Following Hedley Jones's death in September 2017, and the publication of his last interview in The Wire 406, writer David Katz chooses five seminal tracks with links to the Jamaican audio engineer
Charlie Christian with The Benny Goodman Sextet “Stardust”
When Charlie Christian joined Benny Goodman’s Sextet in August 1939, his expressive solos helped bring the electric guitar firmly into the spotlight as a lead instrument. Songs like “Flying Home”, “Rose Room” and “Stardust” made a dramatic impact, largely through Christian’s command of his Gibson hollow body. Hedley Jones said that hearing the work of Christian in Goodman’s band is what inspired him to switch from banjo to guitar. It led to him spending a year building his own solid-bodied electric. Check also Christian’s “Swing To Bop” for another exemplary early sortie.
Clue J And His Blues Blasters “Pine Juice”
Hedley Jones remembered playing on early instrumental works by Clue J And The Blue Blasters for Clement Dodd in 1961–62, but he was a bit hazy about exactly which tracks. “Pine Juice” dates from the time in question, and probably features Jones on rhythm guitar. Jones also said that the word ska came from musicians mishearing Johnson referring to jazz scat vocals, in response to Dodd’s request for a particular type of guitar rhythm. As he explained, “I was doing some guitar work for Coxsone, and Cluette Johnson was the bass player. So Coxsone said to me one day, ‘Mr Jones, I want you to play the guitar, skenggae’. You know, Jamaicans like to carve out words from nowhere. So he wanted skenggae, in other words, the off-beat, the upbeat. He called it skenggae. So, Cluette Johnson, in my presence, said, ‘Oh, like jazz scat.’ Now, the less articulate musicians who listened to what Johnson said didn’t pronounce it properly, so the next time I got to the studio, I was hearing about ska, which was really a mispronunciation of what Johnson had said.”
Clancy Eccles “Freedom”
Another track that likely features Hedley Jones’s guitar work, “Freedom” was a pivotal song that Eccles wrote as a plea for the repatriation of black Jamaicans to Africa, but which was appropriated by the Jamaica Labour Party in an effort to block the proposed Federation of the West Indies, arguing instead for full solo independence from Britain.
Don Drummond And The Skatalites “Eastern Standard Time”
Hedley Jones’s understated guitar is present on this landmark 1964 ska hit, featuring the lively trombone of Don Drummond and backed by his fellow Skatalites. Although the song was released by Duke Reid in Jamaica, it was actually produced by Clement Dodd at Studio One, who gave it to Reid to release in exchange for the song “Green Island”, which Reid had produced with Drummond.
The Wailers “It Hurts To Be Alone”
Ernest Ranglin used one of Hedley Jones’s guitars on this massive 1965 hit for the Wailers, recorded at Studio One with Junior Braithwaite on lead vocals. Jones had a close relationship with Ranglin, having loaned him a guitar in the early 1950s, which was destroyed in the 1951 storm that battered Jamaica. Ranglin’s lead lines here again evidence the influence of Charlie Christian.