Dodd, Clement Coxsone
Clement Coxsone Dodd
Producer, reggae musician
Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd is the pioneering producer of Jamaican music associated most readily with roots reggae, although he was active in the development of sound system, as well as in ska and rocksteady. He was an integral part of the careers of nearly every major reggae artist, but is best known for having been the first to record Bob Marley and the Wailers at his Studio One.
Dodd got his start in music thanks to his parents. His father was a contractor and mason whose projects included building the Carib Theatre in Jamaica. He also reportedly worked on the docks, which enabled him to obtain recordings from crews on transient ships docked in port. Dodd's mother ran a restaurant in Kingston and his parents also owned a liquor store, where he played American jazz records for customers.
Although born in Kingston, Dodd spent some of his youth in St. Thomas Parish, where he lived with his grandparents and aunts in Rose Hill. His nickname was given to him as a child, for his exploits on the cricket pitch, Coxsone being the name of the leading player for the English Yorkshire cricket team. He attended Charles Town Government School, but returned to Kingston to study cabinetmaking and automobile mechanics.
When Dodd finished school he emigrated to the United States, where he worked as a temporary sugar cane cutter in Florida. It was during this time that he was introduced to R&B music and, after a trip to Harlem, New York, amassed more records for his growing collection, just in time for the birth of sound system in Jamaica.
By 1954 mobile DJs were extremely important to black residents of the island nation. "All the radio stations were owned by middle-class whites, as were the record companies. Blacks, by contrast, controlled the dance venues, many of them open to the air," according to an article in the Economist. "Music had to be very loud indeed to compete with night insects, frogs, the sea and the muffling cloak of humidity."
Dodd also had seen how profitable outdoor block parties could be while working in the United States. The "lawns" in Jamaica were not much different. Promoters would provide drinks, food, and good music in exchange for a small admission fee to the dancehall. He was a pioneer with one of the best sound systems, louder than any other system and playing the newest, danceable music. As "Sir Coxsone the Downbeat," he could have five systems playing on any one night in the Kingston area. His main competitor was Duke Reid, "The Trojan," a family friend who had given Dodd his start.
To maintain his status, Dodd would go on record-buying expeditions to the United States. "At that time we were in search of boogie woogie, good jazz, meringue and stuff like that," Dodd said in an interview in Reggae: The Rough Guide. "I was really lucky enough to find a lot of music also in Brooklyn, in different record outlets, and from there on I made regular visits to New York and Chicago and other [places]." Many practices instituted by sound system DJs would be later emulated by successive generations of DJs, including toasting, a precursor of rap exported from Jamaica.
Although musical tastes in the United States were shifting to rock and pop by the end of the decade, Jamaicans wanted more jump blues and dance music. In 1956 sound system owners, including Dodd, started recording local artists to meet popular demand. His first label, started in 1959, was World Disc. "Shufflin' Jug" by Clue J & His Blues Blasters was his first record. Dodd was prolific, forming other labels under different names. He also recorded what is considered to have been the first-ever ska recording, that of Theophilus Beckford's "Easy Snappin'." Ska was created from a local music known as mento. Dodd was said to have added more drums and rhythm to the form in order to create ska. He was a dominant force in ska, recording groups such as Toots and the Maytals, the Gaylads and the Skatalites, all of whom had hit records. Dodd opened the Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio, better known as Studio One, at 13 Brentford Road, in 1963. This made him the first black to own both a recording studio and a record-pressing plant in Jamaica.
"He had just opened his studio … when Marley came to see him," according to the Economist. "He looked scruffy; Mr. Dodd put him and his band in sharkskin suits, made Marley the lead vocalist, and offered them a five-year contract. Marley looked on Mr. Dodd as a father; Mr. Dodd tolerated his Rastafarian ways, letting him smoke a little ganja under the almond tree in the yard. As Marley's music became more militant and drug-fuelled, the two men drifted apart; but the great reggae and Rasta anthem, 'One Love,' was nonetheless a Studio One production."
Marley and The Wailers were one of many groups who auditioned for Dodd, seeing a career in music as a means of escaping the poverty of Kingston. Their debut, "Simmer Down," was a hit. Other early artists included Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe, and The Melodians. As Brent Dowe recalled in an interview for Reggae: The Rough Guide, the competition was fierce. "I remember going down to Coxsone for the first time in 1965, on a Sunday morning. His yard was full of artists, trying to make a rise for themselves. … In those days, it was rough. You had so many singers in Jamaica, you had to be good." Steve Huey, writing in All Music Guide, drew a parallel between Dodd and Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, because Dodd "set up a streamlined, highly professional hit factory at his Studio One facility, recording vast amounts of music for his label of the same name." Roots reggae emerged in 1968 and kept Dodd and Studio One in the spotlight, with recordings by artists such as Horace Andy, Burning Spear, and Dennis Brown.
"Although haphazard documentation makes it difficult to know exactly how many records Dodd produced," wrote Huey, "it's generally acknowledged that he worked with nearly every major reggae star of the early days at one point or another, including the first recordings by Bob Marley & the Wailers (sic). He also served as a mentor for future production wizards like Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Winston 'Niney' Holness, among others who apprenticed at Studio One. All in all, it's well nigh impossible to find another behind-the-scenes figure who exerted as much influence on reggae, over such a tremendous period of time, as Coxsone."
For the Record …
Born Clement Seymour Dodd on January 26, 1932, in Kingston, Jamaica; died on May 4, 2004, in Kingston, Jamaica; son of Benjamin Dodd (a contractor and mason) and Doris "Nanny" Anderson (a restaurateur); married; wife's name, Norma; children: six. Education: Attended Charles Town Government School, St. Thomas Parish; studied cabinetmaking and automobile mechanics.
Began professional career as sound system operator, 1954; began recording local artists, 1956; started World Disc label, 1959; made first known ska recording, "Easy Snappin'," by Theophilus Beckford, 1959; opened Jamaica Recording and Publishing Studio, a.k.a. Studio One, 1963; signed Bob Marley and The Wailers to recording contract, 1963; produced and recorded numerous artists at Studio One 1963-79; relocated Studio One to Brooklyn, NY, 1979; returned to Jamaica, continued operation of Studio One in original location, 1998; Brentford Road renamed Studio One Boulevard as career tribute, May 2004.
Awards: Jamaica Order of Distinction, 1991; Musgrave Medal, 2002; Nanny/Quoa Abeng Award, 2003.
In the 1970s, when dub became popular, Dodd tried his hand at it, but couldn't match his competitors. However, he continued successfully to produce artists such as Dennis Alcapone and Freddie McGregor, who continued to embrace the roots reggae style. He also worked with artists on a style that would become known as dancehall. Beginning in 1979, Studio One had hits with artists including Sugar Minott, Willie Williams, The Lone Ranger, and Michigan & Smiley. In 1979 Dodd left for the United States, resuming the operation of Studio One in Brooklyn, New York, and opening a retail music store.
In celebration of 35 years in the music business, Dodd experienced a renaissance. Two concerts were produced in Jamaica in his honor. The United States-based Heartbeat label reissued the Studio One catalog at about the same time. Topping it off, he was awarded the Jamaica Order of Distinction in 1991.
When his mother died in 1998, Dodd moved back to Kingston and reopened Studio One, resuming work with yet another generation of musicians. Dodd was feted again in 2002 and 2003, with national awards for his contributions to Jamaican music. In 2004 Brentford Road was renamed Studio One Boulevard in a ceremony that paid tribute to his career and accomplishments. Days after the ceremony, Dodd died of a heart attack at the age of 72. "On Friday night, after they changed the name of the street to Studio One Boulevard, we were there toasting and laughing, but he was extremely quiet during the whole occasion," Bunny Goodison, a close friend of Dodd's, told the Jamaica Gleaner. "I don't know if he was overwhelmed by the whole thing. … At least he lived to receive the various accolades for his exceptional body of work, which will live forever. He was truly a great man."
All Star Top Hits, Studio One, 1961.
Oldies but Goodies (Vols.1&2), Studio One, 1968.
Best of Studio One (Vols 1, 2, & 3), Heartbeat, 1983.
Respect to Studio One, Heartbeat, 1995.
Barrow, Steve, and Peter Dalton, Reggae: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, 1997.
The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Billboard Books, 1998.
Haskins, James, One Love, One Heart: A History of Reggae, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, 2002.
Larkin, Colin, editor, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze, 1998.
America's Intelligence Wire, June 19, 2003.
Billboard, June 16, 1994; June 18, 1994; May 15, 2004.
Economist, May 20, 2004.
"Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (June 3, 2004).
"Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd," Guardian,http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4917496-103684,00.html (June 3, 2004).
"Ja's musical giant, Coxsone Dodd, dies," Jamaica Gleaner,http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20040505/lead/lead2.html (June 3, 2004).
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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