After spending ten years as a policeman in Kingston, Duke Reid and his wife Lucille bought the Treasure Isle Liquor Store in the 1950s, and in a sponsorship deal, Reid hosted his own radio show “Treasure Isle Time” airing US R&B. He also operated his own sound system – Duke Reid The Trojan – rivalling persons such as Coxsone Dodd. He took up record production in 1962 scoring ska hits with Stranger Cole, the Techniques, Justin Hinds and Alton Ellis & the Flames. As ska evolved, developing a slower beat which would eventually become known as ‘rock steady’, Reid found much success with hits such as the Paragons – Ali Baba and Wear You To The Ball; Alton Ellis – Cry Tough, Breaking Up, Rock Steady and Ain’t That Loving You; The Melodians – You Don’t Need Me, I Will Get Along among many others.
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.
Duke Reid made an impact with his presence at toasting battles, trying to out play other DJs. He was dressed in a long ermine cloak and a gilt crown on his head, with a pair of Colt 45s in cowboy holsters, a cartridge belt strapped across his chest and a loaded shotgun over his shoulder. It was not uncommon for things to get out of hand and it was said that Duke Reid would bring the crowd under control by firing his shotgun in the air.
Reid initially disliked ska for being too simple and having too much focus on drums rather than on guitar. However, he 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 owner of High Note Records, which was one of the largest record labels on the Island. He remained involved for a while acting as a Magistrate but died in 1975.
Reid was posthumously awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander on 15 October 2007.
Reid struggled when Rock Steady began to wane in popularity by the late 1960s but found success briefly with U-Roy, a toaster with whom he arguably founded the modern DJ era with hits such as Wake The Town, Wear You To The Ball, Everybody Bawlin’ and Version Galore. However, by 1973 his popularity began to wane as a result of his refusal to record ‘rasta’ lyrics in an environment increasingly dominated by ‘conscious’ reggae music.
He died in 1974.
- Various Artists – Soul To Soul DJ’s Choice – 1973 – Trojan Records (1995)
- Various Artists – Gems From Treasure Isle – 1966-1968 – Trojan Records (1982)
- Various Artists – Ba Ba Boom Duke Reid – 1967-1972 – Trojan Records (1994)
- Various Artists – Duke Reid’s Treasure Chest – Heartbeat Records (1992)
- Various Artists – Treasure Isle Dub Vol 01
- Various Artists – Version Affair Vol 01 – Lagoon (1992)
- Various Artists – Version Affair Vol 02 – Lagoon (1993)
- Various Artists – Sir Coxsone & Duke Reid In Concert At Forresters Hall – Studio One
- Various Artists – The Treasure Isle Story (4-CD box set) – Trojan Records (2017)
The great arch-rival to Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd in the music production and sound system business in Jamaica during the 1950s was Arthur Reid, more popularly known as ‘Duke Reid The Trojan’, named after his sound system of that same name, and which, in turn, was named after his Trojan van, which took his music equipment and accoutrements around to dances. When the van arrived for dances, there would be tumultuous shouts of “Here comes The Trojan”, and ‘Duke Reid The Trojan’ he became.
Approximately 10 years Dodd’s senior, the Jamaica-born Reid, followed somewhat of a similar route to success as Dodd did, having spanned the areas of sound-system operation and record production. Reid, however, had established himself, (perhaps between 1953-1954) a couple years earlier than Dodd, creating ecstatic scenes wherever he played.
Strangely, though, The Trojan’s earliest ambition was never in the field of music. His first claim to fame was as a young, burly policeman, who gave the force 10 years of sterling service, before deciding to move into other areas of interest. Those areas bordered on music and a liquor store business, which he jointly owned and operated with his wife, Lucille, at 33 Bond Street in the heart of West Kingston.
On the musical side, Reid’s ever-increasing interest and love for the American rhythm and blues music lured him into the sound-system business, and combined with his interest in his liquor store business, it had him employed almost full time.
In pursuit of his goals, he built and brought to prominence by 1954 his ‘Trojan’ sound system. His efforts in this area were never to go unrewarded. For his stellar performances, Reid was crowned, ‘King of Sound and Blues’ at the Success Club along Wildman Street in Kingston during the late 1950s. There was also another mention made of him being crowned by the rock and roll giant Fats Domino at Kings Lawn, along North Street, in Kingston in the early 1960s.
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