Mutt & Jeff Sound System

Mutt & Jeff

 

The Mutt & Jeff Sound System wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill sound systems in Kingston during the 50s and 60s. This sound system was vital to the growth of Jamaican music for a number of reasons. Not only was the sound system itself constructed by Alpha boys in the woodshop, but it was overseen by an Alpha teacher and former Alpha boy, and was then given after ample use to the Alpha directress, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, who used it to instruct additional Alpha boys. In many ways, the Mutt & Jeff Sound System was an Alpha Boys School sound system.

Mutt’s real name was Kenneth Davy and he named his sound system Mutt and Jeff after the popular comic strip of the day which featured a very tall character, Mutt, and a “half-pint” named Jeff. The comic strip was carried in the Jamaica Star, one of the island’s newspapers. Davy, who was over six feet tall, held the Mutt moniker, and Jeff was better known as Leighton Geoff, a short fellow with an appropriate last name.

            Davy attended Alpha Boys School and was a skilled public speaker and debater. After he graduated, Sister Ignatius asked Davy to return to emcee various school events and presentations, such as plays, concerts, and sporting competitions. He did this all without the aid of any amplification, but around 1956 he purchased a microphone, a small amplifier, and two 12 inch speakers. He quickly moved into providing background music at these events and started hosting sound system dances at Alpha. As word of his entertainment skill spread, Davy started hosting dances outside of Alpha and he soon found the need to upgrade his equipment to meet demand. Davy worked his full-time day job in the Alpha Boys School printery, directing the boys in the trade of setting type, inking presses, and printing books that were then bound in the school’s bindery. With the blessing of Sister Ignatius, Davy’s sound system upgrade was a project handled by the school’s woodshop. The boys learned to produce a custom item under the watchful eye of Davy whose printery was adjacent to the woodshop and he would frequently leave his shop to help supervise the boys with their table saws, sanders, and hammers. The woodshop, like the printery and the pottery shop and the garden and the shoe shop, were not only areas of trade instruction for the boys. They were also revenue makers, as they still are today, helping to offset the operational costs of the school. Making custom items for customers was part of the school’s operation, and part of training for the boys.

Davy’s friend Leighton Geoff was an electrical technician at Wonards, a large appliance store located in downtown Kingston which opened in 1948. Staff at Wonards was akin to staff at Radio Shack today in the U.S., knowledgeable about all things electrical. They were vital to helping make the creative ideas of sound system operators into a reality, wiring speakers to amplifiers. Davy then had the woodshop boys build the speakers into towering cabinets known as “Houses of Joy.” Geoff not only built the speaker system, but he also maintained its clarity, continually fine-tuning the sound for precision. Davy now had his sound system, and with his entrepreneurial spirit he also had the means of marketing his system, using the printery and free labor at Alpha to send advertisements for his events which touted, “Mutt & Jeff Clear As a Bell,” as well as promote his wife Gloria’s catering services since she was a fantastic cook of such local dishes as curry goat and green bananas and rice.

The Mutt & Jeff Sound System played holiday music for a Christmas party for needy children in December, 1959 and that same month played as “the disinherited of the earth were not forgotten” as several hundred “inmates at Bellevue Hospital” were given a party. “A poignant note was struck when they expressed the wish for Christmas that everyone should pray for them that they would soon be well again and happy in their own homes,” said the article. These are just two examples of the charitable outreach that the sound system provided and Davy was able to generate a decent amount of revenue from playing at parties and dances. He decided in 1964 to leave the life of the sound system behind to spend more time with his wife and their eleven children. He sold his entire set, equipment and music, to Sister Ignatius who added the records to her already-large collection. Sister Ignatius had hundreds of 78 and 45 records in her collection—everything from classical music to speeches by Malcolm X. This collection was built from not only Davy’s additions, but Sister Ignatius would regularly send her students, such as Floyd Lloyd Seivright, to purchase records from local record shops, giving him money for the acquisition and a list of her selections.

2 comments

  1. Great article Heather…Great info…I never heard of this Sound System before…Its definitely a major part of the great unsung legacy of Sister Ignatius & the Alpha Boys School…Thanks for posting.

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