When, in the late 1950s, naturally curious and open-minded sound system owner Clement “Coxsone” Dodd supplemented the imported records that comprised his DJ set with a smattering of recordings he’d produced himself, his intention was to grow Jamaican music. In his first dabblings in record production, he poured jazz influences onto the almost regulation ska and R&B foundations. These new-style sounds went down so well with his dancehall crowds, he started pressing copies and hawking them to jukebox operators, becoming the first JA record producer to manufacture records for general sale. The speed at which they sold out convinced others, like Duke Reid and Prince Buster, to follow his lead.
Dodd opened his own studio in 1963, nicknamed Studio One, and notched up two more firsts: the first black man to own a recording studio in Jamaica; and the first to allow musicians to relax and experiment, rather than operate under the time and cost constraints of studios-for-hire. In an unprecedented move, he put his house band on wages, rather than pay per side. It was an attractive proposition for the cream of the island’s players, who weren’t used to having a steady source of income. But what made Studio One irresistible was the fact that Coxsone allowed both Rastas and weed-smoking on the premises—remember, this was the mid-’60s when dreads were outcasts, and the words “ganja” and “depravity” frequently found themselves in the same sentence. Understandably, the level of musicianship and innovation at Studio One went up considerably, as did its connection to the pro-Rasta people of West Kingston who could identify with the sounds and the sentiments of Dodd’s music.
It’s fair to say this looseness did more than anything else to solidify and develop the modern JA music business and, just as important, it established Studio One as the kind of inspirational environment musicians and singers wanted to be part of. Together with Coxsone’s continued quest for innovation, Studio One became the mark against which so much of the island’s music was judged and remained so for decades to come.
Listen to a special edition of Bandcamp Weekly dedicated to Studio One.
The Wailing Wailers