PHOTO: <Courtesy Of Karen "K Vibes" Morrison> Vin Morgan sorts piles of original labels for new pressings at Studio 1 (2015)
In the last few years there has been an exciting resurgence of activity from the mightiest record label in reggae, Sir Coxsone Dodd's Studio One. It seems there was some disagreement and legal wrangling between Dodd's benefactors since the great man passed away in May 2004, but the situation seems to have been ironed out sufficiently to allow a steady flow of represses organised by Clement Dodd Junior. These have been pressed using the original metal stampers made for the first or second issues of these golden oldies - mostly from the 60's and 70's.
The use of original stampers is hailed by some as a great thing (often by the sellers of the represses, it has been noted elsewhere!) and cursed by others as a cheap alternative to getting the original tapes remastered and the stampers remade. Since they are 40 or 50 years old, the stampers often have some damage and that translates as surface noise on the new press. However, i would rather they use this method than recording vinyl copies of the records digitally and using that as a source for new stampers, which is the method used by many manufacturers of horrible sounding represses these days. In any case the economic reality is that there is no way the Studio 1 camp are about to start messing around with costly remastering of master tapes and production of new stampers when they have a massive stock of old ones ready for production at no cost.
The really exciting thing about this new era for me - and i am a bit overexcitable when it comes to Studio 1 records, i admit - is that along with the old stampers, Clement Dodd Jr. seems to have uncovered stocks of the original 60's and 70's labels that were unused at the time of the original presses. The result is that many of these represses are produced with a small quantity of copies on the original label - some have suggested only 25 or 50 may be left of each label as they are only leftover surplus stock. All other copies of the record will then be pressed with a modern reproduction of the label with modern type faces added. The stocks of the presses on original labels seem to be scattered far and wide - often a certain title will only turn up with one seller with the first label, and everywhere else will have a reproduced version. As a die hard Studio One fanatic, the scarcity of the original labelled presses soon had me twitching like a meer cat, checking web sites for new arrivals far too often, asking weary record vendors if they've had any new ones for the third time that week. In a way it offers a taste of the fabled olden days of Studio One collecting - when selectors would huddle in crowded record shops like the legendary Peckings' in Askew Road, vying to grab one of the few available copies of this or that obscure Coxsone release before it disappeared into legend - and into someone else's sound-killing box! Scarcity gives you a bit of a challenge as a selector or collector, and for me these beautiful labels make the buying of represses a refreshingly exciting thing - usually you accept the cheap tacky looking modern labels because you're looking past that to the music, but these original labels - many coming in totally pristine condition as they were presumably stashed in boxes, - make the records look like impossibly clean original copies. There are many cases where the sound quality is excellent on these presses, and then you are basically getting a 45 that is identical to a mint copy of the original press. In fact many unscrupulous dealers took advantage of the early days of this reissue program to sell them as original copies - there are quite a few dealers and collectors alike nursing minor wounds having bought copies as originals in the early days a couple of years ago when the Studio One reissue program was not yet in full effect, when the few impressively clean presses were assumed to be unearthed shop stocks of originals (i got burned on Fun It Up Tony & Howie myself).
Here i have gathered a Top Twenty of the recent reissue 45's released with original labels. Some of these are still available, some are long gone - and there are still a fair few i am looking for. They are always turning up in different places, a few copies here and there. This selection represents my personal taste out of those i have managed to pick up so far - there are certainly a fair few presses of earlier R&B and Shuffle records that i haven't covered, since i'm not a huge fan of the era. Most of the tunes covered here are still available at least with modern reproduction labels instead of the originals - so if you love the music i would urge you to buy those if you can't find a copy with an original label, as they run out quickly and once they are gone they probably won't come back. The more we buy this music today, the more it will oil the wheels of the repress machine in Jamaica - meaning the more killer tunes we can buy tomorrow.
Our good friend Tim P of the mighty Tighten Up crew has begun compiling a list of the reissues and their approximate release dates on his site here and also has a bit to say about the releases, as well as some info on the controversy surrounding the earlier Japanese Studio 1 re-releases following Coxsone's death here. Soon I will begin a list at the end of this article of all Studio One represses known to have come with an original label, so if you have come across some that aren't listed, please email us with the details and we will update it and credit you.
To listen to this selection as a continuous playlist go here
Adam's Apple / Feeling Good - Roland Alphonso - All Stars
A Scorching piece of Ska That was way ahead of it's time in the early 60's. This record is a deadly taste of the minor-key "far east" sound that was to emerge a few years later - largely thanks to the various members of the Skatalites - and become the basis of the moody Roots sound. Records like Don Drummond's Last Call (1966) and Seven Wonders Of The World by The Prince Buster All Stars' (essentially The Skatalites by another name) were to set the mystical tone of the Rastafarian music of the 70's. The label on this one is gorgeous and is one of the few that have survived unused from this early in the 60's. It would be near impossible and expensive to find an original copy in this shape. It also plays beautifully. Still available online at time of writing.
Dr. Ring Ding / Street Doctor - The Skatalites / Prince Francis - Studio 1
A legendary ska stormer. Roland Alphonso's solo's on this record are mind blowing, drifting off into mystical jazzy improvisation over the the hard-as-nails bassline. This kind of menacing ska rhythm is in contrast to most of the output from that era, which is generally much more happy-go-lucky - in a major key, often with twee sounding harmonica stabs adding a bit of happy bounce to the mood. The Skatalites were pioneers of the more melancholy, minor-key, meditative style and it's members were at the forefront of the rude boy Rocksteady era when the mood of Jamaica and it's music became less celebratory and more menacing. Sadly the killer Prince Francis side - a dj on the sidewalk doctor rhythm - doesn't play too well.
Russian Ska Fever / This Man Is Back - The Skatalites / Don Drummond & The Skatalites - Studio 1
A further example of the Skatalites moving towards the moody, minor-key style that would sow the seed for the rise of the Roots sound. The labels on this and the previous record are actually from the 70's presses - some 10 years or so later than the original releases. I can't recall seeing a 60's labelled Jamaican copy of either - i guess they were released as blanks in Jamaica, although they were both released on the Doctor Bird label in the UK. These 70's labels are still very beautiful and a welcome addition to the collection.
Man Of Chances / Trust No Shadow - The Tree Tops / The Supertones - Blank / Studio 1
I became aware of this tune when selector extraordinaire Tiny T played it to deadly effect at the legendary 6 Man Revival Clash in Dalston a few years ago (Asher G took the £1000 prize in the end). The lyrics cheekily declared Tiny's status in the clash as a "man of chances". I soon also became aware that i was never going to afford a copy - the blue Coxsone 7" is out of reasonable price range. So i was overwhelmed with joy to get hold of this perfect double of the Jamaican blank release, which i have never seen an original copy of in my life. The press sounds great and, unlike many of these issues, the vinyl quality looks good too. The flip has a beautiful original "hanging Mike" style label, and this 45 has quickly become a favourite at selection central. Searing rocksteady with the Soul Brothers in full effect and wicked harmonies.
Hip Hug Girl / You're So Delightful - Slim Smith / Roland Alphonso & The Skatalites
A massive Coxsone dancehall-rocking favourite, Hip Hug Girl combines a relentless, super catchy bassline with Slim's irresistible call to the dance floor. An essential shot in any selectors box, I also highly recommend the US 10" on Studio 1 (or repress on Music Lab 10") which has an overdubbed cut of this vocal and a killer dub workout. This 7" press is the first and raw Rocksteady cut, presented on it's pretty 70's (2nd press) label.
Chucky Skank / I'll Be There - Dillinger / The Jiving Juniors - Iron Side
I was happy to find this as i had my eye out for an original for a while. A wicked cut of The Heptones' much-versioned Tripe Girl from the man like Dillinger, who recorded an LP's worth of material at Brentford Road (released as Ready Natty Dready). A few of his tracks were also released on 45, and this is the hardest most rootical pick of them. Kicking off with an ominous warning about coming around him with a "screwface" and continuing his toast as a message to all bad-minded "Chucky" who cause unnecessary trouble. This is my favourite cut of Tripe Girl and is a crisp, clean press, hard to tell apart from a mint original. Moody Rocksteady rhythm at it's best with Dillinger adding some ominous dread mood.
Having A Party / Choice Of Music - Dudley Sibley / King Sporty - Coxsone
This 45 has massively grown on me. An upfull celebration of good times, the rolling bassline and Sibley's sweet lilting melodies represent the mellow vibes of Studio One in the early 70's to a Tee. Reggae had begun to take over from the cool and deadly sound of rocksteady, and optimism was back in fashion at least in some quarters. This dose of warm Jamaican vibes is a breath of fresh air as i sit here in London in mid-January. I've only seen the one copy of this with the label. I grabbed it very soon after it's arrival at a certain soho record shop and it's one of the few that haven't emerged elsewhere.
Party Time / Party Time Ver. - The Heptones - Coxsone
A perennial classic from arguably the biggest harmony group to come out of Jamaica. The Heptones released many, many sides for Coxsone and quite a pile of them have been repressed as part of the new reissue program including a few on original labels, mainly 70's Coxsone "2nd press" labels which are often pressed with the dub on the flip side. This is bonus if you're a selector and need dubs for your mic men. These Heptones selections are legendary and form part of the foundation of Reggae music. This 45 is another sweet, timeless celebration of life in Jamaica and pairs perfectly with the tune above, although this is an earlier recording of the Rocksteady era (later dubbed in the 70's for 2nd release) and a legendary piece of tune. This one is a very crisp, clean press.
Going To A Ball / Going To A Dub - Freddie McGregor - Studio 1
Sadly the A-side of this 45 does not play well. I am more fond of the dub side in any case, which gives a bit of welcome contrast between the slightly croony vocal and the nice hard mix of the rhythm, with a wicked dub workout probably by Sylvain Morris. A nice bubbling tune, this continues the party mood nicely. Very pretty labels, too.
Rock Me Baby / Part Two - Horace Andy - Money Disc
Kicking off with a killer break that gets the sampler in me excited, this is a bit of an offbeat selection from Mr "Sleepy" Andy. It's a version of George McCrae's massive disco hit "Rock Your Baby", here stripped down to it's drum and bass essentials and given a reggae lilt with a young Sleepy delivering a decent rendition of the vocal. Coxsone's music tastes ranged far and wide and, it has to be said, resulted in a few ill-advised and terrible records. But it also ensured there are plenty of gems in a different style - Coxsone had the luxury of experimentation while many other Jamaican producers couldn't afford to take chances and were bound to stick to tried and tested formulas. I particularly like the percussion on this one, It's a nice bubbling groove.
Struggler / Mr. Fix It - The Sound Dimension / Winston Francis - Coxsone
There are clearly some funk and even Motown influences in this track. Coxsone flirted with funky sounds like these as i have explored in more detail here - This is another example that has Jackie Mittoo's fingerprints all over it. A storming reggae stomper typical of 1969, but with a little more of the contemporary US sound than was standard. The guitar licks and horns blasts are reminiscent of a 70's cop TV show, The lead flute - probably Tommy McCook - is quite unusual for Studio One and holds the rhythm together nicely. Also reissued on an original Supreme label - i prefer the look of this gorgeous yellow Coxsone.
Hey You / Part Two - The Hi Teens - Studio 1
A nice harmony tune, this is the more mellow side of the Roots era. Records like Hey You, Should Have Been Me and Into My Life, manage to be soft yet rhythmically heavy at the same time, with the power of the vocal harmonies always top-notch - a testament to the famously rigorous filtering of the hordes of artists who would gather daily outside the premises at 13 Brentford Road, hoping to get their shot in the music business.There are many records from this era by one-off artists who came to Brentford Road, recorded a killer side or two and then disappeared into obscurity. The only other record i know of by the Hi Teens is the sublime Story Of Love and i wasn't even aware of Hey You until it's reissue. It's really nice to see such obscure Studio One music being unearthed after years of predictable and repetitive reissues.
Mean Girl / Mean Dub - Larry Marshall - Studio 1
This tune is one of the earliest releases to be classified as Reggae following the Rocksteady era. It is claimed by some that Larry Marshall's Nanny Goat was the first reggae tune, and I believe this may be from that same session - if not at least one shortly afterwards. This rhythm endured through the 70's, being recycled again by many producers - famously causing a musical feud between Coxsone and Channel one, who remade the rhythm for the mighty Diamonds massive hit "I Need A Roof". This press is amazingly crisp - the vinyl is good quality, the label is beautiful and it looks exactly like an immaculate original. A legendary tune with a heavy dub for selectors, a must in my eyes.
I Am A Free Man / Free Dub - Freddie McKay - Money Disc
This 45 was a God-send to many. The original is impossibly rare and was last seen disappearing into some crazed ebay collector's vaults for over $2,000. The heaviest roots tunes to come out of Brentford Road are considered the pinnacle of reggae music by many (myself included) and the original 45's are always hotly contested when they come up for sale. The recent crop of Studio One reissues has given a new generation the chance to grab many of the all time killer Roots shots that were previously out of all but the real fanatics' price range. When you consider that many of those presses have been crisp and clean, and also issued with their original labels, it's a great time to be discovering this music. This is one of the few Roots 45's they've reissued that i didn't have already, and i was delighted to pick it up having given up on ever holding the original 45 bar some miraculous charity shop find. There is a bit of noise on the dub but it's bearable. Unfortunately there were very few copies with the original label and the proper dub - it was issued in far greater numbers with an unrelated dub on the flip and a modern repro label. If you can find the original label press snap it up quick!
You'll Be Sorry / You'll Be Sorry (Ver.) - Freddie McKay - Money Disc
A bitter sweet tune cut in the same era as I'm a free man - the rhythm is in a major key but deceptively heavy. The rhythm was a Coxsone dub plate favourite in the 70's (i have come across several dub plate dubs of it myself) and sounds raucous at a loud volume, the loping bassline and deft guitar skanks providing a rumbling bedrock for Freddie's slightly menacing vocal. A classic Coxsone rhythm with a primitive but tough dub mix on the flip for the sound man.
Every Tongue Shall Tell / Version - Horace Andy - Sight 'N' Sound
One of the great anthems of Roots Music and a Rastafarian Hymn, this is unmissable Horace Andy. One of his finest hours in my book, Every Tongue Shall Tell was one of his earliest recordings at Studio One, released on his seminal album Skylarking. An early example of Rasta consciousness at Studio One, this prophetic warning to the wicked was a corner stone in the development of the music. A teenaged Horace wails his declaration in a fittingly dread tone with his characteristic high, lilting delivery while the horns lines blast urgently through the bass heavy rhythm. A very welcome reissue, the original 45 is not easy to find. The press is acceptable, with a bit of noise on the dub side.
Cripple Skank / Freedom Time - Bongo Herman And Binghi Bunny - Iron Side
Two of the great Rastafarian musicians of their time team up for this further example of the Rastafarian brethren in the 70's era. It's well documented that Coxsone was not overly keen on the Rasta influence in the early days, but by this point it's popularity was increasing with the Jamaican record-buying public and Coxsone was never one to ignore a commercial trend. Bongo Herman was one of the earliest and most respected Rastafarian musicians, so much so that he performed at the visit of H.I.M Haile Selassie to the Island in 1966. During the 70's he paired up with DJ (toaster) and percussionist Binghi Bunny, also a well respected stalwart of the Roots scene. I believe this is the only 45 they recorded for Coxsone - they mostly worked with the great Derrick Harriott during this period. This 45 is a rootsy double-sided outing on the rhythm of Marcia Griffiths' Tell Me Now - One side with Binghy Bunny delivering a bubbling toast, the other with the two percussionists interacting over a slowed-down cut of the rhythm providing a particularly heavy version.
Love & Understanding / Love Dub - Glen Miller - Faze Four
This is another all time Roots 45 that has been causing collector's headaches for years. An incredibly deep meditation on the need for the love of our fellow humans, this record can't fail to touch anyone with a social conscience. Glen Miller's soulful, heartfelt delivery sends shivers down the spine, while the rolling, sparse but sublime bass-heavy rhythm adds to the melancholy and yearning mood. A beautiful record for the conscious soul.
What Would I Do Without Jah What Would I Do Without Jah (Ver.) - Josephine Bryan - Studio 1
Another previously-scarce Roots number, this is a hard re-cut of the sharks storming Rocksteady original "How Could I Live". Josephine Bryan is another little known singer who made a brief appearance at Brentford Road. Here she re-invents the lyrics of the Sharks record to change the subject of her devotion from a lover to Jah Rastafari. I've always been a fan of the Sharks original and this overdubbed cut with spooky synths and flute-like keyboard parts takes it to a new, harder level, with a murderous dub side to complete the package. An essential stormer for the Roots selector.
Perhaps Instrumental / Perhaps - Charles Davis / Lascelles Perkins - Collector's Series S.O. World
Sir Coxsone was a huge personal fan of Jazz and a well known enthusiast and expert in the field internationally. He released a handful of Jamaican Jazz LP's over the years, usually utilising his own house players such as Ernest Ranglin and Lennie Hibbert who were comfortable and enthusiastic in the genre. Ernest Ranglin is particularly well respected as much in world of Jazz as in Reggae. In 1998 however, Coxsone broke new ground and released Reggae Au Go Jazz - the result of working with 3 of the great American Jazz legends; Charles Davis (Sax), Roy Burrowes (Trumpet) and Clifford Jordan (Tenor Sax). I highly recommend the album which consists of the masterful Jazz luminaries letting loose over some of Coxsone's deepest rhythms. The 45 in hand may well have been recorded during the same sessions. A modern, yet Jamaican, Jazz-Swing rhythm forms the basis of these two versions of the standard "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps", which has it's roots in the Caribbean having been written in Spanish by Cuban Osvaldo Ferres before being adapted by Joe Davis in English. It has proved a popular tune in Jamaica and has spawned some incredible versions, not least The Skatalites (Perhaps - Blue Beat 7") and - Roland Alphonso (Perhaps - R&B 7"). The gem here for me is the Charles Davis side with his leisurely and languid delivery perfectly complimented by the unmistakable guitar of Ernest Ranglin with his improvisations also coming into their own. This record has arrived along with the other original label 45's listed, but i am not sure it is a repress. The Reggae Au Go Jazz LP was released in 1998 so i would guess that this 45 was not far behind, and these copies are identical to the original so there may well have just been a box of them hanging around with all those original label stocks and stampers. It was always hard to find even at the time of press, and the limited copies that have turned up will be gone in a flash. Take warning!