A little off piste this one. As you know, I like writing about engineers and personalities that, in my opinion never received the recognition that they deserved. This chap did, sort of receive acknowledgements in his home country, but nowhere else. I am sure that 99.345r% of you won´t know who Hedley Jones was. Read this and you will. So I’ll combine my admiration for this guy and my love of Caribbean music from the ´30s onward.
Hedley, born in Jamaica 1917. He became very interested in music in his early teens and was a very practical hands-on kid. Times were hard and he made his own musical instruments, including a cello and banjo, teaching himself to play. In 1935 he moved to Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. His work was very varied. Bus conductor, radio repairer, wood worker, sewing machine engineer. A local Mr. fix-it. Know how he felt. His main income was from being a proof-reader for a local newspaper.
As a lover of music, and inspired by the likes of Charley Christian, he played his banjo in a Hawaiian jazz band. He had heard that some open bodied guitars had been fitted with pickups for amplification, but not being able to afford such a luxury, he went about making what was to be probably the first pickup for a sold-bodied guitar, which of course he also made himself. He experimented with some coils from an old radio coupling transformer that he had repaired, seeing that these could be fitted under the strings of the guitar. He used magnets from old telephone ear pieces to energise the coils. After many modifications, he settled on a design and started to make these for prominent Jamaican musicians of that era. The sound was great. This was probably about the same time as Gibson and Les Paul were doing the same thing in the USA!
Hedley knew that that in order to develop, he needed to educate himself in electronics. So, in 1943, middle of WW2, he volunteered and signed up as a Radar Engineer, where he ended up in the Royal Technical College Glasgow and did active service. After the war, returning to Jamaica, he opened a record store, Bop City, where he become popular for importing US jazz records, the likes of Luis Jordan and so on. He also repaired radios and electronic equipment.
He saw there was a market for amplifiers for producing good quality sound at dances, venues and so forth. With the knowledge he had gained in his National Services, we set about making, what was then to be some serious powerful kit. He realised that separating the treble and bass amplification was the way forward, feeding this into separate speaker systems. At that time, all you had was the Tannoy type horn speakers for general public address, no good for music. He experimented with beefy parallel-push-pull valve amps and set a standard that was to be used for years after.
The owner of a big store and dance party organiser “Tom the Great Sebastian” heard about Hedley’s amplifiers and commissioned him to build a big sound system. It was great success. On the back of this, Hedley built systems for the likes of the fearsome gun-carrying Duke Reid, who was a record producer and owner of the renowned Trojan record label and sound system. He also built systems for a rival sound system “Sir Coxone”, owned by Clement Dodd who later commissioned Hedley to build equipment for his famous STUDIO ONE recording studios. Collectively, everyone he worked with and for, said that he was the most influential person in the Jamaica’s music and sound system history, spreading way beyond his homeland island.
Other areas of his expertise that were touched on were the likes of his design for the first traffic light system to be used in Kingston. He worked as an instructor at the Kingston Technical College and become involved in astronomy, designing lens and receiving awards for his work. He moved to Montego Bay in the mid ‘60s and continued with his love of music, being a band leader in high class tourist resorts. He became the president of the Jamaican Federations of Musicians which he held for some ten years. He continued writing for news papers and received awards from the Jamaican government such as Order of Distinction in Music. He sadly passed away in September 2017, a month before is 100th birthday.
So we have a diminutive chap from a tiny island in the Caribbean who helped set the stage for the famous sound systems and recording studios in the West Indies and elsewhere, that gave us lots of good music; Mento, Calypso, Ska, Reggae. And, probably made the first solid body guitar with an electric pickup. Salute to you.
Seth Zeta Services. Mention his name when you come in for your next repair and you’ll get 10% off!