During my recent trip to Jamaica in December 2014 I had the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to my good friend Delroy Wright (read my interview with the founder of Live & Learn Records HERE). Delroy arranged for us to meet up with Courtney Dodd, son of the late Coxsone Dodd, for a private tour of Studio One. From what I had heard, the doors to the legendary studio had been shut for some time as the Dodd estate is tangling with a class action lawsuit from artists alleging that they have not been properly paid for recordings made at the studio.
As we turned onto Brentford Road, now Studio One Boulevard, we pulled in front of Studio One, which is surrounded by 20 ft. chain link fence and barbed wire. It looked vacant and the gate was padlocked. A young Rasta appears from across the street and says “De gate it no lock.” He runs up to the gate, fiddles with the padlock, and opened the gate.
“Many thanks Dread!” I say as I break him off a Jamaican $1,000 for his help.
As we pull in to the lot, Courtney Dodd walks out to greet us and takes us through the front door and into the foyer/front office. The first thing that hits me is the heat. It is stifling, almost overwhelming. If it is this hot in the studio in December I cannot imagine how hellish it must be in August. It instantly gives me a renewed appreciation for all of the classic music that was recorded here and the singers and players who spent countless hours in these rooms creating it. There is nothing modern about the studio. The front office is cluttered with stacked vinyl, album covers, and the walls are covered with the classic Studio One album covers, most mildewed and water damaged.
Courtney brings us into the recording studio. Again, I am shocked by the lack of sophisticated sound equipment and instrumentation. It looks as if we stepped into the studio just minutes after a 1972 recording session. A beat-up piano in one corner, a Nyabinghi bass drum against the wall, a concrete floor tiled over with ceramic tile, and a half-tiled raised ceiling.
I ask Dodd if it is OK to take some photos and he says no.
“We nah let no one photograph de studio.”
We prod him for a few minutes, agree to smuggle 3 boxes of Studio One represses into the US, and he lets up.
Here is a rare glimpse inside Studio One.
This is something that very few people get to experience and I was humbled by the opportunity to take this tour. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I give thanks to Delroy Wright, Courtney Dodd, and Doctor Dread for making it happen.
I have included here from my personal collection a copy of the June 1992 issue of Reggae Directory which was dedicated entirely to Studio One. Includes rare interviews with Coxsone, Bob Andy, Dennis Brown, and more (click the cover image to read).