The often unsung heroes of Jamaican music are the engineers who helped shape the sound of Jamaica; when ska, rock steady and reggae reached its most dynamic phase. If there is anyone who gets some serious praise it is the late dubmaster King Tubby, but even though they didn't quite reach his level of innovation, there was a whole lot more than him in the engineering field, each adding their skill and personal touch to the music. Like the early fifties, the 1960's, who participated in giving Jamaican music the sound which made it so attractive? Graeme Goodall was one of the earliest to shape the music when it first got to be recorded in the mid fifties. Originally from Australia, he took a job as a broadcasting engineer while living and working in England, and suddenly the opportunity to work in Jamaica presented itself. He then bumped into Ken Khouri of Federal fame, and it wasn't long before sound system men like Duke Reid and Coxson Dodd employed him to get the local talents on tape. This is a serious slice of musical history now. In Goodall's tracks we got people like Sylvan Morris at Studio One and Byron Smith at Treasure Isle to step up and engineer some of the most memorable recordings ever in Jamaican music. But Graeme was there at the infant stage of the recording industry, made some remarkable contributions, but is sadly overlooked today. My thanks to Graeme, Donovan Phillips, Carlton Hines, Tim P and Steve Barrow.
Q: There is no question about Jamaica being a 'Treasure Island' musically speaking, the amount of music released is vast.
A: Well, this was of course catering for probably... a little bit of history that people don't know, Christopher Blackwell. Chris was involved through his mother's friendship with Ian Flemming, Chris Blackwell was involved in 'Dr No', the movie when it was shot in Jamaica. And when it finished and he went to England, y'know, because he made some money on the film and everything (chuckles)... and Chris went over there, and in the meantime of course Island Records was basically a Jamaican company, making Jamaican records for the Jamaican market. When he went to England he found all the Island records that he produced, and he was at that time probably the foremost producer, there was some production going on with Smith Hi-Lite, Duke Reid, Coxson, but it hadn't really developed. But Chris Blackwell found all his records being pirated for the Jamaican emigrates to England in the mid-sixties, which was vast. And so Chris, being Chris Blackwell, said: "This can't go on, I'm making records and they're making five-six-seven-ten times more money pirating my records in England". So this is why we opened up Island Records in the UK. And Leslie Kong and I were partners in Island Records, and our job was to send material to Chris Blackwell, so there's one way to stop the pirating of course and that is to release it legally and officially (chuckles). So that's how the massive surge of Jamaican music went to England.
Q: But your own background, you were born and grew up in Australia basically.
A: Yes, I'm from Australia. I started in broadcasting, AM radio, the only thing going in those days.
Q: You used to install radio antennas... or was that in Jamaica, not in Australia?
A: That was in Jamaica. (Chuckles) Well, the antennae was only a part of it. When I left Australia for England to study television...
Queen Elizabeth II visiting Australia, 1954.
(Photo: National Museum of Australia)
Q: When was that?
A: That was 1954. I was involved and did all the outside broadcast for the Royal visit, the Queen's visit to Victoria where I lived, the state, and at the end of that... because I got a nice letter from Buckingham Palace thanking me for all my work. And of course we didn't know, we thought well, I would go to England and get a Knighthood (laughs)! We didn't know that, of course, they produced these letters in the thousands. But I went over to study in television basically and to support myself while I was there. So with my musical background in Australia - 'cause we did a lot of remote musical broadcasts,..... y'know, in those days it was in America and Canada and Australia....., it was a lot of 'live' music broadcasting from remote. So with my music background I fitted into that, and apart from the fact that it was a hard job and the senior engineers didn't want to do it, so they gave it over to we younger people. And so I went to the UK and while I was there I had to support myself. I started working for a Universal Program Corporation, IBC which was in Portland Place, London just around the corner from the BBC. We were doing broadcasts for Radio Luxembourg basically, the shows were 'Shilling a Second', 'Strike it Rich' and 'People are Funny', these live shows for which we toured all over the UK. Of course, in those days commercial radio engineers were non-existent in England, so I lucked out, I fell right into the slot. Here was a person with experience, young, willing, a very good worker so I worked on that. But of course IBC support themselves as well as recording studios, and they were probably the largest and only independent recording studio in London at that time. So I worked there recording people like Petula Clark I remember, but at the same time I found out that Rediffusion had radio stations all over the world, and I went and applied as an engineer with Radio Jamaica. In those days it was Jamaica Broadcasting Company which later became Radio Jamaica Limited which later became RJR. But at that particular time the chief engineer wanted the signal out at their remote spots in Jamaica, in Montego Bay, Port Maria, Mandeville. So it was developed that we would put an FM link carrying the signal which originated in Kingston from the studios, we would FM it over the island doublehopping to these areas and I was, like I said, I was the studio man, audio man, loved music but of course the British put me on to these transmitters (chuckles)... and the antennae for this FM link. Which in truth - in fact it became the first commercial FM service in the British Commonwealth. It's purpose was to get the signal over to the other side of the island, but of course then people started getting FM radios.
Q: What did you know about Jamaica and the Caribbean in general and its music at that point?
A: I knew nothing. And in fact when I went out there in those days, the only thing with the music of Jamaica was basically mento, and it developed into a tourist attraction. Because in those days the tourist industry was just really cranking up, and so they had these - although they were called 'calypso bands' - they were basically mento bands playing for the tourists on the North Coast of Jamaica and the nightclubs in Kingston. And funny enough, there's only one person who had - well, there were several local bands but they were developed to produce like Jamaican mento music. But about that time a young man came on the scene, a young boy (chuckles), fresh out of school who played a sort of adequate bassline, and it was Byron Lee. And they started playing after football games, or soccer games, and they developed into Byron Lee & The Dragonaries.
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires (1950s)
Q: So they go back to as early as 1955 or something like that.
Q: When you arrived down there, how did you find the whole atmosphere, the culture, the people, and so on?
A: Well, in those days it was fascinating, and again... I mean, the people were great, inspiring, happy people, the living was easy as they say. I worked very, very hard. But there was a definite rift because we had these so called 'expatriate' or overseas engineers, and the local people. There was always a rift, 'why should they be getting more money?', 'why should they be paid more?', among the locals. And there's a little bit of undercurrent there, dissatisfaction by the local people. But however, because I was single and, again, a fun-loving sort of person, it's hard to say this... but I almost purposely went out of my way to become friendly to the people, to overcome this.
Q: It was a lot of that racial vibe in the air?
A: No. I think that's probably an international problem, what is happening these days. In those days it wasn't so much racial as class, to class divisions. And yeah, there were very, very wealthy black people who literally treated the working class rather abyssmally. You know, very wealthy Jamaicans of all colours and textures and racial origins. Because, remember, there were Lebanese, a Syrian influence, there were rich merchants, there's quite a bit of... a load of Jewish businessmen in later years who were very wealthy, and yet they were employing their gardeners for, in those days, probably thirty shillings which is, what, six dollars a week! These people were living in shacks in terrible circumstances. However, it never occurred to them to be violent about it, that was their lot and they were trying and endeavouring to lift themselves out of it. But I realised that my particular feeling was, the working class Jamaicans - because I was single and happy and fun-loving, I purposedly went out of my way to get a friendship with the Jamaican people as opposed to going to the upper people, as a lot of the expatriate engineers tended to do. You know, relished this class distinction.
Q: How did you crack the patois at the time?
A: Oh (laughs)! That was very easy. I realised that I was speaking - not only I had this Australian accent and never spoke any other language, a little bit of French, and I was at a party once and at that particular time I had several line-crews, stringing Rediffusion, which was a wired system 70 volts lines all around Kingston. Rediffusion put up a speaker-box with a volume control on it for which they charged like a dollar a month, which didn't seem much but when you (chuckles) figured you had like fifteen to twenty thousand of these things out there, it became quite a bit of money. But I had this crew and I couldn't get them to work for me so I saw one of my friends at a party, and he said, "It's because you don't speak like that, man". I said, "What do I do?" He said, "Oh, come back..." - this man was a Chinese-Jamaican, and he was a facilitator for import and export, and he said, "Come down the docks and I'll let you hear what you (chuckles) actually have to speak, get these people to listen to you when they work for you". So I went down the docks after I left Radio Jamaica at night, I got up early in the morning and went down the docks and listened to the wharf labourers, the long-shoreman if you like, how they spoke to one another, and I said, "Ahh, it's a different language altogether". And I picked it up very, very quickly and because of using, y'know, patois, like: "Listen, man, bring di ladder 'ere deh, man". That sort of thing.
A: And also they realised - because I adopted the patois, they said: "This guy is one of us". Whereas the expatriate engineers, y'know, they spoke with their British accents.
Q: Who was some of the personalities on the air at RJR at that time? I know about this guy who had a slogan like 'the cool fool with the live jive'.
A: Oh, Charlie Babcock.
Q: Ah, yes (laughs). He was at RJR?
A: Yeah, that was at RJR. They... oh, gee... um, there were several Jamaican... Again, the programming at that particular time tended to be influenced by what the British thought would be good programming. But round about - it must be 1955 they introduced a new program director, they brought him in from the... well, the managing director was Bill McClurg, who's Canadian, and he took the job on as managing director of Radio Jamaica and Rediffusion. But he realised that the programming was rather bland, y'know, and so he imported or employed this Canadian, Ron Morrier, who's a very charming man, and he came down and changed the programming format completely. And it was interesting that he was using the Canadian concept, which was Americanized but not fully American broadcasting, you understand what I mean? Not a hundred per cent, he had the Canadian influence. And the people loved it, because that was what Ron started brought in - he said, "Well, if I got to get this programming, then I've got to get dj's to influence", so he brought in Charlie Babcock - 'the cool fool with the live jive'. And Charlie brought this Americanized/Canadianized broadcasting format, and they started changing the music content, too.
Q: To...? More specifically?
A: To a more American type music, American pop music.
Q: Rock'n'roll, Pat Boone type stuff, and so on.
A: Yeah, the start of rock'n'roll.
Q: Was Dermott Hussey on the air even at that time? Well-known voice from Jamaican radio in any case.
A: He came in later, because then you developed a string of Jamaican dj's, like 'announcers' they used to call them, and they realised that the public accepted the American version more than - and remember, you could pick up a lot of American radio stations in Jamaica, any of these AM radio stations.
Q: Right, stations from New Orleans and so on.
A: Right, and WINZ from Miami was a big one, that was a huge one. So these guys realised, well, we're going to establish a public following and I better (chuckles) emulate this to be successful, and that's what they did.
Q: OK. So you basically stayed at RJR for at least three years before you did anything in terms of recording the music, locally?
A: Well, I did three years initially which was my contract, and I went back to Australia and worked with television for six months, Channel 9 in Melbourne as senior audio.
Q: You're from Melbourne originally.
A: Yes, I was born in Melbourne. My first season I worked - I worked at two radio stations actually, 3UZee or 3UZed if you like first. And I was at the library pulling records, spinning records, wanted desperately to become an engineer, but you have to start at the bottom.
A: And funny enough, I was the operator for one of the first successful talk show people, a lady called Penelope who had a women's program in the morning. And then an engineering position came up with 3KZ, so I went there as junior engineer. But then, like I said, I started doing live music programs. But I went back to Australia in late '57. In '58 I worked with Channel 9 in Melbourne, but then Radio Jamaica called me back and said, "Look, we got to deal with these transmitters for JBC", Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation. And Radio Jamaica did a very smart move, they said: "OK, we build a transmitting station and you'll own them, but we will maintain them" (laughs). And we'll share towers, we'll diplex into one tower, so it was a win-win situation for everybody. But they needed people to come in and put in these new AM stations, so they called me back again. So I went out there to install these new - there were two 5 kW AM transmitters in each building, stand-by power, because power was abyssmal in Jamaica. We always had to have stand-by generators. And we'd diplex them into one antennae, we had them in Kingston, Montego Bay, Port Maria, Mandeville.
Q: But what was initially your contact with the local music scene in those first three years? Did you check any of the sound systems at the time?
A: Of course I went into nightclubs. I think probably the main contact was - I became very friendly with Ken Khouri, Papa Khouri, to...
Q: Did he ever run a sound system back then?
A: No, Papa Khouri had a little furniture store, and he wanted to press records basically, press records in Jamaica. But of course, because of the local thing records were all imported, y'know, finished product was all imported, all they had was mento, which was the only thing going on. And Ken Khouri wanted to build a studio, and I remember he went and bought some equipment. He bought some equipment initially in the United States, he was waiting for his car to be delivered. He bought a disc cutter, a direct to disc in a pawn-shop (chuckles)...
A: And I helped him to set that up. And in those days Stanley Motta was the only facility that actually made records. And they were ALL mento, everyone of them.
Q: How was the studio?
A: Oh, Mr Motta's studio, it was a direct to disc, one microphone hanging from the ceiling. And mind you, the one I built for Records Limited or Ken Khouri, it wasn't much better (chuckles), it was in a shack in the back of his furniture store... like that, y'know. Did a little bit of acoustics, not much, but then he went to the States and I told him, "Ken, you're never gonna get anywhere cutting direct to disc, it's not gonna work". So he bought a Magnecorder PT6 JAH tape recorder and a small mixer, and I set it up for him. And he started making records in the shack in the back, and this is probably round about 1957.
Q: Do you have any idea how records sold, the wax, 78's, at this point?
A: I think they were from what I remember about, probably, fifty cents a record.
Q: Affordable at least, not just for the upper class.
A: Yeah. Well, again, the locals didn't really wanna buy mento records to play at home. Remember, there wasn't much - because the poor people didn't have enough money to buy radios, they put in these wired systems... what they gonna play the records on? And so it was basically a tourist type thing. Then when I think back there was still the mento stuff going on, but probably about 1960 there was a ground swell, y'know, they wanted local music to develop.
Q: There wasn't much imported R&B records at this time?
A: Mainly the sound system operators imported those, and a few people had... I remember at home, I obviously had a record player and friends of mine had record players, and they used to buy a lot of American rock'n'roll, more rock'n'roll than R&B. Bill Haley & The Comets, that type of thing. And Elvis Presley of course, that type. Remember, these people all had radios, most of the time they'd listen to American radio stations at night.
Q: What about the sound system itself? It must've been quite an experience to witness, if you ever saw Coxsone Downbeat The Ruler against Duke Reid The Trojan or Tom The Great Sebastian or any of the happening sounds of the period.
A: Of course that came later on, my involvement with that came later on. That happened in '61 when I joined Federal Records permanently and built their first studio down at Foreshore Road.
Article: Peter I|
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