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Joe's untold story of early reggae

10th April 1999

I arrived in London in 1963 to study accounts. While still at college I got a job with Jamaicans (Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden) who were about to open a new shop on West Green Road, selling cosmetics. It was here the real record journey started.

If not the only one we were certainly one of the few record shops which imported records from Jamaica. We received shipments from people like Duke Reid; Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, Sonya Pottinger, G.G. Records on Hope Road, Joe Gibbs on North Parade, Ken Corrie, J.J. Johnson, Prince Buster and many more.

During those early days I sold records from the shop and also "house to house", in night clubs and "basement parties" - always pushing reggae, everywhere, night and day.

When the word got around; that the latest records from Jamaica could be bought at West Green Road; DJ's came from far and wide. Count Shelley from Birmingham, Sir Coxone from Brixton, Duke Roy, Blazing Fire, Finsbury Park's No 1, Benjie the Musical Enchanter from Clapham, Sir Gees, Lord Koos and many more DJ's. The small shop was literally packed every week to hear the latest releases.

Meanwhile word got around - and even got back to Jamaica concerning record activities in London. So much so that during 1966 Graham Goodall from Byron Lee's studio came to the shop to launch the company's new label "Dr Bird Records". The release that started the company was DB 1001 "Every Night". Many hits followed from the company like; "007 ", "Israelites" by Desmond Dekker, and Lady with the red dress on. and many more. However, mindful of what was taking place, Island Records had the foresight to expand their operations. And so it was that around late 1967the managing director of Island, David Betheridge, visited me at Dyke and Dryden shop to discuss their plans.

At a luncheon meeting in the West End of London they revealed part of their plans where I would be offered my own record shop called Joe's records and that the operation would fall under the new company called "Trojan Records", under the leadership of Mr. Lee Gopthal, managing director with Jim Flynn, Fred and other shop managers like Webster, Joe Sinclair, Desmond Bryant, and Sylvan Bryant.The idea was that instead of importing records they would negotiate with the producers in Jamaica and release the records in England for general sales.

Around this time in addition to R & B Records, Rita King's label at Stamford Hill which released Bob Marley's early records and Blue Beat Records which released mostly Prince Buster products; other record companies started to mushroom all over London. Some of these were Pama, Creole, Third World, Orbitone, Eve, Lord Koos and many more.

The main outlets for Trojan Records were Webster Shroeder's shop in Ladbroke Grove Market, Joe Sinclair in Ridley Road Market in North London, Desmond's Hip City in Brixton and Joe's Records inside Brixton Market.

Now Trojan Records remained the front runner for some time until other companies got into the action and started to compete for rights to release material from Jamaican producers, in some cases offering them lucrative contracts, some of which often ended at the doors of the courts. Trojan would sign a legal document to release a particular number only to find that out that another company got the permission to release the same record. This resulted in much confusion, not to mention expense because in many cases monies were advanced to the producers while the companies were in court.

Some producers in England would quickly get a band together and "cover version" the record in dispute, having enough to record, publish and release before the original. Needless to say when the original was released the record buyer would already have one so we had another what we called "dead" record on our hands.

After close association with what was taking place most artistes would themselves come to London in some case to release their own product and go around and sell their own records. It was therefore not unusual to see record artistes in the shop listening to the latest tunes on big, big boom boxes with 18 in speakers booming.

Some of the artistes that frequented the the shop were Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, Eddie Grant, Bob Marley, Laurel Aitken, Owen Grey, John Holt, Bunny Lee, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Rico Rodreguez.

During some of these visits by musicians they suggested to me that I try my hand at producing. I thought about it and decided to give it a shot. And so as the say "the rest is history. Some of the tracks that came out of those sessions were The Bullet, Brixton Cat, Hey Jude, and But Officer.

The above tracks were released by Trojan Records which went into receivership after a few short years.

I returned to Trinidad and Tobago in 1980

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