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CHANNEL ONE – THE REVOLUTIONARY SOUND!

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By Howard Campbell—

IT was a Sunday afternoon in 1973 when music producer Joseph ‘Joe Joe’ Hoo-Kim gathered a band of musicians at his new Channel One studio to back singer Delroy Wilson on a reggae cover of The Spinners’ hit song, It’s A Shame.

Delroy Wilson

Delroy Wilson

Wilson’s version became a hit and triggered a remarkable run of success for Hoo-Kim’s fledgling studio. Channel One’s golden era lasted a decade and is comparable to Studio One and Treasure Isle, rival studios during the ska and rock steady periods of the 1960s.

Top: Sly Dunbar on drums… Bottom:The Channel One building as it stands today.

It had a champion house band in The Revolutionaries who fashioned a militant sound that reflected the turbulent 1970s.

Drummer Sly Dunbar became the heartbeat of The Revolutionaries. He was a member of the Skin, Flesh and Bones band when Hoo-Kim invited him to sit in on the Wilson session.

Bertram ‘Ranchie’ McLean (bass), Eric Frater (guitar) and keyboardist Ansell Collins also backed Wilson, who had been a child star at Studio One in the 1960s. Dunbar recalls making a bold prediction at the end of the gig.

“Mi tell Joe Joe sey, ‘if dis (song) nuh hit, yuh can shut down the studio’.”

Although It’s A Shame was the first hit song for Channel One, recording sessions were going on there for almost one year. In an interview with American writer David Katz for his book, Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae, Hoo-Kim says not everyone was impressed with the studio’s sound.

“(Producer) Bunny Lee said, ‘the studio don’t sound good’, an’ I have the most expensive console. I did an LP with Alton Ellis that I couldn’t release,” Hoo-Kim recalled. “The bass was tied to the drum…It wasn’t recorded properly.”

The teething pains had eased considerably one year later when Channel One officially launched. Hoo-Kim’s youngest brother Ernest replaced the more experienced Syd Bucknor as official engineer and was at the studio’s impressive API console for follow-up hits including Horace Andy’s Girl I Love You and Country Living, by a harmony trio called The Mighty Diamonds.

For the artists and producers who recorded at Channel One, the API board set Channel One apart from its rivals. Fitzroy ‘Bunny Diamond’ Simpson was one of those artists.

“The place had a sound…heavy, rootsy. After we hit an’ people hear the sound, everybody wanted to come to Channel One,” he said.

The Mighty Diamonds were arguably Channel One’s biggest act. In 1975 as roots-reggae took off internationally, the trio recorded The Right Time album which yielded hits in the title song, I Need a Roof and Africa.

INeedARoof:TheMightyDiamonds

Other artists and hits recorded at Channel One during the period were Leroy Smart (Ballistic Affair, Badness Nuh Pay), The Wailing Souls (Things and Time, Jah Jah Give Us Life), The Meditations (Woman Is Like a Shadow), Ernest Wilson (I Know Myself), The Jays (Queen Majesty) and MPLA, a rousing instrumental ode to Angolan freedom fighters by The Revolutionaries.

In addition to Dunbar, the core of The Revolutionaries were McLean, Collins, guitarist Rad ‘Dougie’ Bryan, percussionist Uzziah ‘Sticky’ Thompson, saxophonists Tommy McCook and Herman Marquis, trombonist Vin Gordon and trumpeter Bobby Ellis.

Bassist Robbie Shakespeare, who later established a formidable production team with Dunbar, played guitar on several of the sessions.

Joseph Hoo-Kim was the eldest of four brothers whose parents ran a bar and ice cream parlour at the intersection of Maxfield Avenue and Spanish Town Road. While he knew Lee and artists from nearby Greenwich Farm, he had little knowledge of the music business.

A visit to Dynamic Sounds with singer John Holt peaked his interest and he decided to open a studio in the Maxfield Avenue area, a political hotbed throughout the 1970s. He told Katz that he purchased the API console for $38,000 and promoted the facility by allowing producers to record there for free.

From its early days, Dunbar knew the drum sound was key to Channel One’s success.

“We used to listen to the songs from Philadelphia International Records an’ how dem use the drums. So if wi have a good drum sound the studio would tek off,” he said.

Producer Bunny Lee

Producer Bunny Lee

That it did, with several of the musicians at Channel One picking up recording or touring assignments with top acts like Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh. On the strength of their songs for the label, The Mighty Diamonds eventually signed with Virgin Records.

The classic Channel One era effectively came to a close in 1977 when Paul Hoo-Kim, second of the brothers and operator of the Channel One sound system, was killed at Greenwich Farm beach while playing dominoes.

Recording still took place there into the early 1980s but it was mainly producers booking studio time. Dunbar and Shakespeare revived Dunbar’s Taxi label and produced a number of hit songs by Black Uhuru, Sugar Minott, Junior Delgado, The Tamlins and Jimmy Riley. The Roots Radics Band teamed with producer Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes for a series of memorable sessions with Barrington Levy, John Holt, Eek-a-Mouse, Cocoa Tea and Gregory Isaacs.

The dilapidated Channel One complex is barely recognisable today. The studio that produced some of the greatest music in the 1970s went silent over 20 years ago.

In recent years, its catalogue has been the subject of several compilation albums distributed by independent companies such as VP Records and Heartbeat Records.

For Sly Dunbar, who is still an in-demand musician/producer, working at Channel One is the highlight of a storied career.

“Channel One bring a lot out of me as a musician an’ other musician and artists will tell yuh the same thing. I think it’s up there with the great labels,” he said.

Channel One trivia

— Producer Bunny Lee conducted the first recording session at Channel One with Delroy Wilson and the Soul Syndicate Band. It produced the song, Can I Change My Mind.

— My Leader Born Yah, theme song for the People’s National Party 1976 general election campaign, was recorded at Channel One. It was produced by Clancy Eccles.

— Jimmy Cliff’s 1975 album, Follow My Mind, was recorded at Channel One.

— Many of the hit songs at Channel One, including Far East by Barry Brown and The Jays’ Queen Majesty, were originally done at Studio One and Treasure Isle, respectively.

— Bertram ‘Ranchie’ McLean, a key member of The Revolutionaries, started his career as a guitarist. He switched to bass at Channel One.

— Channel One had a number of top engineers including Ernest Hoo-Kim, Bunny ‘Bunny Tom Tom’ Graham and Overton ‘Scientist’ Brown.

 

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