The Early Beginnings of Studio One
By David Katz
The name Studio One is synonymous with quality music and sonic innovation. SunPress Vinyl, which is housed in the former Studio One pressing plant in Florida, is proud to pay homage to the great Jamaican musical institution, whose legacy has set an example for the contemporary vinyl records industry.
Studio One holds a treasured place in the history of Jamaican popular music. As the recording studio and group of record labels that launched the career of countless reggae giants, including Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, the Skatalites, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Ken Boothe, Studio One is rightly regarded as reggae’s most hallowed ground, a space of perpetual innovation that reinvented the music several times over. Tales of the studio and its pivotal founder, Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd, form the core strata of reggae’s evolution.
From 1951, Dodd’s mother played rhythm and blues in her downtown Kingston restaurant, Nanny’s Corner, and young Clement’s start in the music business came a few years later, when he returned to Jamaica with a stack of rhythm and blues records picked up in the US, after a spell of seasonal farm work in Florida. Former policeman Duke Reid was a friend of his parents, so Clement briefly made guest appearances on Reid’s Trojan sound system, before starting his own Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat set, the moniker stemming from the surname of a popular British cricket batsman. Dodd’s ear for a hit and stream of hard-to-locate rhythm and blues scorchers soon gave him the edge over Reid, the rivalry drawing saboteurs that regularly tried to wreck Dodd’s equipment, leading him to recruit Prince Buster as a loyal defender, as well as a sound system spy.
By 1957, Dodd began recording local talent at Federal recording studio, initially for exclusive acetates to play on his sound system, but by 1959, demand for the songs became so widespread that he launched the Worldisc label to house his first few official record productions, recorded with the duo Bunny and Skitter, and the popular nightclub singers, Jackie Estick and Lascelles Perkins; the following year, subsidiaries such as Sensational, All Stars, Muzik City and Coxsone were also established, holding work by pivotal figures such as future Skatalites Roland Alphonso and Don Drummond, the esteemed Rasta percussionist Count Ossie, the singing duo of Alton Ellis and Eddie Parkins, plus Derrick Morgan, Millie Small, and Derrick Harriott and the Jiving Juniors, as well as Theophilus Beckford, whose “Easy Snappin” was a hugely influential ska prototype. Sir Coxsone was now an unstoppable force on the Jamaican music scene, starting off as he meant to continue.
David Katz is author of People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry; Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae, and Caribbean Lives: Jimmy Cliff.
Katz’s writing have appeared in Newsweek, Mojo, Q, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and many other publications. He also annotated over 100 album retrospectives. His Dub Me Always vinyl nights are regular features of London’s nightlife.