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Sugar Minott At Studio One (SJRCD 104 - 2005)

Please Be True
Hang On Natty
Never Give Up
Give A Hand
Try Love
Roof Over My head
Jah Jah Lead Us
Is It True
Love Gonna Pack Up
Give Me Jah Jah
Jah Jah Children
Party Time
Change Your Ways
Come On Home
Jah Almighty
Lincoln Sugar Minott was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1956. He grew up in a poor area of West Kingston and from an early age developed a love of Reggae music and the music of Studio One in particular. As a teenager, he became selector for Sound Of Silence Keystone and Gathering Of Youth local sound-systems. By the late 1970s Minott had risen to become one of the biggest stars in Jamaican music.

"I knew Studio One spiritually before I knew Studio One physically. You know I grew up beside a dancehall and Sir Coxsone's sound used to play there from when I was a boy. So from that influence you know I used to love Studio One sound so much, I became a sound elector. So that was my first involvement with getting to know Studio One music like The Heptones, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, the whole works and that was my life from a youth."

In 1969 he formed a group called The African Brothers along with Derrick Howard and future dancehall artist Tony Tuff. They recorded tracks for a number of small independent producers as well as their own Ital label. By the early 1970s they had made their way to Studio One where they recorded just one single 'No Cup No Broke'. At this point the group broke up and all headed on to solo careers. Sugar Minott, however, stayed on at Studio One as a musical apprentice. He worked in-house playing guitar, percussion and background vocals and took the first steps towards his solo career.

"I had an audition at Studio One, but my audition was different. Everybody was there with guitars and things like that. I was there because of my voice. I was already practicing my songs on rhythms. While playing on my sound-system I was making up songs already on these rhythms. I went in last to audition. so I said, 'Mr Dodd, I already know that what I want to do is make up a song to an already recorded rhythm.' So he took me into the studio, lined up a tape and I play the song right away spot on because I'd been singing the song so long. The first time, boom, then after that he took me and play some more rhythms. and this was like a new thing at Studio One."

Sugar Minott's ability to write and sing new melodies over existing backing tracks from earlier Rocksteady/early Reggae songs would not only define his future career at Studio One it would also be the blueprint for a whole new era of Jamaican music - Dancehall. A DJ singing/toasting over dub-plates or the Version side of singles was commonplace at sound-system dance parties but had not been tried  much in the studio.

"Mr Dodd was thinking of making new rhythms because Mr Dodd isn't a person who thinks of repeating himself. But what was playing wasn't half as good as what was there. And so because I used to sing from sound-system days I had 20 songs already on Studio One rhythms that I used to sing in my ghetto at Maxfield park."

Sugar Minott was the first Studio One artist to have grown up in this time and he spearheaded a classic era at Studio One that quickly led to new albums by Freddie McGregor, Johnny Osbourne, Jackie Mittoo, Lone Ranger and Michigan & Smiley, all singing or DJing over old Studio One rhythms to create new music.

"When I came with 'Come Down Natty dread', Freddie McGregor instantly got a vibe and sang 'Come Now Sister' and that was one of Freddie's first hits and then 'Bobby Bobylon', so Freddie started singing on the same rhythms. Mr Dodd started putting everybody on the same old rhythms and that was a whole new revolution."

Sugar Minott's debut album 'Live Loving' is sometimes described as the first ever dancehall album. As Ernest & Jo Jo Hookim's Channel One and Joe Gibbs record companies began to release songs based on classic Studio One rhythms (replayed by Sly & Robbie's studio-based The Revolutionaries), Minott and Coxsone were able to respond with the real thing - new material over the original rhythms. Classic songs such as Alton Ellis' 'I'm Just A Guy' became 'Vanity', The Eternals' 'Queen Of The Minstral' became 'Come On Home', The Heptones' 'Pretty Looks Isn't All' became 'Never Give Up' and so on.

"I became the last line of defence for Studio One. Because there was Channel One, then Joe Gibbs, everyone making over Studio One. No publishing, no royalty, people just did it. I was the only singer at the start re-making at Studio One. They used to call me Coxsone Boy. Coxsone, as great as he was, the music was even greater. The music is like growing up in Motown, it's such as strong influence. You couldn't hold it back."

By the start of the next decade, every producer in Kingston would be using these classic rhythms, employing backing groups such as The Soul Syndicate and Roots Radics to replay them, and this became the basis for the dancehall era. Sugar Minott went on to record three classic albums at Studio One (Live Loving, Showcase and More Sugar) as well as numerous singles.

"I went to Studio One, signed a one year contract, and stayed for five years. I was so much Studio One that Mr Dodd didn't even know I wasn't under contract. I didn't need a contract to be at Studio One, I wanted to be there. And while I was at Studio One I didn't sing for nobody else until I left."

In 1979 Minott eventually left to start his own Black Roots and Youth Promotions record and production company and sound-system. As well as releasing his own material Minott encouraged young talent (hence the title) to become artists, much in the same way as he had seen Coxsone Dodd do at Studio One. Minott now found himself on the other side of the musical fence.

"When I was at Studio One and getting $20 a week or whatever, and I was singing a lot of songs and my album coming out and I couldn't understand why. But what I didn't understand was that Mr Dodd was running a business of 100 artists, there's 100 artists coming for $20. But now I look at the bigger picture, running Youth Promotions, there's a youth you're paying $10, and he's going "Only $10!" But 10 more youths like him just came and asked for the same thing, so now I'm beginning to see what it was."

Artists that recorded for Sugar Minott's Black Roots/Youth Promotions include Barry Brown, Michael Palmer, Tenor Saw, Barrington Levy, Horace Andy, Garnett Silk, Junior Delgado, Yami Bolo, Junior Reid and many more. His dedication to his own work and label led him to work for other producers.

"I didn't want to sing for nobody else but the system force me. I didn't have my own studio, I even sang for Channel One. Every song I sing for Channel One was to do my own production, so that they would give me 10 hours free studio time. Same thing at Tubby's, same thing at Sly. Sly play free for me so I sang for him."

Shortly after setting up Black Roots/Youth Promotions Sugar Minott temporarily relocated to England where he re-fashioned his sound and found himself at the forefront of a second genre in Reggae music - Lovers Rock. Minott became an icon for Reggae fans in Britain after hitting the top of the UK charts with the Donovan Germaine produced 'Good Thing Going', a cover of a Michael Jackson song. This union of Sweet Soul and Reggae became known as Lovers Rock. Minott also went on to work with another pioneer of this UK-based style, Carroll Thompson, on the track 'Lovers Rock'. Managing a Jamaican-based record company and UK-based career proved difficult and by the time Lovers Rock was fading as a style Minott returned to Jamaica to better manage his production company. Over the next years, as well as continuing his own Black Roots/Youth promotions set-up, Minott worked with many of Jamaica's finest producers, the list of which makes a roll-call of producers involved in the Jamaican music industry during this era: Prince Jammy, Sly & Robbie, Wackies, Joe Gibbs, Gussie Clarke, George Phang, Niney The Observer and many more.

Sugar Minott has recently re-launched Black Roots/Youth Promotions with the same ideals of helping Kingston youth get involved in music. He continues to release his own material and continues to draws huge crowds whether he is playing in Jamaica or the UK. The music included here features his finest work at Studio One. Minott to this day describes himself as SOS1 - The Son Of Studio One.

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