In The Beginning...

From the beginning of the Jamaican music industry, Studio One and its boss Clement "Coxsone" Dodd have been there. Studio One has operated in the past as a sort of college for superstars in which practially every major figure in the Jamaican music business has recorded there. Even in the 70's and 80s and 90's when Coxsone moved operations to the USA, back home in JA, Studio One rhythms prove their longevity by being versioned again and again. This is a small history of the label that played a major part in giving birth to a Jamaican music industry, and continues to prove itsself again and again.

The origins of Studio One begin with a very young Clement Dodd in the late 1940s in Kingston Jamaica. A long time follower of the many Sound Systems that played in and around Kingston at the time, Dodd decided to start up one of his own which he named Sir Coxsones Downbeat (he later took the nickname Coxsone as a reference to a Yorkshire Cricketeer, and as Dodd wasnt too shabby at Cricket himself, the name Coxsone stuck). Originally, as Dodd was an avid jazz fan, jazz was the staple the Downbeat, as well as obscure American R&B records which he would travel to buy or have imported. Also, to gain a sort of one-up-manship over the next sound system, it was often practiced that when you had a great record that was sure would rock the dancing crowd, all information would be scratched off the label so the competing Sound couldnt tell what the record was. Then the record would be renamed. Coxsone had many tunes like these. In fact, one of his Sounds earliest theme songs, "Coxsone's Hop" was actually a US tenor sax player Willis Jacksons "Later For The Gator". Other excluse records included "Coxsone Shuffle" (Harold Land's "San Diego Bounce"), and "Learn" (Eddie Chamblees "Open Your Eyes").

Back in those days, the only main rivals to Coxsones supremacy was Arthur "Duke" Reid the Trojan Sound System, and Coxsone's own former employee Cecil "Prince Buster" Campbell who ran his own Voice of The People Sound System. The Duke was the biggest threat though, as he was a former cop who wore firearms on him at all times. He would often hire local badmen, or Dance Crashers to break into an opposing sound systems dance and sabatage equiptment, attack followers or steal records. This intimidation effect won Duke the "King of Sound" in 1956, 1957 and 1958. Buster was equally as important as he closed out the number three in the title The Big Three that was given to him, Coxsone and Reid from these early days of sounds up until the late 1960's. Buster built his sound after having a fall out with Coxsone, who he used to work for as a body guard. His sound, named Voice of the People, was truly that, as Buster became a sort of Godfather in the area, loaning money and preventing disputes and helping people with problems and so on.

And so things went on like this all throught the 1950s with the dominate sounds, Coxsone, Duke and Buster, attracting the crowds. Things started slowing down though as US R&B gave way to Rock N Roll. And no Jamaican Sound can get away with playing Rock N Roll. So the people took things into their own hands and started making their own records.

The first studio to open in Jamaica was the Federal Studio, opened by Ken Khouri who got into the business when be bought a discrecorder from a man trying to get to California. The first records made were simple R&B covers or songs so based on that US Boogie Woogie style that they could have been recorded in the USA themselves (despite the actual sound quality not being as clean as their American counterparts). The records, at first, were made strictly for sound system use, as there was yet, not formal recording industry in Jamaica, so those pioneers didn't think there would be much of a market for these records.

Coxsones first few trips into the studio yeilded some instrumental Boogie Woogie songs led by sax man Roland Alphonso or The Blues Blasters (led by Bass player Cluett Johnson) as well as early vocals by singers such as Alton Ellis and Basil Gabbidon. The way the records started selling though was when someone talked Coxsone into pressing a couple of hundred copies of his records to sell at dances. When Coxsone reluctantly agreed, the copies sold out in a matter of days. And so, soon after selling other records (not just at dances by now, but also door to door if need be), and realizing there was more money to be made in selling his own productions as well as running his sound system, Coxsone started the All Stars and Worldisc labels and started recorded many more songs to meet the demand.

Of course Reid and Buster caught ont ot his as well and Reid started his own label as Buster soon followed suit as well. R&B and Boogie Woogie still dominated this new homegrown music, as singers and musicians would try their hardest to emulate American records. But soon Jamaican music would be on its own, with its own style and flavor and sound. And the man to spearhead it into the next decade was Coxsone Dodd.

Back to the articles page: