Joe takes up the story, 'I arrived in London in 1963 to study accounts. I joined the North London West Indian Association headed by Len Dyke. Not long after joining this Association, an election of officers was held and I won the post of Treasurer.'
At this time Joe was working for an American telephone company. After one of the Association's executive meetings, Len Dyke approached him about a business venture on which he was about to embark with another member, Dudley Dryden. The plan was to sell cosmetics to the growing West Indian population in North London, and Dyke wanted Joe on board. As a sideline they proposed to sell records to the music-hungry Jamaicans. Joe gave it some thought as he was fully employed at the time, but quickly decided to jump ship from the telephone company, and in May 1965 Dyke & Dryden opened its doors at 43 West Green Road, with Joe behind the counter.
'I must admit I knew nothing about cosmetics. I (had) acquired some knowledge of records going to parties and purchasing records... those early days were extremely difficult because we had very little stock. We had no account with the big record companies like EMI, RCA, Decca, and CBS etc. Consequently we lost a lot of sales, so we concentrated on the grass root records for survival - Ska, Rock Steady, Soul, Blue Beat'.
In 1966 Joe was invited to the giant EMI Records HQ to attend a course on how to manufacture records from recording to pressing, plus actually marketing your product to the record buying public.
'Once back at the shop I had a different outlook about the entire Reggae business… I started a promotion plan. Go to the studio, pay for 30 minutes studio time, then I would record and advertise the name of a popular DJ, say something like 'Blazing Fire will put fire in your wire' and 'by the flick of my wrist another musical twist', then the music from the (original) record would start'.
This one-off dub plate would be sold to the DJ, and as Joe continues, 'this method was an excellent way of advertising, not only the DJ's name, but it also gave this particular record a distinct advantage because it received more air play than the other records'. A clever trick to dub-on a spoken intro to a regular record but due to the DJ's sometimes being unable to afford the one-off acetate the idea was abandoned.
Next up, 'I would have in my possession boxes of the latest record imports, and go to as many parties as possible and have the DJ's play them and watch the reaction of the dancers on the floor. Depending on which record they enjoyed the most, I would take a note and re-order accordingly'.
As more West Indians settled into London life, so the parties spread along with the jubilant DJ's who chattered between and over the records, and Joe kept the supplies coming. In 1966 there was a big sound system showdown with Sounds coming from all over London to compete. Joe was one of the judges, as was sound engineer Graeme Goodall, who was soon to become a close friend of the man from Dyke & Dryden following this first meeting. Incidentally, Duke Roy from North London emerged the winner and staggered home with an immense trophy and jewel studded copper crown.
The same year saw the launch of Goodall's Doctor Bird imprint and the venue chosen was Dyke & Dryden's shop. 'There was no big launch of Doctor Bird', recalls Goodall, 'my plan was to hit it (the label) with the best tracks…I did and it worked. I was somewhat creative in marketing the product…. Weekly Gleaner, Sound System dances, blank pre-releases etc.'.
The Doctor Bird label went on to issue some sizzling Ska and latterly Rock Steady and finally Reggae sides through its short life span. Mindful of the success of Doctor Bird Records, Island MD David Betteridge dropped in on Joe late in 1967.
'At a luncheon meeting in the West End of London they (Island) revealed their plans where I would be offered my own record shop called 'Joe's Records' and that the operation would fall under the new company called Trojan Records - under the leadership of Mr. Lee Gopthal...'
It was tough for Joe to leave Dyke & Dryden, but soon Joe's Record Centre at 93 Granville Arcade, Brixton opened with a tag-line of 'specialists in blues, Rock Steady, jazz, pop, religious - also American imports, Jamaican imports, African highlife', in fact just about every style of music aside from classical, and no doubt should your desire be for a bit of Beethoven, Joe could procure that for you too.
Joe again, 'Some of the ideas I learnt during my course I began to implement them. I started my own Top 20 Reggae hits. I had special call cards printed with my photo attached to give to customers, dealers, dance promoters, DJ's etc. I even went a step further and had special pocket diaries printed with the name Joe's Record Centre engraved on the front cover' - so ephemera collectors watch out as that old diary could be a piece of Reggae-history.
The lessons learnt in marketing came in very handy as Joe was only one of many record shops vying for trade, '…many record shops carrying the same product surrounded me. I had to adopt different strategies in order to be competitive. One such method was to check which particular record was selling very fast. I would then check with my contacts at the wholesale outlets how much stock they had, in confidence of course, and if stocks were low, I would send my personal friends to buy out some, if not all, of the record from the shops around me. This way when the customer goes to the other shops they would be out of stock and I knew the dealer would take a long time to replenish their stock, but then my shop would still be in stock of the record thereby keeping my customers happy'.
Not only was Joe adept at shifting vast amounts of vinyl, but also his vision stretched further to actually producing music. His first production to appear on vinyl was 'Life On Reggae Planet' on the Blue Cat label in 1968, although Joe recalls recording his second release first - 'The Bullet'. Released the following year again on Blue Cat, it cracked the market for him. This solid instrumental was credited to London based Jamaican trombone player Rico Rodriguez, and sold by the cartload - 'I gathered a few musicians. I wanted a sound between a Calypso and Ska, so I hum what I wanted and came away with 'The Bullet'. It was on white (label) for five or six months before it went out on a label - then it started to really sell. It must've been two years (selling both) underground then on top', the 'on top' meaning to both West Indians and the white skinheads who were tuning into Joe's sounds by this time. 'It helped finance other sessions and bought me a new car', recalls Joe.
Trojan took note of his magic touch and inaugurated the 'Joe' label in May 1969 (with the label design by Joe) although the matrix number was in the DU series for the Duke label - DU23 'Friends & Lovers' by Patti La Donne backed with 'Hot Line' from the ambiguous Joe's All Stars was the debut. It wasn't a particularly strong seller, unlike the next Mansano offering on the label, DU24 - 'Hey Jude' b/w 'Musical Feet', again from Joe's All Stars.
Rob Bell, the Trojan manager at the time recalls that 'initial pressings would have been in the 750 to 1500 amounts…I think a couple of the Duke issues were decent sellers, DU24 (mentioned above), DU28, 'Battle Cry Of Biafra' and DU51, 'Gun The Man Down''.
Joe remembers 'Hey Jude', '…the people would listen to the Beatles original and then dance to the Reggae version. There was a white guy who played horn (on 'Hey Jude') - I can't remember his name - and he just kept on playing, right at the end he wouldn't stop - just kept on playing'.
Joe's main session band was the Rudies, and occasionally the Cimarons, with additions like Rico and the long-forgotten horn player just mentioned. DJ chores were normally by the chirpy Dice The Boss aka Pama Dice, or on one occasion Baba Dice. Born Hopeton Reid, the former started life working as a live DJ for Prince Buster in Jamaica before relocating to London and persuading Joe to give him a try on the microphone. The 'Pama' reference is apparently nothing to do with Pama Records, although Joe no longer recalls why Dice had this strange addition to his name.
The main studios used were Chalk Farm run by Vic Keary and Graeme Goodall's studio. Goodall's preferred session group were Symarip / the Pyramids, headed by Monty Neysmith, whilst Chalk Farm was home to the Rudies and the Cimarons. With regard to the sessions, 'it was a close circuit of people and I would book two hours, paying a session fee of £20 per man. Once the track I wanted was done I would call people in to record and use up the time. I would be on the consol and tell the engineer what to do. Much of the work was spontaneous, although sometimes the night before I would have it in my head and I'd tell the musicians the bass line etc'.
This using-up of the session time did result in some interesting productions, such as 'In Loving Memory (Of Don Drummond)', credited to Clive Williams & the Heat Wave, but actually Dice, Rico and a session band. It was issued on the little known Rock Steady Revolution label in 1969. Clive Williams was a session player and the 'Heat Wave' suspiciously sound like the Cimarons in disguise.
Joe's next project was the rude 'Brixton Cat', which Joe clarified as today meaning 'Brixton Pussy', with no need for further explanation! 'People went wild at parties (when it was played). What made it even more puzzling was that this work was done right here in London…to my great surprise one morning on the breakfast programme Tony Blackburn played 'Brixton Cat'…and that day the shop was packed'. One can be sure that Tony Blackburn and the BBC had no idea what Dice was chattering about or the record would've shot into the reject pile along with the infamous 'Wet Dream' from Max Romeo a year earlier.
Trojan were so impressed with the sales of 'Brixton Cat' that they asked Joe if he was interested in fleshing out the hit single into an album of the same name. He readily agreed and the album appeared late in 1969, catalogue number TBL106, and resplendent with a shot of Joe's former sister-in-law Peggy Jackson, back to camera, gazing at Brixton market on the sleeve's front. The back showed a snappy-dressed Joe looking every bit the businessman in a three-piece suit - a picture that he took himself.
In a singles driven market the album sold enough copies to please Joe's masters at Trojan with much of the sales being taken up by the new skinhead Reggae lovers. As was Joe's custom, he would record a basic rhythm track and then over dub vocals or instruments to create different cuts. An obvious example is 'Rico's Torpedo' which is a straight horn cut on the rhythm included on the 'Brixton Cat' album, Joe then grabbed Dice and laid a DJ piece - 'Tea House From Emperor Roscoe' and a solid instrumental cut - 'Tea House', the former gaining issue on his Joe label, while the latter popped up on the very obscure 'Reggae' label, run by Phil Chen who was also bass player in Jimmy James & the Vagabonds, before going on to higher heights with Rod Stewart's band. Chen also worked closely with Robert 'Dandy' Thompson, another founding UK Reggae-recorder, and the Rudies band.
For inspiration, Joe would often draw from every day experiences such as his track 'The Thief', where a guy stole a pile of records from Joe's shop then had the audacity to come back for more and was luckily recognized. Hence the startling cries on the record of 'thief - damn thief'. The bizarrely named track 'Tea House' came about again from a very mundane angle, 'we had the session and went for a cup of tea to the tea house, so we called it that'.
Perhaps one of the most debated questions in Reggae circles is the old chestnut as to who was King Horror. Joe tells us who his King Horror was, 'there was a chap in the band called Lloydie, who was, shall we say, not very pretty, so we called him King Horror, he was one of my DJ's. Lloyd The Matador was his name - Lloyd Campbell - and as the Hammer horror and Dracula thing was very big at the time I cut the 'Dracula Prince Of Darkness' track with Lloydie'.
January 1970 saw the last Joe release with a Duke matrix, and in March of the same year a new brown and yellow label emerged, still with the basic layout of the original green and silver Duke/Joe but with that all important JRS matrix. Now Joe really did have his own semi-independent label. After some interesting releases on Joe's new imprint, May 1970 saw JRS9, the very popular 'Skinhead Revolt', which '...was a track created for the skinheads to dance - they had a very special way they dance to this song'. The track commented on the Paki-bashing fad that was prevalent at the time.
By Spring 1970 Joe saw his new market clearly - the white skinheads…
'There was a white skinhead called Shaun who used to help sell records in the shop, and also helped with the sound in the studio. He would say 'no, alter that or bring that in' to make the sound right for the skinheads. I always felt very safe with the skinheads and shaped the sound for them'.
Joe, with the help of skinhead Shaun, knew what sound he wanted and Trojan left him to it as Rob Bell explains, 'Trojan's policy with pretty much all the producers was to let them have their head. If something was presented that was determined to have some commercial potential there might have been some consensual post production work, but I don't think anything like that happened with Joe Mansano product'. The normal postproduction work Rob was referring to was strings and/or orchestration to sweeten the sound and make it chart friendly, certainly something that Joe's grass roots sounds didn't need.
But it wasn't all skinhead sounds Joe recorded. He always had an ear for the more mature audience. with tracks such as the melodic 'Since I Met You Baby' from Paula Dean, or. to give her real name, Persis Jackson. The young Jamaican lady was Joe's former wife and she actually introduced the Trinidadian to Jamaican music way back when he first arrived in the UK and started going out with her.
Joe's shop had become a hotbed for Jamaican music and regularly received phone calls from leading music papers like Record Retailer and Record Mirror. enquiring which were the best of the new Reggae releases so they could update their charts. Plus UK and JA artists and producers dropped by with straight-off-the-press new records seeking Joe's advice as to whether the latest release would be a good seller. By this time Joe ran a second shop just round the corner from Joe's Record Centre that specialized in retailing the records from the Pama group of labels.
As the skinhead boom died and Trojan slowed down Joe received less attention from the label until one day 'I was summoned to the head office at 12 Neasden Lane and was told that the shop I operated would be closing down and that the company would be going into liquidation…however Lee Gopthal visited me and indicated that as compensation he was prepared to ask the landlord to give me preference to continue the rent'. Hence the ties with Trojan were severed and Joe went out on his own starting two labels - an updated 'Joe' design for love songs and 'Arrow' for DJ work.
In 1974 Joe was perturbed to hear his records were being pirated in the USA and a trip to the Bronx revealed unauthorized pressings of a number of his productions in a record shop. So too were his records pressed in Jamaica without his knowledge, with the most easily found being 'The Trial Of Palmer Dice', (note the spelling) incorrectly backed with 'I Don't Want To Cry' by Winston Groovy and released on the Jackpot label. The Groovy tune is actually his hit, 'Please Don't Make Me Cry'.
As the 1970's moved on and the roots sound came in Joe, who never liked the 'roots or Rasta stuff', continued to issue music for the mature audience along with running his shop until 1976 when he discovered Trinidad had no Reggae outlets. With his usual acute business sense Joe relocated back to his homeland and took over as manager of Sports & Games and installed a Reggae record department, and thus became the first supplier on the island. The Reggae department was an instant success and brought the sound of Jamaica to Trinidad in a big way.
But what of the historic recordings made in London almost thirty-six years ago? 'I come from Calypso country - so there's lots of kinda Calypso coming through - I hear Reggae and Calypso - the feel of Trinidad'. Which is certainly true as the Joe Mansano mix is like no other sound - 'too advanced for its time' concludes Joe.
The oracle has spoken.
MICHAEL DE KONINGH