Dimension - Jamaica Soul Shake Vol.1 (SJRCD 127 - 2006)
My Heart In Rhythm
Man Pon Spot
Doctor Sappa Too
Hail Don D
|Coxsone Dodd used to say that in 1967 the Sound
Dimension invented reggae twice over. There was his studio band at the
time - heir to the Soul Vendors - with its dazzling repertoire of what
were to become classics and foundation rhythms of the music. And there
was the new equipment from which the group took its name, and which lit
up for them the formal transformation of rocksteady into something
tougher, moodier, more in tune with the times - an echo and delay box,
modified by Studio One engineer Sylvan Morris for guitarist Eric Frater.
Earlier that same year, Clement Dodd had come to London with the Soul Vendors - a group featuring ex-Skatalites members Jackie Mittoo, Johnny Moore, Lloyd Brevett, Roland Alphonso as well as vocalists Ken Boothe and Alton Ellis. Alton had been wooed back from a spell at rival Duke Reid's Treasure Isle with the promise of this tour of England. Alton was ruling the airwaves with his sweet rocksteady melodies and Clement Dodd realised he needed to step up to regain his throne and live up to the name Studio One. Clement Dodd had originally meant to bring the Skatalites over to capitalise on the success of 'Guns Of Navarone' which had become a hit in England after being licensed to Chris Blackwell's Island Records. But by the time the record was in the UK charts the Skatalites had already disbanded following the incarceration of founding member and trombonist Don Drummond - after stabbing his girlfriend, the dancer Marguerita. When the newly formed Soul Vendors arrived in the UK, the first surprise they found was that an unscrupulous English promoter had put together their own Skatalites, made up of local musicians - who were also white! - to capitalise on the current hit. Anyway, the newly named and consequently unknown Soul Vendors embarked on a tour of the UK, the highlight of which was playing at the Ram Jam Club in London, which in turn led to Jackie Mittoo's solo hit single of the same name. Another highlight, according to Johnny Moore, was a concert in Birmingham featuring the Soul Vendors supported by a young, unknown guitarist called Jimi Hendrix. Some gig! Whilst in Britain, Clement Dodd bought a new piece of equipment that had just come onto the market called the Sound Dimension - an echo box tape machine that allowed musicians to repeat notes.
On returning to Jamaica in 1967 after the tour, some of the Soul Vendors left Brentford Road and the new in-house band was christened the Sound Dimension featuring an array of musicians that included Eric Frater, Jackie Mittoo, Leroy Sibbles, Richard Ace, Phil Callender, Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace, Earl 'Bagga' Walker, Earnest Ranglin, alongside horn players Vin Gordon (aka Don Drummond Jnr), Cedric Brooks, Roland Alphonso and Headly Bennett.
When the Sound Dimension accompanied a singer they played a paired down sound often without horns, whilst the keyboards and guitar used the Sound Dimension echo box - all of which gave the music a unique 'shuffle beat'. This sound became pivotal in the evolution of reggae on a number of counts: Aside from pushing Jamaican music on from the good feeling rocksteady towards a moodier reggae - reflecting the changing times in Jamaica - the Sound Dimension's music became a perfect basis for the dub-experiments of in-house engineer Sylvan Morris and Coxsone Dodd in the late-60s and 1970s. Practically every Studio One record at this time has a Sound Dimension dub version on the B-side. Thirdly, as dancehall began to re-use the classic original rhythms of reggae in the 1980s and beyond, the Sound Dimension's music would also become the basis for literally tens of thousands of dancehall tracks. What Jamaican producer from the 1980s to the current day has not used 'Full Up' as the basis for a record?
By 1968 a new sound emerged in Jamaica - reggae. With the new trademark subtle double-time echo on the guitar and keyboards this new sound would become synonymous with Jamaican music. Acknowledged by some as the first reggae record is the 1968 Studio One release 'Nanny Goat' by Larry Marshall. Marshall was an important figure at Studio One in the late 1960s - as a voice coach, backing vocalist and even helping out on engineering alongside Sylvan Morris. What is perhaps not so well acknowledged is that the group behind this recording is the Sound Dimension. And whilst this group are relatively unknown outside of the cognoscenti, they have played the music of literally hundreds of classic records. During the period 1967 until the end of the decade the Sound Dimension created and played the music for vocalists such as The Heptones, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Carlton And His Shoes, The Gables and many more. Classic tunes such as 'Ram Jam', 'Who Dun It', 'Girl, I've Got A Date' to name but a few. The group had a fluid line-up originally led by Jackie Mittoo until he left for Canada in 1968. This was not the end of the group however and Mittoo often returned to Kingston for a session or Robbie Lynn replaced him. "A lot of people don't realise that Jackie didn't play on 'Full Up', commented Clement Dodd, "he was in Canada at the time - it was actually Robert Lynn. You also have a keyboard player by the name of Richard Ace, he too was a giant, he did a lot of stuff even when Jackie left in '68 to Canada, Richard was here getting things together alongside Robert Lynn".
Another key figure in the Sound Dimension was guitarist Eric Frater. After playing with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, The Diamonds and The Virtues, Frater moved to Studio One to Join the Sound Dimension. "Every week we had a hit. Sometimes five hits a week! We worked four, five days a week. At the weekend we go up to the north coast or Ocho Rios and mash it up and come back! Me, Jackie, Robbie Lynn, The Heptones".
Describing the fluidity of the group, Frater commented that "Jackie would play keyboards and Robbie Lynn piano. Bass would be Leroy Sibbles or Bagga Walker. Phil Callender played drums after Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace left. I would follow the bass lines on guitar".
In 1970 Frater emigrated to New York, effectively signalling the end of the group. Whilst in New York he was called up to Join Bob Marley and The Wailers. The new house group to arrive at Studio One would be The Soul defenders, hailing from Linstead Market, who would themselves go on to record classics such as Horace Andy's 'Skylarking', Burning Spear, The Abyssinians and Freddie McKay's 'Picture On The Wall'.
When the Sound Dimension were not making hits for Studio One vocalists they were holed up in the studio cutting their own material. As well as a healthy dose of rocksteady and reggae it is clear that the Sound Dimension were also connoisseurs of funk which can be heard in nearly all this material. On these tracks the musicians stretch out and improvise - the lack of vocals means the horns play a much bigger role with solos aplenty - and what you can hear is a group of Jamaica's finest players stretching out and enjoying themselves.
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