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Published: 2004/05/29
by Jeremy Sanchez

Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd

Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd (nicknamed Sir Coxsone in school after a famous cricket player, a sport he was proficient at) died of a heart attack in his Kingston, Jamaica recording studio on May 4, 2004 at the age of 72. He helped spawn, evolve and export Jamaica's popular musics in volumes unheard of from any other island, ever.

Dodd produced a body of original music (mostly ska, and rock steady) from Studio One (Jamaica's first black-owned music studio) that has influenced every Jamaican artist and producer since. His sound provided a beat to skank to and ultimately led talented Rastas to motivate Jamaica's impoverished with Jah message to stand up for their rights. Along the way, he also dropped Americans some new flavor for their rock and embattled the rap.

Rhythm-and-Blues 45rpm records stepped onto Jamaica with migrant workers in the late 1940s, to the delight of locals, and were played incessantly through Sound Systems at block parties, called blues dances. When Dodd went to America as a migrant sugarcane cutter on various occasions, he returned to Jamaica with bundles of solid R&B records and stereo equipment to set up his own System: his first being in 1954.

Sound Systems sprouted from the communal need to share in musical celebration; also, most people couldn't afford a personal turntable. DJs with the hottest American records would set up mobile amplified speaker/turntable systems and charge admission to ride their trademarked bass-heavy grooves as they "toasted" (rap about being the greatest DJ or whatever comes to a DJ's bass and ganja soaked brain) through the night. They clashed to determine the bossest DJ on the block.

Fights broke out between rival systems regularly, one of which Dodd was kingpin: Sir Coxsone Downbeat. Lee "Scratch" Perry began his music career working for Dodd during his early Sound System DJ-ing days along with Dodd's public intermediary and thumb to the pulse of the hottest music available: hired amateur boxer Prince Buster. These all around rude bwois kept Dodd's parties under control (often physically) and the patrons coming.

DJs prided themselves on their obscure record collections. They'd scratch artist names and titles off, renaming records so that rivals couldn't spy on their spin; DJs hoarding unknown recordings drew large crowds that couldn't hear their tunes anywhere else. Dodd and his competition made frequent trips to the U.S. for new "original" material and eventually started cranking out records of their own to save cash. America's move to rock-n-roll went unappreciated in Jamaica, making it more necessary to lay local music for the sound clashes.

Dodd fertilized Studio One, beginning in 1963, with his brethren's sweat. Ska (a conglomerate of Jamaica's native music (mento), rhythm-and-blues and jazz's horn affection) poured out for Sound Systems and well-to-do private use.

He held open auditions on Sundays at Studio One, cataloguing a glut of recordings by now-legendary artists including Bob Marley and the Wailers (originally just the Wailers), Toots and the Maytals and Studio One's houseband The Skatalites. He also mentored roots-reggae patriarch Burning Spear, Sugar Minott, producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, etc…

Bob Marley and The Wailers (in its various incarnations) are the most recognized ska/rock steady/reggae group, ever. They signed on with Dodd in 1963, and stayed into rock steady's cool-down (1967: legend has it that rock steady grew from the necessity to dance a little slower during the summer heat). Dodd managed, owned sole recording rights and provided notoriously little pay to all of his artists (20 pounds per recorded side).

Although the pay wasn't much, Marley found a literal home at Dodd's studio. He slept in a back room of the same building where "Simmer Down," his Jamaican topper telling the rude bwois to calm down, was recorded in 1964. The Wailers began recording with Dodd's meld of jazz-turned-ska greats, the Skatalites in Studio One. Running along "Simmer Down's" theme, 1965 felt "One Love" vibe at the door, Marley pleading for peace and unity, as the rudies raged harder outside. The Wailers soon abandoned Studio One to continue their rocky road under the guidance of various managers/producers, including "Scratch" Perry.

When Studio One opened, Perry was Dodd's whatever-man, he did a little A&R work, oversaw some recording sessions, learned how to produce and sometimes he'd get a minute behind the mic. He soon opened his own rival studio/store (Upsetter Records), truly jumpstarting and forwarding reggae, although artists rarely liked his deals any more than Dodd's.

He produced Bob Marley and the Wailers for a while (Hits include: "Duppy Conqueror," "Small Axe" and "Soul Rebel"), introduced them to his Upsetters, timed by the future Wailers' backbone duo (1970; brother drum-and-bass team, bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett and drummer Carlton Barrett officially join the Wailers). Scratch is notorious for his vibrant, could-go-anywhere dubs and gummy reggae basslines in heavy doses. He continues today as the most unpredictable producer in the game.

By birthing and exporting Jamaica's popular musics to the world, Dodd also inspired American musics. Interesting, since American-R&B drove Jamaica's early Sound Systems, leading to ska.

Clement Dodd's business dealings mar his past to a degree as he aggressively pushed for money and song rights. But, while keeping so much for himself, he also gave so much to music.

Jambands are more rings than branches on the R&B tree. So, It's not surprising that they love to borrow reggae's bounce returned home; the Grateful Dead loved an irie riddim to reset the mood. American and European ska fanatics might never have been satisfied with their music availability without Dodd's pioneering efforts, The Clash would have just been punks and America's battle-rap would have only been rap without inspiration from the toasting at those sound clashes Dodd helped found.

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