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Duke Reid
Jamaican record producer, DJ and label owner Duke Reid

One of the most important elements in the growth and development of the Jamaican Music Industry is the Sound System and one of its earliest pioneers was Arthur “Duke” Reid, owner-operator of the Trojan Sound System and the world renowned Duke Reid and Treasure Isle record labels.

Early Years

Duke Reid was born in the town of Port Antonio in the north-eastern parish of Portland, Jamaica on July 26, 1915 and migrated into the capital city Kingston as an adolescent where he served for 10 years in the Jamaica Constabulary, patrolling some of the rougher areas of the city. His wife Lucille ran a small haberdashery and liquor store at Pink Lane, Kingston named Treasure Isle liquors. Reid joined her in the business after serving 10 years with the constabulary and in 1950 established a sound system primarily as a promotional stunt to attract more customers into the store. The business soon outgrew the Pink Lane space and the couple moved to Bond Street. Arthur Reid was a family friend of Clement Dodd, a relationship which allowed young Dodd numerous opportunities to spin tunes on Dukes’ sound and in effect whetting Dodd’s appetite to enter the sound system business. This underlined the relationship between the two when Dodd threw his hat in the ring in later years with his “Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat” sound. In time though, Reid’s skill at the wheels of the sound grew and soon he was driving his British Trojan motor truck across the country to play at various venues. Reid sound drew its name from the vehicle and came to be known as “The Mighty Trojan.”

Reid had a huge preference for Jump-Blues and Jazz and R&B music and soon hosted a program on Radio Jamaica called the “Treasure Isle Time” in which he presented the latest in R&B, as well as Jazz and Blues tunes. Trojan’s nemesis in the early 1950s was the indomitable “Tom the Great Sebastain” sound system owned by Tommy Wong a half-Black/half Chinese man who operated a hardware store in the downtown area. Tom’s favorite was R&B tunes and many an epic sound battles were waged between the two. Contrary to uninformed talk, “Tom the Great Sebastain” enjoyed more victories than losses to Duke Reid’s Trojan which often resorted to strong-armed tactics rather than better selections to dismiss his opponent. Reid reportedly often employed unscrupulous tactics including the use of gangs of toughs (or "dance-hall crashers") who would sometimes start trouble at his competitors' dances, hoping to get the party shut down by police (and maybe smash some equipment in the process). Yet Reid also had the music audiences wanted, and he won Jamaica's top sound-system battle three years running, from 1956-1958. Arthur “Duke” Reid as a dancehall DJ cut a striking, flamboyant profile and was notorious for his tough-guy persona, the product of his previous career as a policeman. He usually carried a loaded revolver and ammunition belt, all prominently displayed, and sometimes a hand grenade or a machete for extra effect. He often wore a cape, and sometimes entered his gigs by having his associates carry him in on their shoulders adorned with a large crown on his head. As his rivalry with Tom the Great Sebastain and Dodd’s “Sir Coxsone Sound” intensified,

Musical Exploration

Reid made more and more trips to America to seek out obscure R&B sides and shuffling sax instrumentals. Exclusive holdings became more and more important to a sound system's success, and Reid and Dodd both scratched out the titles and labels on their records, renaming them to protect their true identities. In one famous anecdote, Reid chanced upon a copy of several of Dodd's signature tunes, and debuted them at a sound-system battle with a shocked and dismayed Dodd. As American R&B evolved into rock and soul, it became increasingly difficult to find the kinds of records that played to Jamaican tastes. Thus, it made increasing business sense for sound system owners to make their own recordings of local artists who could deliver more of what listeners wanted.

Duke Reid Sound System

Reid built a recording studio directly above the Treasure Isle Liquor Store, and began releasing original material as early as in 1959. Most of these recordings were off-takes of the popular North American R&B singing styles and were initially recorded at either Stanly Motta’s or at Federal Recording studios. Later when Radio Jamaica and Redifusion (RJR) opened their studios and the upcoming Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) did the same in 1959 recording was on in earnest. Duke Reid formed a house band “The Dukes Group” and issued singles the likes of “What Makes Honey” and “Joker”. Click Here to read Part 2.....

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