Sounds of Waterhouse
Black Uhuru: (from left) Michael Rose, Puma Jones, and Duckie Simpson.

The Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment Desk continues with the 57th of its biweekly feature looking at seminal moments that have helped shape Jamaica over the past 60 years.

Some call it Waterhouse

Firehouse rock

Oh yeah, oh yeah

Some call it Firehouse

Waterhouse rock

Look at that, look at that

Some call it Waterhouse

Firehouse rock

Oh yeah, oh yeah

Some call it Firehouse

Waterhouse rock

— From Firehouse Rock by The Wailing Souls

IN 1985, a roots-reggae group named Black Uhuru won the first Grammy Award for Best Reggae Recording. They are from the Kingston community called Waterhouse.

The success of Black Uhuru in the 1980s coincided with the remarkable rise of dancehall music from Waterhouse, a tough, working-class community in Kingston. It was not exactly unknown; during the 1970s, artistes, producers and sound system operators flocked the area seeking that perfect mix from master engineer Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock.

There were also countless dances and sound systems. Lloyd “King Jammy’s” James, who moved to Waterhouse from St James as a boy, recalled a typical weekend there in a recent interview with American cable television company, I Never Knew TV.

“Di reason why Waterhouse produce so many artistes, back in di day every corner had a sound system. Wi used to walk every Friday an’ Saturday night an’ visit Coney Island, walk from corner to corner an’ listen di different set dem,” he said.

Like Trench Town, Waterhouse has produced some of dancehall/reggae’s most influential artistes — The Wailing Souls, Black Uhuru, Junior Reid, Beenie Man, and Hugh Mundell. Some of the music’s most pivotal moments, including the release of the sensational Sleng Teng ‘riddim’ in 1985, took place at James’ hallowed studio.

In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, his base at St Lucia Road was ground zero for dancehall. Admiral Bailey (Two Year Old, Big Belly Man), Pinchers (Agony, Bandelero), Shabba Ranks (Love Punanny Bad, Get Up, Stand Up And Rock, Who She Love), Sanchez (Here I Am, End of The World), and Frankie Paul (I Know The Score, Casanova) are some of the heavyweights who recorded mega hits there.

It is also where Bobby “Bobby Digital” Dixon, arguably dancehall music’s greatest producer, got his start as a studio engineer. Musician/producers Steely and Clevie, and songwriter/producer Mikie Bennett were part of the team that created magic at Jammy’s studio.

In a 2012 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Bennett reflected on the significant contribution Waterhouse has made to Jamaican popular culture.

“The community offered a sense of protection to myself and other musicians. Also, the residents got accustomed to hosting celebrities as almost every successful reggae/dancehall act has recorded at Jammys,” he said.

Lloyd "King Jammy" James
Bobby "Bobby Digital" Dixon
Beenie Man
(From left) Cleveland "Clevie" Browne, Lloyd "King Jammy" James, and Wycliffe 'Steely' Johnson at 1988 JAMI Awards. Photo: M Peggy Quatro for Reggae Report
Junior Reid
Admiral Bailey
Howard Campbell

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