Ska was born in Jamaica during the late-fifties. At first Jamaican musicians seemed determined to replicate the sound of American R&B. Both the beat and tempo were similar. Then having tired of copying their American counterparts, Jamaican musicians decided to give this new musical genre a Jamaican twist. So, Caribbean and Jamaican musical genres, including calypso, rhumba, merengue and mento found their way into what became known as ska. Soon, Ska became Jamaica’s most popular musical genre. It was replicating the success of R&B in America. Quickly, labels and bands were born. Soon, a whole host of records were being released. One of these labels was founded by Coxsone Dodd, one of the legends of Jamaican music.

It was in October 1963, that Coxsone Dodd founded the Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio, at 13 Brentford Road, Kingston. What was a former jazz club The End, became a one-stop musical shop. Musicians could head to what became known as Studio One, to write and record music. They could meet with other songwriters and musicians, and this musical meeting point, was where some of the biggest names in Jamaican music recorded some of the finest music of their career. This included the music on Soul Jazz Records’ recent compilation Studio One Ska Fever! 

Released on 30th September 2013, Studio One Ska Fever features eighteen tracks. These tracks were released on Coxsone Records, Studio One and Ska Beat. There are contributions from Lee Perry, The Wailers, Jackie Mittoo, The Ethiopians, Don Drummond, Clarendonians and The Skatalites, who for a fourteen month period, were Studio One’s studio band. During that period, they recorded fifty tracks, which played a part in the changing face of ska. Covering the period between 1964 and 1967, the eighteen tracks on Studio One Ska Fever feature just a few of the artists who headed through Studio One’s doors.

It was during May 1964 that The Skalites were formed by Coxsone Dodd. His idea, was to bring the best musicians together to play on his own recordings. The man given the job of putting together this group of top musicians was Tommy McCook. He turned down this chance, but eventually, agreed to join what became The Skalites. Eventually, the lineup included tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, trumpeter Johnny Moore, alto saxophonist Lester Sterling and pianist Jackie Mittoo. Along with bassist Lloyd Brevett, drummer Lloyd Knibbs and guitarist Jah Jerry Hinds, The Skalites were born. They’d provide the backdrop to many of the tracks on Studio One Ska Fever.

During 1964, trumpeter Johnny Moore, who’d became a member of The Skalites. That year, he wrote and recorded Slavling Johnny. A mid-tempo slice of horn driven ska, Johnny unleashes a blistering trumpet solo. This showcases just why Coxsone Dodd wanted him Johnny, a former member of The Cavaliers to join The Skalites.

The Wailers released Climb The Ladder in 1964. It features some of the biggest names in reggae. A Robert Marley wrote and sang an impassioned lead vocal, while Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer adds heartfelt harmonies. With The Skalites accompanying The Wailers, Climb The Ladder is like a who’s who of reggae music. Their other contribution Mr. Talkative, which was recorded in July 1964. Released in 1964 on Coxsone Records, Bob Marley wrote and sang lead vocal. It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what was to come from the soon to be, Bob Marley. 

Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson had worked with Coxsone Dodd before they released There’s A Reward in 1965. They cowrote the track which was recorded at Studio One’s studios in Brentford Road. Released on Studio 1, there’s a joyous, soulful and uplifting sound to this track.

Don Drummond and Coxsone Dodd knew each other well. They should do. They’d often worked together. The pair penned Green Island, which was released on Coxsone Records in 1965. There’s a languid, jazz-tinged sound to the melancholy Green Island. Later, an R&B influence shines through. Despite this, the horns give the track a wistful jazzy twist.

During 1966, The Clarendonians release two singles on Coxsone Records. The first was the Ernest Wilson and Peter Austin penned Rudie Bam Bam. Against a jaunty, skanking and hypnotic arrangement, the vocal takes on an almost spiritual quality. Deeply moving and powerful, it’s very different to the cover of The Beatles’ You Won’t See Me. Written by Lennon and McCartney, it’s a quite beautiful, heartfelt rendition of a classic.

Mention The Gaylads, and discerning reggae lovers will remind you of their place in the history of Jamaican vocal harmony groups. Quite simply, The Gaylads were up there with the best. Comprising Harris Seaton, Winston Stewart and Maurice Roberts, they made a name as a group who seamlessly, could switch between musical genres. This meant they stood out. It certainly was the case on the Harris Seaton composition Don’t Try To Reach Me. Released in 1966 on Coxsone Records, rocksteady and ska meet head on, on this atmospheric, evocative fusion of Jamaican musical genres.

My final choice from Soul Jazz Records’ recent compilation Studio One Ska Fever is Jackie Mittoo’s Jump For Joy. Anyone with a passing interest in Jamaican music will have heard of Jackie. No wonder. Pianist Jackie Mittoo is one of the legends of Jamaican music. Songwriter, musicians and producer, he joined The Skalites when he was just sixteen. By the time he released Jump For Joy on Coxsone Records in 1967. He was nineteen. Jump For Joy is another fusion of influences. American and Jamaican music combine. Soul jazz and ska collide head on. Jackie plays the Hammond organ, with the big burner at the heart of this genre-melting track’s success.

Although I’ve only mentioned nine of the eighteen tracks on Studio One Ska Fever, I was spoiled for choice. Really, I could just about have picked any of the eighteen tracks. That reflects the quality of music on Studio One Ska Fever. Mind you, that’s not surprising. Coxsone Dodd was a producer with exacting standards. Inferior music didn’t get to bare the Studio One logo. No way. The same goes for Soul Jazz Records.

Since their first compilation, Soul Jazz Records have concentrated on quality over quantity. They don’t churn out compilations. No. They almost ration themselves. Each of their releases must come up to their exacting standards. That’s why it’s so fitting that Soul Jazz Records are the keeper of the flame for Studio One Records. Both companies have the same standards. Neither would nor will release second rate music. Instead, it’s got to be the creme de la creme. That’s no bad thing.

After all, newcomers to ska hear some of the legends of Jamaican music on Studio One Ska Fever. Lee Perry, The Wailers, Jackie Mittoo, The Ethiopians and The Skatalites all feature on Studio One Ska Fever. These eighteen tracks are a tantalizing taster of ska. I’m sure Studio One Ska Fever won’t be the last reggae compilation you buy. A good starting point is Soul Jazz Records’ back-catalogue. Just like Studio One Ska Fever, they’re lovingly compiled and feature some of the best music in the history of Jamaican music. Standout Tracks: Johnny Moore Slavling Johnny, Jackie Mittoo Jump For Joy, The Clarendonians You Won’t See Me and The Wailers Mr. Talkative.


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