The Sound System's Humble Beginnings
With the end of the War in 1945, thousands of rural Jamaicans trekked into Kingston in search of work as Kingston begun to experience a fair amount of post war led industrial growth. The burgeoning population in Western Kingston filtered eastwards but largely set themselves up between Western and downtown Kingston. Entertainment at the time was primarily the Big Band orchestras which played for well-to-do Kingstonians at venues like The Success Club, Glass Bucket, and at the Bournemouth Gardens in East Kingston. Poor people could not afford these venues and this opened the doors for the rise and development of the Sound System movement particularly in Kingston, Spanish Town and St Thomas. By the mid-1950s this type of entertainment had gained ground and with easy portability of these sound systems and low entry prices it was easy to broaden the audience and a clash between two sounds was the order of the day. These systems played US Rhythim and Blues music and the rivalry between them was fierce. Most sound systems prized themselves on their ability to surprise the opposition with new releases and it was not uncommon for a sound to remove the label from a new record to prevent their opponent from gleaning the record’s source.
The Jamaican Sound System Scene
The great dance venues included Chocomo Lawn on Wellington Street in Western Kingston, Club Havana in East Kingston, Forrester’s Hall on North Street, Young Men’s progressive on Drummond Street and Caterers Lawn in Heroes Park where top sounds such as The Mighty Waldron, Tom The Great Sebastain, Count Nicks, Duke Reid’s Trojan Sounds, Doc’s Thunderstorm from Brotherton Avenue, The Mighty Merritone from St Thomas and “Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat owned by the legendary producer Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd.
Dodd started life in St Thomas but moved to Kingston where his father worked as a mason while his mother (in 1951) operated a little restaurant called “Nanny’s Corner ” at the intersection of Laws Street and Ladd Lane. She played music there in the weekends featuring cuts from Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Jordan among others; giving young Dodd an early introduction to the music. In 1953 Dodd went away to the US on the Farm Work program where became exposed to the regular block parties. He repatriated his earnings to his mother for the construction of speaker boxes as well as sending home an amplifier. His family had a long-standing relationship with Duke Reid who allowed Coxsone guest appearances on Reid’s Trojan sound system. It was this early relationship which provided the civility between the two in the latter years as their sound system rivalry developed. By 1955 Cosxone had already established his sound system and had begun to compete with the other leading “sound systems” of the period including Duke Reid’s Trojan Sounds.
Duke Reid and Clement Dodd would go on to become pioneers in the developmental years of Jamaica’s participation in the music business helping (despite their reported individual shortcomings) to launch our music to the stratospheric position it occupies today. Their stories will form a large part of the material to be imparted on this page over time. For more on Jamacian music history, Watch our videos on The Jamaican Sound System.