me": Otis Redding recorded his own composition in 1964, but his observation about Aretha is borne out by the version here, which repeats her additional lyrics and follows her recycling of the bridge from Sam & Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby". Jackie Mittoo enlivens the opening with a quote from a Quincy Jones bossa.

3. King Floyd, 1970.
A B-side out of the Malaco Studios in Jackson, Mississippi; also versioned by Dave Barker for Lee Perry.

4. Booker T And The MGs, 1969.
From their soundtrack to Jules Dassin's film 'Uptight', a Black Power drama set in Cleveland, Ohio.

5. The Temptations, 1969.
The two front men, Leroy Sibbles and Dennis Edwards, shoulder-to-shoulder in the refrain: "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud".

6. Detroit Spinners, 1972.
Philippe Wynne and Otis Gayle both sing beautifully; but Thom Bell's orchestral break sounds insipid next to the organ solo here.

7. Four Tops, 'Still Water (Love)', 1970.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Jerry Jones shared stages with various US Soul stars, before Coxsone spotted her performance at the Regal in Jamaica: her North American lineage marks her big-city style, less feminised than other Studio One women. Smokey Robinson's composition is paired with 'Still Water (Peace)' on the Four Tops' gently anti-war album 'Still Waters Run Deep'.

8. Young - Holt Unlimited, 1968.
Actually this was recorded -in Chicago - by the Brunswick session orchestra, with neither Eldee Young nor Isaac Holt present; and it was recorded first - though released a year later - by Barbara Acklin as the song 'Am I The Same Girl', an evergreen favourite with Reggae fans.

9. Barry White, 'Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe', 1974.
Richard Ace interpellates with bebop fluency from Roberta Flack's 'Feel Like Makin' Love', a hit the same year. The drums and bass tracks of 'Killing Me Softly' were recorded at the Dynamic Studios in Jamaica; in 1976 Roberta Flack was behind the scenes at the momentous Smile Jamaica concert, encouraging Bob Marley after the recent attempt on his life.

10. The Delfonics, 'Break Your Promise', 1968.
The Chosen Few are at home with the doowop influences behind Thom Bell's early success on Philly Groove.

11. The Impressions, 'Minstrel And Queen', 1962.
Cornell Campbell revisited the song several times, for Coxsone and Bunny Lee; Augustus Pablo, Bullwackies and Prince Jazzbo amongst many others have versioned the Studio One rhythm.

12. P.P. Arnold, 1967.

13. Otis Redding, 'That's How Strong My Love Is', 1964.
In Otis' hands the song is reminiscent of his own 'Pain In My Heart'. Ken Parker - who was auditioned for Studio One by Lee Perry - refers to the more gospelised devotion of The Impressions' 'For Your Precious love', covered on the same Otis Redding album 'Soul Ballads'.

14. The Supremes, 'You Keep Me Hanging On', 1966.
Both versions are driven by superb bass-playing: James Jamerson and Leroy Sibbles. Coxsone cuts Ken Boothe loose in a wild and ranging 12" mix.

15. Syl Johnson, 1969.
This picture of personal despair is drawn straight from Johnson's blues years, cut with the new political commitments of Soul music. A question-mark in the title would be superfluous: as the Twilight LP cover makes clear this is the writing on the wall for social injustice. And a further reminder of the extraordinary diverse and fertile Chicago scene: it is arranged by Lester Bowie's brother, Byron. In 1970 Syl Johnson was spotted by Willie Mitchell at The Burning Spear Club, and signed to Hi.

16. Barry White, 'I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More Baby', 1973.
Jackie Mittoo brings dread to what Barry White calls his 'locks', his locked grooves.

17. Luther Ingram, 1972.
Versioned here by 'Mr Soul of Jamaica' himself.

18. McFadden And Whitehead, 'Ain't No Stopping Us Now', 1979.
This invocation of Curtis' gospel politics from within the disco period has been quoted and covered many times (even by McFadden And Whitehead themselves as a jingle, 'Ain't No Stopping McDonalds Now'). At the time of their recording for Philadelphia International, Tom Moulton - whose pioneering remixes were the basis of that label's 'Philadelphia Classics' set - was re-mastering Studio One sides for US release through United Artists; and with it's dub-wise extended mix, McFadden And Whitehead's original shows influence working at least two ways.

Mark Ainley (Honest Jons)

 
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