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Island Records Co-Founder and Jamaican Music Engineer Graeme Goodall Dead at 82

Grame Goodall was a key figure in the history of Jamaican music, founding Island Records in 1959 and engineering some of the country's most well-known music.

From his involvement in the earliest Jamaican singles to have impacted international markets to his co-founding role in Island Records, Australian-born engineer Graeme Goodall, was a pivotal, if somewhat overlooked, figure in the development of Jamaica’s music industry. Goodall died of natural causes at his Atlanta home on December 4th; he was 82.

Born in Melbourne, in 1932, Goodall worked for several AM radio stations in Australia as an audio engineer before traveling to London in the mid-’50s where he trained (as an engineer) at the International Broadcasting Company (IBC), then Britain’s largest independent recording studio.
In the mid-’50s, Redifussion London offered Goodall a three-year contract in Jamaica to help design and install the first commercial FM service on the island (then a British colony) as Radio Jamaica Rediffusion (RJR).


Shortly after his arrival in the capital, Kingston, Goodall (affectionately known as Mr. Goody) became involved in Jamaica’s fledgling recording industry helping to build what is said to be Kingston’s first recording studio-in the back of a downtown furniture store-owned by Ken “Papa Khou” Khouri, where some of the earliest recordings of mento (a Jamaican folk music, akin to calypso) were done.
In 1959 Goodall assisted Chris Blackwell with the recording of singer Laurel Aitkens’ “Boogie In My Bones” at the RJR studios. Distinguished from other recordings of the era by its shuffling rhythm, “Boogie In My Bones”, which topped the Jamaican charts for nearly three months, was a precursor to the ska beat that would dominate Jamaican music over the next few years. It was also the first recording of popular Jamaican music to be released in the U.K. and the very first single issued by Island Records.

Alongside Blackwell, Goodall and the (now deceased) Chinese-Jamaican producer Leslie Kong (who produced Bob Marley’s first single “Judge Not” b/w “One Cup of Coffee” and Jimmy Cliff’s first hit “Miss Jamaica” in the early ’60s) co-founded Island Records in 1959. Goodall engineered teenager Millie Small’s 1964 blockbuster ska hit “My Boy Lollipop” which reached no. 2 in the US (licensed to the Smash Record label), has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide and launched Island Records into the mainstream.

Goodall engineered numerous sessions at RJR including Higgs and Twins’ “Manny Oh” for producer Edward Seaga, who later became Jamaica’s Prime Minister (1980-1989) and the instrumental “Dumplins” for Byron Lee and the Dragonnaires who were credited with taking ska out of the poor downtown communities where it was birthed and into middle-class neighborhoods.
In 1961, Ken Khouri opened Federal Studios, at the time the only professional studio on the island and secured Goodall as his chief engineer. Goodall was responsible for the recording sessions of some of the most influential artists to emerge from Jamaica throughout the 1960s including The Skatalites, Bob Andy, Jimmy Cliff and The Wailers. (In the 1980s the Marley family purchased Federal Studios and it is now home to the world renowned Tuff Gong Studios).

Goodall worked with the top Jamaican producers of the 1960s including Sir Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, Arthur “Duke” Reid and Cecil Bustamante Campbell a.k.a. Prince Buster, who were all sound system owners; in fact the need for new music for the popular sound system dances brought each of them into production and was the overall catalyst for the development of the island’s recording industry; Jamaican radio, including RJR, ironically, disdained the records Goodall was engineering, favoring the blandest pop selections of the era from the US. Goodall attended a few of these dances and recognized the importance of a prominent bass line within Jamaican music, a vital understanding that guided his approach to engineering at Federal, particularly as ska morphed into the slower rock steady beat, followed by the emergence of reggae circa 1968.
When Chris Blackwell (reportedly) bought out the Island shares owned by Goodall and Kong sometime between 1965-1967, Goodall started his own Doctor Bird and Pyramid labels. He scored a major hit with the rocksteady single “Israelites” sung by the late Desmond Dekker and produced by Kong. “Israelites” topped the UK Singles Chart in April 1969, shot to no. 9 on the US charts in July 1969 and has purportedly sold over 2 million copies.

Goodall can also be credited for building the first studios at West Indies Records Limited studio (WIRL), eventually known as Dynamic Sounds, sold by Seaga to Byron Lee (The Rolling Stones’ album Goats Head Soup was recorded at Dynamic in 1971). Goodall also trained a new generation of Jamaican engineers including Sylvan Morris, of Dodd’s Studio One and later, Harry J Studios, where Bob Marley recorded his albums for Island; Byron Smith of Treasure Isle, and technical engineer Bill Garnett, who worked at Federal, Dynamics, and Randy’s Records, founded by Pat and Vincent Chin of VP Records.
Goodall remained in Jamaica until the 1970s and eventually moved to the US where he worked for Sony’s pro-audio division. Goodall’s name is not called often enough within the trajectory of Jamaican music but his skills and innovations still resonate in the 21st century.
Goodall is survived by his Jamaica born wife Fay, whom he married in 1961, and their two children.