THE MUSICAL COA-COA BASKET

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“One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain.”

Bob Marley (1945 – 1981)

Music has always played an important role in all our lives, especially Reggae, the music genre first developed in Jamaica, strongly influenced by traditional African, American jazz and old-time rhythm and blues. Reggae owes its direct origins to the progressive development of Ska and Rocksteady in 1960s Jamaica. Each month, THE MUSICAL COA-COA BASKET will salute the legendary artists and recording studios from out of Jamaica that have placed reggae on the musical global map.

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THE UNFORGETTABLE SOUND OF CHANNEL ONE

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The emergence of Channel One was critical to grassroots Reggae getting on the international map during the 1970s. Located in the Maxfield Park community, in Kingston Jamaica, the Channel One Studio released a series of classics driven by the rhythmic power of its house band The Revolutionaries. The band’s ‘Rockers’ sound was the force behind hit songs by groups like Earth and Stone, The Mighty Diamonds, The Jays, Wailing Souls, The Meditations, and deejays Dillinger and Ranking Trevor.

Channel One was the place where musicians like Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Ranchie McLean made their names, behind it all were studio owners, the Hoo-Kim brothers. Their vision was as crucial to the success of the studio as its drum sound. Joseph Hoo Kim was the eldest of the four brothers. The others were Paul, Kenneth and Ernest, who all grew up in the Maxfield Park area with their father, a Chinese immigrant, and their mother, who was of Chinese-Jewish descent. The Hoo-Kim family ran a bar and ice cream parlor in the community and the brothers dabbled in slot machines. Joseph Hoo-Kim said it was while visiting Dynamic Sounds Studio one day and watching a recording session that he became hooked on music.

The turning point for Channel One came in early 1973, when Hoo Kim met a young drummer named Sly Dunbar while he (Hoo- Kim) was club-hopping one night. Sly Dunbar who played drums for the group Skin Flesh and Bones asked Hoo-Kim if they could come to the studio and play a tune for them.  Hoo-Kim said yes. That first session included Dunbar on drums, Ranchie McLean on bass, Rad “Dougie” Bryan on guitar and Ansell Collins on keyboards. It produced Delroy Wilson’s cover of the Spinners song, It’s A Shame, which became the first of countless hits recorded at Channel One.

Channel One quickly became the place to be for producers and budding performers, The Meditations, Dr Alimantado, Horace Andy and The Mighty Diamonds, a harmony trio Sly Dunbar credits with introducing Channel One to radio audiences. Within two years, Dunbar, McLean, Collins, Bryan and bass player Lloyd Parkes were joined by established session men like Robbie Shakespeare, who had worked extensively with Bunny Lee; and Tommy McCook, the respected saxophonist who was a founding member of The Skatalites and had been producer and Duke Reid’s musical director at Treasure Isle. They were complemented by saxophonists Richard “Dirty Harry” Hall and Herman Marquis; trombonist Vin Gordon; trumpeter Bobby Ellis; percussionists Uzziah “Sticky” Thompson, Christopher “Skyjuice” Blake and Stanley “Barnabas” Bryan who added flavour to the famous Channel One sound that eventually became known as ‘Rockers’.

That timeless beat can be heard on classics such as Ballistic Affair (Leroy Smart); Born For A Purpose (Dr Alimantado); I Know Myself (Ernest Wilson); Woman Is Like A Shadow (The Meditations); Roof Over My Head, Africa (The Mighty Diamonds); War, Firehouse Rock (The Wailing Souls); and MPLA, The Revolutionaries‘ instrumental tribute to the struggles of freedom fighters in Africa.  The militant music out of Channel One touched a nerve in the anarchistic punk movement in the United Kingdom.  Johnny Rotten, leader of the Sex Pistols band, is on record as saying Born For A Purpose is one of his favorite songs.

The Hoo-Kim brothers marketing coups was the Disco45, a 12-inch disc featuring a hit vocal song by a singer or group followed by a deejay take on the song, usually done by the prolific Ranking Trevor.  The concept took off and soon rival studios like Joe Gibbs were capitalizing on the Disco 45’s popularity and also finding great success with it.

At the peak of Channel One’s golden run, however, tragedy struck in 1977 when Paul Hoo-Kim was murdered by a gunman in Greenwich Farm. Though the Hoo-Kims gradually lost interest in the music business, Channel One was still being utilized by producers up until the early 1980s. None more than the flamboyant Henry “Junjo” Lawes who recorded most of a young singer named Barrington Levy’s early hits there with the Roots Radics Band. Former Revolutionaries, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, maintained ties with their old stomping ground in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They recorded songs by Black Uhuru, Jimmy Riley and The Tamlins for their Taxi label at Channel One.

As dancehall music became computerized in the mid-1980s, Joseph Hoo-Kim gave up operating Channel One and migrated to the United States. Ernest Hoo-Kim, who has also retired from the music business, still lives in Jamaica.

In the 1980s, Dunbar and Shakespeare took their drum and bass sound internationally by working with a list of major acts, including Grace Jones, Gwen Guthrie, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.  Dunbar credits the vibe of the Maxfield Park community and the characters at the studio for helping to produce the formula that created the unforgettable sound of Channel One.

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BONUS CHANNEL ONE TRACKS: I’m The One Who Loves You – The Jays; Pretty Looks – The JaysVery Well – Wailing Souls; Fade Away – Junior Byles; Fort Augustus – Junior DelgadoRoots, Rock, Reggae – Clint Eastwood; Roots Natty Roots – Johnny Clarke

‘Til December – Everyting Bless

One Response to “THE MUSICAL COA-COA BASKET”

  1. Thanks for another super story. I’m really happy I was able to find this website, since so many of the websites I’ve been reading have incomplete data. Wicked history about reggae music by the way. I’m definitely coming back.

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