‘Wake the nation’ – Coxsone Dodd & Studio One

The world of music is saturated with accomplished “legends” but here at Música Macondo we feel compelled to give special mention to one in particular; Sir Clement “Coxson” Dodd. It would be difficult to overstate the contribution Sir Coxson has made to the plethora of distinguished sounds to have come from Jamaica, so instead we’ll offer a brief overview of his journey and leave with you some choice cuts from his pervasive Studio One back catalogue to keep the fire burning for one of music’s all time greats.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1932, Coxson established himself in the dancehalls of the capital well before releasing material on his famous Studio One imprint. Setting up his own Downbeat Soundsytem in 1954, Coxson was at the forefront of the sound system wars, battling for the crown against other heavyweights of the time such as Tom the Great Sebastian and Duke Reid’s definitive Trojan sound.

The flavor of the day out on the lawns of Kingston was jazz, merengue, bebop and R’n’B and having spent time working on farmland in America, Coxson was able to bring back rich pickings to play for the eager ears of Jamaican townsfolk and in the process quickly gained a reputation for having some of the best selections in the business.

The rivalry between sound systems was fierce and sometimes violent but Coxson could rely on the likes of Lee Scratch Perry, Prince Buster and Count Machuki for early support, the latter of which was incidentally the first to toast and drop wisecracks over records in the dancehall, a feature which has become synonymous with sound system culture ever since.

Coxsone International Sound System – Clement Dodd with the microphone

Coxson was confident he could transfer his success from the dancehall circuit to the recording business and released a series of his own productions on labels such as All Stars, Worldisc, Muzik City, Wincox and C&N to name a few. However, things changed in a big way when he opened the Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio at 13 Brentford Road in 1963 (as of 2004 Brentford Road has officially been renamed Studio One Boulevard – love and respect to who ever made that happen!). It was at this newly acquired space that Studio One would take shape and allow Sir Coxson to cement his position as one of the world’s finest purveyors of new music.

With a unique ability to spot and develop up and coming talent, Coxson was quickly inviting the likes of Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe and The Wailers to record in his new studio. Additionally, Coxson was able to build a formidable force of in-house session musicians, which included saxophonists Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook, drummer Lloyd Knibbs, bass guitarist Leroy Sibbles and the legendary keyboard player Jackie Mittoo, many of whom would come to form the mighty Skatalites.

Over the next 25 years Coxson was to remain a prolific producer and one that was clearly in touch with the new and emerging trends of the music business. As rock steady developed from ska and then shifted to the early roots reggae sound, Coxson was continuously releasing top shelf productions and setting the bar for new levels of excellence. In the process he was responsible for igniting the careers of luminaries such as Larry Marshall, The Heptones, Marcia Griffiths, Horace Andy, Bob Marley, Burning Spear and countless others and produced some of Jamaica’s most infectious riddims including “Real Rock” and “Swing Easy” which have been versioned, re-rubbed and sampled ever since.

Amidst the height of political and social upheaval in Jamaica during the late 1970s and early 80s, armed thieves robbed Coxson’s studio and he left Brentford Road setting up Studio One in Brooklyn, NYC where he continued to record and release records throughout the roots reggae and dancehall era. Following the death of his mother Doris Darlington in 1998, Coxson returned to Jamaica and remained active in the music industry into his seventies before suffering from a heart attack at his studio in 2004.

Without a doubt, Sir Coxson has left behind an unparalleled legacy of brilliance and his music, soul and spirit will continue to fill record boxes and rock dancehalls alike for generations to come.

Words and mix by James Tooly  aka Manu (Tuckshop)

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