21 July 1915|
|Died||1 January 1975(aged 59)|
|Genres||Ska, rocksteady, reggae|
|Record producer, DJ, label owner.|
|Labels||Trojan, Duke Reid, Dutchess, Treasure Isle|
He ran one of the most popular sound systems of the 1950s called Duke Reid's the Trojan after the British-made trucks used to transport the equipment. In the 1960s, Reid founded record label Treasure Isle, named after his liquor store, that produced ska and rocksteady music. He was still active in the early 1970s, working with toaster U-Roy. He died in early 1975 after having suffered from a severe illness for the last year.
Reid was born in Portland, Jamaica. After serving ten years as a Jamaican police officer, Reid left the force to help his wife Lucille run the family business, The Treasure Isle Grocery and Liquor Store at 33 Bond Street in Kingston.
He made his way into the music industry first as a sound system (outdoor mobile discothèque) owner, promoter and disc jockey in 1953. He quickly overtook Tom the Great Sebastian and his sound system as the most popular sound system in Jamaica. Soon he was also sponsor and presenter of a radio show, Treasure Isle Time. A jazz and blues man at heart, Reid chose "My Mother's Eyes" by Tab Smith as his theme tune. Other favourites of his included Fats Domino, a noticeable influence on the early Reid sound.
He began producing recordings in the late 1950s. Early Reid productions were recorded in studios owned by others, but when the family business moved from Pink Lane, Kingston to Bond Street, Reid set up his own studio above the store. He became proprietor of a number of labels, chiefly Treasure Isle and Dutchess (his spelling). Much of his income derived from licensing agreements with companies in the UK, some of which set up specialist Duke Reid labels. He was known to carry his pistols and rifle with him in the studio and would sometimes fire them to celebrate a successful audition.
He dominated the Jamaican music scene of the 1960s, specialising in ska and rocksteady, though his love of American jazz, blues and soul was evident. Reid had several things going for him that helped him to rise to prominence. He made a concerted effort to be in the studio as much as possible, something his counterparts did not do. He was known as a perfectionist and had a knack for adding symphonic sounds to his recordings and producing dense arrangements. Furthermore, his records were considerably longer than those being produced by his rivals. His tunes often broke the four-minute barrier, while most ska songs were barely longer than two minutes. The material that Treasure Island issued exemplified the cool and elegant feel of the rocksteady era. In an interview for Kool 97 FM, Jackie Jackson along with Paul Douglas and Radcliffe "Dougie" Bryan were asked about the many recordings they did together as the rhythm section for Treasure Isle Records, and working with Sonia Pottinger and Duke Reid.
Reid initially disliked ska for being too simple and having too much focus on drums rather than on guitar. However, Reid eventually got behind ska and produced numerous hits. Reid's ska productions in the 1960s "epitomized the absolute peak of the style", according to music historian Colin Larkin. He had a long string of hits with performers like Stranger Cole, the Techniques, Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, Alton Ellis and the Flames, the Paragons, the Jamaicans, and the Melodians.
By the 1970s, Reid's poor health and the trend towards Rastafarian influenced roots reggae noticeably reduced the number of releases from Treasure Isle. Reid forbade Rasta lyrics from being recorded in his studio and thus Coxsone Dodd was able to dominate the Jamaican recording industry. Reid maintained his high profile largely by recording the "toasting" of DJs U-Roy and Dennis Alcapone as well as vaguely Rasta-influenced oddities such as Cynthia Richards' "Aily-I".
At around this time, Reid protégé Justin Hinds noticed his boss appeared unwell and recommended a doctor. Cancer was diagnosed and Reid decided to sell Treasure Isle to Sonia Pottinger, widow of his friend Lenford "Lennie the King" Pottinger, and already owned High Note Records, which was one of the largest record labels on the Island. He kept involved for a while acting as a Magistrate but died in 1975.