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Reggae Music in Jamaica | 8 Recording Studios with Great Impact
by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
Reggae is Jamaica’s finest export. Jamaicans tell anyone who will listen (and some who won't) that our artistes and music are celebrated universally. We share the latest tracks from our favourite artistes daily, but what we don’t know is that it took more than just the artiste to complete the songs we hear and share. Usually these days, artistes have their recording studios at their homes. In the beginning and up to fairly recently, this was not the case. Most often, they had to go to a recording studio. Booking a space was quite competitive between established and upcoming artists. Even now some prominent artistes maintain a preference for a traditional studio to create their music. In the past, almost all recording studios were based in Kingston. That has changed in that it is much easier to find a recording studio closer to home. Here are 8 of the most influential recording studios on Reggae music.
- Federal Studios is the oldest recording studio in Jamaica. Owned by Kent Khouri, the studio was opened in 1961. One of its greatest releases was Ken Boothe’s Boothe Unlimited released in 1972.
- Studio One described by some as the ‘heart of reggae’, is known for its distinct sound and timeless rhythms. Coxsone Dodd saw the need for the recording studio and in 1963. Many well-known artistes have recorded music here including; Bob Marley, Freddie McGregor, Johnny Osbourne and Lee ‘Scratch' Perry. The studio closed in 1985 and Coxsone relocated to America.
- Treasure Isle Studio One’s competitiveness with Treasure Isle in sound systems etc. was quite impactful on Reggae music. Duke Reid decided to create the studio. Reid was already widely known for his sound system in The Trojan. Treasure Isle’s spot as a respected studio was solidified by the rocksteady era of music. Reid was instrumental in the careers of fellow producers, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and King Tubby (you will meet both soon).
When the 70s began it brought a roots style of music and Treasure Isle was unable to keep up. Eventually, Reid sold his studio to Sonia Pottinger and he, unfortunately, passed not long after.
Under new management, Treasure Isle was able to reap some success in the roots era. However, the ever-changing times and styles of music were unkind to Treasure Isle and after a 5-year drought with a few recordings, Sonia decided to close in 1985.
- Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Roddick started out at Treasure Isle as a disc cutter where his interest in producing music peaked. Always one to experiment, he did so with his dub techniques and made his first deejay LP at Treasure Isle alongside U-Roy. He owned a sound system and frequently tried his new effects with a live audience. He along with ‘Scratch’ Perry are credited as the pioneers of dubstep. Effects such as delays, reverbs, and phasers were first done by King Tubby. He opened his own studio in 1971 and it became the place to create dubs. Artistes would record their albums elsewhere, then bring them to the dubmiester to create dub mixes. By the mid-seventies, King Tubby was no longer mixing himself, that was done by his protegees Prince Jammy, Philip Smart and Scientist.
In 1982, plans to expand the studio went underway which weren’t completed until 1985. The long wait was worth it, however, as King Tubby now had a full recording studio. This period from 1985-89 was known as the Firehouse era, named after the area of Waterhouse where the studio was built. He invited students to come in and learn how to operate the board next to him as his protegees had gone by then. 1989 was the end of King Tubby’s chapter in music as he was murdered in a probable street robbery. His legacy in music lives on through his contributions to the genre - A true genius and pioneer.
- Channel One was the brainchild of the Hookim brothers, the studio was completed in 1973 and that was the start of nearly a decade of Channel One defining reggae music. In 1975, they upgraded to a 16 track board, the best on the island at the time. Channel One rang in the Rockers era with their studio band the Revolutionaires and the iconic rhythm duo Sly and Robbie. The duo formulated the rockers' sound by experimenting with different rhythms and sounds. Channel One didn’t solidify its place amongst the greats until the 1976 release of the Right Time album with the Mighty Diamonds which was a huge success. There are countless recordings at Channel One between 1976 and 1985. For nearly a decade you were almost sure that the song you were listening to was produced by Channel One.
The Revolutionaires were replaced by the Roots Radics when Sly and Robbie started working outside of the island more often. Crucial Bunny and Scientist are the two most popular producers to have worked at the studio.
- Tuff Gong, just by the name you should already know the mastermind behind this studio. You guessed correctly I am sure. It’s Bob Marley! Tuff Gong studios, opened in 1970 and relocated to Bob’s home in 1977 and attracted many famous singers (and some not so much) to record there. In 1979 Bob recorded his album Survival there. After Bob passed away in May of 1981, the studio was relocated to its current location on Bell Road, 220 Marcus Garvey Dr, Kingston. Although the founder had passed, the 80s were a good time for the studio and it has maintained its status amongst the best for the past 51 years. Many respectable reggae artistes still use Tuff Gong as their studio of choice. Some of the great artistes to record here were Burning Spear, Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor. The international hit song Night Nurse by the late Gregory Issacs was recorded at this very studio.
Tuff Gong Studios has added to the legacy of Bob and the Marley family.
- Prince Jammy’s is one of the greatest pupils of King Tubby. He became a master producer himself. He left King Tubby’s in 1985 and made his own studio Jammy’s. The studio has many hits under its belt but one of the most memorable is the rhythm for Under mi Sleng Teng which is still a very popular song to this day. Wayne Smith, a member of Jammy’s recording posse made the digital beat purely by accident. This song has paved the way for Dancehall and what it sounded like sonically. The use of digital beats was also attractive as it didn’t cost as much as the other productions. Many dancehall acts recorded there including Frankie Paul, Nitty Gritty and Super Cat. Jammy’s was almost a ticket to success for both artistes and producers in the digital era alike. Jammy’s has made its mark as an influential studio in Jamaica and although Prince Jammy does not produce much anymore his son has taken over his father’s studio and is continuing on the legacy he built.
- Penthouse was opened by Donovan Germain in 1987. He was one of the top producers from then until the mid-90s. He is famous for introducing the concept of collaborations and encouraged artistes to perform on tracks together by pairing a singer with a deejay. Artistes like Wayne Wonder, Garnett Silk, Beres Hammond and deejays like Buju Banton, Mad Cobra and Tiger all recorded there. This concept was adopted by countless people and is still used even today.
The artistes who recorded at this studio all had different approaches and thus different audiences. Garnett Silk had more of a roots approach singing conscious music, Beres Hammond appealed to the lovers and Wayne Wonder was a traditional dancehall artiste who later merged his genre with the classic R’n’B style for an international sound. Buju Banton was the largest artiste at this time and he did reggae music. All of these artistes sounded very different sonically and the ability of Penthouse to produce for them all speaks to their abilities even then as a recording studio.
Buju Banton’s Till Shiloh in 1995 was recorded here. The album was a turning point for both artiste and recording studio. Buju had completely changed his sound to a more conscious and spiritual sound and Penthouse gained success off the back of that. The studio relocated to 6 Ballater Ave, Kingston in 2006 and is still going strong today.
This is definitely not an exhausted list of all those who helped the genre to have attained the height of success it currently has. Each person who has contributed to Reggae has played a significant role in perfecting the sound of one of Jamaica's greatest treasures.
I also recommend you read Lee "Scratch" Perry - The Reggae Icon
- The Most Important Studios in the History of Reggae, Rate Your Music,https://rateyourmusic.com/
- Drum Sound: The Channel One Story, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZIJs6ObXMo
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