Legendary reggae label Trojan Records resuscitates a long, exhausted mine

Toots Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals, in concert in London in 1980.

David Redfern / Redferns

Updated June 18, 2021 9:47 a.m. ET

Growing up in the south of England, Bob Bell fell in love with Jamaican music upon purchasing his first recording in 1963. For him, the explosion of musical creativity in this country, fueled by thousands of Jamaican immigrants in the late 1950s and early 1960s were ignored. Obviously, the UK’s musical guardians did not share his enthusiasm.

“Most of the establishment media have denigrated reggae,” Bell says. “The establishment just called it monotonous. And it annoyed me, because I had come in listening to blues and R&B and for me the Jamaican music scene was pretty similar to the scene on the next record. – war in the United States, where you had a plethora of independent labels. “

In 1965, Bell went to work for Island Records, which would later sign with Bob Marley, as well as Toots and the Maytals. When Trojan Records was launched in 1968, Bell became its production manager. At first, the label’s records were sold mostly by word of mouth after people heard them in clubs and on pirate radio.

“He didn’t have any national exposure until some of these records started to make a bit of noise. In 1969, 1970 we had several records on the charts in Britain.”

Bell had the idea to release a triple-LP anthology, titled The Story of Troy, in 1971 and was commissioned to select his 50 tracks, which range from mento – the Jamaican cousin of calypso – to ska, stable rock and reggae. But Bell made a conscious decision not to include any hits on the compilation. Instead, he emphasized the scale of the music.

Toots and the Maytals’ 1969 song “Pressure Drop” didn’t hit the UK charts, but it was one of two songs from Toots and the Maytals. The Story of Troy who made it The more they come, the 1972 film credited with the growing popularity of reggae. The Trojan Anthology had been out a year before the end of the film.

“I didn’t want it all to be necessarily reverent and scholarly, but I wanted to give it a little respect. I wanted people to be able to listen to the music and say, ‘Oh, I see, that kind of influence and it has. influenced that and, ah, here we are: now we are in reggae. ‘ “

The Story of Troy The anthology accomplished just that, says Kwame Dawes, reggae music scholar, professor at the University of Nebraska and originally from Jamaica.

“This compilation actually covers about 10 years of significant musical evolution in Jamaica,” says Dawes, who grew up on the island. “Taking this account of the evolution of music to say that it’s all in conversation with each other, this concept of music that evolves, has been one of the accomplishments of this compilation.”

Dawes says The Story of Troy is also valuable as it includes lesser-known recordings of reggae superstars like Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff. And, says Dawes, the anthology contains examples of what he calls the “reggaefication” of songs that are not part of the native Jamaican music canon.

“Take the ‘Black and White’ of the Maytones –

“- this song is a song performed by Pete Seeger in the 1950s. Then it becomes this reggae hit [through] this compilation and then it is covered in reggae style by Three Dog Night later. “

One of the pieces on The Story of Troy which might be recognizable even by those unfamiliar with Jamaican music is “Message to You, Rudy”, which was covered by The Specials and reached No.10 on the UK Singles Chart in 1979. The original version was recorded in 1967, a time when there were dozens of songs about the rudeboys – the titular Rudy, sort of the equivalent of an oiler – engaged in vinyl.

“The summer of 1967, the rudeboy thing was happening in Jamaica,” says Dandy Livingstone, who wrote and performed the original. “Everyone was listening to a rudeboy song, so I was like, ‘Why not come up with something?’ What I did and … say no more. ‘Message to Rudy.’ “

“Trojan lasted, what, only seven years. Just that. But it seemed like 70. It was only seven years from 68 to 75. But in those seven years, man, Trojan Records has influenced the world.”

According to Bob Bell, at one point the label released as many as 16 new singles a week – a saturation strategy that was ultimately blamed for the company’s demise. Bell, now 74 and living in Oakland, Calif., Has no regrets.

“We had enthusiasm, enthusiasm and love for music, and it’s unbeatable. It becomes contagious.”

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