Hedley Jones is a man who has spent a long lifetime involved with Jamaican music. He has built studio equipment, played guitar, imported records and served for many years with the Jamaican Musicians Union where he lobbied for copyright protection legislation. This conversation took place in 1982 at the home of his son Hedley Jones Jr, a radio dee-jay in Toronto.
How did you get your start in the music business?
»I started out selling records in the bop era. My workshop and store was called Bop City on King Street. I was the first importer of Jazz. I got records from England. I had just left the Air Force and I got myself acquainted with the music scene in England. So, when I got back, I knew exactly where to get my records and I started importing them the minute I got back to Jamaica. There were several labels: Brunswick, Decca, Creole, Melodisc, Columbia - all jazz on 78s. Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sunny Stitt - the whole of that - starting out with Cab Calloway. It was 1947 when I started. There was only one place in Jamaica where these records were obtainable at all. that was Bop City! Line ups everyday of the week. And I opened on Sunday.... When I played records in the shop in the evenings, people used to block the streets. Dancers would come and dance - people like Pluggy and Beryl.«
You also played the guitar. Who did you work with?
»Millie Small, Clancy Eccles, Joe Higgs - anything that was recorded between the years 1960-64, here and there. I was the guitarist on. Don Drummond, I had a lot to do with ‘Eastern Standard Time'. I usually did the sound for the Skatalites. Most of these recordings were done only once-once! All of Don Drummond's solos were spontaneous-done immediately and forgotten. He wouldn't play the same thing twice. He couldn't. He would have to go and re-learn it.«
What was Don Drummond like?
He was a very moody person and a brilliant musician. He seldom spoke. Considering the fact that he had no outside experience - he had never played outside of Jamaica - he was one of the best jazz trombonists ever.
You also helped build equipment for Coxsone. What was he like?
»He was mean to me. I built his studio and I remained with it for one year doing recordings some of which have never seen the light of day. Some, I think, are still shelved and some he used with his sound system to make a lot of money. These they call dubs and they just use them on the sound system for rivalry and they have never been in print at all. I did literally hundreds of these. I remember Saturday evenings in the studio for hours on end using an old primitive converted cutter to produce records for him. I was promised 10% and I have never seen 1/10 of 1%. In fact, when I disgustedly gave up the whole thing and left Kingston for Montego Bay , he was owing me a lot of money.«
You witnessed the early days of the sound systems.
»In the early 1950's and the mid ‘40's, there was a rivalry in Jamaica between sound system. Now these sound systems were a creation of mine. I had been a radio engineer in the R.A.F. and I got my training and built amplifiers that could differentiate between bass, treble and all that - tone controls circuits and son forth. That was ‘47 through ‘52. All those years I building these systems for people like Coxsone who was known as Downbeat, for Duke Reid, but one name that brought the sound to the top in Jamaica that has never been mentioned is Tom the Great Sebastion for whom I built systems. He started with a matinee show each Friday at a club called The Silver Slipper and at these shows new records started arriving - rhythm and blues.«
»Up to this point the sound system rivalry wasn't there. It started in the mid 50's because of the paucity of records. Tom had a supplier. Duke Reid would go to Miami to buy them so would Coxsone. Duke Reid would have his truck - and he would have these people go to the airport and meet him and lift him off the plane into the truck and straight into a dance with the new records. So Coxsone had to do this too, the man who could get records that the crowd loved the best would be the man who drew the biggest crowd. And the special recording that revolutionized this and caused the rivalry to begin very intensely is 'Don't Roll Those Bloodshot At Me'. It was an import and it caused an intense rivalry - I remember having been to the wharves to draw six hundred copies at two p.m.. By six O'clock that evening I had sold every copy. Well, Tom had it first and everybody else wanted it.«
»Also Tom's matinees drew a cross-section of society. Now, Duke Reid and Coxsone, seeing this trend, where Tom had a mixture of three escelons of society - because they were mostly downtown, say the lower middle class - whenever Tom did anything at The Silver Slipper, it had to get imitated. This is how the rivalry started. Because anything that happen uptown should happen downtown and the competition became fierce between Coxsone and Duke Reid for the downtown area.«
»Now the dances were always crowded and the dancers provided this (finger snap) on the second and fourth beat. All the dancers were doing this. Now Coxone of all the sound people was very astute. He pandered to pleasing the crowd and he was quick at picking up things. Coxsone substituted the guitar for the snap of the fingers- that's how ska was born...The minute the guitar was substituted, the finger snapping stopped and people now concentrated on what the guitar was doing. Besides this, Coxsone added some saxophone and trumpet so that all of Coxsone's early recordings had a saxophone, a trumpet and a guitar supplying that emphasis. «
What else influenced the creation of ska?
»The folk music of Jamaica was a cross between African music - African chanting and drums - and latin rhythms plus english melodies. The mento was an amalgam of all of these. In my childhood in Jamaica, there were a lot of quadrille bands. The quadrille bands included a violin, a clarinet, a double bass, a grater with a spoon that constituted the latin rhythm and a guitar. The African input was the greatest in that it had the rhythm and the chant. Ska developed from this.«
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