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Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd

07 May 2004

Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd was saluted as one of the “grandfathers of modern-day music” as tributes flooded in this week for the hugely influential reggae pioneer and Studio One label founder.

“We’ve lost the real big man,” says broadcaster David Rodigan of the man credited as the father of the sound system, originator of dub, pioneer of ska, rocksteady and reggae and the record executive who brought the world artists such as The Wailers, Burning Spear and Horace Andy.

Dodd, died aged 72 last Tuesday at the desk of his world famous Studio One recording studio in Jamaica. Just four days earlier he had attended a ceremony to rename the street outside Studio One Boulevard. “Clement Dodd was the grandfather of modern-day music - much of his pioneering work can be heard in today’s music, from hip hop to rap, rock and R&B, from Bob Marley to The Clash and beyond,” says broadcaster and musician Brinsley Forde. “The name says it all. Studio One.”

Dodd was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 26 1932, receiving the nickname Sir Coxsone (after the Forties Yorkshire cricketer) while still at school. After a spell working as a cane cutter in Florida he returned to Jamaica in 1954, setting up his first sound system, Coxsone’s Downbeat, outside his parents’ liquor shop and featuring DJs including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, U Roy and Prince Buster. In 1960, Dodd opened the first Jamaican-owned recording studio at 13 Brentford Road. Not only was the name Studio One to become synonymous with Jamaican popular music, but it was the starting point for many of Jamaica’s top acts. With his house band The Skatalites Dodd developed the ska sound and, in 1965, cut the first Rock Steady tracks with the likes of Ken Boothe and Gregory Isaacs.

“Coxsone was the inspiration, a warm and tremendous presence,” recalls David Rodigan.

In 1964 Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer auditioned for Dodd, who went on to record three tracks straight off. The first, Simmer Down, gave The Wailers their first number one hit. “Clement Dodd was the foundation music producer for reggae music that the whole world now listens to,” says Julian Marley.

From the Sixties on Dodd built up a strong business by licensing music into the UK to labels such as Island and Pama and via the Peckings retail outlet in west London. "Because of Clement Dodd, reggae and the people in it, developed a sense of determination. He was a personal friend, a special person, and I am honoured to have been associated with him," says Carl Palmer, the UK industry pioneer who co-founded Pama and still runs Jet Star.

Coxsone’s recordings are immediately recognisable by the quality of the outstanding arrangements and rhythms played by the some of the world’s finest musicians including the late Roland Alphonso and the late Tommy McCook on tenor sax, Leonard Dillon and Baba Brooks on trumpet, Ernest Ranglin on guitar, the late Don Drummond and Rico Rodriguez, who also played with The Members and The Specials, on trombone, Lloyd Brevett on bass and the late great Jackie Mittoo playing keyboards.

Due to the political violence that surrounded Jamaican politics at the end of the Seventies, with all its attendant dangers, and the economic chaos that made it impossible for Coxsone to carry on his business on the island he moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1980. In an article published in Village Voice in 2001, written by Michael Deibert, Coxsone commented on the many people who died during this period, in particular the great King Tubby and Peter Tosh."Tubby's death was left unanswered," Coxsone says. "Coming around to Peter Tosh, it was just a pity. Because of politics, people got more vicious. When you heard of a murder or violence in the old days, it was the talk of the town for two or three years until something else happened. But now, every week something occurs that's worse than what came before. I just hope that it will come back to normal, because it's no good for nobody and a lot of innocent people are losing their lives."

Fast-forward to 1996 and Angela Tate, Licensing Manager for Soul Jazz Records, approached Coxsone at his office in Brooklyn. The meeting resulted in Soul Jazz Records licensing Studio One for Europe from Dodd. “He wasn’t bothered about the money side of things,” remembers Tate. “It was all down to personal trust. He was a pioneer; an amazing, independent voice and he maintained that independence to the end.”

But probably the last word on Clement Dodd should belong to Chris Blackwell who remained close to Dodd for over forty years. “The Jamaican music that emerged around the time of independence was entirely due to Clement Dodd. He was like the university an artist would hope to enrol with in order to fine-tune their skills. When I started Island records in England Sir Coxsone entrusted me with promoting his music overseas. The fifth record that Island released was "We'll Meet" by Roy and Millie. I signed Millie soon after and her record "My Boy Lollipop" was the first hit we had and brought Island into the mainstream music business. Sir Coxsone Dodd was totally dedicated to music - he never changed - from the first time I met him in 1960 at a sound system event to when I saw him last year. He is one of the true greats in the world of music.”

Nick Tesco

With thanks to Music Week – www.musicweek.com

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