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Dudley Sibley in his younger days..
Dudley Sibley in his younger days……

The word ‘build’ is one that is oftentimes used whenever reference is made to the contribution given by artists to the development of a particular recording industry or label. But when that word is used in reference to Dudley Sibley, one of Studio One’s pioneer recording artists, it takes on additional connotations.

His name is not likely ever to ring a bell, and perhaps is the least known name asso-ciated with the celebrated Studio One story, but he paid his dues and played a vital role in helping to lay the groundwork. He has the enviable distinction of being the only Studio One artist who, in addition to recording, physically helped to build the structure situated at 13 Brentford Road (now renamed Studio One Boulevard).

Sibley was born in the district of Derry, St Mary, in the late 1940s. Abandoned by his mother at four months, he was taken to Kingston at age 11 to reside with his uncle-in-law’s sister at Kew Road, St Andrew. His experience there for the next three years was nothing short of traumatic, having to undergo blatant discrimination by the Caucasian family.

Sibley was, however, on a mission, even from that tender age, to find someone who could help fulfil his dream of getting into a recordingstudio. To this end, he utilised his lunch periods at the Denham Town School, which he attended, to visit record shops, bars, parks or any place of interest that could present that opportunity.

Dudley Sibley

Move into destiny

That opportunity arrived on a certain day in 1962 at the Victoria Park (now St William Grant Park), where he met and became friends with Trevor Wilson, a brother of Studio One star Delroy Wilson. He was taken to meet the Wilson family, living in the big ‘government yard’ in Trench Town, which is referred to in Bob Marley’s recording No Woman No Cry. After explaining his custodial plight at Kew Road, and gaining the admiration of the family, he was encouraged to stay and, gladly, he did, because it created an escape from the ‘Kew Road stress’, and could open a door in his pursuance of getting into studio.

Another young aspiring 16-year-old, Robert Nesta Marley, who was also having residential challenges, stayed on the premises with friends, Tata and Georgie, who cooked the cornmeal porridge he spoke about in No Woman No Cry. It wasn’t long before Sibley became a very good friend of Marley, and along with Delroy, accompanied them to rehearsals at Dodd’s studio. Marley, who by 1962 was somewhat known for his Beverley’s label recordings of Judge Not and One Cup Of Coffee, occupied a room at the back of the premises of 13 Brentford Road, formerly ‘The End’ nightclub, recently bought by Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd from a famous Jamaican footballer, Noel Toppin.

Bob Marley

Unknown to Mr Dodd, Sibley stayed on the premises in order to be ‘close to the action’. He was, however, smart enough to use diplomacy to earn his stay. He explained, “I would wipe down the boss car, sweep the yard and do errands for the artistes.” When Dodd realised what was happening, and an explanation accepted from Sibley, he was allowed to stay. Then came the big confession, “Mr Dodd, what I really want to do is record.” A deal was then struck: “You help me with the construction and I’ll provide you with songs to rehearse.”

Studio dreams are born

It wasn’t long after Sibley’s arrival that a basement-looking section of the premises was converted into a studio. He then helped with the construction of the factory, supervised by Dodd’s father, a builder by profession. According to Sibley, the renovation, construction and reconstruction of ‘The End’ nightclub into a recording studio and record-pressing factory, took place in phases, beginning about 1962-63, and he was involved in every phase. When the pressing plant was being installed, Sibley again assisted with its installation, and thereafter worked as a record presser before being appointed supervisor of the factory.

By this time, his friend’s Simmer Down was on the lips of everyone, but still he was being denied the opportunity to record at length, and had to sneak into studio at times to record on soft wax, some of which were played at Dodd’s dances.

He eventually got the opportunity in 1965 to record his first vinyl piece, appropriately titled Things Are Not Right. The following year, he recorded for Dodd, the transitional ska piece Gunman, the first gun tune in Jamaican music. It was banned from the Jamaican airwaves but embraced by the English, reaching their top 10 charts. He followed up in 1967 with Run Boy Run, a rocksteady piece answering Skully’s See Them A Come, which also sold well in England.

Sibley was, however, becoming frustrated with Dodd’s disinterest and tardiness in recording his songs, and so decided to record the album I Admire You for Larry Marshall. The move infuriated Dodd and led to Sibley’s dismissal in 1976. The shock dismissal, coupled with an unfair deal by Larry Marshall, triggered a nervous breakdown which necessitated treatment at the Bellevue Asylum in East Kingston.

Taking his own discharge, he returned to Studio One in his pyjamas in 1977 and was given food and clothes, and told to return whenever he felt better. Like a true gladiator, he transformed his misfortune into motivation and returned to work with Studio One until the factory closed in 1979. “Is a miracle from God why I returned to my senses. I was so depressed and frustrated and only God could have helped me,” Sibley exclaimed. So convinced was he that his healing was caused by divine intervention, that he embraced Christianity, following up with a diploma in theology from the Bible Institute in 1982, learnt the keyboard and guitar at music school, and attended classes at St George’s Extension.

Despite the ill-treatment at Kew Road, Sibley is forever grateful to Miss Ivy and returned there in later life to open a music school, a small studio and assemble his band, ‘Dudley Sibley and the Pioneers’. He then took a break in order to focus on his career in studio. It resulted in two albums,A Studio One Pioneer and Old Broom, reminiscent of his yard work at Studio One. A third album, Old Broom 2, still in the making, will be an absolute gem, featuring Studio One classics, with Sibley amazingly playing most of the instruments while overdubbing his own backing vocals. Making a contribution to the recent documentary MARLEY, Sibley showered eternal commendations on Dodd, Marley and Rastafari.

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