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Music Review: The Best Of Studio One Collection Celebrating The Birthplace Of Reggae

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In the mid 1970's Toronto Ontario experienced an influx of immigration from Jamaica that resulted in the development of a thriving reggae scene with bars and bands sprouting up in the new communities and throughout the city. Growing up I was probably exposed to more reggae than most people outside of Jamaica and the British Isles. While most people's experience with reggae doesn't extend past Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and Third World at best, I'd come across people like Toots and the Maytells, Leroy Sibbles and the Heptones, 20th Century Rebels, Truth and Rights, and Burning Spear.

But compared to what was happening in Kingston Jamaica this was only the tip of the iceberg. Bands, singers, and musicians whose names have remained completely unknown outside of Jamaica or a few aficionados, had been making the music that either preceded reggae, like Ska and Rock Steady, or the music itself, for over fifty years. It's only been through record companies like Heartbeat Records that audiences around the world have even been exposed to these performers.

The sheer volume of music Heartbeat has released tells how much the rest of us have been missing out on for so long. The source for their material was one small studio in Kingston and that it existed at all was due primarily to the efforts of one man, is even more amazing.
Clement Dodd and his Studio One recording facilities was the Jamaica equivalent of Berry Gordy and Motown for American Black R&B performers in the sixties and Sam Phillips of Sun Records for American rockabilly stars in the fifties. Dodd provided the facilities that gave up and coming singers like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh their first recording experiences and guided them through the transition from being imitators of the American R&B scene to being at the forefront of reggae.

Clement Dodd started out working as a DJ for music parties where the man spinning the records was judged on his abilities to provide music that was not only danceable but new on a weekly basis. Realizing that being dependant on foreign markets for his music meant he could never really get ahead of his competition he started producing his own music.

At first this meant just locally recorded version of American staples or imitations of the same. But in his quest for producing music that would entice people onto the dance floor for extended periods, he began experimenting with base lines and rhythm combinations. At first this led to the development of Ska, the high speed energetic music replete with horns that had resurgence in popularity in the eighties, followed by Rock Steady where the pace was slowed and the base and drums came to the forefront.

Reggae was only a downbeat removed from Rock Steady and followed quickly thereafter. The rest, as they say is history. Clement and Studio One produced performer after performer, song after song that kept Jamaica dancing and soon the rest of the world.

Studio One kept itself in the forefront of innovation by being the first company to begin producing Dub recordings in 1970. This was originally just the practice of taking classic rhythms and DJ-ing over top of them. These since have become more complex but from the start they became dance hall staples remaining so for years after and cementing Dodd's reputation as one of the premier producers in Jamaica.
By the mid 1970s Studio One's reputation was such bands from other parts of the world were coming to record there. First the Rolling Stones came and not only produced a record of their own but worked on a Peter Tosh album as well, resulting in the hit single for both "(You Gotta Walk And) Don’t Look Back." The Stones were followed to Jamaica by The Clash who recorded a cover of "Armagideon Time" by Willie Wilson along with Dub arrangements of their own material.

Since Clements Dodd's death in 2004, Heartbeat records (who had previously published over sixty Studio One titles) has begun sifting through the enormous catalogue of Dodd's past work in an effort to honour the contributions this man has made to the world of popular music. Now two years later they are finally making the releases available. Each title being released reflects either a specific performer's work during their tenure at Studio One, a retrospective of a genre, or even the different permeations that a genre can undergo. (The disc Downbeat The Ruler for instance is a collection of reggae instrumentals)

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site He has been writing for since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Vern Halen

    I was never a fan of reggae or ska until I found a Studio One Ska compilation disc a few years ago. And of course, you can’t un-love this music once you’re into it.

  • Humphrey McDonald

    Sir Dodd is the BEST!!! anything called MUSIC, MUST be STUDIO ONE none stop at the MUSIC CITY. Ruler of Orange Street or Beat street.
    I’m still short on some selection that was stolen from my archive, which I hope to recover if available, can anyone help “Fever” Horace Andy “You can’t Be Happy” the Claredonians drop me a line
    Soul Power