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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 5 « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 5

Channel One Studio

As the 1980s opened, a new sense of calm was settling on the war weary city of Kingston. City life returned to its slow but regular pace. Although the legendary Studio 17 was now closed and the equipment covered in plastic, artists continued their regular vigil around the corner, along Chancery Lane. The weekend was all about packing up the sound and setting up somewhere for a late night party. But, then the week would begin again, with its own familiar pattern. “Monday morning we end up out a Randy’s up a North Parade where all of the artists them used to be, on Chancery Lane corner,” Recalls deejay Crutches, “me, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, Leroy Smart, there was a musician we call Dirty Harry – the whole of we used to out there. Frankie Paul just a come from outa the Salvation Army, a come pon the corner and deh amongst we. We was a unit.”

Leroy Smart and Trinity were the stars of Chancery Lane. Once they hit the corner, everybody ate food. “Cause those where the popular guys who used to make money from the music. Trintiy would buy lunch for you and when you leave, put a money in your pocket. Leroy smart is like that too,” Jah Thomas recall, “If him buy a shirt, him buy shirt for everybody, if him buy Clarks, him buy Clarks for everybody. They were popular. They were the guys making money”

The high point of the week was Wednesday. “There used to be a thing up at the Carib [theater] on Wednesday, the ‘martinee’ [movie matinee],” Crutches continues. “Every man just ride out – 12, 14 bike just ride out. Horace Andy did love riding with a bike more time. Gregory Isaacs had a 50. Me had a 90. Big Youth have a 90. We just ride and go up – ride and take taxi – all of we, pure artists, just gone a Carib and we enjoy we self. Everyman come down and see a who get a girl.”

When they weren’t hanging out on Chancery Lane or taking in a cowboy show, entertainers would congregate at Channel One Studio on Maxfield Avenue. Business was still thriving and a steady stream of artists and session men were coming and going all day. Sly and Robbie still dominated the scene, but the newest band, the Channel One Allstars (later The Roots Radics) was picking up more sessions.

Since the mid ‘70s, Channel One was the studio of choice for the downtown crowd. It was the one full service studio that had its roots in the sound system business and maintained a close association with the dancehall. The location of the studio near an election time ‘no-go’ zone had created problems for visiting artists in the late ‘70s. But, as the 1980s opened, with the election over and the verdict in, the struggle seemed to stop, at least temporarily. Owner Jojo Hookim had recently bumped the studio’s capacity up to 16 tracks to attract new business and hired several young engineers with new ideas. Among them, straight from King Tubby’s studio, was the soon to be legendary, Scientist.

Channel One represented the collaboration of the four Hookim Brothers, Joseph (Jojo), Ernest, Paulie and Kenneth. Descended from a Chinese immigrant father and a mixed Chinese-Jewish mother, the brothers grew up as part of the middle class ‘Hakka’ community, as the Chinese Jamaicans were referred to. This community included luminaries of the music industry, like band leader Byron Lee, producer Leslie Kong, sound owner Tom Wong – better known as Tom the Great Sebastian, and the Chins of Randy’s/VP.

The Hookim family started out with an ice cream parlor and a collection of slot machines. But in 1970, the government made gambling machines illegal, so the brothers switched over to the similarly structured business of juke box ownership. That was their first step into music. Their second was the sound system.

The Channel One Sound System

Each of the four Hookim brothers had a distinct role in the development of Channel One. Jojo ran the studio. Ernest engineered. Kenneth served as a talent scout and Paulie’s passion was the sound system. The Channel One sound system was the champion for the mid to late ‘70s. U Brown recalls, “Channel One had all of the fresh songs. Plus, all of the producers who wanted to get their songs popular usually give Channel One cuts of the songs to play on the sound*.”

* Sound being short for sound system, also called a ‘set’

Growing up in downtown Kingston, where music is a part of daily life, all four boys were heavily exposed to sound systems and grew up going to dances, especially the three younger ones. Jojo was more interested in business.

Although the sound was mainly played in the evenings, the Channel One sound system was never very far away from the brothers’ day to day affairs. Music from the studio went straight to the sound as dubplates before going to press for general release, and the deejays went straight from the recording studio to perform live at the sessions. The sound and the studio were so closely connected, they were like one complete unit.

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U Brown chats on Channel One Sound System in Braeton, St Catherine 1978

In 1979, the sound was going strong with foundation deejays U Brown, Nicodemus, and Raking Trevor. Then, in a moment, it was all turned upside down. The sound was playing at the beach and brother Paulie was gambling with some pals, as he usually did, when an argument broke out and quickly escalated to violence. Paulie was shot and killed.

“Paulie was a really nice person. A very strict man also. But he was cool,” says Barnabas who was deejaying Channel One sound the night Paulie was killed. Paulie had been the heart and soul of the sound, and his death put an end to its activity. “A little after he died, Channel One didn’t play again,” Barnabas continues, “They didn’t book any new dates. They just finish out the dates that was booked.”

Jojo had always lived with the disturbing presentment that harm would befall one of the brothers. Brother Ernest and a friend were attending a dance once when shots started to fire. “The two of them were running. His best friend got shot and died. Sometimes I wonder to myself, if that shot was meant for Earnest.” Now that his premonition had been fulfilled, he no longer felt comfortable living in Jamaica. “I knew one of us was going to lose our life. The sort of environment that [we] were into, the sort of people we deal with, where we live, where we do business. Every now and then you have somebody in an argument. So, you know something going to happen one day. Cause I say to Earnest and Paul, ‘One of us got to go, you know. I don’t know which of us got to go, but one of us going to go’. ” After Paulie died, Jojo was happy to let the sound go and concentrate on the studio. But, he took the added precaution of moving to New York to set up his business abroad, both as a safeguard and an addition to his continued work in Jamaica. That left the day to day running of the various business components to the two remaining brothers, Kenneth and Ernest.

The brothers had been planning to make the studio 16 track and went ahead despite Paulie’s death and Jojo’s move. The new mixing board’s expanded capacity attracted new interest in the studio. The relative calm allowed artist and producers to venture back into the area. By 1982 The Roots Radics band was booked solid, and there was a constant flow of artists and producers, musicians and engineers, all accompanied by an entourage of assistants, body guards, fans and ‘loafters’*. Producers came flocking to the studio just to have the Radics play on their sessions, and to have the new boy wonder, Scientist, engineering their rhythms.

* Loafters – in Jamaica, the term refers to freeloaders, people who hang around and contribute nothing. The verbal equivalent is loafting, as in the Jah Thomas song, Stop You Loafting

Engineers

Jojo had opened the studio on Maxfield Avenue in 1972 with an offer of free studio time to try out the new facilities. Yet, despite the Hookim’s best marketing efforts, the studio seemed to stagnate.

The problem turned out to be the current engineer, Syd Buckner. “The first set of tunes we bring out, when they were mastering it, [they sounded] too flat. You didn’t get no boosting. There were certain things on the board that [Sid] didn’t know about”, Kenneth commented. “Jojo show him, but he didn’t use it same way”. So, Ernest Hookim took over the crucial engineering position and things started to look up. Engineering was everything. Without a skillful man at the helm, the number of tracks, the brand name of the equipment – nothing mattered. Channel One’s success as a recording studio was due to a succession of capable and creative engineers.

The mixing board at Channel One studio was manned by some of the best – Peter Chemist, Scientist, Bunny Tom Tom who later left to work with Music Mountain, Lancelot “Maxie” McKenzie, Soljie Hamilton originally from Studio One and who worked mainly with Sly and Robbie on their Taxi material, Barnabas and Ernest Hookim. These engineers provided the basis for the emerging dancehall style.

Barnabas

“Back in Channel One days, Ernest deal with poker machine and the race horse machine. So he used to leave the studio to me, cause he knew I could do the work good,” Barnabas remembers. “He would recommend me, cause he was so much more into his machine work.”

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Ranking Barnabas – Tumbling Tears

Barnabas had the good fortune to live right across the street from the studio, so he was available anytime. As a boy, he would hang around the studio trying to make himself useful, going to the shop to buy drinks for the musicians, just to have an excuse to hang around and watch what was going on. He began playing drums and worked with various bands including The Gladiators and Gifted Roots, the band that toured Japan with Sugar Minott in 1984. As deejay Ranking Barnabas he recorded a few tunes, like the deejay part of Gregory Isaccs’ ‘Tumbling Tears’ on a GG 12 inchin 1977, and deejayed with the Channel One sound. He also contributed drums on Sugar Minott’s debut LP, Ghetto-ology While Junjo used Scientist a lot, he also liked the way Barnabas worked. Barnabas engineered several of Junjo’s top hits, like Eekamouse’s ‘Wa Do Dem’. “I did all the engineering. I recorded it [the instruments]. I recorded his voice the same day. I mixed it the same night. It was released the next day and it was a hit song the day after.”

Peter Chemist, a neighbor and fellow engineer, commented, “He was good and he was fast. He was very fast. He could mix an album in a few hours. [The sound he achieved] was pretty much the Channel One sound – stuff that I believe Barnabas picked up from Ernest.”

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Earth And Stone – In Time To Come

Barnabas admits getting his inspiration from the Hookim brother. “Ernest Hookim – I always watching him. The first song that I did a little engineering on was ‘Blood Sweat and Tears’ – Earth and Stone. I went around the board. I did the mixing of the version. But Earnest was the one who balance everything as the chief engineer. That’s my teacher. I learn a lot from him.”

Just next door to Barnabas, lived a little youth named Donovan whose mother used to work cleaning the Channel One studio. In the very early mornings, she would take the boy with her to the studio where there was often a late night session going on, and he would help her clean while he watched the musicians and engineers. Soon, he began asking questions. Scientist took him seriously and spent time showing the boy how things worked. Peter Chemist, as the youth came to be known, became a leading engineer, working often with Sugar Minott on his Black Roots and Youth Promotion productions. Although he never worked on a sound system directly, he spent a lot of time making specials and dubplates, sitting down with the artist and helping him work out the presentation, as he did with Trevor Junior’s classic ‘Hip Hip Hurray’.

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Trevor Junior – Hip Hip Hurray

The rest of the engineers all had a direct relationship with the dancehall, and it showed in their production techniques. Like King Tubby, they were looking for a sound that would carry outside in the open air, that had crisp separation and outlandishly heavy bass. Out of this group of engineers, Anthony ‘Soljie’ Hamilton had been the selector for top ‘80s sound, Echo Vibration and, like Bunny Tom Tom, selected for the Channel One sound as well. Drummer and engineer Barnabas deejayed as ‘Ranking Barnabas’ with the set. Maxie* had put together some of the electronic components of the sound. Bunny Tom Tom, aka Crucial Bunny (Anthony Graham), started out working for the Hookims in their shop around the corner as a motorcycle mechanic. Then, according to Peter Chemist, “He found out he could make more money working on the sound system.” So, he began working as the main selector and, from there, as an engineer in the studio.

* Lancelot Mackenzie. He later left for the U.S. to attend electrician school

This combined experience added up to a lot of dancehall exposure for a core group of engineers. In the early ‘80s rhythms, the instrumentation was minimal – predominantly drum and bass, and the mix dripping with echo, giving a feeling of vast empty space. The effect was powerfully bleak and almost intimidating. The beat was slower than the ‘70s, much slower than Rock Steady or Ska, and many of the songs were in a minor key*. It wasn’t until 1982-‘83 that the more upbeat rhythms began to dominate.

* Some examples would be the Michael Palmer songs ‘One Away Soldier’, ‘Ghetto Dance’ and ‘Long Run Short Ketch’

Jojo Hookim had high standards for the engineers he allowed at the ‘controls’. Engineering was supposed to be a physically demanding job, at least the way it needed to be done for dancehall. “Earnest started it [engineering] first,” Jojo recalls. “But I tell him, if him going to do it, he has to be all over the control, like he’s running a keyboard. He can’t be there just pushing a little slide up and ease back. He has to be constantly moving something, throughout the whole complete rhythm. I usually say if they are mixing a dancehall rhythm and they can’t look like they are playing a keyboard, it doesn’t make sense.” One of the reasons was the massive use of echo. Jojo continues, “The high hats delayed, the snare delayed, the rhythm section delayed, the voice delayed – so you have to be click-click-clicking – that was for four track! It was worse when it come 16 track.”

Dwight Pinkney, who worked with each of the engineers while he was with the Roots Radics, was aware of the importance of this link between the studio and the dance. “People like Soljie, Bunny Tom Tom, Earnest from Channel One,” Dwight commented, “these engineers are active in the dancehall. They don’t just study the book. They had experience in the field, in the street. They go around the sound… and capture the whole vibe of what people reacting to. So, they brought it into the studio and enhanced the production with those vibes – all those delays, the delayed timing, the EQ. It affects the dynamic, you know. That’s what the engineers were able to bring out.”

Kenneth and the Showdown LPs

On any given day, Channel One was full of people coming in and going out, or just standing around watching. Chuku was the studio manager. If you wanted the book time at the studio, you had to go through Chuku who would take the payment, mark down your time and give you a receipt. When you came to work, the gateman Zebbe would let you in. All day long, Zebbe, the studio’s front line defense against chaos, sat by the inside wire mesh gate, keeping out the loafters and allowing in authorized personnel.

Channel One was a high traffic area. When not in use, and even frequently during sessions, Channel One was often overrun with ‘loafters’. Some of the idlers just wanted to beg money or a spliff. Some desperately wanted a turn at the mic and a chance to record. Some just wanted to hang out with the artists. Sometimes it was hard to work under these conditions. Sly and Robbie didn’t allow it. They kept their sessions under strict control.

The uniquely Jamaica ‘loafter’ constituted a certain percentage of the personnel in any ghetto area. Made up of unemployed men, these aimless individuals milled around any place where something was happening on the off chance there may emerge an opportunity to obtain some money, however small, however acquired – earned, borrowed, found. If no money came out of it, at least they had been entertained by the events. These loiterers, old and young, were an important part of the economy of the ghetto. Always available to do odd jobs, they sometimes ended up with full time employment or found their way into a de facto apprenticeship. But, for the most part, loafters were considered to be lazy procrastinators who never quite got around to finding gainful employment, and thus, tried to live by sponging off others.

For Jojo, who admits that his main interest in reggae was always to make a living, loafters got in the way and harassed the artist, created an obstacle to business. “The problem we had down at Maxfield [Avenue] was the constant begging. And when the musicians come there to do their work, it’s like they couldn’t leave in peace with whatever money.” However, for Kenneth
Hookim, the presence of throngs of idlers in the studio area created a vibe, encouraging the singers and deejays, producing a more live, dancehall like atmosphere during recording.

With Jojo in New York, and Ernest busy with running things day to day, Kenneth had taken over the job of auditioning the new artists. Kenneth had a good ear and an intuition about newcomers. It was a thankless task that Jojo loathed, but Kenneth had a knack for it. “Kenneth had a little more rapport with the singers, probably more than I do”, Jojo admitted.

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Michael Palmer – Long Run Short Ketch

The artists who came were young and fresh and generally inexperienced, so Kenneth’s job was to work them into shape to record and then get them exposure. Kenneth collected a group of young male singers who he spent 1984 producing. The list included Patrick Andy, Frankie Jones, Paddy Anthony, Michael Palmer, Trevor Junior, Steve Knight, George Wright and Wayne Smith. Kenneth managed to create a few hits, but most of the artists went on to record their best work elsewhere. Although some of Michael Palmer’s early works for Kenneth, like ‘Fancy Girl’ and ‘Lean Boot’, can still stand up quite well, Michael didn’t hit his peak until later, when he recorded ‘Lickshot’ for George Phang, ‘Long Run Short Ketch’ for Tonos, and ‘Ghetto Dance’ for Jah Thomas. Patrick Andy did a few with Kenneth Hookim, like ‘Pretty Me’ and ‘Life in a Jailhouse No Nice’. But it was his work with Jammy, including ‘Sting Me a Sting’ and ‘Speak Your Mind’, that stood out. (Patrick, later, recorded a neat little cut, Cowhorn Chalice, for Prince Jazzbo). Frankie Jones was already an established recording artist, having made the LP Satta and Praise Jah for Bunny Lee in 1977. He recorded a few 45s for Kenneth that appeared on a clash LP with Michael Palmer, but he was more successful with ‘Run Come for Witty’, ‘Them Nice’ for Harry J and ‘Nice Like She’ for Myrie and Marshall. Wayne Smith had the popular ‘Karma Chameleon’ for Kenneth, but hit big with ‘Sleng Teng’ for Jammy a year later. Frankie Paul’s ‘Slavedriver’, over the ‘Darker Shade of Black’ rhythm, is dynamic, but he went on to much bigger hits with George Phang and Junjo, and became one
of dancehall reggae’s superstar sensations.

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Patrick Andy – Life In Jailhouse No Nice

To introduce the newcomers, the Hookims devised an innovative system, taking inspiration from the dub clash format – pair the newcomer up with a more established artist on a ‘showdown’ LP. Thus, a series of clash albums was launched in 1984. Largely a personal project of Kenneth’s, this format allowed Channel One to put new artists in an album format without much risk.

One of the first LPs featured Frankie Paul v. Sugar Minott. It paired the young Kenneth Hookim protégé with the well loved hit maker and proved that Kenneth’s new singer was on a par with the best. Kenneth continued the product line with The “Frankies” (Frankie Paul and Frankie Jones), the “Andy’s”, (Horace Andy and Patrick Andy) and the “Palmers” (Michael Palmer and Wayne Palmer). The series of pairings continued throughout ’84 with a Wayne Smith and Patrick Andy Showdown, the clash of Frankie Jones v. Michael Palmer, Barry Brown V. Little John, and Frankie Paul v. Little John.

Soon, other studios had caught on and were making their own clash style albums. Jammy came out with Double Trouble, with Frankie Paul and Michael Palmer. Errol Lewis & John Marshall put out Two New Superstars, featuring Patrick Andy & Frankie Jones. Sir Tommy had Roland Burrell v. Admiral Tibet. Fantastique let Tristan Palma meet Early B, The Doctor and Black Solidarity presented The Big Showdown of Phillip Frazer and Tristan Palma.

At the time, sales of vinyl recording was facing the challenge of pirated cassette copies being sold illegally and interchanged between friends. Jah Thomas tried the clash format on an LP called Wicked, with Johnny Osbourne against Michael Palmer, as he explained, “Because the business getting slow a bit, you know. Like the cassette business was taking over [from] the records. So, I had to do something to attract people to spend their money.”

Eventually, the fad lost momentum and faded away, but not before introducing the public to the next generation of singers who came to dominate the decade.

The Decline of Channel One

However, despite the number of popular artist recording at Channel One, and the hits they were making, the studio just couldn’t seem to maintain the momentum. “Jojo migrated and went away for a long time and everything just went down,” Singer Pad Anthony reflects. “Everything just winded down. That was the end of it.”

Jojo tried to keep the studio afloat from afar with his frequent trips back and forth. But it grew more difficult. Jojo’s heart was in the new pressing plant in New York, and Channel One was heading into a decline.

Beginning back in 1983, business at the Hitbound record plant across the road, had started to slow due to a recent rise in the price of records. Albums were selling for $24 (Jamaican) and 45s for $5.50 each. So a lot of the staff were laid off and spent their days loafting at the studio. The new government had decreased Jojo’s import/export license so he could no longer import the parts he needed to run a studio and a pressing plant in Jamaica. The jukebox business was losing ground.

Jojo’s long stays abroad left a vacuum at Channel One. The loafters seems to take over like weeds growing on an old, abandoned castle. The Hookims began talking of building a new 24 track studio out in the suburbs, but year after year passed. Jojo concentrated on the plant in Queens, pressing records for other producers, and moved farther and farther away from Channel One.

Goldielocks, Hitbound record presser, always held that Channel One began having problems when Kenneth left. Kenneth and Jojo weren’t on good terms. As Barnabas expresses it, “Kenneth is like the black sheep of that family.” So, the separation was inevitable. His replacement, Chucu, just wasn’t the same. Channel One had definitely been the place to be in 1976. But somehow, although it underwent a revival in the early ‘80s, it never really reached the same peak of creativity that it achieved in the ‘‘70s, and its popularity soon began to decline.

Then, in 1985, the digital revolution hit like a tornado, sweeping all the musical activity up to Waterhouse, and Channel One seemed unprepared to respond. Jojo was in New York, Kenneth had left, Ernest was busy with the machines and no one was there to keep the music current.

When Channel One closed, it ended an important chapter in reggae history. Like Randy’s before it, Channel One encapsulated a unique time in the development of reggae. Its closing signified the end if an era. Reggae was already rushing headlong in another direction, into the world of drum machines, synthesizers and digital production.

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