Studio One and the Birth of Ska
By David Katz
From the late 1940s, American rhythm and blues held sway in Jamaica, brought back from the southern states of the USA by itinerant local farm workers, as well as the visiting sailors that frequented the downtown Kingston brothels. Jamaican sound system entrepreneurs began recording a local variant of US R&B from the mid-1950s, and Clement Dodd’s superior ears kept him at the top of the pack in the emerging record production sphere, which continued to be inextricably linked to sound system activity. And since sound systems always thrived on exclusivity, Dodd knew that he could not let his productions fall stagnant, nor simply copy the work of rivals such as Duke Reid, King Edwards, and former Downbeat ally, Prince Buster. Instead, he would need to find something that would differentiate his output, if he wanted to survive in Kingston’s resolutely cutthroat music scene.
The answer came as Jamaica’s independence movement gathered steam during the early 1960s. Seeking a sound that was more identifiably Jamaican, Dodd was deeply moved by the late-night jazz jams he experienced at Count Ossie's Rastafarian encampment in the east Kingston hills, where wild jazz melodies melded with African beats that had survived the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Ska music was born with a distinct after-beat, becoming the soundtrack of Jamaican independence and Dodd the premier producer of it.
The popularity of instrumentals by trombonist Don Drummond and saxophonist Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook gave way to landmark ska vocal hits, such as Owen Gray’s “On The Beach” and the Maytals’ “Never Grown Old.” Although he maintained a strong working relationship with Federal recording studio’s founder, Ken Khouri, Clement Dodd recognised that having a studio of his own would allow him greater control of his output and alleviate unnecessary expenditure in the long run. Thus, in 1963, he acquired a defunct nightclub called The End at the top end of Brentford Road in the Cross Roads business district, and set about transforming it into the Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio Ltd, the facility otherwise known as Studio One—a true landmark in the history of reggae