From Daily Gleaner, February 3, 1956
Can you imagine grabbing a Red Stripe and heading into this dance at Shady Grove in 1956? Duke Reid, Coxsone Dodd, Admiral Comic (or here, Kosmic)–what a night this must have been! It was 1956, before ska, so these sound system operators were spinning “rock ‘n roll” as the advertisement states–rhythm and blues secured from American. We know that Duke Reid and Coxsone traveled to the U.S. to obtain their records, but others purchased them from the sailors coming from the states in the ship yard. I wanted to take the opportunity in this blog to talk a little bit about Duke Reid, the one who helped to start it all, and share some advertisements I found from the Daily Gleaner that I find fascinating and hope you will too.
First of all, let me give a little background on Duke Reid, for those who might not be familiar with this Jamaican music hero. This passage from the Jamaica Gleaner, October 1, 1995, was written by journalist Balford Henry:
Arthur Stanley Reid was born in Black Rock, Portland, May 14,1923 [most accounts have his birth as July 21, 1915] . Although his birth certificate shows his mother’s name as Catherine Pearce, there is only a dash where his father’s name was supposed to be. After school, Reid moved to Kingston and joined the police. While in the force he met Lucille Homil and they married. He was kicked out of the police force when his superiors realised that he had moved in with his mother-in-law and was helping to run a grocery on Beeston Street. However, the 30 pounds they paid him off with, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as he bought a couple of speaker boxes and started playing music outside the store. Friends encouraged him to go into music fully, and he eventually challenged and beat the then sound system King, Tom, the Great Sebastian. Tom moved uptown to the Silver Slipper Club in Cross Roads after this, leaving downtown at the mercy of the new champion sound system -Duke Reid, The Trojan.
Reid beat back the challenge of numerous other sounds, until he was humiliated by a young upstart named Clement “Sir Coxsone Downbeat” Dodd, who had travelled abroad as a farm worker and returned with some exclusives, including Roscoe Brown’s “Mr. Berry,” Coxsone’s virtual theme song. But, Reid also went on a hunt for the songs in the United States. It was difficult because, like other sound system operators, Dodd had scratched the name from the label. This meant that Reid had to listen to thousands of songs until he found it. Anthony (Duke Reid’s son) said that when his father, eventually, found the record in a Philadelphia shop, “he jumped in the air and laughed like a baby.” When he returned to Kingston, Reid threw out a challenge to Dodd, that he could play all his exclusives. The showdown was planned for Forrester’s Hall. Dodd turned up feeling that Reid was only bluffing. At midnight when Reid played “Mr. Berry” eyewitnesses said that Dodd fainted.
Reid returned to the top of the heap, but a disastrous attempt to develop a construction company, which was supposed to have received a contract to help build the Norman Manley Airport but never did, resulted in him having to declare bankruptcy in 1961. Anthony said that his father lost everything, including his sound system. But, he rebounded with a loan obtained through a home owned by his wife on Mountain View Avenue. Reid returned with a vengeance, formed his own labels, built his own studio, and reopened his liquor store after repurchasing 33 Bond Street. When Tab Smith’s “My Mother’s Eyes” was brought to his attention by a friend named “Cho Cho Mouth”, he made it his theme song.
The name Duke Reid and Treasure Isle are still very much identified with the instrumental. Reid died leaving one of the richest local musical legacies, which was still providing entertainment for millions world-wide, excepting that his family isn’t earning anything from all this success.
Duke Reid’s sound system, and Reid himself, was called The Trojan, after the make of his imported kit van he used to shuttle his equipment. Reid hosted his dances at the corner of Beeston Street and Pink Lane in the early days and then on Bond Street and Charles Street, as well as at other venues like the Success Club and Forresters Hall. It is to be noted that in the story relayed above by Anthony Reid to the journalist that Coxsone’s theme song was “Mr. Berry.” Other accounts, which have been corroborated, have that song being “Later For Gator” by Willis “Gatortail” Jackson, which Coxsone renamed Coxsone’s Hop,” and the event is to have taken place at Kingston Jubilee Hall with Prince Buster luring him there.
Reid was flashy and attracted attention everywhere he went. He frequently wore a crown on his head along with a red cape trimmed in ermine, bandoliers crisscrossing his chest and two guns at his side, one a shotgun on his left hip and a .45 on his right hip. Sometimes he even arrived to his dances being carried aloft on a gilded throne by his posse. He was known to fire his guns into the air at his shows in a display of his prowess as well as when he liked a song. He was also known to occasionally play with a live grenade. He presented a radio show on RJR called “Treasure Isle Time,” supplying the records from his sound system, promoting those from his studio, and paying for the airtime. The show was actually hosted by Adrian “Duke” Robinson, a J.B.C. disc jockey. From 1956 to 1959, Reid was the “King of Sound and Blues,” known for his rare, even exclusive 78” tunes he played at the sound system dances.
The sound systems had one function in these early days–to sell liquor. Duke Reid and his family owned a liquor store, so too did Coxsone Dodd and his family. Here is an advertisement that shows the duality of the liquor industry which birthed the music industry. Record collectors, what would you give to travel back in time to go to this sale!!?
I haven’t even talked about the legacy that Duke Reid has left us in the way of recordings, but instead focused here on his early days. Reid produced hundreds of recordings, helping to establish the careers of such greats as Alton Ellis, the Skatalites, Derrick Morgan, Eric Monty Morris, John Holt, Justin Hinds, the Melodians, the Paragons, Phyllis Dillon, the Silvertones, Stranger Cole, the Techniques, Tommy McCook & the Supersonics, and the list goes on and on. Share your memories and thoughts on the legacy of Duke Reid by commenting below. I leave you with this popular photo of Duke Reid in all his glory.
And below is an advertisement for Trojan trucks from the Daily Gleaner, 1959. Duke Reid’s had “Duke Reid – The Trojan King of Sounds” painted on the sides. He not only hauled his sound system equipment and records, but of course, his liquor.