THE JAMAICAN SOUND SYSTEM: Intro ...Its purpose, origin and growth
SOLID WOOD ELECTRIC GUITAR
Few Jamaicans are aware that the solid wood body electric guitar that served to revolutionise popular music the world over during last century, was invented right here in Jamaica in 1940. I was then a practising musician and operated a radio repair facility. There were several musical bands in Kingston that depended on a piano or tenor banjo as a chord and rhythm instrument; the piano, not a portable instrument, and competent banjoists in short supply, my idea of a worthy substitute became a reality after some very serious and sometimes heart-breaking experimentation in 1939. It must not be forgotten that an electronic guitar is only a useless contraption without its complementary power amplifier! [Consult Gleaner archives for September 1940.].
THE SOUND SYSTEM
The Sound System (so named by Tom Wong---a Chinese hardware store owner, who in early 1948 had acquired a specially designed audio amplifier for the specific purpose of electronic music reproduction I had produced, and who was addressed by the moniker ‘The Great Sebastian’ (a designation by Fred Stanford my third trainee technician) became a separate reality in its own right. Designed specifically for distortion free electronic music reproduction, making use of specially designed circuitry to handle faithfully the full range of audio frequencies---20hz- 20khz---as against its former counterpart, a Public Address system designed for voice frequencies.
Most references by non-technical writers completely miss the differentiation and make the mistake of wrong classification. A Jamaican sound system, although it may be employed with far greater fidelity for voice purposes, is not a PA system per se. [More details on Wong later.]
In 1963 Clement Dodd, (a sound system operator and son of a liquor store owner) for whom I had built special amplifiers and been doing recordings (electric guitar) from 1960 when he began to record local artistes for his own purposes, in the JBC studio Half Way Tree, told me he had acquired the premises that previously housed Club THE END, formally owned and operated by former Jamaican football star---Noel Tappin.
Dodd wanted to build a recording studio and asked for my assistance. He had no recording equipment excepting an AMPEX professional single track reel-to-reel tape recorder. I took up the challenge; sourced what components were available, made a design drawing, and got to work aided by my two school-boy sons---Hedley Jr. and Ron.
After three months of toiling, the system designed as it was with six input channels, each equipped with its own built-in compensation for volume and tone control, our single track studio was tested and delivered in mid-December.
Several writers, local and foreign have written books on the subject I here address during the last three decades, most of which contain some very glaring inaccuracies, obviously done without exhaustive research and seemingly dependent on perception and hearsay.
There is, thankfully, one exception: a well researched documentary by Norman C. Stolzoff of the University of California: “Wake the Town and Tell the People” - 2000; and even he, despite his careful trek, has been misled. But he discovered quite a bit of dishonesty, and has been forthright enough to say so.
This series continues next week.