Studio One stands as one of Jamaica’s most celebrated record labels and recording studios, often referred to as the “Motown of Jamaica.” This iconic label played a pivotal role in shaping the music scene of Jamaica throughout the 1960s and 1970s, traversing various musical movements, including ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, and dancehall.

The Birth of Studio One

The inception of Studio One can be traced back to 1954, when it was founded by the legendary Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. However, it wasn’t until 1963 that the studio began cutting its first recordings on Brentford Road in Kingston. Among the earliest records to grace its catalog were tracks like “Easy Snappin” by Theophilus Beckford, with backing by Clue J & His Blues Blasters, and “This Man is Back” by the talented trombonist Don Drummond. Prior to founding Studio One, Coxsone Dodd had been involved with several other labels, including World Disc, and had gained recognition for running one of the largest and most reputable sound systems in Kingston, known as Sir Coxsone the Downbeat.

The Skatalites Era (1964-1965)

In the early 1960s, the house band that provided backing for vocalists at Studio One was none other than the Skatalites, a renowned group of musicians. The band’s members, which included Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond, Tommy McCook, Jackie Mittoo, Lester Sterling, and Lloyd Brevett, were handpicked by Coxsone Dodd from Kingston’s vibrant jazz scene. The Skatalites played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of Studio One during their tenure, a period marked by the evolution of ska.

However, in 1965, following Don Drummond’s incarceration for murder, the Skatalites disbanded. Coxsone Dodd then assembled a new house band, the Soul Brothers (1965ā€“66), which would later become the Soul Vendors (1967) and Sound Dimension (1967-). These bands played a staggering number of rhythms, about 60 per week, with Jackie Mittoo serving as the music director. The line-up included Brian Atkinson, Hux Brown, Harry Haughton, Joe Isaacs, Denzel Laing, and a rotating cast of horn players, including Roland Alphonso, Dennis ‘Ska’ Campbell, Bobby Ellis, Lester Sterling, and others.

Nocturnal Sessions and Iconic Recordings

In the night time hours at Studio One from 1965 to 1968, a constellation of legendary singers, including Bob Marley, Burning Spear, The Heptones, and Rita Marley, among many others, would don headphones to record vocals to original tracks laid down by the Soul Brothers earlier in the day. These late-night sessions produced seminal recordings like “Real Rock” (by Sound Dimension), “Heavy Rock,” “Jamaica Underground,” “Wakie Wakie,” “Lemon Tree,” “Hot Shot,” “I’m Still In Love With You,” “Dancing Mood,” and “Creation Rebel.”

The Legacy of The Skatalites and Studio One

Jackie Mittoo, Joe Isaacs, and Brian Atkinson left Studio One in 1968 and moved to Canada, while the Soul Brothers (a.k.a. Sound Dimension) continued to influence reggae music in the late 1960s. Their original tracks have been versioned and re-versioned by numerous artists over the decades, including Shaggy, Sean Paul, Snoop Lion, The Clash, String Cheese Incident, UB40, Sublime, and countless others who sought to capture the magic of Studio One’s original Rock Steady sound.

The studio’s doors closed when Coxsone Dodd relocated to New York City in the mid-1980s. However, he continued to manage the label from his new base.

The Artists of Studio One

Studio One holds a treasure trove of music recorded and released by some of Jamaica’s most iconic artists. The list includes names like The Skatalites, The Ethiopians, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Burning Spear, Toots & the Maytals, John Holt, Horace Andy, Ken Boothe, Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown, Jackie Mittoo, Gladiators, Michigan & Smiley, Wailing Souls, Dillinger, Delroy Wilson, Heptones, Johnny Osbourne, Marcia Griffiths, Sugar Minott, The Abyssinians, Culture, Soul Vendors, Lone Ranger, Carlton and The Shoes, Alton Ellis, Willi Williams, Judah Eskender Tafari, and many more.

Additionally, Prince Buster, Studio One’s noted rival, launched his career working for Coxsone Dodd’s sound system. The studio also played host to renowned record producer Harry J, who recorded many of his best-known releases within its hallowed walls. Studio One’s influence on Jamaican music is immeasurable, and its legacy continues to resonate with music lovers worldwide.